Phonograph Monthly Review, Vol. 5, No. 10 (1931-07)

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284 The Phonograph Monthly Review Conserving Musical Values By JEAN-LOUIS I T has been said and is often repeated that this is the “Age of Noise,” in which we moderns live; and that determined attempts have been and are still being made to iden- tify noise with music, is a truism. At one time this attempt looked to be on the road to success, but having advanced thus far it then began to go back and at present its cause is distinctly a lost one. The reaction was even swifter in coming than was an- ticipated. Marinetti is today a “back num- ber” and the works of his epigones rise no higher than the category of the curious, whose interest is strictly transient; of which such a work as Jonny Spielt Auf is a “classi- cal^ example. This reaction has also stimu- lated the return to such masters as Bach, Handel, Gluck, Mozart, and others who are utterly and invariably musical in both thought and practice, and in the interpreta- tion of those works purity of musical tone is paramount. Nevertheless noise has invaded music and, popularly, if not critically speaking, has staked out a claim and settled on it—perhaps permanently. This is due to the fact that great masses of music lovers are today be- coming familiarized with the musical master- pieces exclusively through the radio and have no means of knowing how far what they hear is from a natural audition, suffering from no intervening agencies. “Where ig- norance is bliss,” etc. Not knowing what they have lost they have no comprehension thereof and accept with joy and pleasure the substitute offered them, in the belief that it is the “real thing.” I have as yet been un- able to make up my mind whether this is, musically speaking, a blessing or a curse. It is unquestionably a blessing to many per- sons who are thus enabled to hear a wide range of compositions otherwise inacces- sible; but at the same time it is effecting a vulgarization of great things that is to be deplored. The phonograph has not escaped the rav- ages of noise as distinct from music. This has also infected those who make, as well as those who buy, the “finished product.” It might not be so obtrusive if musicians, es- pecially conductors, could learn the lesson that no interpretation ever comes off the discs “puribus et naturibus.” Not one of them, despite in some cases extensive experi- ence, seems to have learned to conduct for the discs , forgetful of the concert-hall. There is no other way of accounting for the short- comings, which might with a little fore- thought be avoided—such as the exaggerated pianissimo and fortissimo effects which are so out of focus, theatrical, crude and ill- considered. These blemishes occur in some of the most celebrated recordings now so much bruited. All our celebrated conductors go in too heavily for “interpretation” and this is more evident by far on the discs than in the con- cert hall. Between the listener and the music, as it comes from the disc, there are interposed no conductor himself, with prima- donna or hierophantic airs and graces; no spectacle of 100 or more executants and their instruments and efforts; no environment of elaborate architecture and assembled crowds of human beings. Hence what passes un- noticed in the concert hall becomes fatally apparent as released from the record. The mannerisms are doubly emphasized, the weaknesses doubly obtrusive. This is pe- culiarly evident as regards that sine-qua- non, tone. It is all too often sacrificed for “interpretation”, oblivious of the fact that when one is sacrificed the other, willy nilly, goes along with it. One of the abuses connected with this phase of recording has been the deliberate attempt to get into the record the concert- hall reverberation itself. The test of good acoustics in an auditorium is the absence of such reverberation and its presence in a record is an artistic blemish at any and all times. However, it still obtrudes, despite the many protests against it. Modern recording of orchestral works al- so suffers, from my standpoint, from the preponderance of English orchestras that are used—for purposes of economy, it is to be supposed! At best the tone of the Eng- lish orchestra is not comparable to that pro- duced by the German orchestra or the best ones of America; something due to racial temperament, one may hazard. But it is notorious that British orchestras dispense with all but a minimum of rehearsals, and nothing is more fatal in a tonal ensemble. The Halle band seems to be definitely su- perior to the other English orchestras whose