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

Record Details:

Something wrong or inaccurate about this page? Let us Know!

Thanks for helping us continually improve the quality of the Lantern search engine for all of our users! We have millions of scanned pages, so user reports are incredibly helpful for us to identify places where we can improve and update the metadata.

Please describe the issue below, and click "Submit" to send your comments to our team! If you'd prefer, you can also send us an email to with your comments.

We use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) during our scanning and processing workflow to make the content of each page searchable. You can view the automatically generated text below as well as copy and paste individual pieces of text to quote in your own work.

Text recognition is never 100% accurate. Many parts of the scanned page may not be reflected in the OCR text output, including: images, page layout, certain fonts or handwriting.

album sets are now so widely pressed, but if one listens to a set by one of the leading Ger- man or American orchestras for comparison, the vast inferiority of the English is at once apparent. This is admitted in England it- self but I lately read an article by a well- known English critic in which, to counter- balance it, he made much of the fact that English orchestral players are the greatest sight-readers in the world; hence do not re- quire extensive rehearsing. As if the most expert sight-reading possible could make up for the lack of actual practice! The present Boston Symphony gets, to me, the best recording tone extant. It has for many years. As we all know, the old acous- tical record of the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, made by it under Muck, remains today a land-mark and one of the most glorious discs yet recorded. The New York Symphony, as recorded under Tos- canini, attains great subtleties and poetic nuances of effect, but its tone, strictly as tone, is inferior to that elicited by Kousse- vitsky. The Philadelphia tone does not re- cord nearly so well as it “listens” in the con- cert hall, but loses more, for some inexplic- able reason, than any other. Few of its electrical records are as lovely, tonally, as were some of its old acoustic ones, and those possessing the latter would do well to hold fast to them. As the seasons have passed, Stokowski has striven more and more for brilliance and effectiveness, with a corres- ponding deterioration otherwise. The full- bloodedness of the New Yorkers under Men- gelberg has never been surpassed in recorded music. Its monument is the acoustical “Les Preludes,” which was a miracle in its way and is far superior to the electrical re- recording. The Chicago tone has fine body and resonance and in some of its recordings there is a perfection of attack that is unex- celled, reminding one of that of the Boston- ians of the era of Muck, whose attack I have never heard equalled. I speak of all these orchestras as from direct hearing as well as from the discs. One of the major problems of the record laboratories is the production—or, rather re- production—of genuine piano tone. And not only tone, but overtone. That surpassing charm of piano music, the lingering rever- berations which die, gradually away and pro- long the spell upon the listener after the per- former’s hands have ceased to press the keys, remain still to capture. They have seemed, repeatedly, on the point of coming from the grooves: only, at the last, to stay pent within them. . . . Nevertheless there are some beautiful piano records now to be had, of which the finest, in tone, are “made in Ger- many.” It must be remarked of piano records, however, that a great, a very great deal de- pends upon the artist making them. While beyond criticism to the ear at a recital, the tone produced by a pianist may not record well. On the other hand, one less remark- able may record far better. The enormous use of the pedal and dependence upon it, rather than the key-board proper, by the modern pianist, undoubtedly interferes with good recording to a greater or less extent. “Pure” pianism will record better than that in which unremitting recourse to the pedal in order to get effects is the rule. It is the touch of the pianist that seems to succeed best, his pressure upon the keys themselves which is acoustically most amenable to re- production. Those who caress the instru- ment get better results than those who trample upon it. Amplification of tone as applied to musi- cal sound gives precisely the same result as magnification of color or texture does visu- ally. What to the human eye appears like a beautiful tone, in color, uniform in shade, when unduly magnified, disintegrates and as- sumes an altogether different aspect. A fab- ric that seems to the eye perfectly woven, reveals, beneath the lens, surprising rough- ness and inperfection in warp, woof and weaving. It is so with musical colors, shades and textures. Their amplification must be of the most discreet if we are to hear what the normal ear does when listening to the actual performance. Almost all the gains from the electrical side are supposed to be gains in “realism”, but as a matter of fact art is above all an illusion and beyond a certain limit “realism” in recording is inartistic. It does not conserve purely musical values but distracts attention from them. As I have been discussing “problems” in these paragraphs, it is not surprising that I have dwelt rather upon the shortcomings of present-day recording and reproduction, in- stead of their perfections. I wish again to affirm, however, in closing, that, as an “in- fant industry” the results already attained seem to me phenomenal and that, as time passes, their faults will be remedied and their excellence increased. Just at present we are in that familiar condition, the “tran- sition phase.” Only very recently have the Brahmins decided that the phonograph was not an “untouchable” and that it produces really music, in the high sense of the word. This capitulation will in the end lead to great things, for the cachet of expert critical recog- nition and approval is bound to be productive of progress and improvement.