Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

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absinthe
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Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

Post by absinthe » Sat Jul 21, 2007 2:23 am

I went to a prom last night - had to leave at the interval unfortunately - but the first part was marred by (to me) a poor performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto in D.

The first work was new to me - Dutilleux/The Shadows of Time.

The Ravel doesn't often crop up in concert so I have a couple of recordings, my favourite being Zimerman/LSO/Boulez.

Last night the pianist was one Roger Muraro (French) and honestly he wasn't up to it - mistakes, turning the closing 'cadenza' into cotton wool... in fact he played it with all the sensitivity of an elephant repairing a watch. The friend who accompanied me seemed to feel the same.

It's the first time I've heard this work live so it could be that I've grown too used to good recordings (which may have been edited together from different takes - one can never know). It could also be because I particularly like this work. I try to listen to varied recordings and broadcasts so I don't get too set on a particular recording but it doesn't always work.

Do others find themselves measuring live performances against familiar recordings?

:?
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Post by Lance » Sat Jul 21, 2007 9:57 am

There is no question that we have "trained" ourselves to hear outstanding performances by celebrated artists on disc and then use our knowledge as a barometer against a live performance. Anything can happen in a live performance, and frequently does. Even top-flight artists have their bad moments, finger-slips, memory losses -- the latter the performing artist's nightmare. Still, trained ears can observe a live performance and hear wonderful things therein. There is still nothing like a live performance ... this is how music used to be heard before the LP (or even 78-rpm) recording format, especially, and it's the way it still should be heard. In a recording, everything can be made to be perfect, from sound and balances to fixing/editing out mistakes. In recordings we usually hear the ultimate in "perfection." The electricity of a live performance, nonethless (think of a Vladimir Horowitz concert) can rarely be preserved on discs. All that said, I would never want to be without the recordings either because we learn so much from them, and it's the way most people hear classical music today. :)
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Post by Werner » Sat Jul 21, 2007 10:04 am

Absinthe, as a music critic you're a contender for the wit of G.B. Shaw - I love your comparison.

The Ravel is not one of my favorites - but Chacun à Son Gout! On the other hand, your comment re recordings vs. the live performance we're experiencing makes a point - after all, recordings are supposed to suggest live performances instead of the other way around, aren't they?

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Post by slofstra » Sat Jul 21, 2007 10:36 am

A corollary to this is that those who were brought up with the recordings of the 50s and 60s have a bias to that era. The other explosion in the recording of classical music was at the dawn of the CD (early, mid 90s). My ears tend to prefer those later recordings, given a choice. This is not a complaint. The entire sum of recorded output is much too great for any single person to master. Fortunately, there's a wide range here of interests and specialties. When individuals state their biases up front it is better to take it on advisement as opposed to a critical commentary. (Although the debates these biases spark can be fun).

Do you think that the 50s and 60s represent a "Golden Age" of classical music recording, never to be repeated? In spite of my earlier comment on preferring the DDD stuff of the 90s, it would appear that the breadth of repertoire, the number of great conductors and orchestras, and the number of recordings made during the earlier period will never be matched again.

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Post by Donaldopato » Sat Jul 21, 2007 10:59 am

I agree, we tend to expect perfection in all performances and in recordings for that matter.

I admit I am so attuned to some performances that all others fail. For example, I groaned out loud (well not real loud), when a conductor did not let the tam tam ring out at the end of a live performance of the 3rd Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, as in my favorite recording by Jansons and St Petersburg on EMI. It was so ingrained in me and I love the effect that if it is not like that I feel it is a failure. Actually the performance was quite excellent otherwise.

I need to get over it!

Beginning my life long love affair with classical music in the late 60s, I of course cut my teeth on the recordings of the 50s and 60s. A musical mentor also introduced me to such gods as Cantelli, Reiner, Furtwangler, Fricsay, and Mengelberg along with then current titans as Bernstein, Ormandy, Szell, Boulez and Solti. I maintain a strong preference for them to this day.

No doubt though that the next golden era of the early 90s brought us repertoire we never thought we would see. Works by Holmboe, Wellesz, Brian, Ligeti, among others seeing first recordings, Mahler from all over, finding out great music is being made in Nashville, Milwaukee, Bournemouth, and other places besides New York, London and Berlin.

But an open ear will let you hear all kinds of magic from the dawn of recordings to the present.
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. - Albert Einstein

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Post by Werner » Sat Jul 21, 2007 11:22 am

There is an element, I think, to think of the past - anything past - as the "Good old times." Composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms - the legendary Big Three - performers like Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Cortot, Todscanini, Reiner, Stokowski - on and on, plug in your own favcorites in performers.

And don't forget: Toscanini was once young and at the beginning of a career. Nobody knew the future. And we run the risk of drowning our elder favorites in embalming fluid while letting the present wither. There were great names after Nikisch, Bülow, and Mengelberg. There are current candidates for greatness, not counting people we know personally - say, Andsnes, - and, quite possibly, the new fortyish nominee for the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert.

Yes, the past was great, and it's inspiring tp be able to call it up at the push of a button. But keeping the art alive calls for creators, performes, and audiences to be up to the challenge.
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Post by CharmNewton » Sat Jul 21, 2007 11:34 am

slofstra wrote:
Do you think that the 50s and 60s represent a "Golden Age" of classical music recording, never to be repeated? In spite of my earlier comment on preferring the DDD stuff of the 90s, it would appear that the breadth of repertoire, the number of great conductors and orchestras, and the number of recordings made during the earlier period will never be matched again.
THis may be generally true in the orchestral realm and the standard repertoire. Recordings by Reiner, Szell, Giulini, Walter and Monteux (just to name a few) are as good or better performance wise as recordings being made today (although not sound-wise). The crispness, articulation and phrasing of these older ecordings can be breathtaking. These conductors all had connections with composers of their era that made them connected to musical life in a way one doesn't see today (how often does Simon Rattle get excited about a new work?).

However, today the breadth of recorded repertoire is so wide as to be numbing. It is really difficult to know what is out there. There are no catalogs to browse any longer. One hears something and does an Internet search. How much Dittersdorf, Kraus, Sor, Boccherini and Shostakovich were available 40 years ago?

But in instrumental and chamber music repertoire, I believe we are in a golden age right now. Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, Sarah Chang, Midori and Maxim Vengerov are violinists the equal of any who have played the instrument and they are all youngsters. Cellists now routinely have the technical security of violinists, something that couldn't be said as easily 40 years ago. Krystian Zimerman is the artistic equal of any pianist who I have ever heard play, live or on record. Freddy Kempf is another great young artist as is Yundi Li, Lang Lang, Marc-Andre Hamelin Konstantin Scherbakov (and many others).

I believe that the musical performance and recording level is so high that some artists will have declining historical reputations. The shortcomings of their recordings become increasingly apparent when played alongside the best being produced today. And every generation needs to have a group of contemporary artists they can see and hear in the flesh.

John

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Re: Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

Post by Chalkperson » Sat Jul 21, 2007 12:44 pm

absinthe wrote:Do others find themselves measuring live performances against familiar recordings?
Most of the people I would want to go see passed away long ago, but this is the reason I do not attend Concerts, I just can't get my favoured recordings out from my mind, and also because when I did go to see the Shostakovich 11th Symphony with Gregiev at Lincoln Center last year it was suddenly replaced by the 12th Symphony, I walked out after realizing that not just Opera Singers cancel performances, but the good thing about that evening was that the Orchestra sounded just like my audio system at home, so I stay at home, happy with the discs that I already own, many of which are, of course, Live Recordings......

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Re: Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

Post by CharmNewton » Sat Jul 21, 2007 1:17 pm

Chalkperson wrote: ...but the good thing about that evening was that the Orchestra sounded just like my audio system at home, so I stay at home, happy with the discs that I already own, many of which are, of course, Live Recordings......
This is an interesting point--has recorded music affected the recreation of music by performing artists?

When comparing concert performances of Giulini and Solti in Chicago in the 1970s, I was struck (often blown away) by the dynamic range of the orchestra under Giulini, while Solti's dynamics sounded to me like those of an LP record. After returning home from a Giulini conducted performance of Bruckner's 8th (1975), I played Szell's recording with the volume control turned up to around 4 o'clock to bathe myself in the glorious sound I had heard earlier, but my audio system simply could not reproduce that volume of sound as I remembered it. Some artists may define their dynamic conception of a work based on what they have heard on a recording.

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Re: Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 21, 2007 2:16 pm

absinthe wrote:Do others find themselves measuring live performances against familiar recordings?
I think it's unavoidable. I love Joel Cohen and his plucky little band of EM performers, the Boston Camerata. They are among the longest-lived giants in the field. I have several recordings of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 and I have seen it peformed several times. So imagine my delight when I learned Cohen was going to do the Vespers at the U of Md. in their new performance hall. It was the most dreadful performance of the work I have ever heard, largely because of Cohen's wrong-headed artistic decision to perform it with one voice per part. Now that might be cute with Bach, a composer I don't much care what you do with. But it was sacrelige with the Monteverdi. Robbed the piece of 99% of its glory. Forget antiphonal passages. It was a disaster.
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Re: Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 21, 2007 3:20 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
absinthe wrote:Do others find themselves measuring live performances against familiar recordings?
I think it's unavoidable. I love Joel Cohen and his plucky little band of EM performers, the Boston Camerata. They are among the longest-lived giants in the field. I have several recordings of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 and I have seen it peformed several times. So imagine my delight when I learned Cohen was going to do the Vespers at the U of Md. in their new performance hall. It was the most dreadful performance of the work I have ever heard, largely because of Cohen's wrong-headed artistic decision to perform it with one voice per part. Now that might be cute with Bach, a composer I don't much care what you do with. But it was sacrelige with the Monteverdi. Robbed the piece of 99% of its glory. Forget antiphonal passages. It was a disaster.
It would also not be cute with Bach. Speaking of which, there are some works that are almost impossible to realize adequately and according to the intentions of the composer by live forces, including the St. Matthew Passion, which requires among other things two complete sets of soloists. So in a sense we rely on recordings for authenticity to the extent that matters (and in this case, IMO, it does). Also, opera can sometimes appear to disappoint (notice I said "sometimes appear") because we don't have mixers correcting for balance problems, or the possibility of multiple takes.

Speaking of multiple takes, it is not only an issue with opera, of course. Recordings have set almost impossible standards of technical perfection. To take what I admit might be an unfair example, one of Horowitz's last recording projects was with Giulini recording something as "elementary" as the Mozart K 488 concerto. I saw a tape of the session, and he was, frankly, terrible, though I'm sure you can't tell it on the recording.

And Corlyss, I saw a live Monteverdi Vespers in college that was as splendid as both of the HIP recordings available at the time.

Now do explain to me why M. has a tenor singing "Nigra sum," a passage assigned to a feminine character in the Song of Songs and grammatically feminine in Latin. :)

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Post by Brahms » Sat Jul 21, 2007 3:35 pm

jbuck919 wrote: It would also not be cute with Bach. Speaking of which, there are some works that are almost impossible to realize adequately and according to the intentions of the composer by live forces, including the St. Matthew Passion, which requires among other things two complete sets of soloists. So in a sense we rely on recordings for authenticity to the extent that matters (and in this case, IMO, it does).
So a recording can be more "authentic" than a live performance?

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Post by Lance » Sat Jul 21, 2007 3:41 pm

Brahms wrote: So a recording can be more "authentic" than a live performance?
No, I don't believe it can. A recording preserves a "one-time performance," usually (or hopefully) an outstanding one, while there are differences each time a live performance is given. Perhaps none of the live performances will come up to the perfection of a studio-made recording with all its edits and fixes. But then there is the "electricity" of a live performance that is often lacking in the studio recording. Live performances, if they are exception, is the best of both worlds. So much depends on the artist(s) performing, especially soloists. Some truly enjoy making recordings, but others abhor it.
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Post by Chalkperson » Sat Jul 21, 2007 4:39 pm

Brahms wrote: So a recording can be more "authentic" than a live performance?
Absolutely, think of Glenn Gould...

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Post by Werner » Sat Jul 21, 2007 5:38 pm

Your mention of Glenn Gould proves it - his are not authentic performances but artifacts - highly sophisticated artifacts, to be sure, but not to be confused with what happens in performance.
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Post by Heck148 » Sat Jul 21, 2007 6:29 pm

slofstra wrote:Do you think that the 50s and 60s represent a "Golden Age" of classical music recording,
yes, I suppose so - recording techniques had improved quite dramatically
over previous decades...the LP cutting process was certainly less than perfect, but many of the master tapes are quite excellent...

so many great artists were active in those years...
never to be repeated?
I have no idea....many recent recordings to me sound sonically very good - they are great reproductions of rather bland, so-so music-making...

I do not rejoice over this tendency towards homogeneous sounding, inoffensive, bland, concerto-contest/audition note-perfect renditions of standard repertoire...

I think performers of yesteryear took more chances- played with whatever their local or regional style dictated. they didn't try to appease every different listener.

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Re: Do we get too 'used' to recordings.

Post by Heck148 » Sat Jul 21, 2007 6:34 pm

CharmNewton wrote:
Chalkperson wrote: ...but the good thing about that evening was that the Orchestra sounded just like my audio system at home, so I stay at home, happy with the discs that I already own, many of which are, of course, Live Recordings......
This is an interesting point--has recorded music affected the recreation of music by performing artists?
Live music is still the best...there is simply no microphone that can respond with the sensitivity and discretion of the human ear...

there are certainly great mikes and recording equipment - but TMK, they simply do not capture the full experience of a live orchestral concert...the recording is always a 2nd generation copy...no matter how good.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 21, 2007 6:36 pm

Brahms wrote:So a recording can be more "authentic" than a live performance?
Well, in so many words, absolutely. In the very bad old days when you couldn't get producers to mount Handel operas unless they dicked with it like they did the legendary 1967 Sills/Treigel/Rudel/NYCO performances, you damn well better believe the only way you could get authenticity was to have a studio job by someone who believed in the opera and was prepared to record it more or less as it was written by Handel. (The "more or less" refers to the fact that the more successful his operas the more likely they were to be revived and the more likely it was that Handel would have to write a few new arias for different performers.) Every stage production presents problems with performing editions. When a genre has as much trouble gaining credence with the people on whom it depends for stage production as opera seria did in the years before 1970, no question a live performance was more likely than not to have been seriously compromised by meddling producers/directors. Jean Pierre Ponnelle appears from my reading to have been one of the first to leave the pitches to hell alone and mount a production using women to fill the roles that castrati once sang in his groud-breaking c. 1968 Hamburg production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. With respect to other repertoire, like Monteverdi, the same might be said of his operas, but less so with his church music and his madrigals. Until Harnoncourt hazarded his revolutionary 1974 Poppea, with Soderstrom as Nerone, people had to endure Wagnerized bastardizations by Leppard and be glad of it. I saw what is probably the last major production of Poppea with a tenor Nerone in 1973, in a performing edition by Leppard, which was vastly improved over his mid-1960s Glyndebourne performing edition that was in the catalogue then. As late as the 1980 Handel Festival at the U of Md, there were still conductors claiming, right there in the session on opera production, that "modern audiences would never tolerate a quintessentially masculine role like Cesare being sung/acted by a woman." This was the very same year that the ENO executed a brilliant production of Giulio Cesare for Janet Baker, with her singing Cesare! That tradition of transposing male roles for tenors and baritones, voices as scarce in Handel operas as hen's teeth, was surprisingly difficult to kill off in Germany, which has to this day a rich and robust tradition of performing Handel operas, dare I say in editions that he himself would not recognize at all.

Which kind of lands us up at the issue of authenticity in Early Music generally, especially secular music that can't rely on continuous performance traditions like church music can. The earlier the music, the more likely that modern performances employ a lot of guesswork. The more educated the guesswork, the more authentic it is, but no one can say absolutely "this is the way they did it in Richard the Lionheart's court." Every group that performs a staple of the repertoire, like the Cantigas de Santa Maria, or the Llibre Vermel, has to have a performing edition prepared by somebody, usually a member of the group. Scholarship progresses. Everyone who ever saw the performances of the Play of Daniel by the New York Pro Music and was taken instantly will never see the pastiche performed that way again unless it is in a diliberate tribute to the NYPM. Nobody 50 years gone into modern scholarship on the performance of medieval music would play the music that way now.

The infrequency of live performances of EM on any city's arts schedule, the few musicians who specialize in it, compared to the rest of classical music, and the ready availability of recording facilities, virtually guarantee that you are more likely to obtain recordings fairly filthy with authenticity than you are to see a live performance, with or without authenticity.
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Post by slofstra » Sat Jul 21, 2007 7:48 pm

jbuck wrote:So in a sense we rely on recordings for authenticity to the extent that matters (and in this case, IMO, it does).
Get a load of this:
Walter Benjamin wrote:An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics. (Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.)
Full text here: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subje ... njamin.htm

Required reading in college, it came to mind as I read these posts. I have no idea any longer what it means, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Jul 22, 2007 2:41 am

slofstra wrote:http://www.marxists.org/reference/subje ... njamin.htm

Required reading in college
That's a pity. I wonder if a Marxist is less full of bullsh*it when talking about the arts than he is when he's talking about politics and economics and history. I mean, what about that utter failed philosophy could possibly have relevance to anything anywhere at any time?
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 22, 2007 2:57 am

Corlyss_D wrote: That's a pity. I wonder if a Marxist is less full of bullsh*it when talking about the arts than he is when he's talking about politics and economics and history.
If that passage, whose conclusion is both illogical and non-sequitur, is any indication, there is no distinction. Marxism is inherently a reductionist philosophy.

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Post by absinthe » Sun Jul 22, 2007 3:36 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote: That's a pity. I wonder if a Marxist is less full of bullsh*it when talking about the arts than he is when he's talking about politics and economics and history.
If that passage, whose conclusion is both illogical and non-sequitur, is any indication, there is no distinction. Marxism is inherently a reductionist philosophy.
Well, at best I'm a street philosopher: no -isms here! But I couldn't agree with the Walter Benjamin quote as it omits many possibilities, not the least that it's perfectly possible to produce an "original photographic print" - even a unique one. The guy clearly knows little about photographic technique - or even commerce! It's dead easy to destroy a negative after printing it...if using a negative at all. That quote seems to come from an age when mutually exclusive Boolean variable were all the rage, trying to force black and white into a grey world, so to speak.

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Post by Brendan » Sun Jul 22, 2007 5:43 pm

Such comments are not surprising in a world devoid of ritual meaning and experience. Hardly a Marxist, I'll check out what Mr Benjamin has to say more fully, but it rings true to me (as generalization. Someone choosing to destroy a negative is hardly the same thing as painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel then trying to reproduce it). That ritual, contemplation and art are now so totally separated in people's minds doesn't mean it was always so. Try Josef Pieper's Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation for a different POV.

That politics (especially PC) replaces religion and traditional meaning and thus devalues what "art" means at all is an old lament. But that special grace, that human touch, that communicates from one mind to another, from artist to audience, is a living thing. Learning art from machines and recordings instead of living people and live art is not something to be applauded, IMHO, but there's little that can be done. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf said of her time as a teacher: "If I treated my students to the same discipline demanded of me, I would be arrested for abuse."

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Post by slofstra » Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:22 pm

Brendan wrote:Such comments are not surprising in a world devoid of ritual meaning and experience. Hardly a Marxist, I'll check out what Mr Benjamin has to say more fully, but it rings true to me (as generalization. Someone choosing to destroy a negative is hardly the same thing as painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel then trying to reproduce it). That ritual, contemplation and art are now so totally separated in people's minds doesn't mean it was always so. Try Josef Pieper's Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation for a different POV.

That politics (especially PC) replaces religion and traditional meaning and thus devalues what "art" means at all is an old lament. But that special grace, that human touch, that communicates from one mind to another, from artist to audience, is a living thing. Learning art from machines and recordings instead of living people and live art is not something to be applauded, IMHO, but there's little that can be done. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf said of her time as a teacher: "If I treated my students to the same discipline demanded of me, I would be arrested for abuse."
The fact Benjamin is writing from a Marxist perspective (here I'm referring to other posts) is largely incidental.

Of course, Benjamin acclaims the idea of the loss of "authenticity" - I suppose it fits in with the idea of emancipating Art from the elitists for the sake of the masses - whereas you declaim it. But if the idea is old, so is this article - it dates from 1936.
Like much great writing, it's probably more important for the concepts developed, such as 'authenticity' and 'aura', than for its conclusions.

I was browsing on this subject, and this guy, a student of Benjamin's, looks interesting:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Adorno#Theory
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Post by slofstra » Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:36 pm

Image

But wait, there's more!

Adorno wrote about Beethoven.

The following link provides an idea of how politics has replaced ritual in the production of music.

http://bf.press.uiuc.edu/12.1/chua.html

Doncha wish you were still in college and could spend four months on this.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:50 pm

slofstra wrote:The fact Benjamin is writing from a Marxist perspective (here I'm referring to other posts) is largely incidental.
I'm doubtful. People who claimed to be Marxists or radical socialist students of his birthed deconstructionism, a perverse philosophy that still grips the imagination of many.
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Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 23, 2007 10:23 pm

slofstra wrote: I was browsing on this subject, and this guy, a student of Benjamin's, looks interesting:
"This guy, a student of Benjamin's," is very famous as a musical critic--a worthless one I am quick to add. There is no relationship at all between music and what he wrote about it, and while I would not go so far as to say there is no evidence he ever heard a piece by Beethoven, if he did, you could not tell it from his writing.

Because of the ambiguity of their names, it might not be clear to everyone that Walter Benjamin and Theodore Adorno were both German, and they inherited the German love for obscurantist philosophy that goes back at least to Kant and continues at least to Heidegger. Marry this with the intellectual vacuosness of Marx and the fact that neither had the talent of either of those two, and you have a sure recipe for academic disaster. May every copy of their books decay from acid paper and their every thought be justly forgotten except by scholars who must keep history.

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Post by slofstra » Mon Jul 23, 2007 11:15 pm

Well, I think all these 'schools' introduce concepts of varying usefulness. I don't dismiss them outright. They are just ideas, which can be of service. If nothing else, deconstruction has provided a useful arsenal for critiquing propoganda. It also has provided a theoretical basis for political correctness, something I'm sure you're all very happy about.

Authenticity in music is problematic. If we look at Art, the Mona Lisa is Mona Lisa. You can't change one jot or tittle of it. On the other hand a soup label is just a soup label - if you want to frame it and put it on the wall, its authenticity doesn't really matter.

When is a Bach performance a genuine Bach performance? Only on period instruments? What about Walter/Wendy Carlos, switched-on Bach. If you say only on period instruments, you're probably considering the 'aura' around the piece, that is, its importance as a part of a 'ritual', its history, the tradition of the concert going experience. If you include the latter, you're probably focussing on the form of the piece, its intrinsic musicality.

There's no correct answer. It's all in how you look at it. To me, its about more than just the sound of the music actually, and that's why I think nothing comes close to a live performance. I like the ritualistic aspects of the experience (tuning the instruments, applauding the performance, loose horsehair flying around, everything about it). And more importantly, there are aspects of the sound that are only captured in a live performance, more than just the notes on the page - the width and precision of the sound stage for example.

A recording of a piece can introduce its own 'aura', which is kind of surprising. Look at what's happened with the new recreation of Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations. An improvement in sound and technical reproduction, but rejected by classical afficiandoes. It almost seems like that particular recording has to 'sound' a certain way to be accepted, and it has nothing to do with the notes on the page. So perhaps Benjamin is wrong. His theory wouldn't have predicted this.

(I probably should read the article before musing like this, there's a better than even chance that I've messed Benjamin up).

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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Jul 24, 2007 1:31 am

My several hundred "live" performances, culled from German radio, remain among my most prized possessions. They're rough, alive and include the occasional cough, but magnificent! Naturally, I also have plenty of CD's.

One, Schumann's Fourth Symphony, features a dynamic live reading by Hans Müller-Kray and the Südwest-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden. It's not perfect, but very exciting.

Tschüß!
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jul 24, 2007 2:24 am

slofstra wrote:Well, I think all these 'schools' introduce concepts of varying usefulness. I don't dismiss them outright.
But, dear, it can save sooooooo much time!
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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Jul 24, 2007 2:30 am

Werner wrote:Composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms - the legendary Big Three -
Yep, that old saw of Hans von Büow just won't die a natural death. He's probably still chuckling about it---beyond the grave.

Believe me---all the Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner lovers I know are bored to tears by it, which was only intended to insult Liszt and Wagner (the latter in particular, since he had stolen Bülow's wife from him).

Alas! All for love!

Tschüß!
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by John F » Tue Jul 24, 2007 7:00 am

It's beyond question that edited studio recordings have had a powerful influence on the standards of public performance. Audiences and the musicians themselves require perfection of technical execution to a previously unheard-of degree, as can be verified by listening to recordings from 75 years ago. That the studio recordings, and many commercial issued "live" ones too, achieve this perfection by editing out the performers' mistakes, may not be realized by many in the audience, though of course the musicians know it all too well.

The effect of recording on interpretation is also important though perhaps more elusive. Here's Michael Haas, a record producer for Decca/London, on recording Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony:
Michael Haas wrote:Sir Georg Solti, perhaps the most abundantly gifted studio conductor with whom I have worked, made most of his recordings after performances... The first morning in the studio would deliver the shock of discovering that great effects in the concert hall would not necessarily come across in the studio. Tempos, the engines that drive musical narrative, were found to produce vastly different results. Orchestral balance...was found to be undifferentiated and unclear, with unimportant background...upstaging crucial [solos]. The first thing Solti did in the studio was to put down a take that was free of the sudden surges of momentum that audiences seemed to elicit from him. This more 'objective' view of the score may have been less hair-raising, but was truer to the composer's 'script.' Smoothing out these spots allowed more room for organic rhythmic and dynamic development... Solti understood that moving a work from the concert platform into the studio is not so different from translating a play into cinema.

The opposite conductor in the studio was Claudio Abbado. Rarely could someone have been more designed for 'live' performances rather than 'manufactured' studio recordings... Abbado arrived with a more measured view of a work that was ignited only by the audience's presence. As Abbado's musical energy was dependent on the public, he was unable to recreate and control it in the studio... Abbado would agonize with every [wrong note]. Whispered and often aggressive telephone calls in the sessions to the control room...emphasized how unhappy and unsuited he was to the studio. Yet his live concerts were truly alive and h is ability to pace a performance in concert compensated for Solti's abillity to chart and conduct a performance in the studio. [The Cambridge Companion to Conducting, ch. 3
This suggests that live performances are not necessarily better than studio recordings (whatever one means by "better"). Of course this is a producer of studio recordings saying it, but I believe he's right, at least where Solti is concerned; I've heard Solti conduct "Das Rheingold" live in concert and over the air from Bayreuth, and neither had the dramatic urgency of his famous Vienna recording.

Seems to me there's no point in talking about "authenticity," whatever that means. (There's some disagreement on the subject in other messages here.) Every performance, live or in the studio, is the product of a particular place and time, and of the musicians' objectives and frame of mind while performing. That frame of mind and those objectives will inevitably be different in the concert hall and opera house than in the recording studio, so naturally the results may be significantly different too. But I don't see how one would be intrinsically more "authentic" than the other. Indeed, I'm not sure what an unauthentic performance might be.

Incidentally, the "Cambridge Companion to Conducting" is full of all kinds of interesting and entertaining stuff. Though apparently intended in the first place for beginning conductors, I'd think anyone involved with classical music or interested in it would find much that's worth reading. Each chapter is written by a professional in its subject matter, and none are the least bit dry.
John Francis

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Post by slofstra » Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:32 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
slofstra wrote:Well, I think all these 'schools' introduce concepts of varying usefulness. I don't dismiss them outright.
But, dear, it can save sooooooo much time!
Your position makes a lot of sense. Well, I better come out of the closet on this one. I'm not a big fan of deconstruction, but I've always been drawn to language and literary theory in general. I'm still at the point where Derrida is fairly unfathomable (the primary writing, I mean), although both Culler and Barthes were very worthwhile. Fortunately, 'deconstruction' has been through its honeymoon period and is now, not discredited, but not as large on the radar. My daughter just earned an Honours English degree with nary a mention of it. One reason, I am sure, is that deconstructive analyses are frightfully dull and often inane. I think profs probably just became tired of reading them.

I won't digress on this subject any further, but if you need a worthwhile critique of deconstruction, I've always kept this one in my back pocket, and fortunately it's still on the web. It's insightful, humorous and relatively easy reading. I'm sure you will enjoy it:

http://www.info.ucl.ac.be/~pvr/decon.html

I had to recover this link from an old email in which I had sent this to an English prof. I was amused again to read his response. (Name obviously being withheld, and I hope if he ever sees this, he won't mind this mild breach of protocol),

"If it were ethical I would raise your grade to A+ simply for this bit of information. I am considering whether to print it and distribute it throughout the department. It WOULD be ethical for me to buy you a coffee next time you are in."

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Post by slofstra » Tue Jul 24, 2007 10:01 am

John F wrote:It's beyond question that edited studio recordings have had a powerful influence on the standards of public performance. Audiences and the musicians themselves require perfection of technical execution to a previously unheard-of degree, as can be verified by listening to recordings from 75 years ago. That the studio recordings, and many commercial issued "live" ones too, achieve this perfection by editing out the performers' mistakes, may not be realized by many in the audience, though of course the musicians know it all too well.

The effect of recording on interpretation is also important though perhaps more elusive. Here's Michael Haas, a record producer for Decca/London, on recording Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony:
Michael Haas wrote:Sir Georg Solti, perhaps the most abundantly gifted studio conductor with whom I have worked, made most of his recordings after performances... The first morning in the studio would deliver the shock of discovering that great effects in the concert hall would not necessarily come across in the studio. Tempos, the engines that drive musical narrative, were found to produce vastly different results. Orchestral balance...was found to be undifferentiated and unclear, with unimportant background...upstaging crucial [solos]. The first thing Solti did in the studio was to put down a take that was free of the sudden surges of momentum that audiences seemed to elicit from him. This more 'objective' view of the score may have been less hair-raising, but was truer to the composer's 'script.' Smoothing out these spots allowed more room for organic rhythmic and dynamic development... Solti understood that moving a work from the concert platform into the studio is not so different from translating a play into cinema.

The opposite conductor in the studio was Claudio Abbado. Rarely could someone have been more designed for 'live' performances rather than 'manufactured' studio recordings... Abbado arrived with a more measured view of a work that was ignited only by the audience's presence. As Abbado's musical energy was dependent on the public, he was unable to recreate and control it in the studio... Abbado would agonize with every [wrong note]. Whispered and often aggressive telephone calls in the sessions to the control room...emphasized how unhappy and unsuited he was to the studio. Yet his live concerts were truly alive and h is ability to pace a performance in concert compensated for Solti's abillity to chart and conduct a performance in the studio. [The Cambridge Companion to Conducting, ch. 3
This suggests that live performances are not necessarily better than studio recordings (whatever one means by "better"). Of course this is a producer of studio recordings saying it, but I believe he's right, at least where Solti is concerned; I've heard Solti conduct "Das Rheingold" live in concert and over the air from Bayreuth, and neither had the dramatic urgency of his famous Vienna recording.

Seems to me there's no point in talking about "authenticity," whatever that means. (There's some disagreement on the subject in other messages here.) Every performance, live or in the studio, is the product of a particular place and time, and of the musicians' objectives and frame of mind while performing. That frame of mind and those objectives will inevitably be different in the concert hall and opera house than in the recording studio, so naturally the results may be significantly different too. But I don't see how one would be intrinsically more "authentic" than the other. Indeed, I'm not sure what an unauthentic performance might be.

Incidentally, the "Cambridge Companion to Conducting" is full of all kinds of interesting and entertaining stuff. Though apparently intended in the first place for beginning conductors, I'd think anyone involved with classical music or interested in it would find much that's worth reading. Each chapter is written by a professional in its subject matter, and none are the least bit dry.
This question of dynamics in a recording versus a performance is a really interesting one. In non-classical recordings, and even in quasi-classical like Bocelli or Brightman, engineers compress the crap out of the music; there are no dynamics at all. Preserving some degree of dynamics is one of the hallmarks of a classical recording. (If you ever burn a mix CD of classical and pop selections you'll know what I mean).
I was listening to Shostakovich's 7th a week ago, and in the middle of the first movement there is a pianissimo (I imagine) solo snare drum that even in my sound proof room could barely be heard. It grows very gradually and evenly and blends with - some woodwinds. There's a review of a recent performance of this piece somewhere, and I wondered if this incredible effect could even be recreated in the concert hall where there is a higher background DB to overcome. Long story, but each medium certainly has its advantages.

Another tendency which occurs with recorded music is to play it louder or with more bass than the natural volume of the instruments. I try to avoid this, although when playing something like the 3rd movement of Brahms 4th last night, it's hard to resist cranking it.

Then there's the whole question of miking. Should it recreate the ambience and sounstage of one's position in the audience in the concert hall, where the music is largely 'in front' of you, or should the miking develop a unique listener's postion more suited to the recording medium. Miking doesn't come up that often when we evaluate and discuss recordings, but I think its an absolutely crucial factor in determining the sound characteristics of the recording. For example, some recordings can somehow give me that splash off the back wall after a crescendo.
What's the conventional wisdom on how to mike a live symphony performance, does anyone know?

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Jul 25, 2007 12:53 am

Interesting, Henry. But---why the scherzo of Brahms' 4th....?! (Maybe it's a Stokowski performance :lol: )

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 25, 2007 8:26 am

Werner wrote:There is an element, I think, to think of the past - anything past - as the "Good old times." Composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms - the legendary Big Three - performers like Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Cortot, Todscanini, Reiner, Stokowski - on and on, plug in your own favcorites in performers.
This is very much to the point, and not to the point of this thread, only.

To jangle my own pockets for the two cents I might add here:

(1.) The wealth of fine recordings is a great good thing. I think that, if anything, the quality of live performances must over time benefit from the fact that we have recordings as references of technical excellence.

(1.a.) Myself, I have no great problem with cutting a live performer slack (and probably, this has everything to do with wearing those moccasins, and having been the grateful beneficiary of such slack, myself). A genuinely excellent live performance, may not make a great document, as a recording.

(2.) As others have mentioned, having the great boon of fine recordings, should not mean 'locking onto' one particular character/interpretation of a piece. It is, in fact, after all a trait of great music that its greatness remains consistent, regardless of the malleabilities of interpretation and local circumstance.

(3.) Still, there is going to be such a thing as relatively poor performances. And, without burning the performer(s) in effigy (for we all have off days), an overall poor performance can be called an overall poor performance.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Ideal miking?

Post by hangos » Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:26 am

slofstra wrote:
Then there's the whole question of miking. Should it recreate the ambience and sounstage of one's position in the audience in the concert hall, where the music is largely 'in front' of you, or should the miking develop a unique listener's postion more suited to the recording medium. Miking doesn't come up that often when we evaluate and discuss recordings, but I think its an absolutely crucial factor in determining the sound characteristics of the recording. For example, some recordings can somehow give me that splash off the back wall after a crescendo.
What's the conventional wisdom on how to mike a live symphony performance, does anyone know?
All I know is that very often in the late 50s/early 60s single miking was used to wonderful effect, whereas multi-miking was used an awful lot by DG in the 70s especially for HvK's recordings and this led to some very odd balances and lots of spotlighting (perhaps the only time that orchestral players stole the limelight from HvK? :D )

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Re: Ideal miking?

Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:41 am

hangos wrote:All I know is that very often in the late 50s/early 60s single miking was used to wonderful effect
You could knock me over with a feather. I've been in awe over the 'depth' of some of these single-mic recordings!

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: Ideal miking?

Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Jul 26, 2007 12:28 am

karlhenning wrote:
hangos wrote:All I know is that very often in the late 50s/early 60s single miking was used to wonderful effect
You could knock me over with a feather. I've been in awe over the 'depth' of some of these single-mic recordings!

Cheers,
~Karl
Yes, indeed! One of which I used as a "demo" recording in the 60's when buying my first stereo set:

Furtwängler's famous recording of Schumann's Fourth with the Berlin Phil.

The sound is still stunning....and one of the VERY few mono recordings I still occasionally listen to.

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by slofstra » Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:02 pm

Jack Kelso wrote:Interesting, Henry. But---why the scherzo of Brahms' 4th....?! (Maybe it's a Stokowski performance :lol: )

Jack
The triangle! The triangulist lives for this movement. (Okay, no such thing). Tovey indicates this movement could be the basis for a final movement in any other symphony. His take is that the 4th is a tragic symphony, and he cannot finish on the triumphalism of the scherzo. The final movement must take a tragic turn. He also describes this as the greatest scherzo outside of Beethoven.

But in any case, I love it. (I made a home video of a trip on a ferry on the Thuner See using this as background music. I keep the music in the background; you hear the horn of the ferry at times and it blends in really well. Then as dark clouds loom on the far southern shore and the ferry edges closer to Spiez, our destination protected by a castle and sheltering Mount Niesen, I bring the music into the foreground.
Last edited by slofstra on Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:57 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Ideal miking?

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:24 pm

Jack Kelso wrote:
karlhenning wrote:
hangos wrote:All I know is that very often in the late 50s/early 60s single miking was used to wonderful effect
You could knock me over with a feather. I've been in awe over the 'depth' of some of these single-mic recordings!

Cheers,
~Karl
Yes, indeed! One of which I used as a "demo" recording in the 60's when buying my first stereo set:

Furtwängler's famous recording of Schumann's Fourth with the Berlin Phil.

The sound is still stunning....and one of the VERY few mono recordings I still occasionally listen to.

Jack
It's the same in photography (now Ralph bought a couple of cameras) there is only one Sun in the Sky so you only need one light...we hear in Mono, our brain converts it into Stereo, because they were recording in acoustically well built Halls/Churches etc, sorry I can't spell enviroment, so the Single Mic still applied...

SaulChanukah

Post by SaulChanukah » Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:44 pm

Hi there,

This is Saul posting in this thread, upholding my Pledge.
Yes even though I dont find this topic interesting at all, but a Pledge is a Pledge..

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Post by Jack Kelso » Fri Jul 27, 2007 1:01 am

slofstra wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:Interesting, Henry. But---why the scherzo of Brahms' 4th....?! (Maybe it's a Stokowski performance :lol: )

Jack
The triangle! The triangulist lives for this movement. (Okay, no such thing). Tovey indicates this movement could be the basis for a final movement in any other symphony. His take is that the 4th is a tragic symphony, and he cannot finish on the triumphalism of the scherzo. The final movement must take a tragic turn. He also describes this as the greatest scherzo outside of Beethoven.
What was Tovey on when he wrote that? (Or maybe his tongue got stuck in his cheek :) ). I've read just the reverse----that it's the weakest movement in the symphony. The trumpets' daaa-da-da-da-dat-daaa---IS a bit trite, isn't it? I don't feel really comfortable with it, always with the feeling Brahms could do better than this. The movement's okay, but I prefer the 3rd mvts of the 1st and 2nd symphonies---they're less pretentious.

Also, scherzi from Schumann's and Bruckner's symphonies contain more impressive material (for me!) than this one of Brahms, although I love the four of Brahms as much as anyone's symphonies.

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:08 am

slofstra wrote:. . . Tovey indicates this movement could be the basis for a final movement in any other symphony. His take is that the 4th is a tragic symphony, and he cannot finish on the triumphalism of the scherzo. The final movement must take a tragic turn.
To me, this smacks of casuistry. If Brahms had closed the symphony with a movement of the character of the scherzo, well, it wouldn't have been A Tragic Symphony™. That's all (or, nearly all). I mean, had Brahms wished, he could have written a triumphant finale to 'transcend' the gloom created by the first [three] movements (assuming that Brahms's scherzo is replaced by some other music, of course).
slofstra wrote:He also describes this as the greatest scherzo outside of Beethoven.
Well, Tovey is entitled to his opinion, after all :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Jul 31, 2007 1:16 am

karlhenning wrote:
slofstra wrote:. . . Tovey indicates this movement could be the basis for a final movement in any other symphony. His take is that the 4th is a tragic symphony, and he cannot finish on the triumphalism of the scherzo. The final movement must take a tragic turn.
To me, this smacks of casuistry. If Brahms had closed the symphony with a movement of the character of the scherzo, well, it wouldn't have been A Tragic Symphony™. That's all (or, nearly all). I mean, had Brahms wished, he could have written a triumphant finale to 'transcend' the gloom created by the first [three] movements (assuming that Brahms's scherzo is replaced by some other music, of course).
slofstra wrote:He also describes this as the greatest scherzo outside of Beethoven.
Well, Tovey is entitled to his opinion, after all :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
It's curious that Tovey's (and other Anglo-Saxon commentators') type of "hype" occurs primarily with Brahms' works.

In truth, it's a nice, lively, earthbound scherzo---short, with a rather colorless but attractive trio. The other three movements are stronger.

Karl, do you find "gloom" in this symphony? I would sooner turn to Schumann's 2nd, Bruckner's 8th or Mahler's 6th to find that.....

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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