Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 2

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Amelita Galli-Curci, one of the most popular sopranos of her day. “Gramophone Celebrities — I. Galli-Curci”, THE GRAMOPHONE No. 2, Jun. 1923.

SEPTEMBER 12th 2018 — It would be a challenge to find something in today’s issues of THE GRAMOPHONE to make one choke upon one’s breakfast cereal, but these classic issues suffer from no such handicap. Among the morsels from the second issue:

“[…] it is no use asking canaries to sing music written for elephants.” (“Z.” discussing Wagner operas)

Musically, the following recordings mentioned and available on Spotify stand out:

  • Bach: AIR FOR G STRING played by cellist Pablo Casals. Specifically a recording made by the pre-electric acoustic process between 1916 and 1920. Casals later re-recorded this electrically.
  • Sebastián Iradier: “LA PALOMA” (“THE DOVE”) (1850s), sung by Spanish-American baritone Emilio de Gogorza. This rendition of this popular song will be mentioned numerous times in issues to come, but with this as well as most other pieces, I will note only the first mention I come across.
  • Albert Ketèlbey: “BLOW, BLOW, THOU WINTER WIND” (based on Shakespeare) sung by Norman Allin. This is not among my favorite works from this composer, but I wanted to mention it because Ketèlbey is a composer who intrigues me. His music is cinematic, like soundtrack music of several decades later. I will note his other, more alluring works in instalments to come.
  • Two spirituals sung by Roland Hayes: “STEAL AWAY” (arranged by Brown) and “GO DOWN, MOSES” (arr. Burleigh). I find that some of these early recordings of spirituals still communicate powerfully and directly across all these years. Compared to that directness of emotion and composition, most “white” music from this era seems feeble and insincere. One doesn’t need to be devotedly religious to appreciate these qualities. This music inspired and its power flowed into the works of Bob Dylan and many other later composers and musicians.

A Swiss musician called Edmond Roethlisberger is quoted on Bach’s harpsichord music:

“Would you know Bach at his most intimate, his most original, it is in his harpsichord compositions that he is to be found… He wrote for it from his earliest youth until his death and confided to it many of those almost supernatural inspirations which hypnotize us as if messages from a Beyond to which he alone could penetrate.” (pp. 36–37)

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Portrait of the author from the article “The Harpsichord and Gramophone”.

The author of the article in which this quote appears, harpsichordist Violet Gordon Woodhouse makes an interesting observation:

“It must […] be remembered that in Bach’s and Mozart’s time the harpsichord always figured in the orchestra. Conductors used it much more than the baton. Its quality of tone enabled it to accompany without smothering the principal instruments and blend with the strings as no piano can.”

In another article another writer muses on the proper times and situations for a Brit to listen to the gramophone:

“Again, to show how ridiculous our inhibitions are, let me ask what you would say if, on visiting a lady or gentleman, you found her or him solitary, listening to the music of his own gramophone. You would think it odd, would you not? You would endeavor to dissemble your surprise; you would look twice to see whether some other person were not hidden in some corner of the room, and if you found no such one, would painfully blush, as if you had discovered your friend sniffing cocaine, emptying a bottle of whisky, or plaiting straws in his hair.” (Orlo Williams, “Times and Seasons”, p. 38)

An anonymous writer starts an article on “New Dance Records” thus:

“It was, I believe, a late Shah of Persia, who, when taken to the opera in order that he might be impressed by Western music, expressed preference for the ‘tuning up’ of the orchestra, and desired that it might be repeated.” (p. 40)

The article also tells us that the popular music of the day (1923) was already occasionally quoting classical music.


This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

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