The final meeting of the current season of Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held, tonight, Monday 4th June 2018 at 7.30pm in the usual venue. The evening will be in the form of a concert, for which Paul Goldman has assembled three historic recordings:
The Case for the Unfinished was the title of last nights presentation from Tony Powell. One might be forgiven for thinking this was about Schubert’s unfinished symphony but in fact it was about other composer’s unfinished works of which of course there are plenty. Attempts to add another movement to Schubert’s work have not been successful and indeed it is possible that what is left is indeed finished.
Tony instead started with a Night on a Bare Mountain by Mussorgsky. The final movement was changed by Rimsky Korsakov and this was played first. Then we heard the original version which was entirely different and a complete contrast. The point here was that finishing another composer’s work may be acceptable if it is in the spirit of the original.
Another famous unfinished work is the Requiem by Mozart and this was being feverishly composed as he was dying. It was famously finished by his pupil and sometime collaborator Süssmayr. There are many arguments about who wrote what bit of the work but nevertheless, there is sufficient of Mozart in the piece to make it a great work of art. The difference here is that the work was intended to be finished and Mozart was dictating ideas until his actual death. With Schubert on the other hand, we do not know of his intentions.
Bruckner’s ninth is usually played in its incomplete form but again, a lot of material was left – indeed a substantial number of sketches and completed elements – to enable an attempt to be made to create a final movement. We heard Sir Simon Rattle conducting a performance and he was quoted as saying that there was ‘more Bruckner in the final movement than there was of Mozart in the Requiem.’ It certainly sounded authentic although there were references to the 5th now and again.
It was a surprise to some present that Puccini did not finish Turandot but the opera was left 15 minutes or so short at his death. It was finished by Franco Alfano yet it is recognisably in the master’s hand.
After a long fallow period following the Great War, Elgar started work on his 3rd Symphony which he did not finish by the time of his death in 1934. From the surviving material the BBC asked Anthony Payne to finish it and he worked on the project for many years. The first performance was in 1998 conducted by Andrew Davies. The usual attribution is to both Elgar and Payne. We heard part of the 1st movement and most of the 2nd.
Finally, Mahler and the unfinished 10th. Mahler left a lot of notes and a ‘short score’ that is, not a fully orchestrated version. Mahler had discovered that his wife had been unfaithful and this added to the turmoil in his life. Initially his widow resisted attempts to finish and fully orchestrate the score but later relented. There were several attempts and many statements by musicians saying it shouldn’t be done. Deryck Cooke worked on the score and this was first performed in 1964. Alma Mahler had changed her mind once she had seen the finished work and heard a performance. We listened to one movement which was extremely ‘Mahler like’ in its sound and development.
This was a most interesting evening and shed light on the difficulties and problems of trying to finish another composer’s work. Composition is a highly individual activity and however many notes and sketches are left, what would have ultimately been produced can never be recreated. But if the attempts are honest to the original composer’s style and intentions, a worthwhile result can be achieved.
The last presentation was by Robin Lim on the subject of early stereo recordings. We are so used to stereo sound now – either through loud speakers or headphones – that we forget that there was a time when sound was in mono only. We also think that it is a fairly modern invention: modern in the sense of 60’s when stereo records appeared. It was an example of technology being ahead of its market in that, although the recordings existed, few people could afford the means to play them.
In fact Robin revealed, stereo existed at the end of the nineteenth century in France. This was at the Paris Electrical Exhibition in 1881. Separate telephone lines were used to convey the two tracks and a company was set up to exploit the technology which survived until after the Great War.
But it was in the ’30s that stereo started to make its mark and this was linked to parallel developments in being able to store sound for playing later. An example from this era was Leopold Stokowski playing an excerpt of Die Walkerie by Wagner from 1932. The recording was surprisingly good but with a degree of background noise. Nevertheless, the vigour of the recording and the balance between the two speakers was excellent.
An Englishman, Anthony Blumlein, perfected the single track system and with developments in America, the modern stereo record was born. From 1934, a recording of Sir Thomas Beecham playing part of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony and the quality of the recording was outstanding. Some modern filtering had probably been applied by even so, it was eminently listenable to. Sir Thomas once said ‘The English do not like music but they absolutely love the noise it makes!’
Film music on the other hand was developing rapidly and soon had 8 tracks on which to record. We heard Stokowski again with the Russian dance from the film Fantasia which was made before the war.
During the war, the Allies listened to German radio and were surprised to hear recorded
music of high quality being transmitted. When the war ended there was a rush to find out how the Germans had done it and they had indeed made great technical advances. Unfortunately, a lot of the recordings were in the Russian sector and most disappeared after the war. One at least survived and this was Gieseking playing Beethoven’s the Emperor concerto with the Berlin Radio Orchestra, and the sound and playing was simply outstanding. Indeed, one had to remind oneself that this was a recording from the war and not a modern cd.
Robin also touched on ‘accidental stereo’. This is where in the early days two recordings were made as a kind of insurance in case one of the machines failed. Modern technology has enabled these two be blended together to give a stereophonic effect. Apparently discs were sent to Elgar after the recording was done and he kept them and they have survived. This has enabled the two recordings to be blended and as an example, we heard an extract from the ‘cello concerto. We also heard Elgar conducting a version of ‘Oh God our help in ages past’. This was made in February 1928. The sound was authentic but the stereo was not so evident. Even so, a remarkable achievement.
It was a fascinating evening, in which Robin married the development of a technology with the sound it produced.
Before the meeting we had a brief agm. All the officers were reelected en bloc. The Society made a small surplus in the year. The chair thanked all those who opened up, did the refreshments, prepared the programme and also the members who continue to support us. Over 2,000 people have visited this Web site. New members are always welcome. Copies of the programme are in the Oxfam music room, the Tourism Information Centre in Salt Lane and the Collector’s Room in Endless Street.
The new season got off to a good start with a presentation entitled The Power of Mysticism in Music by Ian Lace. Ian was one of the founder members of the Society (not called that then) so we were pleased to welcome him back. He chose pieces where a sense of something beyond the composer was present in the music. It was interesting that most of the pieces – with one exception in fact – were English composers. Whether this means composers from these shores are more susceptible to these influences is probably unlikely although it was noticeable that several had experience either the first or second world wars.
The pieces played were:
Adagio from Elgar’s Symphony No 1
Bax, Symphony No 3
Finzi Intimations of Mortality
The Romanza from Vaughan William’s Symphony No 5
Elgar again the time the Kingdom Pentecost and finishing with
Delius Songs of Farewell
Well not quite finishing there because he finished with Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World.
An excellent evening and an all too rare opportunity to hear the music of Bax.
The next meeting is on 3 October and is on early stereo recordings. It will be preceded by a brief agm.
The last meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society took place last nightMonday 23rd May 2016 at 7.30pm, in our usual venue. Jon Hampton presented ‘The art of the arranger’ including works by Boccherini arranged by Berio, Bach by Elgar, and Schubert by Britten. An excellent and interesting evening and there will be a full report soon.
There was a selection of records (as in vinyl) which have been kindly donated to the Society and these are available with members asked to make a small contribution as they see fit. They are listed below:
Symphony #8 and #5
Berlin PO, Maazel
Andre Previn, LSO
Romeo & Juliet
J Pritchard, LPO
Festival of Carols
Festival of Lessons and carols
Scottish & Italian Sym
Piano Concertos #20 #23
Brendel, Academy St M in the Fields
Bath Abbey organ
Boyd Neel and Orchestra
Symphonies #29 #39
Colin Davies, S of London
Sonatas, Moonlight, Pathetique, #17
Symphonies # 39 #40
Böhm, Vienna PO
Bruch & Beethoven
Violin Conc #1; Romances for V and orchestra
Various, Smyth, MacCunn
Music of the four countries
Gibson, Scottish Nat Orch
The two pigeons
Jacquillat, Orchestra de Paris
The 8 symphonies
Faerber, Württbergberg Ch O
Brandenburg #4 #5 #6
Davison, Virtuoso of England
Brandenburg #1 #2 #3
Piano Concerto # 1
Pressler, Vienna State Opera
4 seasons etc
Piano Conc #1
Makaloff, Hague PH Orch
Gateway to the Classics and Opera
G & S
Overtures, Mikado, Gondoliers etc
Godfrey, New SO of London
G & S
Best of …
Most look to be in good condition and the discs I’ve looked at seem clean and unscratched. If you are interested in any of these please ring 01722 782382 and we can try and arrange delivery.
The next meeting of the Society is on Monday 5 October – usual time, usual place. It is entitled 1911 – New music of a sunset year and will be given by Barry Conaway. It will include music by Mahler, Delius, Sibelius, Elgar and Nielsen. We look forward to seeing you there.