Impact of Recordings on Performance with regard to Violinists, Kreisler, Heifetz, and Menuhin.

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Introduction

It was not very long ago that John Phillip Sousa predicted that the actual recording of various types of musical instruments would eventually lead to a decline in the quality of music that society enjoys[1]. In making this prediction, he discussed the scenario by which the finer abilities of the human ear to hear obscure sounds would become eroded over time. In addition, his contention is that the proliferation of recordings taking place today, in regard to musical instruments and vocal arrangements, would end up creating a likely situation whereby amateurs would replace professional musicians and gradually push down the quality of music that we enjoy today[2]. This assertion is largely based on the reality that recorded music today has contributed substantially to the international empire of pirated music and musical instruments.  It has also served to enhance the ability of almost anyone, musically talented and not, to record and market songs.

There are certainly numerous critics and opposing viewpoints to John Phillip Sousa’s arguments, but much of the debate does arise from the reality that scope of the music industry, and the profession thereof, has changed dramatically in recent decades.  Modern day society has evolved technologically to a place where people around the globe can record music from their CD or MPS players, disk drives, or the Internet.  The existence of this technology has resulted in an uncanny ability by many to manipulate music to the point that it has become cheapened, and has the potential to become an art form that has no identity[3].  Even musical arrangements that were known for the beauty and specificity can now be easily located on the Internet and rearranged to suit the modern day tastes of today’s listeners.  Should this trend continue, society will lose one the most creative arts that has ever existed.  That is the focus of this paper.

An Overview of the Music Recording Industry

The ability to record and digitally master music has had a profound influence of various performers throughout history, and on the music industry and our culture in general.  It is believed the possibility of recording and reproducing sound, including that of musical oriented composition, dates back to 1877.  This is the prevailing theory given to us by Roger Beardsley and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, as they recount the reality that Thomas Edison invent the phonograph around that time[4].  A mere three decades later, wax cylinders had been formed, which enabled the ability to record elaborate orchestra pieces the likes of anything from overtures to full-blown musicals.  In fact, the London Symphony Orchestra is known to have recorded an eight-sided version of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, under the conduction of Nikisch and Elgar[5].  This was only the first in a long line of famous orchestras globally in the early 1900s that began to record their music for the masses to enjoy.

The early recording industry was only limited to orchestra music, however, as jazz was quick to follow.  Jazz musicians saw the recording of their music to be one way that could later listen to their own music and determine places in the piece that could used some refinement.  This result in musicians developing the ability to improve upon their music over time through the use of recordings.  Jazz recordings are known to date back to 1918 with Victor recording the first series of real jazz, which featured the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  It should be noted that early recordings, particularly of jazz music, were certainly not of the quality that they are today, and much of the production was so poor in quality that it did not get mass produced.  It did, however, set the stage for the recording industry that we now know today, as various new technologies have been introduced to make digital mastering of music more possible and accessible to nearly any type of musician[6].

By 1920, the possibilities of digital recording of music had peaked the interest of Bell Telephone Laboratories, which then put a great deal of effort into scientific research about to better refine recording techniques.  This resulted in what history now knows as the Western Electric recording system.  This particular type of system was first utilized by popular musicians of the day, but twist musician soon realized the potential as well and began to utilize this new style of recording compositions as well. In fact, it soon became commonplace to record public performances at such famous venues as the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden[7].  These were the main area of interest at the time as so many international artists sign contracts with them, thereby making it feasible to market their music recordings to a global audience for the first time ever.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, recording techniques were still being developed, refined, and improved upon. Over time, society was introduced to magnetic recordings, magnetic tape, and multi-track recordings, which all led to the digital recordings we now enjoy today in the form of compact disc and MP3 style electronic formats.  As recently as 2005, Alex Ross drew us back to Philip Sousa’s comments back in 1906 predicting that the ability to record music would actually lead to the demise of the music and orchestra industry, as such technology would erode the high level instincts of the ear and put professional musicians out of work.  It is noted that Sousa himself proclaimed, “The time is coming when no one will be ready to submit himself to the ennobling discipline of learning music.  Everyone will have their readymade or easy pirated music in their cupboards.  The nightingale’s song is delightful because the nightingale herself gives it forth”[8].  It is with this prophecy in mind that the inspiration for this study was formed.  It is important to understand how the recoding of music made possible for more than a century now has impacted the music industry past, present, and future.

The Impact of Recording on the Performance of Violinists

The negative comments that Philip Sousa had for the process of recording music, comments that were issued more than a century ago, certainly warrant consideration and discussion.  His predictions do encourage us to consider and evaluate the impact that recordings have made on both the performance of musicians and the industry in general, whether or not the effect has been positive, negative, or mixed.  To analyze these points further, it is helpful to consider different violinists who have made use of recordings throughout their career.  That will be accomplished by looking at the collective examples of Kreisler, Heifetz, and Menuhin.  Each of these three gifted violinists saw recordings influence their performances owed to the diversity of interpretation made possible in their compositions, and the musical style and violin technique that they were able to perfect through constant playback.  In addition, recordings enabled these three individuals to develop different approaches to rhythm, tempo, vibrato, and portamento.

Through the recordings of these three individuals, their methods of playing the violin have been distributed globally at a much wider pace than they would have been in a pre-recording era[9].  As such, it is important to evaluate the impact that this phenomenon has had on the next generation of musicians, and to a more recent extent, scholars in the field of musical arts.  There are multiple reasons why this discussion is important, beginning with the reality that developing and acquiring knowledge through recordings enables us to better understand the historicity of modern day music. In addition, the exposure to the very technology that has enabled the recording of music can be seen to not be limiting in nature, but actually to be liberating.  Alex Ross himself stated that recording is all about, “Bringing the art of the elite to the masses and the art of the margins to the center”[10].

The recording of various pieces of music has actually performed a crucial role in enhancing the quality of work produced by the modern day violinist.  Many violinists today, by way of example, aspire to record a solo violin sonata what contains a mixture of other instruments.  This process no longer requires the violinist to go through an arduous process of looking for other gifted instrumentalists in their desired genre, but rather they are now able to go ahead and record their violin solo in a digital format[11].  This digital recording can then be automatically mixed at a later date with other instruments by making use of various pieces of new technology that are at the disposal of today’s instrumental musician.

Currently, there is quite a bit of new technology coming available that is proving most useful in enhancing the quality of musical recordings.  This is serving the function of improving the quality of sounds produced by the violin via various methods.  One example of this is the use of a condenser, which effectively produces sounds that are more appealing to the human ear.  With the significant improvement in the quality of the sounds produced by violins, many violinists now have the opportunity to attract a far larger audience than they ever dreamed was possible in previous generations.  As a result, violin pieces recorded today can be sold to a wider and global audience, enhancing the musicians ability to earn an income that is sufficient enough to encourage them to continue in the profession, not to mention have the time to devote to their trade craft.

This phenomenon of violinists recording their own music for the purpose of enhancing the quality is not necessarily a new one.  An early example of such a process taking place was Fritz Kreisler, Born in Austria in 1875, Kreisler great benefited from recoding his own performances.  One of his most famous recordings was ‘Liebesleid’.  This particular piece ended up setting the standard that is still used in current violin sounds produced by countless artists through the years, owing to the fact that many violinists use the recording as a benchmark for creating their own unique pieces[12].

There is also the reality that certain recordings have negatively impacted musicians such as Kreisler.  This is due to the simple fact that many people have come after him, taken his recordings, and manipulated the sounds to create their own piece.  This is a modern day variation of piracy that is serving to hamper the efforts of gifted musicians worldwide, and is causing many to become disillusioned with the art all together.  The manipulation and various rearrangements of Kreisler’s original compositions have certainly affected the quality and originality of his work.  One of his songs, by way of example, was effectively rearranged completely back in 1938 by including a mixture of other instrumental sounds within the original piece.  This untended consequence of recordings impact not only Kreisler, but any gifted musician who desires to make use of recording technology, yet still wants to retain the integrity of the original piece for generations to come[13].

Another example of this phenomenon is the Lithuanian-American violinist Jascha Heifetz.  It is also noted that his performances have been great affected over the years by various recordings.  Known for his mastery of the violinist, and the composer of numerous famous pieces throughout his career, many of his songs were recorded by himself in order to provide for a continuous mechanism whereby he could improve upon his already brilliant pieces of music.  Considered one of his earliest recorded pieces on record, J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. This particular composition was recorded by utilizing ‘direct to disk’ technologies present back in the early 1940s.

Such recordings played a major role in Heifetz’s work by providing him with an enhanced opportunity to reach a sizable global audience who could purchase his disks for playback in an environment of their choosing.  This also ended up serving the dual purpose of increasing his income, allowing him to focus more on developing and creating new compositions.  In addition, some of his recordings caught the attention of the movie industry, ending up with some of his musical pieces being included in the 1939 movie ‘They Shall Have Music’.  It can also be said, however, that such recordings and digital masteries of Heifetz’s work served to facilitate a further deterioration in the quality of some of his original pieces.  This is due to the reality that modern technology has made it possible to manipulate and rearrange the original music, thereby causing the original piece itself to lose much of its original integrity[14].

One further example of the relationship that exists between the recording of music and classical violinists can be seen in Yehudi Menuhin.  Born back in 1916, his music was greatly enhanced and improved on the basis of his ability to record various compositions.  He actually began engaging in various recording contracts in the United States.  This gave him a large platform by which he was able to reach a wide variety of audiences that would have otherwise been privy to his work.  Additionally, he recorded one particular piece of music in 1932 with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.  This one composition is still considered to be one of these best recordings to this day.  This example further illustrates how the recording of violinist pieces can enable the composer to preserve music to be accessed and enjoyed by future generations, thereby by further promoting the beauty of the art that is classical music.  Menuhin himself earned a decent living from a recording contract he signed early on in his career, which ended up spanning nearly 70 years.  This is considered to be one of the longest recording contract durations ever experienced in the history of the music industry.  Sadly, recordings have also had a similar negative effect on Menuhin’s music over time that has been similar to that experienced by Heifetz and Kreisler.  Certain recordings have seen a deterioration of quality throughout the generations owing to an increased capacity to manipulate that quality and setting of a musical piece by using modern recording and digital technologies[15].

The Impact of Recordings on Modern Day Musicians

The recording of music has enabled musicians of all different genres evolve and change with respect to their art and tradecraft.  Recordings serve to develop our knowledge of different elements of music and they make us more aware of opportunities to enhance and modify sounds and instruments that would perhaps never be possible absent such ability.  As musicians are constantly looking for new styles and sounds, recordings also enable musicians to develop a newness and originality that keeps the industry fresh and new listeners coming into the fold.  When different recordings of a particular piece of music are made, musicians can take the result and work to find the best possible arrangement by eliminating those aspects of the piece that, quite simply, do not work as well as first thought[16].  Through this process of give and take, music enables the arctic more easily express themselves.

Robert Philip once proclaimed in his expose entitled ‘Early Recordings and Musical Style’ that one of the most important reasons to closely examine and analyze musical recordings is owed to our desire to contact develop our own knowledge about the piece itself.  It is beneficial to the better understand the kind of style that the piece requires and what kind of musical instrumentation and arrangement works best[17].  This enables suggestions to be made by various composers about what music was like during different historical periods and genres.  It is no longer necessary to research and deliberate exactly how a particular piece composed by Rachmaninoff, Bartok or other composers should sound like, or what specific musical style should be incorporated into a reproduction of the sounds, because we already understand how exactly they were performed based on the recordings that we have at our disposal.  Students and scholars of music today can now learn from the greatest violin soloists in history, for example, based upon the recordings that are so readily available around the globe at a moment’s notice[18].

It is evident that scholarly knowledge of music and its various forms is quite different that fully understanding the knowledge that the performer had when they created a particular piece of music.  This concept is further magnified when scholar and performer are one and the same.  It is important, in such instances, to uncover how a musician today might use their knowledge of the art as a source of historical fascination and insight that can help them perfect their own style of music.  As previously discussed, Kreisler, Heifetz, and Menuhin are three violinists who epitomize this truth.  They took their own recordings and not only profited from the financially, but musically as well.  Playing an instrument such as the violin requires not only a great deal of skill, but also an ability to hear distinct sounds[19].  Naturally, having a mechanism by which gifted musicians can listen back to their own music will, in the long run, enable them to perfect the sounds that are created ever further than would be possible otherwise.

It is useful at this point to consider the impact that recording has had on various musical factors such as tempo, rhythm, vibrato and portamento.  This can be reflected in comparing the compositions of various violinists from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Consider tempo and rhythm as a beginning point.  Rhythm in early recordings reflected sounds that are consider being too eccentric for contemporary and modern day listeners of classical music.  The approach is often viewed to have been hasty and uncontrolled.  This was likely due to early violinists employing a very rapid tempo into the music, using different approaches to vary the length of notes.  This can be contrasted with a more relaxed approach to today’s composers that contrasted the melody and the accompaniment, contain a flexible tempo, and a tendency to accelerate and increase the volume when the piece calls for an energetic arpeggio[20].  Today, we typically see violinists that avoid the tendencies of the early musicians and they tend to employ a rhythm to their music that is more measured and controlled.  This is a likely result of the impact that early recordings have had on them as they desire to constantly improve upon the quality of their playing the stringed instruments over time.

Listeners of one music today will likely notice that modern recordings have a change of tempo that is generally less noticeable. Early recordings of various concertos are much richer and use a faster tempo than the recordings we hear at the present time.  While lyrical arpeggios ere not much slower than modern recordings, the contrast lies in the reality that the effect of energetic arpeggios is much more pronounced.  The difference between the recordings from different time periods can be noticed in the tempo of energetic arpeggios in older recordings, compared to a more restrained tempo in modern day recordings.

It is known that a fast temp typically follows a slow tempo in older recordings of the famous violinists of the modern era.  This is what distinguished the soloist from the orchestra as a whole.  Today, however, the orchestra and the solo violinist seem to be on a parity with one another that is reflected in the sounds produced in modern recordings.  Today’s violinist tends to stove a much more logical balance between fast and slow tempo throughout the pieces that they play[21].  This is reflected in the contrast between modern recordings and those conducted in 1920.  The tempo between movements within a piece today is much narrower today than they were nearly a century ago.  A typical example of this is Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata.

Heifetz himself gained notoriety and became quite famous because of his ability to employ quite a rapid tempo within his pieces throughout his career.  This started from a crotchet that equalled 160.  From a historical perspective, this was an incredibly fast tempo compared with performances that we are witnessing at the present time.  On numerous old recordings, the typical scholar of music will discover that mostly the same fast tempo was employed by violinists as a reflection of the time.  Only Kreisler and Menuhin appeared to use a significantly slower tempo within the composition of their work.  This incredibly fast tempo that seemed to rule that day when recordings first began gradually gave way to a more flexible style of music in the early 20th century[22].  Over the years, this gradual chance have been reflected in an approach to tempo that has adapted to a newfound flexibility that has provided listeners with a more gradual change in tempo than was previously evident.

Recent recordings have certainly exhibited this flexibility in terms of rhythm.  We can hear subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, differences in accelerando and rallentando.  In addition, violinists today are much more apt to employ advanced techniques utilize tenuto on agogic accent, in addition to developing an independence of melody with accompaniments that enhances the listening ability of their respective pieces.  The flexibility we notice today in classical music contains less variability in detail and between movements within the piece itself[23].  In addition, modern day performances are less characteristic in terms of using rhythm than they were in previous decades before recording created such an impact on musicians themselves.

Today, entire performances of the greatest artists and musicians, often playing in grand concert halls and arenas, can be enjoyed complete with audience reaction and accompanying emotions thereof.  This is a ‘whole art’ perspective that was not possible before the recording era and has enabled entire performances, from beginning to end, to be captured on one compact disc and then produced on a mass scale that can be distributed globally.  Alex Ross recent remarked that music is no longer necessarily what we are creating on our own, or by watching other people doing it.  Music is now much more virtual and, as Sousa said, it has truly become an ”art without a face”[24].  This discussion leads to the plausible conclusion that many believe, including Sousa, that the ability to reproduce music will one day replace production and that old music will simply be recreated into more modern versions[25].  Were these to occur, the music industry of old will be replaced with a new version that eliminates access to many of the classics that have shaped the music industry into what it is today.  Some fear that this could spell the slow death of the classics and will stifle creativity and ingenuity of the musicians that have gone before us.

There was a day not long ago that if a person wanted to hear the symphonies of Beethoven, attendance at a grand concert hall of other type of music house would be compulsory.  The average layperson could not reproduce the sounds of the great composers, and the ability to listen in one home was non-existent.  The meant that new musicians had a difficult time learning from the masters because they would need to live in an area of the world that had some great orchestras those they could go and listen to.  An interesting feature of recording, however, is that novice students of music can now learn from the masters in the comfort of their home[26].  This does not necessarily mean that technology has always produced positive benefits to the music industry, but it has certainly increase access to the great musicians of the past and present.  This has certainly served to elevate the quality of music that we enjoy today over time as individuals are able to spend much more time learning and perfecting certain sounds to later be recreated in pieces of their own.  No longer do people have to rely on attendance to a live orchestra event to accomplish this feat.

On the other hand, there are others that argue this very access to great music on a grand scale, without having to attend a live event, is the very thing that is destroying the ability of new musicians to be able to continue in their trade[27].  There is little comparison to attending an actual orchestra event.  Music is meant to be played and enjoyed life.  The mixture of instruments, combined with the solos that form the foundation of any given piece, encourage and motivate future musicians to take up a bow and add new musical elements in future genres.  With recordings made available to the public on a massive scale, there is less of an interest today in attending the great symphonies and concertos of our time, and of times past[28].  This ability to learn from the various nuances in music that one can only notice when attending a live is, quite simply, lost when individuals rely only on recordings for their listening enjoyment and education.

Many scholars advocate for a situation where a healthy balance exists with having access to and listening to recorded music, and with actually attending a life performance.  As has been noted by many professionals interested in this topic, however, it seems that life performances today are taking place in the background, with many ind.............


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