Tag Archives: Sound recordings

Granados’s performance practices

Enrique Granados’s Duo-Art piano-roll performance of his Danza española no. 5 (Andaluza), made some 20 years after the piece was published, illuminates much about late-Romantic piano performance practices.

Transcription and analysis of this piano roll illustrate the disparity between score and performance. Granados added and changed notes, ornaments, articulations, and chords. He also altered many rhythmic values, desynchronized melody and accompaniment, rolled chords at will, and introduced drastic tempo changes not indicated in the score. His performing style thus reflects a personal approach to the piano that lies well within the broader context of the Romantic performance tradition.

This according to “Piano-roll recordings of Enrique Granados: A study of a transcription of the composer’s performance” by Anatole Leikin (Journal of musicological research XXI/1–2 [January–June 2002] pp. 3–19).

Today is Granados’s 150th birthday! Below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Performance practice, Romantic era

Elgar and the gramophone

For 20 years Edward Elgar worked for The Gramophone Company as both an advocate of his music and an advocate of the gramophone.

During this period, recording technology changed from the cramped conditions of the acoustic studio of 1914 (above) to the specialized recording studio of Abbey Road using the electrical system of 1933, in which year Elgar conducted his last recordings, with the extraordinary appendix of Elgar supervising a recording by telephone connection from his deathbed in 1934.

As an interpreter of his own music—we cannot comment from direct experience on his success with the music of others, for nothing was recorded—he was as fine a conductor as Furtwängler for Wagner and Mengelberg for Brahms. His conducting ability extended to every aspect of the art, from the purely technical quality of the playing he repeatedly drew from orchestras to the inexhaustible fascination of the interpretations themselves.

This according to “Elgar’s recordings” by Simon Trezise (Nineteenth-century music review V/1 [2008] pp. 111–31).

Today is Elgar’s 160th birthday! Below, Elgar conducts the prelude to The dream of Gerontius in 1927, a recording singled out for praise in the article.

BONUS: Elgar conducts the trio of Pomp and circumstance march no. 1 at the opening of the Abbey Road Studios on 12 November 1931. After mounting the podium, he says to the orchestra “Good morning, gentlemen. Glad to see you all. Very light programme this morning. Please play this tune as though you’ve never heard it before.”

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Filed under Romantic era

Harry Smith’s grand collage

The power of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music, which turns 65 this year, lies squarely in its use of collage.

Smith’s decisions in sequencing and juxtaposing the 84 songs encouraged a play of sounds and lyrical content that calls attention to similarities and differences, opening multiple meanings and allowing for many possible interpretations.

By privileging collage over narrative, Smith created a complex and nuanced work of social commentary. Through collage, the Anthology captures the ongoing negotiation of the various voices—past and present, black and white—taking part in the reconstruction of U.S. history. These voices remain audible today.

This according to “Collage, politics, and narrative approaches to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music” by Dan Blim, an essay included in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music: America changed through music (Abington: Routledge, 2017, pp. 82–99).

Above, Smith ca. 1965; below, selections from volume II of the six-volume set.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Leonard Chess takes over

Leonard Chess is widely known as the co-founder of Chess Records and as a producer who was tremendously influential in the development of popular music; fewer people know that for one recording session he took over the drum set.

When Muddy Waters and his sidemen were recording for him on 11 July 1951, Waters later recalled, “my drummer couldn’t get the beat on She moves me. The verse was too long.”

“You know, it says…‘She shook her finger in a blind man’s face, he say Once I was blind but now I see/She moves me, man…’ My drummer wanted to play a turnaround there; I had to go another six or eight bars to get it turned around…he couldn’t hold it there to save his damn life.”

With characteristic brusqueness, Chess dismissed the drummer and sat down at the set himself, providing a foursquare thump on the bass drum, two beats to the bar without any frills. In effect, he solved the problem of timing the turnaround by ignoring it.

This according to The story of Chess Records by John Colis (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 1999, pp. 56–57).

Today would have been Leonard Chess’s 100th birthday! Above, Chess around 1970; below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Popular music

Accidental hooks

prado cherry pink

Popular records often include accidents, indicating something about the flexibility of musical practices and the limits of theories. Musical hooks provide useful test-cases because they are normally considered the least accidental part of a song.

One imagines the hook emerging fully formed in a moment of inspiration—the catchy phrase that comes into a songwriter’s head—or at least of calculation: But hooks sometimes incorporate accidents or happen accidentally. If hooks are less than completely determinate, then every aspect of a popular record must be subject to contingency.

This according to “Accidents, hooks, and theory” by Charles Kronengold (Popular music XXIV/3 [October 2005] pp. 381–397).

Above and below, Pérez Prado’s Cherry pink and apple blossom white, one of the examples cited in the article. The intended hook was the prominent trumpet lip slurs; the accidental hook, which made the record a number one U.S. hit in 1955, was Prado’s occasional interpolated vocalizations.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Reception

Voices from the past

Carl Haber, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

While he was stuck in traffic in early 2000, the physicist Carl Haber heard the drummer and world music enthusiast Mickey Hart on the radio talking about the dire need for preserving early recordings of indigenous peoples.

Haber had been working with SmartScope, a machine that analyzes visual information, and his work had been going so well that he had started brainstorming for further uses of this machine. It occurred to him that SmartScope might be able to read these old recordings without touching them, thereby removing the likelihood of irrevocably damaging them by playing them.

The idea worked, and Haber went on to facilitate the preservation of recordings in repositories such as the Library of Congress, and to participate in the repatriation of historical recordings to Native Americans and other ethnic groups, allowing them to hear the voices of their ancestors.

This according to “A voice from the past: How a physicist resurrected the earliest recordings” by Alec Wilkinson (The New Yorker XC/13 [19 May 2014], pp. 50–57). Above and below, Dr. Haber and his technological innovations.

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Filed under Curiosities, Science

The first pipe organ recording

Capable of producing sounds beyond the range of human hearing, the pipe organ presents the ultimate challenge for sound recording. The first known attempt was the Columbia Records recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from late August and early September 1910, which included two organ solos played by John J. McClellan.

Probably the very first pipe organ recording was a test made on 30 August 1910, with McClellan playing Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture. Two enormous acoustic recording horns, five feet long and two feet wide, were suspended on a rope strung across the Tabernacle. Although the engineer deemed the recordings successful, apparently they were never approved for release.

This according to “The first recordings of organ music ever made” by John W. Landon (Theatre organ: Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society LIII/4 [July–August 2011] pp. 22–28). Above, the Mormon Tabernacle organ as it appeared at the time of the recording (two 15-foot wings were added in 1915).

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Filed under Instruments, Mass media, Science

South African audio archive

Established by Flat International in September 2010, South African audio archive is a not-for-profit visual archive of rare and sometimes unusual South African audio documents. The project aims to provide a resource for those researching South African audio history.

The database is searchable by artist, label, company, and genre, and the website includes a bibliography and a chronology of sound recording in South Africa. High-quality reproductions of album covers or record labels are provided for each entry, along with full discographic notes and annotations.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

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Filed under Africa, Black studies, Mass media, Resources

Black Grooves

Hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture at Indiana University, Black Grooves is a review site that aims to promote black music by providing monthly updates on interesting new releases and quality reissues in all genres—gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop, as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.

Reviews of selected new discs and DVDs are featured, with occasional attention to books and news items. An extra effort is made to track down releases by indie, underground, foreign, and other labels that are not covered in the mainstream media. While the primary focus is on African American music, related areas such as Afropop and reggae are also covered.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Mass media, Popular music, Resources

Falla: Grabaciones históricas

The Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucía released Manuel de Falla 1876–1946: Grabaciones históricas in 2009 as part of its series Documentos Sonoros del Patrimonio Musical de Andalucía. The earliest recording included is Fantasía Bética, performed by Mark Hambourg in 1923; the most recent is Fuego fatuo, recorded by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Radio Televisión Española, directed by Antoni Ros Marbà, in 1976.

The accompanying booklet provides complete discographical information, numerous historical photographs, and notes in Spanish, English, and French by Andrés Ruiz Tarazona. Additional performers include Andrés Segovia, the Orquesta Bética de Cámara de Sevilla, which Falla founded in 1923, and the composer himself at the piano.

Above, Alicia de Larrocha performs Falla’s own piano transcription of “Danza del fuegofrom his El amor brujo.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Resources