Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What is music?

I have been an on-and-off subscriber to Strad magazine since 1996. Great photos, good stories, expensive.

Bundled in with the September 2009 issue is a special edition "Violin Heroes," which has stories on various violin players and their heroes. For example, someone playing now refers to Jascha Heifetz, and then the next story might be a reprint of a Heifetz profile from an earlier Strad issue. I should also mention that Strad magazine comes from England.

One that stood out in my mind came from the March 1923 issue, and started with this:

“The violinist (Jascha Heifetz) had risen to fame in America, and by April, 1921, seventy or eighty thousand records of his playing had been sold in England. Assuming that each record was put on ten times, and that each reproduction was listened to by an average of three individuals, Heifetz had been heard more that two millions of times in England before he sounded a note here in public. The brain goes dizzy at the thought…”

All of us now hear far more recorded music than live music. We get to know musicians first, and often only, through recordings. Interesting to think that less than 100 years ago this was reversed, as it was since the beginning of time.

A few years ago, the early-music expert Christopher Hogwood gave a talk at nearby Boise State University. Many interesting points, but I was most surprised when he pointed out that we are the first people in history to be able to hear what music sounded like 100 years ago. And I shouldn't have been surprised, because just a year or so earlier, I had gotten the CD recording of James Scott Skinner, Scottish violinist (1843-1927), which was originally recorded in the early twentieth century. Here is a list which includes those recordings, as well as others.

There are times when I think that having too much information is paralyzing. And I feel sinful stating so.

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