A Musical Time Machine
Recently, a cellist friend of mine lent me some of his CDs of really old recordings by once famous musicians of the past , the oldest of which dates from 1903 ! He's a big fan of these once starry names , and like more than a few experts today , thinks they have a certain flair, individuality and Je ne sais quois which are lacking in many of today's violinists, cellists and pianists . It's really fascinating to hear these antique recordings, made at a time when recording technique was so primitive by the standards of today's amazing digital technology .
However, such great musicians of the present day as violinists Itzhak Perlman, Anne-Sopie Mutter, Gidon Kremer , cellists Yo Yo Ma and pianists Martha Argerich , Emanuel Ax , to name only a handful , are not exactly chopped liver . It'[s fascinating to hear how vastly styles of playing and interpretation have changed since the early 20th century .
You probably haen't heard of such musicians as Joaseph Joachim, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo De Sarasate , Jacques Thibaud , Moriz Rosenthal , Bronislaw Huberman, and Alfred Cortot, some of the musicians I've been listening to . But in their day , they were stellar names in classical music . Joachim,Ysaye, Hubermann, and Thibaud were violinists, and Rosenthal and Cortot were pianists . Ysaye was Belgian, Sarasate was Spanish , Thibaud was French and Cortot was Swiss French . There are also a couple of CDs with the great Catalan cellist Pablo Casals (1876 -1973 ), who is much better known today because of his very long life and career . My friend actually played in a master class with Casals in his youth, and naturaly, reveres him , the same as musicians everywhere .
Listening to Joseph Joachim, who was born in 1831 ! and lived until 1907 , is an almost eerie experience . He was born only four years after the death of Beethoven , and was a close friend of and collaborator with Johannes Brahms . Joachim was a Hungarian jew , and a child prodigy who played the Mendelssohn violin concerto under the composer's direction as a boy . Remember, Mendelssohn was born in 1809 and died in 1847. He was also a close friend of Robert Schumann and his wife Clara, who was a renowned pianist .
Brahms consulted Joachim when writing his only violin concerto , still one of the most famous in the repertoire , for technical advice about writing for the violin , and Joachim made the work famous . Joachim made only a tiny handful of primitive recordings, five short works in all ,in 1903 . They include excerpts from Bach's works for solo violin , a breif work of his own composition for violin and piano , and two of the Brahms Hungarian dances , originally written for piano two hands and later orchestrated by the composer and others, in transcriptions for violin and piano .
Joachim was in his 70s, somewhat past his prime , and the antiquated sound has a great deal of snap, crackle,and pop, as is the norm with ancient recordings . One thing you notice is that he uses considerably less vibrato than string players today , and how freely he applies the rhythmic flixibilty called rubato , speeding up and slowing down freely in a manner not written into the score . and a tendency to go from note to note with a curious sliding effect which is very rare today . To unaccustomed ears, it sounds rather sentimental, but you get used ot it .
A time machine has yet to be invented yet, but I almost feel as though I've been in one .