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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 .


Posted: Jul 30 2012, 10:06 PM by the horn | with no comments
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