THE GRAMOPHO 'NE Incorporating V 0 X, THE R A D I 0 C RI TIC and B R 0 A DCA ST REV lEW
London Office lOa Soho Square
COMPTON MACKENZIE and CHRISTOPHER STONE
Telephone Gerrard 2136, 2137
Parmaxto, Rath, London
A WRITER in The Times recently implied a criticism of the gramophone which requires an answer. He had been to hear the first performance of Sir Donald Tovey's Violoncello Concerto played by Casals, and reflected as follows:
" The ·honest purchaser .of a picture . . . walks through the gallery asking himself, ' Is this a picture I can live with?' The concert-goer has too little inducement to ask himself the same question about what he hears, for in nine cases out of ten he will have no opportunity of living with the new work. He mayor may not have a chance of hearing i t again six months hence.
"This is the chief service which the gramophone might render, but has not at present. There was a page of advertisements in last Wednesday's programme describing the records made by Senor Pau Casals, but no one expected to find there so much as the shortest movement out of Tovey's concerto; nor did they. If we could go to the hearing of a new symphony or concerto knowing that if we liked i t we could get a record of it at once to play over, the person of musical instincts would be in the same position as the lover of poetry, who can buy a new volume at a negligible price and take his time about assimilating it, or the connoisseur of pictures with sufficient means to acquire what he would like to live with. Obviously i t will be long before the music-lover finds himself in that position . He may hear Casals play Boccherini or Bach or Brahms in his own home whenever he wishes, but not Tovey."
The situation as drawn up by The Times suggests that everybody with musical instincts attending a first performance of a new work would not hesitate on his way out of the concert-hall to stop in the lobby and plank down anything round about thirty shillings for records of the new symphony or concerto he has just heard. Surely The Times must suspect that if there were any hope of such an Utopian state of affairs the very morning stars would not sing together with such joy as the recording companies. What a simple way out of all their difficulties! People with musical instincts are so eager to spend their money that before the approba-
tion is given to a first performance the recording companies are to pay a full orchestra, a conductor (or the composer himself), and in the case of a concerto a star soloist, and on top of that use material, machinery and personnel without even as much encouragement to scatter their money about as might be afforded by an enthusiastic reception and columns of rhapsody by the leading musical critics.
Readers know that I have never hesitated to criticize the recording companies when I felt that the wisdom of their policy was debateable, and consideration has been given to my criticisms because whether the companies were prepared to accept them or not they knew that they were informed with some sense of reality, some knowledge of commercial restrictions and, may I add, some traces of common sense. But how are they expected to respond to the amiable imbecility of this article in The Times? Does The Times realize the difficulty of persuading the public to buy any comparatively urifamiliar work by contemporary composers or otherwise? Apparently i t does, for i t finds that the ability of the music-lover to hear Casals play Boccherini, or Bach, or Brahms in his own home " accounts not only for the increasing tendency of the public to clamour for the classics . . . but also for much of the sensationalism of modern music. The composer to be remembered must catch the ear at once."
This observation suggests that the modern composer. who is prepared to sacrifice art to sensationalism will I1nd i t easy to attract the record-buyer, but that a composer like Tovey whose" thought is controlled by an unswerving devotion to principles of design" may be considered dull and therefore is not recorded. Let us consider the case of Sibelius. For years the only music recorded of his were the Valse Triste and Fintandia. Even the Swan i f Tuonela (the first performance of which in this country I heard when Dvorak's Fifth Symphony was still something of a novelty and which, though I did not hear i t again until I heard i t on a record some thirty years later, made an indelible impression on my mind) was not considered likely to attract the gramophone public. The first serious attempt to present Sibelius to the gramophone public