The Gmnwphone, JlIa,y, 1927
other sound-box for reproducing orchestras as the one he recently sent me for strings was an a,dvance . on any other, and I am equa,uy sure that, when he sends me the sound-box for reproducing the piano, which he promises, this will be an equally unmis
ta,kable improvement. I t ought to be clear even to the author of a fatuous article last month in one of our contemporaries that when a man like Mr. Virtz claims to produce a sound-box better suited to the reproduction of an orchestral work than of a string quartet he does not claim to get anything out which is not on the record. What he justly claims is that he gives to each record the equivalent of the best possible milieu. Unless a man is a fool he doesn't choose the Albert Hall in which to hear a string quartet any more than he would choose the Wigmore Hall in which to hear a full Wagnerian orchestra. I t would be perfectly true to say that the sounds emitted by the quartet in the Albert Hall and in the Wigmore Hall are the same sounds; so they are at the instant they are made, but within a fraction of a second they have become entirely different sounds. But Mr. ViJ:tz looks beyond anything that he has hitherto achieved with his remarkable sound-boxes, and, whatever may be his temporary discouragements, I know him to be man of sufficient faith to persevere with the problem of perfect reproduction. To those gramophiles of l i t t le faith I offer the following riddle: How is i t that the reproduction on radio of one of the new gramophone records is always better than the reproduction of any orchestra actually playing in concert hall or studio '?
I am quite convinced that between radio reproduction and gramophonic reproduction there will soon be no appreciable difference. Will that mean the death of the gramophone ~ Not at all. What i t will mean is that the level of performances on the gramophone will be higher than ever, whether by jazz bands or symphony orchestras or vocal solos. Already the level of performance that the gramophone demands is far higher than that which the radio demands, and what makes one turn back with relief from one's loud speaker to one's gramophone is the mediocrity of performance that the radio inevitably entails. Why should we listen to a second-rate contralto singing Kathleen 1I1avoumeen when we can hear McCormack singing i t ~ Why should we put up with the second-rate performance of any opera when we can get a first-rate performance of i t on the gramophone? On the other hand, if radio reproduction steadily improves and gramophonic reproduction remains where i t is at present we shall be t-empted to sacrifice the imperfect reproduction of a great singer for the perfect reproduction of a second-rate singer. Life craves for life, and humanity in the mass will always prefer what is alive and second-rate to what is dead and first-class. In literatUre enduring vitality is the only thing that ultimately matters. I t is perfectly possible for a contemporary novel with no more life in i t than a stuffed owl to deceive a contemporary critic. I t is equa,uy possible, though in a lesser degree, for such a work to deceive the public, but only for a time. The stuffed owls of the past, however clever the taxidermist, do not deceive us now.
To discuss some of the particular points of the two letters that preface this article. First of all, the question of the Lener Quartet versus the Virtuoso Quartet. The Lener Quartet has without question done more to popularise chamber music in England than any other similar organisation I know of. I am perfectly willing to admit that from an academic point of view they are inclined to hit beloW' the belt, or, if you prefer to put i t this way, that they have deliberately sentimentalised a great deal of their music. This was particularly obvious on their first records issued by Columbia, and to take a specific instance I may mention the nocturne from Borodine's Qua1iet in D, which to my mind was immensely inferior to the same nocturne played by the Flonzaley Quartet and issued by H.M.V. I t was, apart from the question of tempi, perhaps' easier in old days to detect the softness of interpretation which sometimes was not far from degenerating into sickliness. Added to that was the additional suavity effected by the Columbia new process. The absence of scratch did undoubtedly entail a loss of tone; but the vicious scratch of the old Flonzaley records did make the superb fire of their performances intolerable to the sensitive ear. I t must be remembered that a devotion to chamber music almost always implies not merely a cultivated musical taste, but also an exceptional fineness of ear. The Columbia new process did more to induce genuinely musical people to tolerate the gramophone than anything else. I venture to suggest that not even electric recording has made so many new recruits from musical circles. Now musical people never did expect a great deal from the gramophone; theil' attitude for many years was one of contemptuous hostility. There were of course many exceptions, and those exceptions nearly all used fibre needles or soft-tone needles. Even so lately as last month Sir Walford Davies was advising a soft needle to reproduce the Ninth Symphony; but let us leave musical people out of i t . The original records of the Lener Quartet may have offended academic taste; the Columbia new process may have turned the violins into flutes, the viola. into a clarinet, and the 'cello into a horn; but what they also did was to lead a number of people who ha.d never supposed so before to suppose that the combination of four stringed instruments was an extremely pleasant noise. To such people the records of a superlatively fine quartet like the FlonzaleYlhad always seemed anex.tremely unpleasant noise. Their notion of a pleasant combination had been the flute, ha,rp, and celeste, and thou~h the