May 30, 2005
Technology and Music

Fascinating look at the effects of technology on how music is played and heard.

Philip begins his book with a riveting description of concerts at the turn of the last century. "Freedom from disaster was the standard for a good concert," he writes. Rehearsals were brief, mishaps routine. Precision was not a universal value. Pianists rolled chords instead of playing them at one stroke. String players slid expressively from one note to the next--portamento, the style was called--in imitation of the slide of the voice. And the instruments themselves sounded different, depending on the nationality of the player. French bassoons had a reedy, pungent tone, quite unlike the rounded timbre of German bassoons. French flutists, by contrast, used more vibrato than their German and English counterparts, creating a warmer, mellower aura. American orchestral culture, which brought together immigrant musicians from all countries, began to erode the differences, and recordings canonized the emergent standard practice. Whatever style sounded cleanest on the medium--in these cases, German bassoons and French flutes--became the gold standard that players in conservatories copied. Young virtuosos today may have recognizable idiosyncrasies, but their playing seldom indicates that they came from any particular place or emerged from any particular tradition.

The books discussed in the article: Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, Setting the Record Straight: A Material History of Classical Recording, Performing Music in the Age of Recording. The first one includes a companion CD to illustrate points in the book, which is pretty cool.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at May 30, 2005 10:14 PM
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