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Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by kirk, Jun 27, 2015.
I probably won't ever find it, but I keep looking...
Searching for the Perfect Recording
My personal most-recordings-of-a-single-work is Verdi's Otello, I consider Act 4, all 35 minutes of it, to be as close to perfection as music/drama gets, at least to my personal taste. But I always come back to Jon Vickers and Mirella Freni, on EMI. The recording is some 25 years old, so sound is not state-of-the-art, but as always, these things come down to whether one's primary concern is with "sound" or "music". Freni holds an impossibly long high note at the end of the Ave Maria, it's soft and quiet, with the note shimmering and with seemingly nothing under it. And when Vickers rolls all his "r's" in "diceste questa sera le vostre preci" ("have you said your prayers tonight?"), well, it makes your blood run cold. Don't get me started on Act 4 of Otello....oooops, too late.
I'd be curious if this is true, if perfect, is similar to the Greek phusis, from which we get physics, 'the real constitution of a thing as it is realized from beginning to end with all of its properties', or at the very minimum, something realized in it's final and complete form, I might not call a performance perfect. In modern usage, would you ever call a performance of Shakespeare, no matter how great, perfect?
What complicates things further is we are so far from the 19th century. Even by the middle of the 19th, music education I believe had already started to change. Imagine how a child learns how to draw, starting from merely scribbling, having some interest, fun, and maybe it turns into something, maybe it doesn't. One doesn't have to be amazing to have a life time interest in drawing. The same once was true for classical music. Improvisation and composition was taught from the very beginning, teachers often wrote their own pieces to teach. I believe by the time of Mendelssohn, I think it was, that had already started to change to some formalism. More than a century later, no one has such experience and cannot compare. We may very well never have another virtuoso like Liszt or Paganini, they may perhaps be eternally supreme in their skill in any instrument, likely far greater than any guitarist or anyone on any instrument of the last century.
From what I remember, Liszt called technique to his students, something like dirty laundry to be left at home. He wasn't at all interested in teaching such things. One time upon hearing someone play Chopin's Polonaise in A Flat, Liszt replied:
I don't want to hear how fast you can play octaves. What I want to hear is the canter of the horses of the Polish cavalry before they gather force and destroy the enemy!
Listen to a few of List's students like de Motta, or some earlier 20th examples like Sofronitsky playing Chopin's Op.10 No.3 Etude. That kind of playing is much much rarer today.
In a letter to Wagner, Liszt says: "Patience and resignation" is our device, and to it we sing
Read Nietzsche's comments about Brahms, Bizet and Wagner. The 19th was filled with an emotion depth that perhaps even the more cultured spectators understood. When Shakespeare first came to Paris, Berlioz recounts that he endlessly walked the streets night after night unable to sleep since his concept of art was fundamentally changed. He experienced spasmodic contractions and trembling at Beethoven, and was perhaps the best conductor that ever lived. Does anyone of the 20th resemble any of this?
Not to say I like the 19th too much, though it's much nicer than modernism.
If you read the article, I did make the point that there is no perfect recording; it was a rhetorical title.
I think when music (what we call classical) changed was when music went from the court and the parlor to larger concert halls, starting in the Romantic era. Music was then on stage, and it was divorced from the listeners, and this made music-making seem special. Granted, not that many people could have played Beethoven's sonatas, or even many of Bach's keyboard works, unless they were well-trained. But music was, for a long time, something that people played in homes.
I think that ended in the 20th century. In middle-class homes, you still had pianos until the 20th century, and while they weren't playing what we call classical music, they were playing popular songs. The radio killed that off.
I enjoyed this discussion so went back and read your original post, Kirk. Love everything about it: the music, the performances, the wrestling. Just disagreed with one word: "perfect". Why should there ever be a "perfect" version? Maybe perfect on the night, perfect when you first hear it, perfect for the moment. There are many different interpretations. It is a conversation in which you, as a listener, participate.
Isn't that how I finished the article? I essentially wanted to discuss the process, and then admitted that " The perfect recording is the one you like." Yes, it depends on the night, the mood, even the weather. It's a futile exercise, except for what you learn from the process itself. There never will be a perfect recording - at least of classical music - but looking for one is part of the fun.
Yes it is how you finished the article. I would say there are many "perfect" versions not just one; they are different from each other. Probably a quibble, except there are certainly imperfect versions, lacking in artistic vision or unable to successfully achieve the vision of the performer in practice.
Yes, and the act of searching for a "perfect" recording helps you realize how imperfect many other recordings are.