Popular music, indeed, has no other purpose. This has become one of a few
types in which the individual work means as little or as much as the individual
ant in an ant-hill. The directness, bordering on effrontery, with which it
pursues its commercial purpose and demands money for its not inconsiderable
services must fill every publisher of serious music with envy. Between the
'popular' publisher and his authors and there are many authors, sometimes
half a dozen for a song of two and a half minutes' duration-there is an admirable
agreement about their hopes and ambitions: they all want to make a lot of
money and they want to make it quickly. Anyone who thinks otherwise is badly
mistaken, and, whereas the mistakes of serious composers and publishers are
occasionally overlooked, in the world of popular music they are unforgivable.
But anyone who believes that he need only write a pop-song in order to make
a fortune is also mistaken. Every profession requires its own standard of
perfection, however high or low that standard may be. This requirement is
even more ruthless than usual in popular music, because only the immediately
successful song really registers. Being ephemeral, it is given no time to
prove its worth as a work of serious art is. The life of a song-and only
one of the best songs, at that-is the hectic, golden life of a day-fly. In
a few weeks it must complete its life-cycle, from its launching to its arrival
at the top of the charts and thence to ultimate oblivion-leaving a trail
of money behind it.
Therefore the publisher must be extremely quick off the mark, and must not
lose an instant. In a matter of days the work is 'produced', usually in the
form of a conductor part which indicates no more than the intentions of the
composer. These are then interpreted by the various band-leaders with complete
disregard for the composer, who in turn is sincerely grateful for their
indifference. Then the publisher's 'pluggers' go to work. They are the men
who have all the contacts, who know the singers, the bandleaders, the programme
producers on radio and television, the places of entertainment, night-clubs
and restaurants with music or floor-shows. The plugger must first of all
find a prominent singer, male or female, who likes the song. These singers
are specialists-in sentimentality, in suggestive humour, in calculated
indifference or in sensual rhythm-and the good plugger must know whom to
approach. A good pop-singer is by no means a hack, incapable of singing in
the conventional sense. A tormented, hoarse voice requires talent and much
hard work, and there is more 'interpretation' in the rendering of a pop-song
than in that of a symphony.
The singer is the most important contact. If he or she is sufficiently well
known he or she has an exclusive contract with a record-manufacturer, and
that manufacturer, too, is in a breathless hurry. Any serious music which
may at the critical moment be ready for recording or pressing is ruthlessly
shelved to make room for the popular arrival. In a few days the record is
'on the market' and the plugger begins the second phase of his task. The
bands and the discjockeys are his next 'plugs'. Here, ethics and morality
become somewhat loose. The habit of bribery has grown to such proportions
that some European broadcasting organizations have had to introduce a system
of control in order to limit the abuse of an abuse: the band-leader with
an engagement on radio or television receives from the publisher a certain
amount as a fee for the special arrangement of the music which suits his
band best, and undertakes to perform the song a certain number of times.
It is all well designed and calculated.
The discjockey, on the other hand, is an important link in the radio chain,
riding his disc as a jockey rides to win the Derby. He must be very knowledgeable
in the field of popular music, he must know the latest fashions and trends,
the successful composers, lyricwriters and record issues anywhere in the
world, and with the enormous stream of popular music being thrown 'on the
market' it is no mean task to keep the recorded programmes up to date. And
the fate of a new song largely depends on his benevolence.
When all this is done-the singer found, the record on sale, the band-leaders
engaged and the discjockey won over-the engine starts running at full speed.
If the song is a hit authors, publisher and record-manufacturer never have
to wait long for their customers. The publisher, in particular, starts the
foreign exploitation. He usually has permanent contacts in the most important
countries, and within a few days of its birth the song appears abroad in
the versions of the sub-publishers. Though music is international pop-songs
are international only with considerable reservations. They cannot simply
be translated. They have to conform to other tastes and temperaments, they
must be adapted, a process which starts with the title. There is nothing
sacred about the 'original', if indeed an original exists at all. The adaptation
requires the same knowledge of the public in a foreign land as the original
publisher possesses in his own country-and that, in nine cases out of ten,
means the United States. Questions of an author's 'moral right' do not arise.
Anything which helps to create success is welcome. There are quite a few
cases where it is the adaptation and not the original which makes its mark-a
cleverly chosen title, clever new lyrics, perhaps a lucky chance so many
imponderables surround the success of a pop-song. And everywhere the same
hurried procedure is followed that brought the precious original into being.
The number of people involved grows to a sizeable crowd-authors and co-authors,
adaptors, publishers and sub-publishers-and the material benefits spread
far and wide. Within a few weeks the new hit is heard from the North Cape
to the South Pole, from Oklahoma to Yokohama, and all the new means of
communication around the globe are put to work. A few weeks later all is
over, and the song is forgotten. Hardly one in a thousand survives to become
an 'evergreen'. For the crowd at the gates is tremendous. The popular publisher
has to produce several hundred songs a year if he is to have a reasonable
chance of finding among the flock of wild geese the one that lays the golden
egg. In I964 for instance British record-manufacturers issued about 4,ooo
pop-songs, of which only 34 climbed to be number one in the hit parade. The
great majority died in the cradle.
I do not understand this type of music and I do not know how well the experts
understand it. Perhaps it is not so very different from serious music, where
the bad can be recognized with a fair measure of certainty while the good
is less easily detectable. Occasionally I watch a BBC programme called 'Juke
Box Jury' where a panel of experts singers, discjockeys and experienced teenagers
listen to the latest records and decide which will become hits and which
misses. I find it most reassuring that they rarely agree among themselves.
How different it all is in the case of the serious music-publisher! There
is no need for this headlong haste. Serious works are created sub specie
aeternitatis. Untouchable as they are, they look much more delicate than
their popular relations, but they are, in fact, much more robust. Serious
composers share the general impatience of the time and cannot let their new
works rest. To wait three years for the first performance of a new piano
concerto, like Beethoven, or fifteen years for that of an opera, like Wagner,
would seem impossible to them. In his most productive years Benjamin Britten
fixed the first-performance dates of his operas before he had started composing
them and said that this stimulated his inspiration. It is, in fact, seldom
possible to delay a first performance until the work is really ready.
The public performance of a dramatic or symphonic work is the first step
in its career. Performance on the radio does not really produce the same
result. The Press usually takes little notice of broadcasts, and for the
listener the performance remains too impersonal and anonymous to arouse his
interest as it would if he met it face-to-face in the concert-hall. The records
which so greatly smooth the path of popular songs do not come into the picture,
for no power on earth could persuade a manufacturer to record an unknown
and unperformed piece. Even a new work by Stravinsky has to earn its laurels
in performance before it is considered worthy of recording. The risk is the
It is not, however, as difficult to obtain a first performance as is generally
believed. The idea that a new work of serious music is beset with difficulties
from its birth is not quite correct. It is true that star performers, conductors
and instrumentalists guard their own popularity jealously and usually care
little for new works because they do not wish their names to be associated
with possible failures. This was not always so; certainly not in the nineteenth
century nor even between the wars when conductors such as Koussevitzky, Ansermet,
Kleiber and Klemperer were little concerned about their reputations. Nowadays
new works have to be satisfied with the patronage of lesser conductors, but
these lesser conductors are more than keen on first performances and are
not easily discouraged even by musical absurdities. A work which cannot find
a first performance today must be bad or extravagant beyond all belief.
This is a considerable advantage. Forty years ago when the conspiracy against
all tradition in music began and aroused widespread opposition, there were
a few conductors who joined the new composers in storming the barricades.
But this was of little avail. The great majority of conductors, concert promoters
and critics and, of course, the public were quick to dismiss the unusual
as bad and to have nothing to do with it. So an International Society for
New Music was founded, which, with much enthusiasm and little money, arranged
annual festivals so that the composers and their friends, at least, could
hear the new works. These festivals were not very festive, lacking as they
did the material opulence that festivals require, and the public, by avoiding
them, fortified and confirmed the beliefs of the promoters. But as a narrow
back door to musical life they were important, and many names which appeared
there for the first time have become household words in contemporary music.
The Society still exists and still arranges its festivals, and the public
continues to show the same indifference. But the Society's services are really
no longer required. The lesser conductors and opera-houses, with their better
financial backing, are always on the look-out for first performances and
are numerous enough, and even when a new work fails there are always a few
words of faint praise for the man who first had the courage to present it
in public and so entered it in the official register of musical births.
The first performance, then, presents no undue difficulty; but the second
is a much rarer and much more decisive event. Now the work no longer has
the distinction of being a discovery, which camouflages many a failure at
the first performance; after the first performance of the work it has taken
off its baptismal robe and is expected to make a good impression, so to speak,
in its working-clothes. It will be more thoroughly and more severely examined
and people will want to know what the experts and the public thought of it
when they first heard it. For between the first and second performances stands
the menacing figure of the critic. He has not been consulted before the first
performance, but with the second he has had his say, and often enough his
verdict has been the kiss of death.
The busy world of popular music hardly knows him. Popular songs are sometimes
criticized in specialist papers, and in a jargon comprehensible only to the
expert, but the public at large is not interested in the critic. It needs
no recomrnendation or explanation, but reacts to a new song instantly, expertly
and irrevocably. But with serious music the layman looks, for instruction
and advice, to a man whose profession and task it is to listen to music day
by day, to study and analyse it, and so to acquire if not a superior judgement
at least an incomparable depth of experience.
The institution of regular music criticism is not very old, not much more
than a hundred and twenty-five years. Music itself had to grow in importance
and size in order to justify public verdicts. But the critic has been a man
of prominence, inseparable from musical life, for more than a century. Composers,
performers and publishers meet him in an atmosphere of love-hate and few
of them remain unruffled by bad notices or unflattered by good ones. To the
end of his life Wilhelm Furtwangler used to read, with pride or fury, every
line written about him. Even such a warrior as Stravinsky, bearing the scars
of innumerable critical attacks, allows himself now and then to be drawn
into skirmishes with the Press, which, by virtue of its commanding position,
always has the last word. Richard Strauss in his best years used to say that
he always had a bad Press but wrote good music. But in the last years of
his life he, too, could lose his temper.
There have been critics of various kinds: laymen such as Bernard Shaw, who
were more securely guided by their instinct than many an expert; composers
such as Robert Schumann, who said the nicest things about music generally
but suffered from bias and prejudice; and learned music critics like Fetis
or Hanslick, whose misjudgements could be quite monumental. It is the Hanslicks
who eventually have held the field, while the laymen and the practising musicians
What useful function does the critic perform and how important is it?
Those immediately concerned, composers and performers, are inclined to deny
that the critic is either useful or important. They never forget any mistake
a member of the profession may have made in the past if it will serve to
prove their point. This has given rise to much inconclusive discussion. It
is indeed not easy for the critic to be fair in his judgement, nor is it
easy for the criticized to be fair to the critic. It is taken for granted
that the critic is a fount of all available knowledge and experience, but
complete objectivity is beyond human capacity. The critic is no computer
throwing out an entirely impersonal answer to the question fed into it. There
were, and perhaps still are, critics who guarded their independence carefully.
Ernest Newman, one of the most prominent critics of his time, refused to
make the personal acquaintance of any composer. But even that did not prevent
him having his musical preferences and idiosyncrasies, like everyone else.
The critic is also an individual man or woman, not vox populi. He is not
representative of the public, and often enough is in open conflict with it.
The public, for example, liked Wagner's music from the outset, but Hanslick
did not. On the other hand, when it came to Brahms the public and Hanslick
were in complete agreement.
There is, however, an undeniable air of authority about the writings of a
music critic (though the writer often remains anonymous) in the distinguished
periodicals or daily papers, and it is this unfounded authority which concerns
his heroes or victims. But the music-lover likes to compare his own impression
with that of an expert. Although periodicals have only a limited circulation,
and while only a fraction of the readers of daily papers may read the music
column, music criticism constitutes part of the cultural duty of any reputable
paper and no editor could afford to do without it.
As for the usefulness of music criticism, there is no question that it affects
the careers of composers and performers; in the case of performers it may
even have a decisive influence. As far as new works are concerned, however,
that influence should not be over-rated. Certainly the critic who cannot
make up his mind whether to call a work good or bad is failing in his critical
function. But the best notice cannot make a work better than it really is,
even if, for a limited time, it provides it with an undeserved aura of success.
Conversely, a bad notice may delay a second performance but will not, in
the end, prevent it. The assumption that the critic informs and guides the
public is quite misleading. Whatever the critic may write, the public is
the supreme judge and can be neither influenced nor confused by expert opinion.
One need only recall what the critics, or the great majority of them, wrote
about Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1913. But the work came to stay, and
to be accepted as a masterpiece. There was a time, in the 1880s, when the
critics thought that Joachim Raff's symphonies were as good as those of Brahms.
And where is Raff now? All this has been proved over and over again. From
experience, and with a touch of cynicism, I can say that a really destructive
notice is as good for promotion as an enthusiastically good one. As a publisher
I cannot do without the critic. He is more often a help, however involuntarily,
than a hindrance.
But the profession of the music critic could well be improved, to the benefit
of all concerned. He is very often in a much worse position than his colleagues
in literature and art. A literary work can usually be understood at a first
reading or hearing; a work of the visual arts can be studied as long as necessary
and in every detail until the critic can form a considered opinion. The music
critic, however, often meets a new work only at a fleeting first performance.
Very seldom does he have an opportunity to study a score beforehand. Particularly
with new music, an unprepared hearing conveys little information. One should
not blame the publisher. In the general rush to give new works their first
performance, he only rarely has time enough to print a score and distribute
review copies. Many composers, among them Stravinsky, want to hear their
works before they will allow them to be printed. Many months often elapse
after the first performance before the critic can see a printed copy.
Moreover, the critic is subject to certain journalistic rules which, though
they may be good for the local reporter who has to beon the heels of every
robbery and every fire, are harmful to music criticism. The critic frequently
has to rush from the concert-hall or opera-house to his office or to the
nearest telephone-box so that people next morning may be certain of reading
his assessment of a new work. Curious things sometimes happen. When Benjamin
Britten's Rape of Lucretia was first performed in New York, the leading music
critic of the time, Olin Downes, declared the following morning that Lucretia
was a masterpiece and probably the best opera of the century. This pleased
the composer, his friends and his publisher so much that the article was
at once duplicated and distributed all over the world. But three days later,
in the Sunday issue of the New York Times, Downes wrote another longer and
more elaborate article recanting everything he had said. On examining the
vocal score-which had been in his possession for some time, but which he
had not had a chance to study-he found that, far from being a masterwork,
Lucretia was a second-rate piece. How embarrassing!
Critics should have time to think. On the morning after the performance of
a new work they should simply report on the facts, so discharging the
journalistic part of their task. The criticism of the work itself would not
come too late if it appeared a few days later, assuming that a good critic
also has a good musical memory. But the facts are often neglected. The performers
always receive the attention due to them but the public hardly ever does.
This is regrettable from the point of view of both publisher and promoter.
Anyone who has to decide whether or not a second performance should be given
would certainly be interested in the opinion of an expert (while the quality
of the performance is of little importance to him), but he would also want
to know how the public reacted. This the critic seldom tells him, and perhaps
that is the point at which he oversteps the mark and sets himself up as sole
arbiter. At the end of a bad notice one sometimes reads that the public applauded
the performers and not the work. How could the critic know this? If a work
fails completely there are usually no ovations for the performers either.
I feel that in such cases the critic should have the courage to admit that
the public does not share his opinion.
Criticism is also found where it does not belong, in dictionaries and
reference-books, which should confine themselves to data and lists of works,
being bought and used merely for information, not for evaluation. It is amusing
to find in Riemann's famous lexicon of 1919 the following sentence about
Schoenberg's Treatise on Harmony: 'The author's naive admission that he has
never read a history of music gives the clue to this unparalleled piece of
dilettantism.' Richard Strauss fares no better, being called 'a colossus
with feet of clay'. Stravinsky did not seem worth much ink and paper. After
giving an incomplete list of his works performed up to that time the editor
simply adds, 'Stravinsky lives at Morges, near Lausanne,' and so unwittingly
did the right thing. This bad example, however, has not prevented later editors
of encyclopaedias from making the same mistakes: in the second of the fifteen
or sixteen volumes ofthe largest musical dictionary ever undertaken in Germany,
one can read the utterly illconceived and, atbest, absurdly premature comment
(the volume was published in 1952) that Benjamin Britten was 'the Saint-Saens
of British composers'.
Despite all this it must be said that music criticism has lost much of its
old vitality and courage. Past mistakes, and particularly the experience
with twelve-note music after the Second World War, may have disheartened
it. When it comes to modern avant-garde music one seldom finds a clear-cut
pronouncement; the critic prefers to shelter behind theoretical discussions
which avoid the decisive question of whether, above and beyond technicalities,
a work is good or bad. This more than anything else again raises the problem
of the usefulness and importance of music criticism in our time. Where does
the critic stand? Is he the representative of the public, of the listener,
or is he the advocate of the composer? Should he simply explain a composer's
intentions or should he also praise or condemn them, as interpreter or judge?
The distinction of critical achievement, a famous German critic once said,
is measured by the distance in time by which the critic is ahead of public
opinion. But only the most courageous have a chance.
Once the publisher has succeeded in obtaining a second or even a third successful
performance a new work can make its way through the concert-halls and
opera-houses. But only a few do. Again and again it happens that a work acclaimed
by Press and public, on which high hopes have been set, disappears after
a few performances, while another of which little was expected achieves a
resounding success. Although the works of serious music are in general sturdier
than the most enduring popular hits quite a few of them suffer from a fragility
that is difficult to understand. While the public never seems to tire of
listening to the same works of Mozart or Beethoven, Brahms or Elgar, it is
one of the greatest problems of our musical life to keep even the most successful
new works in the repertoire.
In the field of opera, organizational and administrative reasons often prevent
the carrying-over of a new work from one season to the next. There is hardly
an opera-house left anywhere which can keep together an ensemble of principal
singers and conductors for more than one season, so that if a new opera is
to be repeated in the following season it will require studying and rehearsing
all over again. Such works thus compare unfavourably with those of the old
standard repertoire which every singer, conductor and orchestral player knows
virtually by heart and which can be staged with the minimum of rehearsals.
And so it regularly happens that a new opera is played half a dozen times
within a few weeks, only to disappear-at best for a number of years, occasionally
for ever. What a waste of time, effort and public money when, after nine
months of exhausting rehearsals, Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron is given three
performances and then not performed again! There are undoubtedly many members
of the public who may not want to listen to a new opera two or three times
in quick succession but would like to hear it again a year later in order
to check or correct their first impression. They hardly ever get that chance.
How, then, can a contemporary repertoire be assembled, as it was in the
nineteenth century ? Then there were many avenues by which a new and successful
opera could become intimately known and popular: not only were vocal and
piano scores in wide circulation but orchestras and bands in places of
entertainment played selections, and singers included the favourite arias
in their concerts. There was a general desire for close acquaintance which
was not easily deterred by musical difficulties such as those presented by
Richard Wagner and, at the end of the era, by Richard Strauss.
These avenues to popularity are now closed by the music itself. There are
no selections or arias to be extracted from today's new operas. The symphonic
repertoire has benefited in a few instances-Hindemith's Mathis der Maler
symphony, Alban Berg's symphonic pieces from Wozzeck and Lulu, Britten's
Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes. But these symphonic extracts
tend to lead their own lives independent of the operas. New operas can be
heard only in the opera-house, and there perennial casting difficulties prevent
the frequent and regular revivals any work of new music, and new opera in
particular, would require in order to become familiar to the opera-goer.
But does the opera-goer or the public in general want to become familiar
with new works? There is some inexplicable hesitation on the part of the
listeners to become closely involved in works unknown to our fathers. Even
if an opera-director could and would keep a new opera in the regular repertoire
he would find little support from the public. Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes
was one of the greatest operatic successes since Strauss's Rosenkavalier.
After its sensational premiere in London in 1945 the opera was played from
I946 to I948 in every remaining opera-house in the world, and was everywhere
acclaimed with the same enthusiasm. If this had happened fifty years earlier
I believe the work would have established itself as an indispensable item
in the operatic repertoire. But it petered out. There were and still are
isolated revivals, but the reception is much cooler than it was in the beginning
and tickets are not easily sold.
This strange aloofness on the part of the public is no less apparent in the
concert-hall, where no organizational problems stand in the way of regular
repeat performances. Here too the most superficial acquaintance seems to
satisfy the listener, and out of many excellent works written after the First
World War only a comparative handful have found a permanent place in musical
life. To quote only one or two outstanding examples: in the 1920s Ernest
Bloch's 'Concerto Grosso' was one of the most outstanding successes but it
has disappeared and attempts at reviving it have failed. Honegger's Roi David
or Jeanne au bucher are practically forgotten. A long list of similar works
could be compiled which were neither common-place nor unduly demanding, yet
though they once appealed to large audiences they could not be kept alive.
Superficiality and oblivion are brother and sister. In most cases the composer
has only to die for his works to be soon forgotten by public, conductors
and concert-promoters alike. Exceptions such as Bartok rather confirm the
And so it happens that even the thirtieth performance of a new work is no
guarantee of lasting success.
Old friendships, on the other hand, are unshakable, both in the opera-house
and in the concert-hall, although the dividing-line between real affection
and comfortable habit is not clearly defined. It may be idle to speculate
why new friendships are so rare and so difficult to achieve. But one of the
basic reasons is, I believe, the disappearance of the amateur musician, of
the man or woman who not only listens but makes music himself-and the same
type of music which he hears from the professionals; that is, new music.
But new music is not written for the amateur.
The prevalence of old and familiar music does more than the comparatively
rare appearance of new music to bring the performer into the centre of musical
life. When the same works are performed over and over again it is not so
much a question of what is performed as of how.
I have mentioned the ancillary rights of performers, and said that they provide
a profound insight into present-day musical life. Indeed, the most contradictory
attitudes exist here side by side. Historians and purists today insist that
there should be no 'interpretation' in the true sense, that the original
and unadulterated texts sufficiently express the composer's intentions and
that the performer, far from being an interpreter, has to do nothing but
follow the composer's instructions. Performers themselves tend to agree with
this new but nevertheless sacred principle. But as soon as they do so they
waive any claim to a creative contribution and therefore to any right of
their own, however 'ancillary' it may be.
As so often in life, facts are stronger than theories. The idea that there
should be no interpretation in music does not apply in the popular variety,
where interpretation is not only permissible but essential. This is not the
limited improvisation of the taille in old scores or of the basso continuo,
which could vary from simple chords to an independent interpolation according
to the capability of the player. In popular music the composer gives the
interpreter no more than a cue, and he is welcome to any interpretation he
likes, so long as it is effective. The composer, therefore, is almost
insignificant. The millions who buy pop records buy them because of Bing
Crosby or Duke Ellington or Sammy Davis, Jr. Popular songs are identified
with their interpreters and not their composers, and fidelity to the text
becomes absurd. In such cases the neighbouring or ancillary rights are well
justified and closely connected with the primary authors' rights. The performer
of a pop song does make a creative contribution of his own which demands
and deserves recognition and remuneration.
The composer of serious music, however, found no support for his claims to
an exclusive right. It is strange that a legal detour had to be made to establish
that even the most carefully written musical text requires some mysterious
ingredient to bring it to life, even if every detail of the performance
corresponds to the indications of the score and no wilful addition or omission
can be discovered. Stravinsky insists that there should be no 'interpretation'
of his music. In recent years he has suppressed all tempo indications in
his scores, replacing them with metronome markings to avoid any misleading
'expression' and to emphasize that performance is a mere technical process,
independent of any mood, understanding or personal involvement on the part
of the performer.
At this point the tyranny of performer and composer change places. Where
once the performer could successfully pretend that he knew better than the
composer, he is now reduced to doing as he is told. Fortunately or unfortunately,
the human mind is not a mechanical device like the metronome, and accuracy
in musical matters is unattainable. The simplest things are indeterminable.
How loud is forte, how soft piano? And is it the same wherever it occurs?
Is Schumann's 'as fast as possible' at the beginning of the G-minor Sonata
followed by 'faster still' in the coda, really nonsensical, or Beethoven's
'con una certa espressione parlante' in Opus 33, No. 6, an unmistakable,
certain indication of speed and expression? Whatever composers or theorists
rnay say, in the International Convention on the ancillary, or interpreter's,
rights it is laid down in black and white that every performer must necessarily
make a creative and personal contribution which is worthy of legal protection.
Ernest Ansermet, himself one of the outstanding interpreters of serious music
in our time, defends what the lawyers have formulated: that the mystery of
musical creation extends to the re-creator.
If the law has reasserted the importance of the performer it has not given
him back the panache of his more romantic-and, perhaps, less
efficient-predecessors. Paganini's 'devil' and Liszt's bravura are no more,
nor are singers what they used to be, famous for their voices and the scandals
around them, like Pasta and Malibran, Nourrit or Lablache. There were still
some survivors of those halcyon days a few years after the First World War:
Eugen d'Albert, Moriz Rosenthal, Bronislav Huberman, Tetrazzini and Toti
dal Monte, Caruso and Chaliapin, Arimondi and Baklanov. But what once seemed
almost black magic has turned into mere technical excellence. Perhaps it
was the professional superiority of Artur Schnabel or the perfect naturalness
of Adolf Busch which introduced the new type of soloist, who is no longer
called virtuoso and despises magic, leaving all the responsibility, as it
were, to the composer. It is not easy to say whether today's violinists,
pianists, cellists and singers are better than or as good as their famous
predecessors. The virtuoso of former days with his long hair and fluttering
tie was anxious to show how difficult the piece he was playing was and how
he mastered it. The modern soloist seems not to notice the diffculties and
avoids a whole musical literature written for virtuoso display; Paganini's
'Streghe', Liszt's 'St Paul marchant sur les flots', Sarasate's 'Gipsy Tunes'.
Such music has fallen into disrepute, and solo recitals, particularly by
instrumentalists, are rare. They all prefer to play concertos with an orchestra,
even two in one evening. It has all become rather dignified and rather dull.
The orchestras, however, are undoubtedly better than they were before. Human
beings are now more efficient: the runners, the high- and longjumpers, the
tennis-players, the acrobats in their dinnerjackets-and the orchestral musicians.
There are always some old people who like to dwell on bygone glories such
as the world will never see again. But I well remember the days of wobbling
horns in the minuet of Beethoven's Eighth or scratching violins in the prelude
to Traviafa. This hardly ever happens today, and if it does happen the public
takes great exception. The instruments may be better, but the musicians are
certainly much better educated both musically and generally than they were
at a time when it was the general view that music could prosper with no more
than elementary schooling. And when one thinks of the versatile gentlemen
in dance-bands, each of them playing three or four different instruments,
and remembers the miserable men in old dance orchestras fiddling away at
their waltzes and polkas, one can only stand and admire: it is an astonishing
change, both musically and socially.
Like the famous dance-bands the great orchestras have only recently acquired
a virtuoso reputation. Before, and for a long time after, the renowned Mannheim
Court Orchestra amazed listeners with its precision and discipline, its measured
crescendi and ritardandi and its surprising sforzandi, history ignored the
orchestras and also the conductors who had to indicate the tempo from the
cembalo or mark it with a foot- or stick-beat on the floor, a service that
earned them no public recognition. Nobody has troubled to tell us whether
Mozart and Haydn were good conductors. Music had to become more personal
and individual to provide the conductor and the orchestra with an individual
task. People noted that Carl Maria von Weber or Mendelssohn were better
conductors than others; Spontini's ivory baton became famous; Berlioz and
Liszt demonstrated that conducting was a creative or at least re-creative
occupation demanding exceptional qualifications. With Bulow, Richter and
Hermann Levi there arrived the conductor-virtuoso, and with him the virtuoso
orchestra. Toscanini, Furtwangler and, more recently, Karajan; the Boston
Symphony and the New York, Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras-these
are as famous today as the great singers and instrumentalists were in former
times. They dominate the musical scene and rule our musical life.
The excellence of the modern performer has quickly become a matter of course,
and the public at large is often unaware of it. Particularly where the mass
media of communication, broadcasting and gramophone records, take possession
of music, performances of the highest standard now reach every village and
hamlet where professional performances of similar quality were previously
unknown. Once upon a time simple folk could enjoy their own simple music-making.
But the new professionalism discourages them; even to them amateurism has
There will be quite a few who welcome this change as advancing the level
of musical culture. But it leaves no choice; it means perfection or nothing.
And the art of music, which has become so common, becomes also more remote.
All this is the music-publisher's joy and sorrow. As printer and promoter,
patron and exploiter, he has to meet all the problems, deal with them and
find encouragement and at times consolation in the thought that it is the
art itself which creates and solves them.
return to part 1 of this chapter