THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC
Reflections of a Music Publisher
by ERNST ROTH
Part One - MUSIC AND MONEY
L'amour des lettres est incompatible avec l'esprit des affaires. -
The titles of musical works always raise certain problems in translation
and the reader may forgive apparent inconsistencies. Broadly speaking, I
have tried to follow conventional English usage. No one would think of
translating Rosenkavalier or Cosi fan tutte. Die Walkure is more widely used
than The Valkyries. And to refer to The Bartered Bride by its original Czech
title would be pure musical snobbery. On the other hand we have Stravinsky's
own authority for substituting The Rite of Spring for his original Le Sacre
du printemps. Zauberflöte or Magic Flute7 Elisir d'amore or Elixir of
Love ? It is a matter of taste which I can safely leave to the individual
Why not write your memoirs?' I have often been asked. Memoirs are the fashion
nowadays. In these eventful times, almost anybody who can remember anything
of interest writes his or her memoirs. However, while it is true that I have
spent a lifetime in contact with the most significant music and the most
prominent musicians of this century-which has been, in music as in life
generally, a time of tremendous change-I am still not presumptuous enough
to write memoirs in the proper sense of the word.
This, I believe, should be left to those who have changed the course of history,
who have spurred this world out of its lazy trot and achieved greatness:
generals like Julius Caesar, statesmen like Sir Winston Churchill. I have
done nothing of the kind. I am just one of the innumerable victims of the
deeds and misdeeds of others, or of those mysterious high powers or low instincts
which, during my lifetime, have ridden roughshod over all reason and morality
and are readily blamed for everything that has happened. Victims do not write
memoirs-their lives are not, and should not be, memorable.
Moreover, memoirs necessarily make their writer a central figure and that
I have never been. I have served music in my own modest way, and during the
last half-century music has not been an easy mistress. Indeed, I may even
have lacked the blind devotion expected of a faithful servant, for I cannot
pretend that I have regarded music as the most important manifestation of
the human genius. Heinrich Heine, who has-involuntarily supplied many poems
to composers but who was also a great prose writer and a shrewd observer,
once wrote that good people were usually bad musicians and good musicians
usually bad people, and that goodness, not music, was the more important
thing in life. Without sharing Heine's cynicism I must concede that his words
testify to a deep insight. In the last fifty years there certainly has been
more music than goodness in the world, and that is something which should
be regretted by even the most ardent admirers of the art. The best music
and the most vigorous musical life can offer no compensation for the absence
However, music has assumed an unexpected importance. Our whole existence
is, so to speak, cocooned in music, from the universal din of present-day
'pop', to the lonely isolation of the most complicated sound-structures.
Academics and historians, philosophers and critics and even practical musicians
are busy surrounding it with an ever-growing literature, to which only one
group of those closely concerned with the destinies of the art has contributed
little: my own-the music-publishers.
It may be doubted whether in fact the contribution of a publisher can be
at all valuable. He speaks as an interested party, so his views may be suspect.
Indeed, he finds himself in a special position, different from that of any
other character on the great stage of modern music. As an intermediary between
art and life, between artist and public, he has to consider both the spiritual
and the material existences of the art. By viewing them without prejudice
he may acquire a qualification which both the pure idealist and the pure
materialist lack. This, then, is the theme of this book: music between heaven
and earth; between inspiration and remuneration.
In these days the heaven of music is clouded by heavy problems, which cast
their shadows into every corner of its earthly existence. It is my very
profession which has taught me to meet them with calm and moderation. I cannot
count myselfamong those who unconditionally admire or condemn the past or
the present. It is by no means proved that the old times were always good,
nor that the new times are necessarily better. I believe in Daniel Defoe's
'Great Law of Subordination', because it is the fundamental law of all order.
I have a profound respect for everything that grows by necessity, even though
a melancholy thought turns to the past and to my own irretrievable youth.
But I must leave it to the more courageous-or less experienced-to predict
1. THE GREAT CHANGE
Everywhere there's music.' So runs an American hit song-as if, through music,
mankind had at long last recaptured its lost paradise. Indeed, music is
everywhere: that is both its glory and its misery in these glorious and miserable
times. Music appears en grande tenue and is regally received; music squeezes
itself into everyday life where it cannot so much as make itself heard. This
makes it at once the most sublime and the commonest among the arts. We are
dealing with every type of music here-with the serious or 'highbrow' as well
as with the light or 'popular' variety. Being of the same parentage, they
each have their place in a general discussion of music, even if occasionally
they regard each other with profound disdain. Together they comprise our
musical life; together they supplement and, at times, replace the anonymous
noise which envelops our whole existence.
The external changes which have brought about this musical explosion are
familiar to everybody from personal experience: to music's detractors, who
can no longer escape from it, and to its devotees, who welcome the new, easy
access to an art that once relied upon its exclusiveness. Music can now be
reproduced mechanically, and thereby preserved; it can be broadcast by radio
and television, and thereby transported. These two developments have broken
down the doors of the sanctuary, previously opened only to the priests and
the initiated, like the doors of Sarastro's Temple of Wisdom. Fifty years
ago one had to devote oneself to music in order to enjoy its company: one
had to go to concerts and to the opera-house and, most important of all,
one had to make music oneself, which required years of practice and effort.
This is no longer so. One can have music without effort. It is a terrible
thought that never again will music require any exertion, except from a few
professionals, composers and performers; that this handful of men and women
will be able to supply the whole world with all the music that is needed.
Now it has become preservable and transportable, music, particularly since
the Second World War, has embarked on a truly ambitious career. It is on
tap in every home, like gas, water and electricity. There is no corner where
it cannot penetrate. This once delicate art has become stupendously obtrusive.
One need only press a button for music to come running with mechanical servility.
Workmen in factories cannot work without a loudspeaker droning out tune after
tune (the BBC programme 'Music While You Work' used to reject tunes for being
'too good', liable to distract the men and women at their benches); people
in bars and restaurants cannot drink or eat unless some secret device whispers
music into their ears; housewives cannot cook or iron without the radio playing;
in cars, coaches and planes music mixes chaotically with the noise of engines;
on beaches, in fields and woods, boys and girls carry it in their transistors,
Infinitely grotesque, we would all agree; indeed, we would insist that music
is an art and, like any other art, mysterious. But mystery is out of fashion.
We have, perhaps without realizing the deeper significance of the change,
become accustomed to the most fantastic things, and can talk glibly about
flying to the moon and beyond. Such a generation as ours does not easily
accept a mystery, and so has lost the precious gift of wondering. When I
was at school I used to think that the generation of Verdi had seen the most
astonishing changes in everyday life. When Verdi was born, the few people
who travelled at all did so by mail-coach at the speed at which Julius Caesar
had travelled to Gaul nearly two thousand years earlier. When Verdi died,
express trains were thundering along the permanent way at forty miles an
hour, steamships crossing the oceans, telephones ringing in the offices of
the more enterprising businessmen and postmen delivering telegrams. I thought
it must have been wonderful to live while all this was still new and exciting.
Others thought so too. When, in 1843, the railways from Paris to Rouen and
Orleans were inaugurated-and the Flying Dutchman first performed-that same
Heinrich Heine (from whom, by the way, Richard Wagner had learnt the story
of the Dutchman) wrote about 'the awe that possesses the thinking mind at
the sight of such monstrous happenings', of the 'strong temptation of the
unknown', of the 'new delights and new horrors awaiting us' and of the change
such a 'providential' event would bring about. 'Our generation,' he concludes
with slightly uneasy confidence, 'can be proud to have witnessed it.'
Today all this sounds rather naive. Not Verdi's but my own hapless generation
has lived through the most fundamental changes of all. Nothing since the
very beginning of human history can compare with the advances of the last
fifty years: with space flights, electronic microscopes and computers,
antibiotics and deep-frozen foods. It is useless to speculate whether all
this progress has been as salutary for the mind as it has for the body. There
are some who would insist that man would be happier if he had never learnt
to read and write, because it is there that the deliberate, calculated evil
begins. But, though it all had to come, and we are justified in calling it
a blessing, we have barely reached the fringe of the new era, of a new
satisfaction and a new spiritual security, and are still left with the secret
fear that one day frivolous curiosity may press a button arld blast to dust
this whole planet, and with it everything that thinks.
Compared with all such fateful changes, events in music are of almost total
irrelevance. Indeed, how relevant are the arts in a world which has been
divesting itself one by one of all its mysteries? Modern man has acquired
a superstitious confidence in everything material. One can feel it oneself,
when one is shot into the air in a jet plane at six hundred miles per hour
and forgets that any one of thousands of screws and bolts may work loose
and destroy the aircraft and everybody in it. There is much less confidence
in the dreaming mind, in thought and inspiration for their own sakes in the
arts. From all the fantastic achievements of recent decades, one problem
has arisen which was unknown to previous generations: the problem of leisure.
Progress provides the working man in five days or less with everything material
he needs in seven. What to do with those two or more days of leisure? Who
could have thought that this might ever constitute a social and moral problem
? One would think that today there is more to read, more to think, more to
experience, than ever before; that the ceaseless spread of education ought
to produce a multiplicity of interests which even our successfully prolonged
lifespans with all their spare time could not satisfy. And yet man seems
to have lost the taste for his own company. One summer's day on an Italian
lake, when rain and thunderstorms kept us in the hotel lounge, I had a
conversation with an American lady which was characteristic of the general
mood. 'Do you play bridge?' she asked me. 'No,' I said, 'I don't seem to
have time for it.' 'Do you play golf?' 'No,' I replied regret fully, 'this,
too, requires more time than I have.' 'Do you paint?' she persisted.
'Unfortunately, I have no talent for painting.' She looked at me with concern.
'You'd better be careful or you'll become an introvert.' So an introvert
is apparently a sick man.
New educators, new ideals, are needed if we are to prevent waste of leisure-time
and consequent boredom. Can the answer be in the arts, and especially in
music, which has the power to soothe the restlessness of our times as nothing
else has. This I believe, was the subconscious attitude which paved the way
for the great change which was to overcome music.
It took some considerable time to produce practical results. Edisn built
his first sound-reproducing apparatus as early as 1878 when Brahms was busy
writing his second symphony-but nobody thought then of applying the new invention
to music. I had - as many middle-class families had - an uncle who was fascinated
by the small technical novelties which grew like mushrooms during the first
years of this century. He had the first telephone in the family, the first
typewriter, the first fountain-pen and also the first 'phonograph'.
I well remember the first performance of that unwieldy gtnt lily in our family
circle. It played no music, but gave us 'A scene at the Dentist's'. 'Gargle,
young man,' said a hoarse voice, and the young man responded with a similarly
hoarse gargle, and we all choked with laughter. That must have been about
the year 1906 and it was certainly a critical time for Edison's invention
because only a few years later I heard from the same machine the current
coloratura star of the Vienna Court Opera, Elisa Elizz singing the great
aria from Carl Goldmark's opera The Queen of Sheba, somewhat hoarse and unsteady
but quite distinct, and all the fun of the first encounter had gone. There
the fatal marriage of music and mechanics was solemnized. This was a very
different matter from the perforated rolls, the pianolas, the musical clocks
or Count Deym's 'curiosity cabinet' with its mechanical contraptions for
which Mozart had written some disproportionately good pieces. Only now did
'mechanical' music become a reality, and its preservation a possibility.
But for a World War, the development of broadcasting might have taken as
long again. The first morse signal went out on 12, December 1901 from Cornwall
to Newfoundland, but by 1914 there was still no broadcasting of music. It
is sometimes sald that wars are the best stimulant for the inventive mind.
This is certainly untrue. But by devaluing both money and human life they
remove the most formidable traditional obstacles to progress. It was only
when the First World War was over that broadcasting suddenly established
itself in the midst of life-of musical life - for the broadcasting of music
was one of the most attractive uses of the new medium.
It is of little value to ponder over the chronology of events. In the early
twentieth century the time was not quite ripe, the deeper roots of the change
were still not established. But there was a half understood coincidence of
temptation and desire, or, more crudely, of supply and demand, which pointed
to a growing void that had to be filled and could best be filled with music;
a presentiment of an incalculable benefit to be derived from music, as
indefinable and potent as the lullaby with which a mother sings her child
Under the increasing pressure of demand the gramophone put aside its youthful
frivolity and became respectable; as did broadcasting, which abandoned such
exciting absurdities as transmitting a string quartet with the first violin
playing in Vienna, the second in Berlin, the viola in Paris and the violoncello
in London. Could anyone believe that the new means of preserving and transporting
music were more than mere adjuncts to an art, like the discovery of oil painting
or the invention of the steel pen. No inner voice warned either scientists
or musicians that the change might affect the whole existence of music.
Then came the 'talkies', and almost overnight an army of musicians found
itself unemployed. There was some talk of a social-not a musical-crisis.
It was certainly a step forward to synchronize music and picture properly
and do away with improvised noises in the cinema. But if the optimists were
predicting the birth of a new art, they were to be sorely disappointed. With
the millstone of popularity round its neck the sound film could not rise
to higher things. There were those who asked quite seriously whether it would
not be possible to 'draw' on the sound-track human voices of a perfection
such as nature itself could not produce. But sound 'inventors' were already
busy synthesizing sounds from another source, the only human element of which
was the creative brain.
So the scene was set, and it required no more than another world war to bring
it all to perfection: the long-playing record, television, sound broadcasting,
magnetic taperecorder-an illustrious assembly which gave music an entirely
new role in life.
The other arts, for the most part, have not benefited-or suffered-from technical
progress. Books are more quickly printed, paintings better reproduced, than
before, but books must still be read and paintings bought and looked at.
There is no easier, more comfortable substitute for the enjoyment of literature
or the visual arts. Only architecture seems to have been affected by the
new technical possibilities and extra-artistic requirements. The design of
public and private buildings is governed by their practical purpose, which
they fulfil beyond the dreams of any previous generation. But all these light,
hygienic blocks of steel and glass will be demolished without a thought as
soon as they no longer satisfy more sophisticated demands. It is inconceivable
that they should be preserved, like the Baptistry in Florence, which painfully
obstructs the traf@ic of a modern city, let alone that their remains could
be revered like those of the temples of Paestum.
I cannot help thinking of future archaeologists digging a thousand years
hence for traces of our time and finding nothing worth collecting. Perhaps
a modern bathroom or lavatory may survive to be displayed in a museo lapidario.
Then people may take off their hats and say that, though we obviously had
little art, we clearly enjoyed considerable comfort. But when the new architect
is confronted with a task that has no practical purpose to serve he is clearly
embarrassed. New churches, particularly large new churches, are half arenas,
half assembly-halls or railway stations, their spiritual function curiously
obscured. Between this new, purposeful architecture and the mystery that
is religion there is an incongruity which the use of expensive materials
alone cannot mitigate. Is the inspiration lacking which once raised eternal
monuments to the gods amidst the humble dwellings of mortals?
Where this new architecture meets music the conlqict between art and practical
purpose is no less painfully manifest. The builders of new opera-houses and
concert-halls are obsessed with acoustics. Strange shells and half-moons
are being constructed, the walls clad with wooden panelling full of unbecoming
holes; ugly trapezes are suspended from equally ugly ceilings, and every
corner and cranny is carefully planned so that the softest, highest and lowest
sounds shall reach the listener wherever in the hall he may be. How unconcerned
must have been the architects who in former times festooned concert-halls
with stucco ornaments and caryatids, putti and mighty chandeliers of Venetian
'How were the acoustics in the old house?' Aaron Copland asked me during
the opening ceremony of the new National Theatre in Munich, which, like the
Scala in Milan, had risen from the rubble in all its old splendour of white
and blue and red and gold. I had to admit that I could not remember. Acoustics
were never discussed in the old days. It was taken for granted that in every
opera-house and concert-hall there would be certain seats where one could
neither hear nor see. But a great controversy arose around the Munich
reconstruction; it was said and written that this noble palace with its classical
facade was out of step with the times. Like all old theatres, it aimed at
transporting the audience into an unreal, fantastic world of illusion and
imagination, the world where music dwelt. But the instant music of today
has lost much of its magic and is quite at ease in surroundings which give
no hint of anything mysterious or unusual and replace illusion with technical
perfection. There is some virtue in this change. But in spirit it is not
very different from the uneasy churches of the new architecture. Should this
be called a 'style' at all, or is it rather a mood?
Today, technical progress no longer stops deferentially on the threshold
of an art-at the modern concert-halls and operahouses but boldly invades
the inner sanctum, mechanizing and transporting the acoustic phenomenon that
is music itself. One might compare this intrusion with the effect printing
has had on literature and learning. Indeed, printing has done little for
music; the printed copy remains what the manuscript copy was: a guide or
direction for the performance. It was the preservation and transportation
of the performance itself that brought to music the blessings literature
and learning have received from Gutenberg's invention: the limitless expansion,
In this way music has become a comfortable art. One might think that art
and comfort are quite incompatible, but the craving for luxury is a powerful
motive force in the human brain. The whole of civilization, from the wheel
to the washing-machine, could be called an accumulation of comforts. It has
been a spur to invention, a stimulant to the mind. There were, however, times
when men themselves were aware and afraid of the dangers involved. The anchorites
of early Christian days were in revolt against comfort and the evils of its
attendant luxury, and even today a man sails a little boat single-handed
round the world, a senseless undertaking were it not to prove that, even
in these fantastically comfortable times, a man is capable of enduring and
surviving great discomfort.
At bottom, the quest for comfort is a personal struggle with the devil, of
which former generations had a livelier notion than we. The traveller in
Italy will often wonder at the many churches built on solitary hilltops,
to the enhancement of the landscape but the considerable inconvenience of
worshippers. Do men, women and children in their Sunday best still climb
the steep, dusty paths? One has to go far to find that exalted spirit which
keeps the sacred distinct from the profane and accepts discomfort with
equanimity, even joy. Once in the heart of Sicily we were passing just such
a lonely sanctuary when, in the heat of the morning, a wedding procession
came up the stony track from the valley-the priest with his acolyte at the
head, bride and bridegroom, families and friends following, all in solemn
black, wearing their rough mountain boots and carrying their better shoes
wrapped in newspaper under their arms. Before entering the church they sat
down in the shade, laughing and chatting, and a bottle of wine was passed
But such cheerful disregard of comfort is becoming rare, and where modern
amenities cannot be procured in all their profusion a new generation refuses
to put up with hardships which its elders accepted as a matter of course.
Thus the Scottish highlands and islands and some Alpine valleys, all inhabited
from time immemorial, are being deserted. In our day the old hankering has
developed into a real obsession, so that every new achievement creates new
needs. Compared with our grandfathers we are living in a wonderland of
refrigerators, man-made fibres, antibiotics, air travel and hundreds of things
which their most eccentric fancies could not have imagined.
Right up to the First World War men still had a deep, instinctive respect
for the grandeur of nature. When the railway was built through the Schollenen
Gorge on the St Gotthard Pass in Switzerland it was carefully hidden in tunnels
and galleries, and the engineers prided themselves on not having disturbed
the romantic natural wilderness. But the new road, built a few years ago,
is no place for those who like to stand and stare. Modern man is in a hurry;
he cannot pause and be alone with the thundering waters and the towering
rocks. The ancient 'Devil's Bridge' now stands forlorn and useless in a bend
of the new road, a melancholy monument to long-lost innocence.
Even the memory of the old, uncomfortable, romantic days was treasured. I
always enjoyed passing, on the way from le Bourget to Paris, the old 'Auberge
aux quatre routes' with the beautifully embellished invitation: Ici on loge
a pied et d cheval. But a few years ago the house was modernized, and the
inscription-in modern characters-now reads, somewhat irrelevantly: Ici on
But I do not intend to be merely a tiresome eulogist of the past: if what
is happening all round us is sad for some, it is welcome to many and therefore
inevitable. But it is certainly too much when the craving for comfort takes
charge of an art. The arts, one might think, should be like religions, mysterious
and powerful forces, not to be approached in the same spirit as objects of
everyday experience. The solitary churches on mountain-tops may be crumbling,
nature may be harnessed to serve necessity rather than oldfashioned pleasures,
but something intangible still prevents religion from becoming too comfortable-in
spite of televised services and loudspeakers in St Peter's Square. Although
it might be technically possible, nobody would seriously contemplate the
construction of a mechanical or electronic device for the administration
of the sacraments. Religion can be abandoned altogether, but while and where
it is observed it demands sacrifice, sacrifice of time, money, comfort. Why,
then, could music not resist ? Surely it, too, springs from the unfathomed
depths of the creative mind, to kindle the re-creative powers of those who
love and believe in it? Yet when the time was ripe the need for comfort easily
overcame the respect which had previously guarded the threshold of the art.
Now you can buy a machine-a record-player, a radio or television set, a
tape-recorder, all of which are much cheaper than a musical instrument and
the tuition necessary to play it-and all you have to do is operate your machine.
'Operate' is an ominous word in connection with music or any ather art or,
indeed, religion. Instruments must be 'mastered', but the new devices of
mechanical reproduction or transportation have only to be 'operated'. In
the hierarchy of music-making, the virtuoso of yesterday is the buttonpusher
of today. Nothing expresses the change more dramatically. Music which is
summoned by turning a knob is as far away from the living sound as presened
fruit is from the tree upon which it grew. The operator can make the music
from the machine louder or softer, but he cannot change its speed or expression;
he is the passive listener to a 'canned' performance which has no regard
for him or his mood. Is this still the breath of the divine?
There is another motive, too, which has helped to mechanize and transport
music and so make it ubiquitous, a motive which may have a higher ethical
justification than the desire for comfort: the urge for better, quicker
communication. If civilization is the product of our search for comfort,
the urge for communication has perhaps been the source of all culture. In
this field the human race has outstripped the whole animal kingdom, for we
have gone beyond the communication of essential messages, which in one way
or other is given to all creatures: it is the communication of the unnecessary
which distinguishes us from animals. From the first rudiments of language
to the communications satellite great efforts have been made and great things
achieved in order that men may understand and misunderstand each other. It
is remarkable that, the more perfect the means of communication become, the
more frequently do large-scale misunderstandings occur.
From Marconi's morse signal communications have developed to a stage of fantastic
range and velocity, which is most beneficial for the spread of political,
scientific or quite irrelevant news. Music, one would think, falls into the
last category, and neither requires nor justifies such speed and range. Indeed,
for thousands of years it was perfectly content with the now discredited
speed of sound, which is no longer good enough even for commercial travellers.
One reads with some slight confusion the names of all the physicists who
have, step by step, invented all the little gadgets which are now in daily
use in almost every home. Which benefactor or spoiler of mankind has connected
them with music so closely that they have become indispensable ? I do not
know whether the name of the man is even known who first dispatched music
into the ether, aimlessly and without any specific destination, to be caught
by anybody who had the proper apparatus and knew how to operate it. But I
cannot help thinking that there must have been in this act considerable
disrespect for the art, or at any rate much less respect for the art than
for the invention. Musicians, such as Richard Strauss, who had grown up with
the old reverence for music could never overcome their aversion to its new,
When the great change began in the 1920s and the number of radio listeners
and record-buyers grew beyond all expectations, pessimists predicted that
all 'live' music would come to a standstill, that concert-halls and opera-houses
had outlived their usefulness and music would henceforth be produced in studios
only. This has not happened. To be sure, the army of amateur musicians has
been decimated, and we shall have to consider the consequences of that later.
But around music there has sprung up an industry on a scale that has never
been known before. There are more live concerts and a larger public everywhere,
and, if attendances in opera-houses have not increased, they have certainly
not fallen away.
This is a strange contradiction. Why do people still expend trouble and money
on something they can have more cheaply and more comfortably in their homes?
Is this perhaps the sign of a revolt against the encroachment of technology?
There will be some who say that the whole purpose of the wide and easy
availability of music was to awaken the interest of a new and larger public
and to arouse the desire for closer acquaintance. But it is difficult to
accept that any comfort is designed to stimulate a longing for discomfort.
Once the railways were running, the mail-coach was discarded; now that aeroplanes
are flying, ships and railways are the poor relations of travel. The intention
of the inventors of broadcasting and record-manufacture could scarcely have
been to encourage the old forms of music-making and listening.
Music, however, is a very special art. Literature and the visual arts, as
objects of admiration or understanding, remain as it were outside the reader
or observer, like the sun or the moon or a landscape which one knows and
loves without being able to make it one's own. Music, on the other hand,
not only allows but demands re-creation, appropriation. Only in its re-creation
does music fulfil its mission entirely. The piece of music which I play myself
is 'mine' in a fundamentally different sense from the picture which hangs
on my wall or the poem which I know by heart, because I participate in the
musical work which I re-create. I do not participate in either the picture
or the poem. While the picture and-in a somewhat less material sense-the
poem are the works the printed or manuscript sheet of music is no more than
a guide or recipe for the re-creation of a work which has no real existence
This re-creation need not necessarily be a full-scale performance. It takes
place when I recall a work in my mind or whistle a tune. It could be argued,
perhaps, that the process is not so very different from reciting a poem.
But the poem is an 'original', beyond any possibility of change. In music
such an unalterable original does not exist. I shall deal later with the
specific problems which arise from this fact: with the question of interpretation
and faithfulness to the musical 'text'; of the personality of the re-creator,
which unavoidably colours his performance but is only in the rarest of cases
the same as that of the original creator. The possibility, or indeed necessity,
of re-creation marks the essential difference between music and the other
arts. The visual arts absolutely defy any attempt at it. The copyist of a
painting or a sculpture creates a work of infinitely lower value than the
unique original. In literature dramatic works alone leave something to the
actor which vaguely compares with the performance of music, but everybody
knows from personal experience that a play can be read to much greater advantage
than music and does not necessarily require performance on the stage.
It follows that the mere listener, whatever pleasure he may derive from
listening, is at a disadvantage. Figuratively speaking, he remains on the
threshold and never enters the inner sanctum of the work that is performed
for him. True, as long as it is performed 'for him', in a live performance
and in his presence, a spark of recreation still flashes from performer to
listener, and the physical presence of the re-creator draws the listener
nearer to the work. But with the new means of transporting or preserving
the acoustic phenomenon that is music the re-creator is not physically present;
the work is performed not for one particular listener but for an anonymous
multitude. This sets a barrier of distance between the listener and the work
which must harm the most precious property of music: the personal, individual
appeal. Music concerns us not collectively but in a very personal sense,
as if it were created for each one of us individually. It is a strange fact
that the technical advances which have so successfully shortened distances
in practical matters have achieved the opposite effect with an art that does
not conform to practical standards. And with this growing distance between
listener and work the true meaning-or, if I may be forgiven the unfashionable
word, the soul-of the work tends to become separated from the physical phenomenon
of the sound.
This may even, paradoxically, be the reason why the new methods of providing
music comfortably and in unlimited quantities at any time and any place have
fostered what, logically, they should have destroyed: the desire for live
music. Wilhelm Furtwangler's version of Beethoven's 'Eroica' with the Vienna
Philharmonic Orchestra, in the impeccable HMV recording, cannot be bettered
today by any conductor or orchestra. But owners of the recording will still
flock to performances by lesser conductors and lesser orchestras. For who
wants to see the 'Eroica' become petrified, even in the most perfect rendering?
Thus it seems that all the buyers of records, all the listeners to broadcasting,
are seeking the live contact with greater zeal than in the days when music
had no mechanical existence. To ascribe this to the fact that easy access
and omnipresence have roused the interest of a multitude which previously
had no contact with music is an oversimplification. This could explain the
sales of records and the number of radio licences, but not the popularity
of live concerts.
One day an even more remarkable thing will happen. The manufacturer of the
Furtwangler recording will delete it from the catalogues and it will no longer
be available. New interpreters will come and go, and the moment will have
arrived when preservation fails.
One has to penetrate to the very centre of the art in order to capture the
divine spark which technical progress may have overlaid but has not destroyed;
for if the divine element had been destroyed we would have no music any more.
Finality is the essence of the other arts, but living change is the miracle
of music, from the commonest pop-song to the most sublime manifestation of
creative genius. This is something that science cannot alter.
However, it would be vain to pretend that advances which have so greatly
extended access to the periphery of music have not also seriously restricted
entry to the inner sanctuary. The comfort with which an abundance of music
can be procured-European broadcasting organizations alone are producing three
hundred hours of music per day, or a hundred thousand hours per year-has
divided the musical world more sharply than ever before, into a relatively
small group of highly professional performers on the one hand and on the
other a vast number of passive listeners, whose relationship with the art
is quite different from that of a musician who, however imperfectly, performs
or re-creates music himself. Music has always been a tonic or a palliative.
Present-day mass consumption has greatly emphasized these qualities, which
might be called extra-musical. It is indeed difficult to believe that the
current prodigious demand springs from a purely artistic need. In a wide
sector of its new existence music exercises this precise side-effect-to stimulate
or to soothe. Any fear that it may be brought into irrevocable disrepute
by its new masters would be exaggerated, but it may equally be over-optimistic
to believe that ubiquity and quantity are necessarily signs of maturity,
and that the musical art has become an element of our existence, more closely
connected with our everyday life than, say, were the visual arts in Periclean
Athens or Medician Florence. The ever-growing din of the modern world and
the nenous tension it produces have played a large part in promoting
mass-production and stimulating demand. We shall have to trace the malaise
which has spread from these sources throughout the whole field of music.
Although many doubts surround the vast industry which has grown uparound
music, one development-mechanical reproduction is a truly providential one.
For the first time in its long history music has achieved lasting, objective
Music may be the oldest of the arts. Compared with the others it requires
little knowledge, little craftsmanship, little experience. Born out of an
instinctive interjection, it never strayed as far from that primitive,
instinctive cry of joy or despair -which gave it birth as the other arts
did from their origins-communication and observation. Music shaped more easily,
spread more easily -and was more easily lost.
For music has indeed been lost. While an enormous treasury of works of art
has accumulated over thousands of years in every corner of the civilized
world, music has never survived, although it has occupied the best minds
of every age. We know much about the theory and philosophy of old music,
but the works themselves have vanished. We possess King David's Psalms; their
poetry, their devotion and wisdom speak to us with undiminished force. But
David was a musician too. At the beginning of many psalms there are the
instructions: To the chief musician on Neginoth; To the chief musician upon
Nehiloth. A whole arsenal of instruments is mentioned, which may be those
we can see on Egyptian reliefs. But the music itself, which must have been
an essential part of the psalms, is lost for ever.
Nothing can show the fundamental difference between poetry and music more
clearly and convincingly. Even if it is faintly recollected in the cantillation
or 'trop' as still practised in orthodox synagogues, King David's music was
also instrumental music, which is banned from the orthodox service and ritual.
Byzantine plainsong may represent the oldest music we know, preserved not
for its artistic merit but by the orthodoxy of the liturgy, just as the Chinese,
until fairly recently, could preserve the Ying Shen, the hymn to the approaching
spirit of age. It is certainly true that, in the arts, later generations
never accept the experience or recommendations of their forefathers, but
there are certain unmistakable and imperishable artistic values which are
handed down through the ages, however unfashionable their appearance may
become. It is an article of faith that mankind never loses what it does not
want to lose. There can be no misfortune or negligence that could deprive
it of an achievement that is important for all time. Yet music has not been
preserved. Generation after generation have dealt harshly with the music
of their predecessors and have discarded it. We have no 'old' music.
This is a fact which has so far attracted but little attention, and few attempts
have been made to explain it. Historians may even deny it altogether, arguing
that the loss, so far as it has occurred, is due to the undiminished difficulties
of material tradition, of the graphic expression of sounds. But the greatest
works of literature have survived in languages long disused and through ages
of widespread illiteracy. Similarly, great works of architecture and sculpture
have been saved in spite of periods of savage destruction. There is no
conceivable reason why old music in old graphs should not have been transcribed
in new graphs if it had been considered worth while. Somebody, somewhere,
would have rescued the old music from oblivion, just as the Arabs rescued
Greek science and philosophy when the new Europeans were unmindful of their
Historians may insist, too, that we do have a sizeable knowledge of old music,
while admitting that it does not go as far back as our knowledge of the other
arts: we do not know what music the musicians on the walls of Sakhara are
playing. It is true that, thanks to the efforts of historians, we are able
to decipher most of the musical graphs of the last thousand years with some
measure of accuracy. But is this really all the knowledge that is necessary
for an appreciation of old music? Do we understand it?
Many poems of the trouveres and minstrels of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
are quite gay, but what we know of their music invariably sounds sad and
melancholy to our ears; and this seems to indicate a basic misunderstanding.
It does not mean to us what it meant to its original audience. Perotinus,
the head of the School of Notre Dame in Paris in the thirteenth century,
was called 'le Grand'. Do we honestly appreciate why1 Even three hundred
years later, when Orlando di Lasso received the title 'principe di musica',
we cannot quite realize the margin which sets him apart from other good composers
of his time. Such uncertainties apply even to J. S. Bach, the tempo of some
of whose pieces, particularly among his many 'Allemandes', is doubtful. It
is not, after all, the historian who decides whether a work of art still
has validity and meaning. If it were only historians who visited Rome or
Athens, tourism would be in a bad way-and so would the maintenance of classical
works of art, which is largely financed out of the curiosity and affection
of a large public, often informed and advised by the historian but always
independent in its appreciation. In music it is only the historian who cares.
He can marvel at Monteverdi's anticipating the dramatic vigour of a later
age, but it is Verdi who fills the opera-houses, Rigoletto rather than Il
Ritorno d'Ulisse. To the unbiased mind there is always an inevitable comparison
between old and new music, to the detriment of the old, while it would never
occur and would seem quite unreasonable to anybody to measure Rodin beside
Phidias or le Corbusier beside Brunellesco.
It is also true-and I shall deal with this aspect in its proper place-that
for thousands of years music produced no truly great works, nothing comparable
with the greatest manifestations of the other arts. There is no contemporary
musical equivalent of Homer's Iliad or Kallikrates' Parthenon, of Dante's
Commedia Divina or Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, not even,
one might say, of the second part of Goethe's Faust. Perhaps music did not
look to the future as the other arts did. 'Exegi monumentum aere perennius,'
a poet could write, confident that his voice would be heard down the ages.
But music, until comparatively recently, had no such ambitious purpose and
was content to express the mood of the moment.
I believe, though, that the reason for the evanescence of music lies deeper
than this. As I have said before, the musical score, or whatever the graphic
representation of music may be called, does not constitute the work in the
same simple sense as a canvas or a printed page constitutes a visual or literary
work. This is the fundamental difference between music and the other arts:
its glory and, if you will, its tragedy. Re-creation is not a mechanical
process, just as a good cookery book is not a guarantee of good cooking.
'The real beauty of music cannot be put down on paper,' wrote Liszt, and
this is not only true of beauty. Neither can the real meaning be laid down
once and for all, as in the other arts; it must be guessed at or sensed.
There is a void, a space, left in every work of music, which must be filled
by the re-creator. This re-creation requires a large measure of mental and
temperamental identity of creator with re-creator, and it is this identity
which preserves our otherwise vague understanding of music. If, by the passage
of time and changes in both man and his environment, it is disturbed and
eventually destroyed re-creation becomes impossible and the work loses its
appeal, its validity. This identity between creator and re-creator is a familiar
experience to anyone making or listening to music. If somebody says that
he dislikes Chopin because he is too sentimental or that he prefers Beethoven's
Opus 1 to Opus 135 he expresses that very lack of identity which would prevent
him from performing properly those works which he dislikes. By the change
of environment, such individual differences of taste and temperament become
general and 'old' music is abandoned. It is a tantalizing thought that music,
which is older than any other art and perhaps even older than articulate
language, has lost its past.
Now, with mechanically reproduced and preserved music, none of this should
happen again. Mechanical reproduction endows music with an objective existence
which it has never had before. This may not necessarily be its true nature
but it is nevertheless of immense importance for future generations. Extensive
archives of recordings are being assembled which presene the actual acoustic
phenomenon of an outstanding work as well as outstanding individual performances.
Leaving aside all the other consequences of mechanical reproduction, this
one may represent the greatest of all changes in music. Which of us would
not be eager to know how Bach@s St Matthew Passion sounded in his time and
under his direction, or to listen to Paganini's wizardry on the violin ?
Those who come after us will be luckier than any of their predecessors since
the beginning of time. They will actually hear the best performances of all
that music which we are still competent to perform. Not that they will
necessarily appreciate it-they may shake their heads at Stravinsky's Rite
of Spring or consider Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in Toscanini's unforgettable
interpretation a monstrosity. Indeed, mere preservation of the sound may
not preserve the all-important identity between the creator and later generations
of listeners, and therefore may not prevent the mortality of old music or
keep alive the respect and affection which we feel for 'our' masterpieces.
But some knowledge will be handed down, and for that our successors should