... or, Ritter aus der Schallplatte, by REGINALD TWIDDLEBRAIN, reviewer to the stars. '... enough to make one weep.'
There is a strong opinion that the Classical arts are dying in the face of pop culture (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and the demise of major recording labels committed to real Art.
Certainly the pop culture tsunami prevents genuine creators from being heard over the din, while record companies resurrect aged performances mostly because they don't have to pay royalties. The modern audience for quality is left almost alone.
Thankfully, many recordings, web sites and performance festivals around the world attest to the thriving desire for something substantial. When a thousand people attend a performance of a person utterly unknown to either Youtube or CNN, much less the tabloids, it is sure proof that what is falling beneath the mass media radar is highly valued.
So it is with great delight that I receive CDs from small labels devoted to said new performers and new renditions of classics. The seriousness and professionalism of the efforts cannot be gainsaid.
Still, I sometimes worry that some of these performances are more professional than artistic. I read with concern that a certain fellow took up a work that he didn't care for and recorded it a year later. It speaks to his professionalism, but I wonder about the soul-searching artistry that justifies itself from long acquaintance.
And I know these youngsters mean well. They are not just scratching at the base of Parnassus hoping to get to the top. They really do mean what they aspire to achieve.
But, have they listened to the generations that have come before? An author would be a brave person if he ignored literature. He might not need to have read everything (leave that to the scholars), but he has to have read something. Of course, the amount is growing every day and the limit has expanded. I believe Robert Graves, the esteemed translator of Omar Khayyám, suggested that three hundred books read was a minimum for a proper education. Today the number must surely be three thousand. Not including scholarly articles, newspapers and this reviewer's columns.
But a performer can find his or her way to centre stage and not have a clue about what was done twenty, thirty or fifty years ago.
And it's not that those old guys were shoddy technicians. Far from it!
I just received a recording by Myron Hatchling of Sonnet 24 by the Divine Shakespeare and he dispatches it (praiseworthy that, according to the liner notes) in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Nonsense!
Old Beauregarde Knightish, the legendary actor of Monmouth, was able to perform this same work in 2 minutes and 3 seconds!
Tongues, the oldsters had tongues! I say it again: the oldsters had tongues!!! And they knew how to use them!
A table of performances (and timings) by famed modern actors and the recorded legacy can leave no doubt:
Gondmarr Splicecake [2:56]
By far the greatest artist to record Shakespeare. Apparently though there are 212 splices.
Fabulita Veronsica [3:11]
This recording is marred by a very evident hiccough at 1:25. Still the fastest version by a woman on records.
Vobiscum Petard [2:54]
Sadly recorded in his bathroom and thus flushing sounds intrude upon the last couplet.
Milfoil Pusbutt [2:45:32]
An infuriating recording by a sadly neglected artist, simply because of the tape hiss. Probably caused by his favoured pet snakes.
Sam McGeezer [2:59:32]
It is hard to imagine, but this performer was born on the tundra of Canada and obtained his early education in a half-room schoolhouse. Later he was widely fetid by the aristocracy of the Dominion, especially after his command performance before the King in 1910 (some incorrect articles give 1911, but this has been proven false.) Still, the recording is repulsively imperfect because one word is omitted. A sad proof of his partial education.
What is of course extremely gratifying is to attend a live performance such as I did last month where Jacob Derokoby surpassed his own 'personal best' in Sonnets 19, 24, 42 and 312 by a good twelve seconds in each. An achievement for the Ages!
However, a proper understanding of tempo is crucial to the artistic rendition of the poetic legacy. The form of the sonnet is only realised if the subtle temporal aspects are respected. I for one insist that the author's intentions be respected in all cases. As we can see from the First Folio the precise timings for the sonnets are revealed in the hairline markings across the top of each line. These marks, erroneously identified as 'squiggles', long thought to be the work of an understudy, are actually the Bard's own indications, painstakingly transcribed in each individual copy by his anameuis Francis Bacon. Further, a recently discovered letter of the Earl of Oxforde to his cousin the Earl of Derby and 'Cc.d' to Kit Marlowe discusses the significance of timings and the need for a strict regulation of performers attitudes. Final proof is found in the Golden Section mathematics of the indication's design which are drawn from old Gregorian chant neumes. All this is properly discussed in my forthcoming article. Time is everything.
But I would not wish to suggest that the old masters were fixated upon speed. No! They also lavished their skill upon beautiful sound and exquisite phrasing.
When Gerremy Burton (cousin of the Hollywooden hero, Richard) rolled his 'r's across the stage, it was like a bowling ball headed straight for the tenth strike in a row. Like thunder welling up from the depths. You felt it in your own chakras!
They also had range and power. No one could withstand Haliburtov Cheniovskie's performance of Rudyard Chekov's play A Star's Trek to the Apple Orchard. The ease with which he tossed off the three close spaced consonants in the last act cannot be surpassed.
And memories to boot! Charles Kean gave six Shakespeare plays in eight nights, adding modern comedies and other plays along with.
Today, a performer struggles to learn his lines which amount to about as much as fills a pub napkin (which is probably where most writing gets done anyway). And the lines are of such eternal eloquence as 'I have a bad feeling about the chicken' or ' I don't think so-so!'
One of the grandest events which I had the good fortune to attend, and which must be considered one of the most colossal achievements of the vocal arts was the performance by Gregory Sockoff of the complete 'All and Almost Everything, plus the Kitchen and Bathroom Sinks,' by the radical Andean gymnast, explorer and magus, Gyorgi Gourdeep. Spelling each word as he went, Gregory recited the entire 8,322 page text (printed usually in 7-point font) FROM MEMORY! Which must be considered the most letters any artist has ever spoken at a single concert event. I will cherish the memory until Domesday comes -- which was brought significantly closer by the length of the performance.
So much for the genius of the past. Consider then Fitmouth Benton, an up-and-coming actor from the country, whose recording of the Magpie Lyrics of I N Endlwin Cowper Powys recently arrived.
Now these are standard repertoire works, frequently recorded and performed at most pops concerts world wide, but besides the evident echo effect added in post-production by the renowned deaf audio engineer, Fiddledial Mixmaster -- making poor Benton sound like he was recorded within Mick Jagger's front lip -- it is evident that Benton has not grasped the substance of Powys' tonal world.
Vowels, which in Powys must be treated with delicate deference, are split into several parts -- as if they were more than one thing. It's not that he is spreading the beat as the old masters did, but he is E N UNCIATING a single vowel into a rip-roaring series of gelatinous cement blocks.
Nor does he maintain a steady tempo. It doesn't take much to scan a line -- unless someone wasn't paying attention in English 101. Can't he count? I don't think so!
Besides, 'where', is pronounced without the required 'h' sound -- as attested by Powys' own recordings -- though sadly not of these works, which were released released on 88 Red Seal (the communist anti-whaling label from the 1930s) 888.108/666, rereleased on the Marital Fidelity LP (432/111-2121 -- oh sorry that's my Dominatrix's number) in 1947, and released again on the budget label The Master's Tonsils (CD 000.000.0001) in 1948. It is also attested in The Mammoth Elocutionist's Manual by Flipperdis Nandroth, the expert elocutionist to the Duke of Bundy. To leave such details out is an artistic sham. The result is the most mannered of performances since Vivian ('The Princess') Lay-aahh's appearance in Titus Androgynous.
It is sad enough when artists don't reach the summit, but ridiculous that they don't even know who has been there before and how they got there. I find it hard to believe that a performer would not draw on the past in order to know what to do and so I learn with amazement the tiny size of their cylinder, 88, LP, high-fidelity LP, CD, DVD and mp3 collections are. We had to build an extension to our apartment (the twenty foot overhang over the street caused the city planning department some concern until they knew what it was for) and I've had four high school students working on cataloguing the lot for a year. I do wish I could get them to learn that 'P' follows 'loo' in the alphabet -- years of binge drinking seem to have taught them nothing. Still, it is only by having access to my collection of 87,242 items that I feel confident to speak. (Admittedly, that business with Joyce Haddock was a bit of a trip-up. But, I was taken in by the good graphics on the CD cases. Besides, I'd only listened to 69 of her albums. If I'd had access to the other 4,912, I'm sure I would have detected the scam. But the story of a great elocutionist being held hostage for years by the Evangelical Orang-utans of Born-in-'O' and the damage to her health from the hours spent listening to the preacher recount tales of saving grace among the savages swayed me. It was enough to make one weep.)
A second recording on my disc spinner is Rumbles from the Past: Tales of a Youthful Gangster in Lower Hambertramp, County Povey, by the otherwise respectable performer (not artist) Archibald Ricecakes. His performance is laboured under the effect of his advancing age, substance abuse (mostly his favoured winegums), Amy Winehouse Syndrome and canker sores -- a sad decline from his earlier robust energy. Here is someone who was once, if not great, at least quite fair. That such a mannered travesty should be released upon the public is an insult to all who admire the great poetry that he recites.
What is one to make of his rendition in all its mannered excess of the epic lines of Robert the Fluck by Upper Middle Slobodias' great poet Amilda Coventrollope? Listen to his butchery and then hear a proper version by the undersigned from my most recent concert in Lillyduck Corner Café in Sudsburied, Onter-Rio.
In the days of red wine roses.
The juxtaposing of truth
Where lost are the roots of Time ...
[Sadly, copyright restrictions, which now last for 3,327 and a quarter years after the death of the performer, prevent our using this audio sample. Our apologies. The Editors.]
But the most sad are those creatures who aspire and do not have a chance due to a simple failing: they are not famous. How can we pay attention to someone who has not even appeared on the cover of our country's best glossy magazines? Such noodles can't be taken seriously. And we mustn't. The famous are famous for a reason. They are all great and above reproach. No one who has appeared on the cover of CD Classical Disc Spinner Monthly Review is anything less than the most significant and best that exist.
And of course, I received one CD from a performer that is so horrid, I must share it with you [I won't really though]. What is astounding is that she has learned a word wrong! Yes, it's a live performance, taken from a concert at the Samuel Livingtonius Fish Hatchery grounds in September of 1998, but without question she's learned it wrong! At the timing 4:18 she clearly says 'and' when the correct word is 'But' (and capitalised no less) as proven by Walter Gritty's groundbreaking article 'No 'ifs', 'ands' or Butts in the Manuscript Collection of the Upper Newcombe Privy Memorial Library,' in Moral Munchin Monthly (18 December 1938), page 15, 18, 22 and ff, which compared all extant texts and copies from the author's own archive (including written notes jotted on tablecloth linen -- one of his favourite writing implements). The ignorance of this performance is thus colossal. Silence is the only response to a fool.
When I look back upon the great masters that left us recordings of their artistry, I am grateful that I live in a time of such wealth.
The moderns need not worry about pop culture as long as they remember this:
IT IS THE CRITIC'S TASK TO DEFINE THE ACCEPTABLE AND UNACCEPTABLE IN PERFORMANCE. THE ARTIST IS ALWAYS THE SECOND IN THE PROCESS, NEVER THE FIRST.
Get it? Got it? Then go the distance! Stay the course! Vote Bush in 2009! Margaret Thatcher for VP!