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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pipes and Fries

And the award for clever classical marketing goes to..........

My good friend organist, Steve Best posted this photograph on his Facebook page.  Looks like he's giving up the console for tomorrow afternoon's recital at his church.  So if you are in and around Utica, NY, a little creative cultcha!  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What women's shoe fashionista Christian Louboutin can learn from RCA Victor

I was having a conversation today with my colleague Gregor Benko when he brought up what I thought was a non-sequitur. His topic was the lawsuit of a popular women's shoe designer Christian Louboutin versus Yves Saint Laurent for the duplicate use of the color Chinese red on the base of their shoes.  I said, "what does this have to do with music" and he said, "Aha, this designer can learn a lesson from the record industry, he won't win."  You see, Louboutin, who had patented the color Chinese Red for his shoe soles had lost the District Court trial and his appeal is currently all over the news.  The Circuit Court judge essentially said that the patent did not grant him exclusive use of the color on shoe soles and that his trademark was inconsistent within the framework of the Lanahan Act.(Lanahan Act in Wikipedia)

A little background on the case can be found here:

Hollywood Reporter take on the August Louboutin suit decision

Louboutin Sues YSL on appeal story

Ok, now your next question is, why the heck is he writing about this case, what does it have to do with the music industry.  Well Gregor was absolutely correct, RCA Victor did sue the Decca and Columbia Record  Companies over a virtually identical situation, even the same color!  You see the Victor Talking Machine Company as early as 1903 began to produce records with red labels for their very best artists.  They patented and trademarked their red labelled records which they called "Red Seal" and their luxury artists like Enrico Caruso, Jascha Heifetz and Wanda Landowska all recorded under this label.  They had threatened to sue any number of record companies over the years for the use of red labels in their commercial 78 rpm recordings.  In 1934, the British Company Decca came to America and they imported records from Europe with red and gold labels which looked very similar to RCA Victor's sans the dog. (Radio Corporation of America purchased Victor Talking Machine Company in 1929 and merged their names.) RCA Victor needless to say had a fit and threatened a lawsuit if they distributed such recordings.  Decca decided to distribute and Columbia Records seeing Decca was distributing red labelled records released their own similar version.  RCA Victor filed suit in Federal District Court in New York and it took until May 13, 1943 before a decision was reached.  The case, RADIO CORPORATION OF AMERICA v. DECCA RECORDS 51 F.Supp. 493 (1943) RADIO CORPORATION OF AMERICA vDECCA RECORDS, Inc., et al. SAME v. COLUMBIA RECORDING CORPORATION et al..  

In one of his final cases before his death, Federal Circuit Judge John M. Woolsey wrote the following decision after listening to the testimony of all parties and going so far as to listen to testimony from an MIT professor who provided expert testimony on color and the ability of the human eye to detect certain colors as it relates to the prism.

2. I find that the red label affixed to the centre of a round disc record is not the use of color in the form of a design, and, consequently, cannot be the subject matter of a trademark.

3. Under the physics of light, the record shows that one-third of the spectrum is of a red hue, in respect of all of which the plaintiff seeks to hang out a caveat sign to prevent any one else from using red labels on the centre of disc records. In other words, it wants to be in a position to claim this broad band of color against other makers of disc records preventing them from the use of red centres. This position is not maintainable.

4. The plaintiff has established a secondary meaning for the words "Red Seal" as indicating that it is the maker of goods so marked or so described.

5. The words "Red Seal" share the same infirmity as the color red, as being far too broad in its implications of exclusiveness. Hence it is void as a trademark, and, as a secondary meaning, cannot be the foundation of a remedy.
6. The defendants have carefully differentiated the Columbia product from the Victor product, by having the word "Columbia", and other of its trademarks, clearly printed on its labels so that any literate person of reasonable intelligence who looked at the record could not fail to understand it was not made by the plaintiff.
7. On the issue of unfair competition, I do not find any instance proved by evidence credible to me of any potentiality of confusion or of any actual passing off of Columbia products as Victor products.
8. Consequently, there has not been any unfair competition, to which issue we have found ourselves ultimately relegated.
9. The judgment of this Court, therefore, is that the complaint herein be dismissed, and I grant to the defendants all taxable costs, allowances and disbursements.

(Citation from the Leagle website)

Amusingly, Gregor has a real point, this case has been tried before, same color, same point and argument and the plaintiff, RCA Victor lost and lost big!  It would not appear that Louboutin owns the exclusive right to market Chinese red soled shoes in the United States.  It will be interesting to see if in fact the appeals court uses this case as a reference.

Composer Ferdinand Ries is dusted off and taken out for a roller-coaster ride!

Original early 19th Century stippel angraving of Ferdinand Ries

Yet another nugget mined on Youtube!

Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven's major domo for a time makes a comeback in this most original video.  The Zurich Chamber Orchestra utilizes the violin line from the score of the 4th movement of Ries 2nd Symphony to spectacular effect as a roller coaster for their latest promotion!  Fasten your seat belts, it is quite a ride!

We recommend for full effect, click on the Youtube link above, go to their site and enlarge to full screen!

Kudos to Creative Director Axel Eckstein, of EURO RSCG, Zurich for this marvelous and original video!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Saga of the Music Librarian's worst nightmare will now play out in civil court

My endeavor, the sale of music antiquities is a rather dignified and rarefied field.  While we all hear about the scandals which go on in the World of sports, entertainment and historical autographs, there is rarely an issue in the music World.  That all changed in 2008.  Since 2006, I had been watching an E-Bay vendor sell a huge cache of musical autographs on their site.  It was noticeable, as this never-ending supply was coming from Israel, a Country where I have very few customers.  I suppose someone might have compiled a collection in Europe and brought it after the War, but that was unlikely, as the refugees had very little when they arrived in Israel.  This was a veritable gold mine.  Anyhow, my interest was really piqued when the seller began listing known Nazi collaborators, both musical and a few non-musical. In other words things the vast majority of Israeli's would not want in their homes.  He was also listing items which appeared to be items from the Israeli Philharmonics archive, like a signed photograph of Arturo Toscanini dedicated to the orchestra, letters to the orchestra from musical luminaries and numerous pristine broadsides which would not have survived in that condition unless placed in a professional archive. As his prices were very high, I waited until he listed something unfamiliar to him at a low price and I bid and won the item.  In this case it was a letter by the Jewish conductor, Hermann Levi.  Levi was the Kappellmeister of Munich and the first to conduct Wagner's opera "Parsifal."  I immediately sent a payment to the seller. The transaction then became what can be described as murky.  The seller sent me an e-mail that he was having issues and could not send the item right away.  After several e-mails threatening to report this activity to E-Bay, he relented and the item arrived with a letter on his letterhead apologizing for the confusion.  I examined the letter once received and immediately saw library markings which further aroused my suspicions.  After making phone calls to several colleagues whom I knew had transacted business with him, I found one who had purchased a manuscript which they traced to the Music Department of the National Library of Israel at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  They had actually been in communication with the archivist, but as yet had not provided the name of the E-Bay seller to the Archives.  I immediately contacted Gila Flamm, the music archivist there and told her what I had.  After an hour or so, I learned that the letter we had was part of their collection and was missing.......then the thing took on a life of it's own.  I informed my colleagues that I intended to give the name and address of the E-Bay seller to the archive.  While the colleague who had been in communication with the archives thought I was being hasty, they supported me.  However, it seemed to me that it was more important to stop the bleeding as he had current items on E-Bay and had made recent sales and this was the best way to do it.  Anyhow, I provided the name of the E-Bay seller, one, Meir Bizanski, a Haifa architect to the library.  The archivist recalled Bizanski regularly appearing at the library and she thought it curious, as he appeared to have no knowledge of music history, but was allowed free reign in the archives as was their policy at the time and would bring blueprint tubes and brief cases with him every time he came.  The next day a big article appeared in the Jerusalem Post.  The Bizanski home was raided by the police and they found a hut of sorts in the back of the house loaded with items which were part of the collection of the Music Department of the National Library of Israel and the Israeli Philharmonic. He was arrested and then the story takes another twist.  He claimed he bought the items directly from the archives and flea markets, though he had no bills of sale.  Somehow that argument seemed to hold with the prosecutors office and he was released.  Now, E-Bay took a month after this story broke to close his account, shameful, as he began to sell again shortly after his release from prison.  He also appeared another time under another handle and fortunately this time was discovered early on and was quickly shut down.

A Recap of the sordid story from the New York Times

Years have gone by and the prosecutors office in Israel for some reason has been loathe to prosecute the case.  This makes zero sense, as he was caught with the goods, they have record of Bizanski visiting both the Music Department of the National Library of Israel  and the Philharmonic Archives on numerous occasions and ample evidence of his sales outside of the country and he has no bills of sale.  However, one can't understand the politics which go on in other countries, so I won't delve into that any further.  However, great news, I received an e-mail recently with the attached article, apparently the prosecutors office has now dropped the case.  But Bizanski will get his day in court, as the Music Department of the National Library of Israel and the Israeli Philharmonic are now jointly suing him in civil court.

The recent H'aaretz story regarding the lawsuit

While a number of Bizanski's customers have returned their items to the archives, some still have not and they are missing hundreds of items which he is believed to have sold via E-Bay.  If you are reading this story for the first time and and conducted business with this man, the Israeli National Archives would love to have their purloined items back, no questions asked. For those in this category, it would truly be a mitzvah (good deed) if you were to repatriate the items you purchased from this man.  Please contact Gila Flamm at the Music Department of the National Library of Israel  here. Email Gila by clicking this link

A quick follow-up, (1/24/12) we heard from Gila this morning.  Apparently the items removed from Bizanski's home, as well as all items sent back to the library were placed in escrow and the library and Philharmonic are trying to reach a deal with Bizanski's attorney's and the court to have those items returned to their proper locations.  They have had to wait 4 years while the State prosecutors office did nothing to return National property to it's rightful home.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A fictional hooplah over a Brahms Premier: updated 1/28/12

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of articles concerning a "newly discovered" piano work by the great German Romantic composer Johannes Brahms.  Most of the articles mentioned how conductor and musicologist Christopher Hogwood "discovered" the piece at the Princeton University library.  In fact the "discovery" was made by the auction house, Doyle's of New York City, where the album was sold last year, lot 228 in their April 20th sale.  The album described as, "Album Amicorum of Arnold Wehner", contained a wide variety of musical quotations from important composers and musicians of the period, Brahms being one.  I viewed the item myself at the preview and was quite impressed with the album and the care and detail which went into cataloging the book.   The listing within the catalog, carefully researched and vetted by the Brahms Society was as follows:

The Brahms quotation is an early and partly different version of the middle section Trio D from the Scherzo/second movement of Brahms' Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano op. 40, completely composed in 1865. The section is transposed from a Minor to a flat Minor. It seems likely that this was written in June of 1853, when the twenty year old Brahms and his friend Ede were in Gottingen (arriving June 4).

(Ede would be Edouard Remenyi the Hungarian virtuoso violinist who "discovered Brahms" and took him on tour as his piano accompanist.  Later Brahms would write his Hungarian Dances which were influenced by these tours with Remenyi.)

Doyle Catalog Listing Mentioning Unpublished Brahms Work

At the time the catalog was published, Edward Ripley-Duggan, the head of the rare book department at Doyle's was very aware they had an unpublished "manuscript" on their hands and in fact at one point had planned a premier of the piece at the auction, but as the auction was a long one, he had to scrap the idea. 

The Guardian Newspaper wrote the following about this piece this past week and the BBC Broadcast how Hogwood "discovered" the piece:

The media in Britain which was picked up by AP makes it appear as if Hogwood made this discovery himself, a work which had already been identified by the Brahms Society as unpublished and complete specifics had been included in the listing when the item was sold.  My intelligence has informed me that Hogwood was presented with the album while visiting the Princeton home of William Scheide and was specifically shown the page with the information from the auction house.  It is also interesting to note, that a hastily arranged premier was made yesterday in Princeton and broadcast live on their radio station, WPRB yesterday, so that the BBC "premier" on the 21st would not be the first aired.  

Please see the Youtube link below.

End story is I heartily applaud the fact that this premier was made.  It is a lovely piece, quite haunting and it fully deserved an airing and I give a standing ovation to Bill Scheide for allowing it to happen.  However, the British media story which surrounds the discovery of the piece and has gone 'round the World while Romantic and reads like a miniature Dan Brown piece of fiction should be followed up by the media now that the facts are known.

Update:  The first performance and World Premier was given by Jakob Haschildt at a Brahms conference in Kiel Germany on October 8th, 2011.  At the same time a paper was delivered about the piece and an article appears in the Spring 2011 edition of the American Brahms Society Newsletter.  Further, a recording was made of the World Premier performance which will be released with the Brahms Gesellschaft's annual journal.  Please see the details below from Nigel Simione which we have further verified as complete and accurate.

Update 1/28/12: For those who wish to have the printed sheet music for the Album Leaf, please click the link below and you will be directed to the site where you can do just that for free!
Print the sheet music here!

Mario Del Monaco sings Siegmund!!! Wow is this a performance!!!

Every once in awhile, while mining Youtube one finds a truly spectacular clip.  Here is one of those clips, Mario del Monaco singing the "Walse Monologue" from Wagner's "Die Walkure."  The tenor puts on a demonstration of combined passion, strength and breadth control. While the German is rudimentary at best,  there is not a tenor today who can match this performance!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Should I dump my cd collection?

Recently, I went through my cd collection and culled out about 60% of them.  I have been accumulating them since they were first released in the 1980's and over the years had acquired multiple copies of works, or ones which I had purchased for one reason or another and did not have enough interest to play them again.  By the time I was finished culling, I was left with my favorites from a wide variety of musical genres and sent the rest to a local used cd shop.  I decided it was really too much trouble to sell on E-Bay.  Which led me to the thought, do I dump all of my cd's and store them on external hard drives?

I am sure you the reader of this article have reached this quandary at some point.  For me, it was easy.  The answer is not now and here are my reasons:

1. MP3, which is the most common form of shared musical file on the internet is a truncated, or maybe a better term is compressed file.  The file is  128 kbits, or 1/11th of the size of a fully expanded cd file.  I suppose it's fine for small ensemble music, a guitar, a solo piano etc.  But if you listen to large ensemble music, especially orchestral and opera, you end up missing massive amounts of band width.  The higher frequency range is typically missed in replay of these files, which in orchestral music can leave performances absolutely flat.  As an example, think of the quality of most Youtube videos, they tend to be grainy and in some cases difficult to watch, they are not HD.....same difference here with an MP3 sound file.  Or think about that low res photo you grabbed off the internet and tried to print as an 8x10, of course the photo is there, but it's grainy and pixelated.

2. Cloud storage is in its' infancy.  Recently, a friend who had a large amount of data stored on a cloud environment found one morning that their data missing, never to return.  External hard drives don't last, I have found mine run about a 3-4 year life span, yet my cd's from the 1980's still play as well as the day I purchased them.  The word on the street is that a cd should last 10 years is simply not true!  Additionally, you would need to have back-up external hard drives to back up your other external hard drives to insure you don't lose your files.  Costly and time consuming!

3. I refuse to store my cd data as an MP3, some are willing to compromise for either download storage, or reduced storage space, but the loss of frequency in the recordings is not something I'm willing to live with and the time it takes to clone your cd's accurately is not time I have to waste and the cost to have someone do it for me is cost prohibitive.

4. I have stopped using headphones and my I-Pod. JAMA produced an alarming article several years ago which cut to the heart of the matter.  Essentially, the World, since the advent of the Walk-Man and I-Pod is experiencing greater hearing loss and not in small percentages.  A study by U. Minnesota tried to refute the claim and 2 new studies, one by the University of Tel-Aviv and the other by U. Michigan confirm the earlier JAMA data.  As a portable listening device is the main reason to store MP-3's and I'm not using those devices, my sense of hearing is too important to me.

5. Apple has come up with a file they call "Lossless" which saves as M4a.  While an improvement over the MP3 situation, it is still not up to the same sound quality as a CD.

The tale of the tape is this.  Store your data on your computer and external hard drives, technology is wonderful and if you are willing to settle for lower res files, certainly not a problem.  My advice is, keep your cd's for the present time.  There will come a day where you will no longer need them as back-up, however, that day has not arrived.

P.S. A sidebar.  A few of my regulars who read this post asked me about record albums.  Interesting, as a few musicians like Gustavo Dudamel have recently released a limited number of copies of recent recordings in album format.  When it comes to opera and classical box sets, except for rare cases, they are dead in the water.  You can try to unload them on E-Bay and that's perhaps your best option and court of last resort.  Unlike the world of Jazz, opera box sets no matter how pristine are virtually undesirable, the vast majority of collectors moved over to CD's years ago.  The second hand record places are filled to the brim, the bulk of record dealers who handled this material by list are gone, you can't even give them to your local library, they have the same problem and don't want your problem.  There is always landfill, but that's certainly not very green. So my best suggestion is if you can afford the room and you still listen to them, keep them and enjoy them.  The market has simply dried up.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Louis Treumann & Johannes Heesters linked by Danilo

Louis Treumann, the original Danilo in the "Merry Widow"

I just finished reading an article in the Jewish Forward by Raphael Mostel about the spineless Dutch tenor Johannes Heesters who just passed away at the age of 108.  Mostel discusses the complete lack of conscious of the singer in favor of power and riches.  As a matter of point, Heesters never really found a problem with his actions during the War, even at the end of his life.  Mostel goes on to discuss Heesters relationship with Hitler via the role of Danilo in the "Merry Widow", Lehar's work and Hitler's favorite operetta.  So much so, that Hitler would go to hear Heesters sing Danilo night after night when in performance.  Mostel also mentions the two Jewish librettists of the work,  Leo Stein and Viktor Léon whom Hitler conveniently ignored, as he so loved the work.

The one fact missed in the article is that the role of Danilo was written for and created by the great Viennese operetta tenor, Louis Treumann, who just happened to be Jewish.  For the record he was murdered by the Nazi thugs in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in 1944.  Treumann at the time of the War was retired, but literally a major celebrity up until Kristallnacht, where he was surreptitiously shunned by his non-Jewish friends who made no extraordinary effort to help him leave.  Treumann in his younger days was the go-to tenor of the Second Golden Age of Viennese Operetta and had created lead roles in major works by Kalman, Eysler, Ziehrer, Ascher and others and also other works by Lehar as well. To the memory of Treumann, Stein and Léon and the other Jews who created the works that Heesters used throughout his long life so he could live in prosperity.

Article in the Jewish Forward

A recording of Louis Treumann singing "O Vaterland" from the Merry Widow, 1906

The Training of Beniamino Gigli, a lesson for today's singers

Baritone Antonio Cotogni's class at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome
Antonio Cotogni (center row, center), Beniamino Gigli (top row, right), Enrico Rosati (center row, 2nd from right)
Photograph owned by and scan, property of Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc. no reproduction without credit

Among the fabled tenor names in operatic history is one, Beniamino Gigli.  Gigli rose to prominence after the death of Enrico Caruso in 1921, though due to differences in their voices, the two should never really be compared, even though they shared repertory.  Gigli had a tone and coloration which has been described as "honey" and was closer to a lyric voice than Caruso, though as he aged his voice darkened.  Gigli had a typical Italian tenor's introduction to singing, he was in the choir of his home town cathedral in Recanati. As he grew older, he received some private lessons in his home town. In 1910 he was compelled to join the military and was stationed in Rome.  As Gigli searched for a vocal instructor in Rome, a certain Colonel Delfino recommended he audition for a place at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.  Gigli, a natural singer did not have any formal musical training other than the church and singing lessons in Recanati and had never learned to play the piano, a requirement for entrance into the Conservatory.  However, they made an exception for him due to his natural abilities as a singer and he was selected by legendary baritone Antonio Cotogni for his class.  Now Cotogni literally was considered to be the greatest baritone of his time.  He created the part of Posa in the Italian primi of "Don Carlo" and Verdi actually wept as he heard him sing "O, Carlo, ascolta" during a rehearsal of the work.  Cotogni had a marvelous career in Italy, however, he made his true fame and fortune in Russia as a favorite of the Czar.  Firmly rooted in the technique founded by the Bel Canto composers and singers of the prior generation, he passed along the technique to a rather diverse group of singers including Mattia Battistini, Jean de Reszke and Carlo Galeffi to name three.  By the time Gigli auditioned, he was in his eighties and had been at Santa Cecilia for over twenty years.   According to Gigli in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Beniamino Gigli composer Stanislao Falchi who was the Director of Santa Cecilia took him aside and told him he felt that Enrico Rosati would be a better teacher for him and he would advance more rapidly if he studied with him.  Gigli was stuck in a quandary as he wanted to study with Cotogni, but finally relented and quite unwillingly enrolled with Rosati.  In the book, Gigli says that Rosati said, "You needn't stay if you don't want to" the first time he walked into class. "Please yourself." He remained with Rosati for two years, until the time of his debut.  

At a time when opera was performed by every Tom, Dick and Harry impressario in Italy, Gigli like so many others could have walked onto the stage without training.  Gigli writes about Rosati, "he understood my voice completely, and led me forward with no sense of strain, or effort."  Gigli goes on to say, "The foundations of my vocal training had of course by this time been laid, but my singing still had a number of faults, and these Rosati was determined to cure me of. For example, I had grown accustomed to singing at the top of my voice, with all the strength of my lungs; and the result was the high notes gave me some trouble.  Rosati helped me cultivate the finer shades of tone and taught me a sense of proportion.  He made me leave opera alone for awhile and concentrate of delicate seventeenth and eighteenth Century songs..."  The point is, Gigli sought out the training, found the right teacher and was able to parlay the natural ability and learned technique into a legendary opera career.     

Interestingly, Rosati was able to parlay his tutelage of Gigli and another close contemporary Giacomo Lauri-Volpi into an even bigger career for himself in America.  Gigli's fame brought a number of well known singers to the door of his Manhattan studio, notably; Mario Lanza, James Melton and Karin Branzell among others.

The moral in this story for a singer is multi-fold.  First, even if you have a natural gift, there is always more to learn.  Second, choose the right teacher, reputation only goes so far, one must make sure the teacher is right for you and can help you advance.  Lastly, don't be in a rush to start your career, make sure you have the proper training for career longevity. 

Beniamino Gigli gives a very short master class

Gigli sings "Improvviso" from "Andre Chenier" something the average lyric tenor would never handle

Gigli sings "Spirito gentile" from "La Favorita"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Distinctive Voices in a time of homogenized vocal music; an opinion

I was reading a post this morning on an opera blog and thought I might respond, but then thought the better of it and instead will share my thoughts with you.

We live in a time of vapid, homogenized vocal music.  Engineering trickery and amplification are utilized today on recordings and live performances of all genres of music.  Therefore it becomes difficult to really tell who is truly great.  One asks, what really makes an artist truly great?  In today’s music world, looks take precedent over vocal abilities; if the "artist" is "hot" then perhaps the public will forgive the fact that they cannot really sing.  In the land of opera, "Regie" is the current vogue and to many impressarios, looks and stage presence take precedent over vocal abilities.  If you don’t believe me, just think back to the "little black dress" dust up at Covent Garden a few years ago. After all, everyone knows that one goes to the opera to see a "hot” soprano and the director's vision, before one goes to hear the singers.  What ever happened to that famous "fat lady?"

I watched an awards show at some point last year and a young woman by the name of Katy Perry came out to sing.  I had heard the same song played ad nauseum on the radio, at restaurants and clubs, so I was familiar with it.  The song was catchy, but in the long run very forgettable.  She, like many others meet the criteria of today; hot, pretty face with a set of double d’s and a suggestive tiny costume.  What was broadcast during that live telecast and what is offered in her recordings are like night and day.  It was very clear she was out of her element live.  She was pitchy, sung with a different timbre than the recording and was vocally strained, all the more pronounced as she was performing a synchronized dance routine.  Today, with the massive amounts of media exposure, singers like Perry are homogenized, packaged based upon looks and in many cases dancing ability rather than real talent.  There are composers and song writers in New York, Nashville and Hollywood who are pumping out a ton of forgettable music to go with these packaged products which will not be remembered 6 months later. Which brings me to the crux of this piece, who today has a voice that down the road people will remember?  To me it boils down to one thing, the distinctive timbre of a voice and there are not many out there today, who have it. Perhaps only two of the current crop of pop singers are truly memorable stars with distinctive voices and the vocal qualities to be remembered for years to come, they are both British, Adele and the late Amy Winehouse.   The voice can be phenomenally natural, or in a number of cases across the genres, forgettable but used with such great taste and style, that it becomes entirely distinctive and memorable.

I used to play a game with some friends who liked old 78 rpm records.  We would slip a record on a gramophone and try to guess the singer as rapidly as possible.  With some singers, this is incredibly easy.  Caruso, Ponselle, Tauber, Pinza, Flagstad and Björling are a few examples of true natural voices whom one can hear a few notes and immediately name.  In more modern times, Luciano Pavarotti is a singer who needs no introduction once one hears his voice.  However, that being said, I find even more interesting singers who do not have naturally pretty voices. A few examples in the world of pop would include Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, in jazz, Louis Armstrong, in Country and Folk Leadbelly, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. You hear a few notes and you immediately know who is singing.  Their greatness is not in the quality of their voice, but the way the voice is projected to affect the listener.  Their difference and moreover their singularity and distinctiveness of tone has brought them fame, while there are far better singers out there, with not even a fraction of their reputation.   The difference with these singers is, “What you hear is what you get.”  If you were to attend, or in the case of several were to have attended a live performance, they are, or would be one and the same.  No engineering trickery needed.

In the opera world, Julius Patzak may not be the best known tenor these days.  His voice was far from natural, though well trained.  However, once you heard the voice and it is logged in your memory bank, you would not forget it.  Ivan Kozlowsky and Tito Schipa are much the same.  Neither had truly natural voices, but both are truly distinctive through the use of superb training and excellent taste, one knows immediately who is singing and in their lifetimes, both were superstars.  At my peril, I will add another one to this category, Maria Callas.  She was not always the most refined singer and did not possess a naturally beautiful voice like Beverly Sills, or Renata Tebaldi; but her singing was truly distinctive and what talent she had coupled with her distinctive sound and unrivaled passion allowed her to make one of the most extraordinary careers ever in opera, one with which she is remembered with religious reverence to this day.  It’s interesting that in the opera world where the average person expects to hear only the best of the best singers, there have been a number of true stars who were not naturally gifted with beautiful voices.

Now that is not to say singers with truly fine voices are not part of this, Frank Sinatra was a singer’s singer, a man with a true gift and a distinctiveness in his voice which made him one of the most famous and aurally recognizable  singers of the 20th Century.  What you heard on the record was what you heard live, no tricks, no games.  In the opera world, there is a stream of truly natural singers who are instantly recognizable through their recordings and sounded the same in person, though in most cases I am relying on reviews of the period.  Caruso, Pavarotti, Warren, Kraus, Pinza, Ponselle, Melchior, Flagstad, Wunderlich, Corelli and Björling come right to mind as singers who possessed naturally distinctive voices.  Most of these singers have been dead 50 years, or more and they are still widely listened to, today.

The original post that I read challenged other posters to recount singers today who sound the same on cd, as they do in the opera house.  The base was Jonas Kaufmann, currently the “it” tenor.  While, I can attest that he sounds the same in both recordings and live, to my ear, he is not one of these distinctive singers.  As a matter of point, one would be hard pressed to think of any singer today who makes a truly distinctive and original sound.  Cecilia Bartoli and Juan Diego Florez are perhaps two opera singers who possess naturally gifted voices and are distinctive enough to be recognized in a blind test.  There is even a singer out there who frequently records, makes a beautiful sound but would be entirely forgettable except for the fact that she has marbles in her mouth, her poor diction makes her distinctive!  Perhaps most opera singers don’t want to push the parameters, but in my humble opinion, the opera houses are rife today with homogenized singers, ones who are serviceable and sing the right notes at the right time, but there is nothing to set one apart from the other.  They are perhaps “hotter” on the whole, but they are lacking that certain quality which provides a unique distinctiveness which will keep them in the public’s imagination after they are gone.   The days of the unnatural voice, trained with style and good taste, with a distinctive sound is in the past.  Today's popular music business and opera business are much the same and there is not much from either world today which sets each singer apart, enough that they will be remembered in the same way as a Sinatra, Nelson, Callas, or Pavarotti.

Julius Patzak sings Richard Strauss's "Standchen" in his very distinctive tenor

Ivan Kozlowsky sings "Arlecchino's Serenade" from "I Pagliacci"

Tito Schipa sings "M'appari" from "Martha"

Maria Callas sings "O Mio Babbino Caro" from "Gianni Schicci"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Jewel Box Opera Company of New York City; an interview with Michael Capasso General Director of Dicapo Opera Theatre

Michael Capasso in the house of the Dicapo Opera Theare, photograph copyright Bill Ecker

Voice, Music and Drama are the three key ingredients to any given opera.  With the fragile state of the opera scene in Manhattan, there is one company other than the MET that has annually presented operas for 30 years to critical acclaim.  The Dicapo Opera Theatre presents 5 fully produced operas with orchestra each season, coupled with excellent young singers, many nurtured through their Resident Artist’s Program.  In addition to their regular fare, they will present 5 operas for children, 2 concerts involving their young singers and even 2 jazz concerts too boot.  They are a true New York City success story, working hard for the community, the City and they are doing their part to educate the public about the magic that is opera.   
I sat with Michael Capasso, General Director of the company to find out what they are doing to bring opera to the public during these difficult economic times.  “First and foremost, we offer a general admission of $50.00 per ticket, slightly discounted when purchased with a subscription.”  Considering the high ticket costs of a night at Lincoln Center, or Broadway; an evening performance, or matinee at Dicapo is a true bargain!  “This season we will produce 5 main stage works, "Tosca" the 30th anniversary production, "Iolanta" by Piotr Tchaikovsky, "The Consul" in honor of the 100th birthday of Gian Carlo Menotti, "The Most Happy Fella" and "La Traviata".  He maintains “We do everything a big company does, the only difference is the dots and the commas”.

Capasso is truly unique in today's opera world.  He hearkens back to the days of the San Carlo Opera, where Fortune Gallo, or “Lucky Rooster” as he was known, built an opera company from scratch and successfully toured the company across the Country for several decades.  Mr. Capasso did not come from a musical background.  While he says "Italian music" was played all the time on the radio and hi-fi in his home, it was his Grandfather who introduced him to Enrico Caruso’s records at the age of seven.  He trotted off to the library and checked out Francis Robinson’s book, Caruso, His Life in Pictures and decided he wanted to become the next great tenor.  His parents finally gave in to his begging and took him to the Metropolitan Opera to hear "L’Elisir d’Amore" and he became a passionate devotee for life.  Once he realized that he could not sing like his then hero Franco Corelli, he decided the life of an impresario like Rudolf Bing was pretty good too!  At the age of 22, while helping to run a successful construction company, he decided he would produce Tosca and with the help of his former high school music teacher, Diane Martindale, he realized his dream.  30 years later, he says, “I am still there, it’s challenging, but I’m doing what I love.”

Dicapo is not just pumping out standard fare.  Capasso bases his success on knowing what the public wants.  “We produce each season, 2 chestnuts, 1 unfamiliar work by a well-known composer and 2 contemporary pieces which are musically challenging, but not unlistenable.”  To achieve this mix, they have worked well with the important American composers, Tobias Picker, Paul Moravec, Robert Ward and Thomas Pasatieri among others to present contemporary works their audience will find palatable.  Capasso goes on to say, “In the last few years, we have presented 2 World Premiers, 1 American Premier and 2 New York Premiers.”  There are very few opera companies in America who can boast of that sort of diverse repertory and still fill their house at every performance! The Company then takes it a step further and brings these contemporary American works to Europe.  For the past three Summers, Dicapo has appeared at the Szeged National Theatre in Hungary and performed an American work. Each of the operas was broadcast throughout Europe by the French Mezzo Network; a cable network which reaches some 16 million subscribers.  He has toured Dicapo for years in New England under the moniker, The National Lyric Opera.  This year Dicapo is travelling to Long Island for the first time in years.  He produced Tosca earlier in the year at the Tilles Center at C. W. Post campus of Long Island University and will produce La Traviata there in May. The first opera was so successful that they have been asked to do 2 more next season!  Dicapo needless to say is one extremely busy opera company!

Dicapo is also very unique, in that they do not present their season on the West Side.  They produce all of their regular season works in a jewel box theatre on the corner of 76th Street and Lexington Avenue.  The beautifully appointed and comfortable house holds an audience of 204 patrons.  For first timers, it perhaps is slightly difficult to find, down a flight of stairs on the side of the St. Jean Baptiste Church.  There is not a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are among the best the City has to offer.  Capasso says, “We sell about 65% of our performances by subscription and the balance by single ticket sales and we are typically sold out!” So if you would like to take in one of Manhattan’s cultural gems, you have to act quickly before the tickets are gone!  Currently in rehearsal, their next production Menotti’s The Consul.  It runs four performances, January 26th and 28th & February 3rd and 5th. 

Load in day for the sets of The Consul, photograph copyright Bill Ecker

For tickets, visit,  Dicapo Opera Theatre Web Site , call, (212) 288-9438, or drop by the box office at 184 East 76th Street in Manhattan.

Anna Pavlova's Silk Shawl

As a music antiquarian we have a number of odd items which found their way to us. One day a walking stick once owned by Jacques Offenbach found it's way to us. It was complete with a nasty little dagger and housed in it's own custom made wooden box with a plaque.  I had alot of fun tracking the item and by the time I was done, I knew every owner of the stick and quite a provenance it had!  I also had Efrem Zimbalist's silent violin, found in his wife, soprano Alma Gluck's travel trunk!  Just to recall a couple of them.  Several months ago, I was contacted by a very pleasant retiree from the Midwest.  She had inherited from a friend a most interesting collection of Anna Pavlova memorabilia.  As a tribute to her friend, she had established a mini-museum in a walk-in closet in her home dedicated to her friend, a friend of Anna Pavlova.

The fascinating collection was compiled by a woman by the name of Nondas Morton.  The child of two vaudevillians, she had demonstrated a talent for ballet at a young age and due to a friendship of her Mother with a member of Pavlova's corps de ballet, she was given an audition.  Pavlova had apparently fallen in love with the child and when she toured, was given lessons by her own company choreographer, the legendary Enrico Cechetti.  When Pavlova came to town, Pavlova spent hours with the young girl and she was given prime seats to every performance.  We were able to trace the entire friendship though letters between her Mother and her ballerina friend.

In and amongst  the clippings, scrap books, photographs, letters and the like was a silk challis embroidered scarf.  You see, Nondas had kept her relationship with Victor D'Andre, Pavlova's husband and personal manager and after her death, Nondas wrote to D'Andre and he sent her a couple of keepsakes to remember her great friend.   We are currently in possession of the scarf and a beautifully embroidered handkerchief which once belonged to the legendary ballerina.  We even have the large envelope in which he forwarded the scarf to Nondas.

The item is now sold.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bernard Parronchi the cellist from my childhood

After my Grandmother passed away several years ago, while sifting through her small items, my Father found a cassette tape.  The tape was simply marked Elsie Sears - B. Parronchi.  As I am the family music antiquarian, Dad passed the tape to me.  The most recent upgrade of my sound system did not include a tape deck, so I dropped it by to my friend Seth Winner, one of the leading historical sound engineers in the country hoping it was worthwhile and could be dubbed to a cd.  Now I remember Mr. Parronchi, or Benny as he preferred to be called from my childhood.  He was in fact a dear friend of my Grandmother and I remember him playing Bruch's "Kol Nidre" at Yom Kippur services.  When the tape came back, it was not what I expected, which was a simple recording of the Kol Nidre.  Instead it was a recording of a professional recording session with the pianist Elsie Sears, also a friend of my Grandmother and an unnamed female announcer.  They performed 8 pieces with commentary, the program an ode to Jewish composers.  The tape also was complete with the engineer's comments, multiple takes and so forth.  As the tape had become brittle over the years, it was truly a miracle that Seth was able to create a listenable product.  I have been unable to locate any evidence the project was ever issued commercially, perhaps it was for a radio broadcast.

A little on Benny.  He was born in New York in 1895, he claimed to have studied with Pablo Casals, though I have not been able to verify his statement.  He started with the National Symphony Orchestra as principal cellist from 1918-1930.  He went on to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where he also taught locally, including well known cellist Dorothy Lenhart Fidlar.  From 1945 to 1965 he played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also was a member of the Neo-Russian String Quartet with Gingold, Altschuler and Rosenker.  Benny also had a touring career and played concerts throughout the Country.  He eventually retired to Florida, where he refused to be idol and kept his hand in as principal cellist with the Daytona Symphony Orchestra.  The cellist passed away in 1982.

Elsie Sears I know less about other than the fact that she was New England Conservatory trained and was married to a prominent Boston physician.

The sound file attached is a YouTube video of Paronnchi and Sears playing the Caporale "Sonata in D minor" and the Granados "Danza Espanola #5, Andaluza".  Never released to the public before, I hope you enjoy their music making!

Photograph of Bernard Parronchi courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Forgotten Leonore For The Ages Returned To Life...albeit briefly!

Rose Pauly (1894-1975) 

Truly one of the finest dramatic sopranos of the 20th Century, yet today known only by the true connoisseurs of vocal music. Pauly was considered to be the greatest of all 20th Century Elektras, a role she made her own throughout the World, including 8 performances over 3 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera.  A refugee from the Holocaust, her disappearance from people's lips perhaps was by her own design, as she left her meteoric career in 1946 and settled in Tel Aviv as a pedagogue.  Among her other great roles was Leonore in "Fidelio" and to my ear, her recording of "Abscheulicher" is one of the very best.  We have a proprietary remastering accomplished by historical sound engineer Seth Winner and owned by Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc.  The recording made in November of 1927 remains a very difficult recording to remaster due to the conditions of the original take.  While a number of other sound engineers have tried to properly master the recording, none to my ear have succeeded until now!  So with that in mind, we offer an MP3 of Madame Pauly as she has not been previously heard!

A special thanks to Larry Holdridge for original use of the record.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

For those who dare to go beyond the shower!

With the new season of American Idol coming up, Youtube has a number of karaoke arias, duets and ensemble opportunities for you budding amateur singers.  So if you dare, leave the confines of the acoustics of your shower and now you can sing anywhere!  Your living room, the park, for a laugh in a public rest room, in the middle of a business meeting.....a perfect opportunity to start a scene with your I-Pad!!  Maybe you will be the next American Idol!

Vesti la Giubba from "I Pagliacci"

A duet, "La ci darem la mano" from "Don Giovanni"

Or get a few friends together for the "Brindisi" from "La Traviata" with a theatre organ background!

We can't leave out that over-exposed aria, "Nessun Dorma" now could we?

For the totally adventurous coloratura soprano, "Der Holle Rache" from "Die Zauberflote"

And not to leave those Mezzo's out, the "Habanera" from "Carmen"

America's Original Rock Stars on Tour; a Book Recommendation

I often recommend books to our clients.  One book which I always recommend is R. Allen Lott's 2003 work on the European piano virtuosos who first toured America;

From Paris to Peoria, How European Virtuosos Brought Classical Music to the American Heartland; Oxford University Press, New York, 2003.

A superbly researched book, which reads as a scholarly work and at the same time is entirely approachable, tells the tale of the original pianists to tour this Country starting with "The Lion" Leopold de Meyer in 1845. De Meyer was a true charlatan and showman, trained by Liszt's teacher Carl Czerny. De Meyer had some skill, however, he ran his concerts like a sideshow carnival, playing virtuostic paraphrases and fantasias of the popular operas of the day and popular themes, such as works based on the imagined music of the mystical Near East and far away places like Morrocco.  He learned very quickly that riffs on patriotic songs like "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Hail Columbia" sold tickets and brought even greater applause.  Initially his playing was heralded, though through his bombast, shameless self promotion and ability to create controversy he often drew the wrath of the critics.  Lott then goes on to describe the end of de Meyer in America when his sail was clipped by the Austrian born, French pianist Henri Herz, who in fairly rapid fashion sent the "Lion" packing back to Europe.

Through the use of maps, critiques of the time, programs, sheet music and musical examples; Lott takes the reader on tour with the even greater virtuosos who came to our shore; Sigismund Thalberg, Hans von Bulow and Anton Rubinstein.  Also the great touring European violinists who shared the concert platform with the pianists, Olle Bull, Camille Sivori and Henryk Wieniawski work their way into the narrative.  For those who thought P.T. Barnum and Jenny Lind was the only classical tale out of America prior to and just after the Civil War, Lott's book brings to light the much wider scope of these extraordinarily important musicians who reached our shores during America's first Century and dazzled our ancestors.

An autographed musical quotation by pianist Henri Herz , Paris, 1856

A period lithograph portrait of Henri Herz

An autographed musical quotation by Leopold de Meyer, Paris, 1852

A broadside for a concert by Leopold de Meyer in Philadelphia

An autographed carte de visite photograph of Anton Rubinstein

An autographed musical quotation by Hans von Bulow, Dresden, 1872

A Youtube clip of Howard Shelley and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra play the first Piano Concerto of Henri Herz

A Youtube clip of Osamu N. Kanazawa playing de Meyer's Fantasie Orientale

Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc. receives no financial benefit for the sale of this book.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Charles Wilfrid de Beriot the scion of a dynamic musical legacy

Charles Wilfrid de Beriot
Scarce autographed carte de visite photograph c. 1855 by Dupont of Brussels

The pianist and pedagogue extraordinaire is virtually a forgotten name in our own times.  The son of the legendary mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran and the virtuoso violinist Charles Auguste de Beriot, he deserves a rightful place with the major pianists of his period.  de Beriot lost his mother at the tender age of three.  His despondent Father ran to Vienna for several years, leaving the young son in the care of his legendary Aunt, Pauline Viardot, the mezzo soprano and younger sister of Maria Malibran. His Father's new wife Maria Huber was the adopted daughter of Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein, who cared for him in Vienna while he convalesced from the shock of losing his young and beautiful Malibran.  Interestingly, the Prince was always rumored to be Sigismund Thalberg's Father and Thalberg became the young de Beriot's teacher. We can confirm that we had a letter in our possession by the elder de Beriot, written in 1838 while living with the Prince, which clearly stated Prince von Dietrichstein was Thalberg's Father. Thalberg's was considered at the time to be the one rival to Franz Liszt.  Later, the young de Beriot studied with Mendelssohn's piano pupil Hubert Ferdinand Kufferath at the Leipzig Conservatory and taught him Mendelssohn's "Singing Tone".   He passed along the technique to his pupils at the Paris Conservatoire, including; Enrique Granados, Maurice Ravel, Riccardo Vines, Joseph Bonnal, Justin Elie, Paul Loyonnet, Joachium Alats and Albert Lavignac.  Loyonnet was interviewed by Charles Timbrell and the interview is published in his book, French Pianism a Historical Perspective (Amadeus Press, Portland, 1999).  Loyonnet began with de Beriot at the age of 10 and said, 

His main interest was clarity and a singing tone.....I remember he often said "If a singer did what you are doing, one would laugh at him!"....Romantic that he was, he rarely made me study Bach.  Instead we did pieces by Field, Dussek, Hummel, and so on, to develop expression and velocity. (pages 184-185)

de Beriot was not only a professor, but a well known recitalist, whose forays at Salle Pleyel and other Parisian venues were much anticipated.  The pianist was also a composer of a number of large scale piano works including four piano concertos. 

We offer a Youtube video below of a rare recording of the de Beriot Second Piano Concerto played by Paul Wallfisch and an unnamed orchestra.  One can clearly hear the influences of Beethoven, Thalberg and also the pianist-composer Charles Litolff, who was well known in Paris in de Beriot's youth.  None-the-less a wonderful example of virtuostic pianoforte composition of the period.

The autographed photograph is currently available from Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc.