Sunday, 23 September 2012

One Thousand and One Nights


Eduard Mörike (1878-1929) was a house conductors of the Parlophon of Berlin, itself part of the Carl Lindström A.G. group of companies in Germany. In the early 1920s, together with HMV, Columbia and DGA/Polydor they began to record, and compete, with more or less complete recordings of orchestral works. Parlophone was the only company to attempt a fairly complete version of Scheherazade during the acoustic recording period. This is not at all surprising as the music was then quite exotic and the purchase of 5 records, even at 4s 6d each [£1 2s 6d], was then quite an outlay. I have had little luck in finding a portrait of Mörike and that below is but a third generation copy and the best I can do I'm afraid.

Eduard Mörike
I have transcribed two articles from the Gramophone magazine. The first from September 1925  has a biography of the conductor, a grading of his recordings and also describes the faults common to Parlophone acoustic recordings - 'The chief flaw in these records is that in forte passages the deeper toned instruments, including the 'cellos and double basses, sound muffled and "woolly."' - I have, I hope solved this problem but it still leaves a certain amount of noise behind for the muffled sound is just the shear volume of noise directed down the recording horn. The recording diaphragm nor the record player could really cope with this, there is inevitably record wear common to these passages.

The second article I have transcribed is the review from the February 1925 issue. This is a very detailed review, possible beacause the music was  new to most record collectors. It very helpfully also identifies the cuts made in this performance. The cut between the two sides that form the Part II is too great to make any attempt at a join. The other sides can be joined together and still make musical sense - Part IV is the only uncut section of music.

Mörike having died at 51 has caused him to disappear in large degree from general consciousness, very few of his recordings have ever been reissued and most of his acoustic records, by far the largest corpus of his recording career, have yet to see the light of day since there original issue. I have no proof for this but the concertmaster of the orchestra at this period was Rudolf Deman (1880-1960), later to found and lead the Deman String Quartet,  he may well be the solo violinist heard throughout the recording.

As performances go this one is exciting, with a reduced orchestra size, unimaginably difficult studio conditions, transpositions to brass instruments I can forgive the odd lapse of concentration, the passages that go awry, and a certain 'lost' feeling in places, despite all this its a real piece of music-making that grows on me from repeated listening.

 Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Orchester, Staats-Theater Opernhaus, Berlin
Conducted by Eduard Mörike
Parlophone E10227- E10231

Part I: [2-6818, 2-6819 & 2-6820, Saturday 12th  April 1924]
Part II: [2-6846 & 2-6847,  Wednesday 30th April 1924]
Part III: [2-6821 & 2-6822,  Saturday 12th April 1924]
Part IV: [2-6843, 2-6844 & 2-6845, Wednesday 30th April 1924]

4 Flac files in a .rar file, Here at Mediafire. [about 82Mb]




Gramophone Celebrities XIII. - Eduard Mörike By W. A. Chislett

Mörike (or Moerike), which was a comparatively unknown name in England less than two years ago, has now become almost a household word in gramophone circles.

Herr Eduard Mörike was born in Stuttgart on August 16th, 1878, and comes of old South German stock, being one of the eight sons of a successful merchant and the great-nephew of his namesake the lyric poet. His mother was an enthusiastic lover of music and it was from her that he received his first lessons. When he was ten years of age the family moved to Leipzig, where he attended the High School. Up to the age of sixteen the career that had been mapped out for him was that of medicine, but as at that age he already showed unmistakable talent he was induced by Felix von Weingartner to devote himself to music. He continued his education at the Leipzig High School for some time and then entered the Conservatoire in the same city, where he studied the piano under Adolph Ruthárdt, the organ under Homeyer, the violin under Hans Sitt, and composition under Hofmann, the then most renowned teacher in Germany. Originally Ruthardt had planned for him a career as a piano virtuoso, but, following his own inclinations, the youth devoted all the time he could spare to the study of conducting, both orchestral and operatic.

At the age of nineteen he was awarded a Schumann composition prize for a piano concerto in A minor, and shortly after this became a private pupil of Silotti. The call of the theatre was still strong, however, and, on the opportunity occurring, he accompanied Ernst Kraus, the singer, on a visit to America, where he was engaged as a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, under the direction of Walter Damrosch.

After a period in America the student returned to Germany more strongly attracted to the theatre than ever, and soon secured an engagement as second conductor at the Stadt Theatre Rostock, and later, at the early age of twenty-four, was appointed chief conductor at Kiel. While holding the latter appointment, in 1906, he was honoured by being called to assist in the great celebrations at Bayreuth. His next permanent post was at Halle/Saale, where in addition to the opera he took over the direction of the symphony concerts. In the summer of 1907, while still at Halle, Herr Mörike received a personal invitation from Richard Strauss to conduct the rehearsals of the German operas to be given at the Paris Opera House. This invitation was gladly accepted and the visit to Paris ultimately extended over two mouths, for, in addition to taking charge of the rehearsals, he was called upon to conduct several performances of Salome and other operas during the season. At about this time he also directed the famous Wagner festivals at Halberstadt and at Lauchstadt.
In 1912 Herr Mörike received the appointment of principal conductor of the Deutches Opernhaus, Berlin, which post he held for twelve years, being responsible mostly for the production of Wagnerian works, including the first performance in Berlin of Parsifal on January 1st, 1924. He revisited America in 1922 and again in 1923, on each occasion as the general musical director of the Wagner Opera Company, which toured all the principal towns in Northern America.

Since 1924 he has been the conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Dresden - devoting himself entirely to concert work - and is now also the director of the Dresden Academy of Singing.

Herr Mörike has had a wide experience of conducting music of all schools, but his records of the works of Wagner and Strauss are the most valuable, for though all his interpretations are thoughtful and full of vitality, these, in addition, bear the hallmark of authority, and the Parlophone Company have done us good service by including so many of these works in the records issued.

These records have the virtues and faults common to all Parlophone orchestral records. The tone is full and forward, but inclined at times to be rather rough. Although this is doubtless largely the fault of the recording, it may also be partly due to the fact that the tone of the reeds in continental orchestras frequently is more pungent than that to which we are accustomed, and, I believe, that the brass tone, particularly that of the trumpets, is not quite so refined and suave as that of the best English orchestras. The chief flaw in these records is that in forte passages the deeper toned instruments, including the 'cellos and double basses, sound muffled and "woolly." This defect can be overcome partially by the use of suitable needles.

I know of no records which respond more to care in the choice of needles. It is, of course, impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast rules, for not only do the records themselves vary considerably, but machines also differ. I have found that a Columbia medium needle not pushed quite home into a Jewel sound-box with a Nom-y-ka diaphragm an ideal combination for most of these records. Splendid results can be obtained also from doped fibres after the record has been got into good condition by the judicious use of fine steel needles or otherwise ; fibres, however, are not a great success until this condition is obtained, as the material of which the records are made wears all needles very rapidly.

In grading these records I have had to adopt a somewhat different system from that used previously by other contributors. Comparisons are apt to be invidious, but when it is appreciated that much of the music recorded by Herr Mörike for the Parlophone Company has also been issued by other companies, they must be made when necessary. Grade I. only includes really first-class records, and it can be assumed safely that any Record in this grade is at least as good as, if not better than, any other record issued of the same music quite irrespective of price. Grade II. contains a large proportion of records which would have been in Grade I. but for comparatively slight flaws ; the most frequent fault being that occasional indistinctness of tone in heavy passages. Records in this oracle are well worth buying, and most of them will ''bear comparison with similar records issued by other companies, particularly when price is a factor to be considered.

The most successful complete recording is Ein Heldenleben, which is a magnificent piece of work. It is not absolutely without a fault throughout, but I am afraid it will be a long time before we get a work scored for such a large orchestra and which occupies ten sides recorded without a single fault.

Les Preludes and Scheherazade both contain records which considered individually might be placed in Grade I., but the works as a whole just fail to reach that standard. The last movement is my own favourite bit of Scheherazade, and this is really splendid. It is better than the Columbia version which is not too well recorded in places and which annoys me every time I either see or play it because of the absurd waste of space; why it was ever made to spin out to four sides I cannot conceive, as it can be got on to three easily and, moreover, with equally, if not more, convenient places for the divisions. The first movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, considered purely from the recording point of view, is worthy of a place in Grade I., but I have relegated it to Grade II. because of the disfigurement occasioned by a huge cut. Other records which only just miss being placed higher are Don Juan and the Overture and Sailors' Chorus from The Flying Dutchman. In the Overture the tympani are heard better than in any record I know, the pitch being easily distinguishable; the horns, however, are overpowering in some places.

The Ballet Music from Aida is issued twice, but both, records seem to be pressed from the same matrix. In No. E.10288 the reverse is occupied by the Introduction to the same opera, which is beautifully played and recorded, while in No. E.10055, we find on the reverse the Vale des Fleurs from Tchaikovsky's Casse Noisette Suite, which is a thoroughly bad record.

I am very sorry to have to relegate Beethoven's Seventh Symphony to Grade III., but it is not a good specimen of recording. The best that I can say is that the Columbia records of this symphony would be in the same grade and cost 15s. more! The reason for the lowly positions of the three excerpts from Wagner's Ring is the old trouble of muffled tone again, though it is only fair to say that Siegfried's Funeral March would have been a candidate for Grade I. had the first side been as good as the second.

GRADE I.
Aida - Introduction (Verdi).
Fin Heldenleben (Strauss).
Lohengrin - Prelude (Wagner).
Parsifal Introduction and Good Friday Music (Wagner).
Rienzi - Overture and March of the Warriors (Wagner).
Tannhauser - Overture (Wagner).
Tannheiuser's Pilgrimage to Rome (Wagner). Tod und Verkleirung (Strauss).

GRADE II.
Aida - Ballet Music (Verdi).
Don Juan (Strauss).
Fingal's Cave Overture (Mendelssohn).
The Flying Dutchman - Overture and Sailors' Chorus (Wagner).
The Magic Flute - Overture (Mozart).
The Merry Wives of Windsor - Overture (Nicolai).
The Marriage of Figaro - Overture (Mozart).
The Midsummer Night's Dream - Overture and Scherzo (Mendelssohn).
Oberon - Overture (Weber).
Pagliacci - Selection (Leoncavallo).
Les Preludes (Liszt).
Saint Elizabeth - Crusaders' March (Liszt).
Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov).
Siegfried - Forest Murmurs (Wagner).
Slavonic Dances Nos. 6 and 8 (Dvorak).
Symphony No. 6, 1st Movement (Beethoven).
Symphony No.8 (Unfinished) (Schubert).
Tristan and Isolde - Liebestod (Wagner).

GRADE III.
Götterdammerung - Siegfried's Funeral March (Wagner).
Symphony No. 7 (Beethoven).
Symphony No. 8 - Allegretto (Beethoven).
The Valkyrie - Wotan's Farewell and Fire Music (Wagner).

GRADE IV.
Casse Noisette Suite - Valse des Fleues (Tchaikovsky).
Lohengrin - Introduction to Act III. and Bridal Chorus (Wagner).
The Rhinegold - Entry of the Gods into Valhalla (Wagner).

Many of the Parlophone records are pressed from old German matrices, and as I have a number of records purchased in Germany before the English company was formed I have been able to compare the two issues. The English records are pressed from a material which gives a better surface, but apart from that I do not think they are quite as good as the German ones. The general impression left after hearing all these records is that though many of them are really excellent many more would have been equally good had a little more care been exercised in both recording and pressing. The general standard has improved considerably during the last few months, and I am hopeful that this improvement will continue and that we shall be given more fine records of the music upon which Herr Mörike is such an acknowledged authority.



SCHEHERAZADE PARLOPHONE. - E.10227, 10228, 10229, 10230, 10231 (12in., 4s. 6d. each).-The Opera House Orchestra conducted by Ed. Moerike : Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov). (Min. score, Belaieff - G. and T.).

This great Russian master of orchestration gives us all sorts of coloured delights in the Scheherazade Suite, even though (after the Russian manner, with all the Russian limitation of outlook and weakness in practice) he is little concerned with the development of themes, here or anywhere else in his music. His treatment, of course, suits this particular subject well. His suite is a kind of suggestion, rather than illustration, of certain pages in the Arabian Nights'. The suite is entitled after the wily wife of Sultan Schahriar, who beguiled him with tales into continually postponing, and at last renouncing, his intention of putting her to death" to-morrow." The composer did not envisage the ballet accompaniment to the music, with which Londoners are fairly familiar. The suite has as poetic basis the story of Sinbad the Sailor, various phases of which are suggested in the four movements.

FIRST MOVEMENT.
The sea and Sinbad's vessel are in view. One can feel here the slow surge and constant motion of the sea. (It is interesting to remember that Rimsky-Korsakov adopted as his first profession the navy).
Part 1 - After a few loud chords, a solo violin improvises, to the harp. Soon comes a tune, on violins and wood-wind, calm, but with a decisive little two-note figure at its tail, the two chords being echoed. The lower strings make an arpeggio background. The first side ends with an interlude of wood-wind chords, to soft plucked string accompaniment. There is a cut from here (page 13, bar 5, of the miniature score) to page 15, bar 2.
Part 2. - A little ingratiating theme, developed from the violin's improvisatory bit at the commencement, starts, with clarinet echoes. Then comes fuller orchestration of the first chief theme of Part 1, the wood-wind taking up the arpeggios, the horns having sustained descending chords, and repeating their little pattern many times. The development is in the orchestral colouring, not in the theme, which cannot be said to grow much. The side ends with clarinet and flute winding downwards, against six solo violins moving in chords in the contrary direction - one of those charming yet simple effects that Rimsky-Korsakov was so skilful in devising.
Part 3. - Clarinet, oboe, and 'cello have little solos, with plucked string background. The solo violin again has the winding, improvising theme, which is answered in snatches by delicate wood-wind. Then comes a period of greater animation - the working up by pattern-repetition of part of the material already heard, wood-wind trills going on continuously. This soon dies down, and a melancholy flute takes up the strain, with clarinet supporting in arpeggios. So the movement comes to its pianissimo close.

SECOND MOVEMENT.
Here the composer had in mind the story of the Calender Prince - the king's son who went about as a wandering monk, seeking adventure.
Part 1. - The little extemporisation that opened Part 1 is heard again - linking up the tales, so to speak. (A bar of cadenza is omitted.) The bassoon starts a languid, five-bar-long dance tune, on a drone bass. This is directed to be played capriciously, in a manner resembling the delivery of recitative. It is a little stodgily played here. The tune soon livens up, as it is passed to oboe, and later to strings, with a plucked accompaniment. It is frequently held up while the improvisatory little tune, weaving round a few notes, muses for a moment. After a cut from the end of the top lino on page 55 to page 60, we hear a rapid plucking accompaniment on the strings, over which the clarinet plays a free version of the interjectory theme. There is then a considerable cut, to page 76, bar 4, where begins -
Part 2. - The lively march-like tune, played by trombone and bassoon, is four bars long, and is answered by a wood-wind phrase only three bars long - one of the effective means of variety in rhythm that the composer uses. This theme is broken in upon by the bassoon, with the plucked strings fretting below - the effect we noticed at the end of Part 1, when the clarinet then held the stage with similar matter. Then the dance tune, brisker than at the opening of the movement, returns. There is another cut (page 98, bar 4, to last bar of page 102), and after the lower strings have uttered a complaint the movement grows still more vivid in the last few pages.

THIRD MOVEMENT.
This concerns The Young Prince and Princess - a love affair, needless to say.
Part 1. - Here is mildly romantic music, bearing less resemblance to real Eastern music than anything else in the suite. But Rimsky-Korsakov's peculiar brand of Orientalism is well worth savouring, though it be no more authentic than most such decoctions. His chief theme here might have done just as well for any salon piece, without its wood-wind skirls. The strings have the first statement of the tune, the oboe and 'cello the second. (There is then a cut, pages 112 to 117.) Now comes a new clarinet theme, with a drum-tap accompaniment. This lasts for the remainder of the side, after which a cut is made, from page 127, bar 1, to page 133, bar 2.
Part 2. - Again the slow, romantic tune, the solo violin's improvisatory passage breaking in soon. This is followed by a cadenza, over which the wood-wind has its old theme. A more impassioned moment, for full orchestra, follows, and the horn has a very lovely passage. There is a cut from page 143, bar 3, to the last bar of page 146, and a few bars of quicker, lilting music bring the movement to an end.

FOURTH MOVEMENT.
The Festival at Baghdad comes into this, besides the Sea, the Shipwreck, and then the conclusion of the story.
Part 1. - A fierce opening (the first few bars of the suite quickened up). The solo violin again has that cadenza that runs like a thread through the whole texture; but now it is in double and triple notes - chords. After more excitement and a repetition of the cadenza, the violas, with tambourine and horn marking the bars, announce a rhythmic figure that can be taken either as two in a bar or three. This is the liveliest lilt we have yet heard in the suite. The flute announces a jaunty tune that only moves over a few notes. The orchestration becomes increasingly brilliant. Up to now we have felt two beats in the bar. Now, with a snatch of new tune, comes a change to three ; and soon we are back at two, with scurrying triplets in strings and wood-wind. A third theme is given out, more gently, by the latter; this flows along lightly, in contrast to those which preceded it.
Part 2. - The various snatches of tune continue, in this and the last part, to be bandied about in the most infectiously exciting rhythms, which the composer agitates still more as we near the end. The opening rhythm of this movement, for example, advances from five notes in each bar to seven, in which form, with its swing of two in the bar, it is pumped out by the flutes and strings, very high up, against the more languid tune, in threes, played by the rest of the orchestra.
Part 3. - Soon, to a skirling accompaniment in the heights, the first theme of the first movement comes, on the brass, dominating the scene with dignity and reminding one a little of the end of the Tannhauser Overture, in this respect - though, of course, widely different in suggestion. The excitement subsides, and after a solemn chord on the horns the wood-wind lets down the tension with the ascending passage we noted at the end of Part 2 in the first movement. The solo violin interjects yet another reminder of its opening improvisation, ending on a very high harmonic. A few more calm chords, and the violin climbs into the empyrean and the music ceases.
Throughout this very taxing music the playing is eminently clear, resourceful, and full-bodied. Perhaps one does not want too many suites made up after the manner of this, but an occasional turn of Scheherazade is refreshing exceedingly. K. K.

11 comments:

  1. Fine work, fine article! I am really looking forward to listen to this, and there were many new informations for me.

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  2. Very interesting upload again, and very well documentated. Thanks, I immediately want to listen! Thanks, Jolyon!

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  3. Thsnk you Jolyon ! Also for your comments.

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  4. Thanks for your nice comments - hope you all enjoy the performance.

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  5. Thank you so much for this fascinating and historically significant transfer. I'm amazed at the fine balances that they were able to achieve, given the crudity and demands of the acoustic process, as well as the boldness of the interpretation, which transcends the sheer challenge of recording at the time.

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  6. Thanks Peter

    Glad you liked this quite forgotten interpritation

    I have rebalance the recording significantly in order to give a sound as near as possible to what one would expect from such a group of players. As a side effect, this re-balancing can amplifying some of the recording defects but at least the instruments now sound closer to the real thing. You can hear all too clearly the brass instruments and other sections of the orchestra either too close to the recording horn with others well in the background.

    My attempt is not to make it sound like a modern sound but try for what it sounded like in the studio on the recording day. This of course has its own problems, as the sound I am aiming for is deliberately 'unbalanced'. The studio engineer was looking for a result that sounded like a real orchestra and I am in effect undoing all his work.

    So the choice is to leave it as it is, or to do this re-balancing, because it is not possible yet to do any other readjustment.

    I have discovered that if you can get the tonal quality of the instruments about right the brain can adjust this sound sufficiently enough to approximate a living performance. I see it as akin to being too far to the left or right or even behind and live orchestra and our brain can then adjust this back to equilibrium.

    It was E.H. Gombrich, [I think in ‘Art and Illusion’ but so long since I read his works] who led me to this conclusion. He talks of the visual distortion when seated to the extreme side of a cinema screen and how over a few minutes the brain corrects this to a rectangle. I believe the brain can do the same with sound as it already has the notion of what is correct and thus adjusts accordingly.

    So the 'fine balances' are maybe unconscious readjustments - at the beginning you are very aware of the problem but by the end the magic has worked and it sound none too bad.

    Cor this is all a bit long and involved, and I await being shot down for this unproved theory!

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  7. I’ve never had a problem listening to lo-fi recordings, and I firmly believe that we each possess the most sophisticated and effective aural compensation equipment ever invented – the human ears (and mind). I’ve never been able to sympathize with folks who claim to be unable to listen to older recordings – surely the artistry is more important than the actual sound. (Of course, there comes a point where there is insufficient aural information to infer the rest, as with short wave airchecks overwhelmed with interference, but that’s rather rare.) In fact, I think that the effort of having to compensate for poor fidelity produces a more involved listening experience than the purely passive act of absorbing “realistic” sound.

    That said, I appreciate your work on this recording, which did sound far richer than I had expected from the acoustic process. And I appreciate your information, since I had attributed the result to excellence in the original which obviously didn’t exist.

    Any chance you have more Morike recordings – the only other one I’ve heard is the Schubert Unfinished, which also is striking as a bold interpretation?

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  8. I might upload a side that is just flat with no interference from me for you to compare

    I do have about another 30-40 discs or Mörike so promise to do some more - I was listening to the Schubert a few weeks ago and do like his interpretation a lot

    Jols

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  9. thank you for posting this.morike is one of the greats and I have a few of his.
    Is this link still working.I cannot find it.How do i download this please
    thank you,
    george

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    1. I have repaired the link - hopfully you should be able to download it now

      Regards

      Jolyon

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  10. Here's something interesting.
    https://www.78rpmcommunity.com/beta/wiki/view/pageId/76/slug/parlo-e10000-e10149
    It lists quite a number of Moerike's appearances, down to the years even. Just passing through to submit E 10128 onto Discogs. Thank you for this very helpful article.

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