Tracks Of My Tears

by Wayne Shevlin

Some grooves make you shake your bootie. A stadium anthem can get you swaying with lighters in the air. And some music brings tears to your eyes.

Image: Ludwig Van Beethoven by Neil Shevlin - All rights reserved

Image: Ludwig Van Beethoven by Neil Shevlin – All rights reserved

There are certain pieces of music that make me cry.  Consistently.  Spontaneously. Involuntarily.  It requires conscious effort to shut the tears off.  The tears differ in kind, are evoked for different reasons.  I am intrigued by music’s ability to manipulate my emotions. I am perplexed as to why, from time to time, I deliberately subject myself to stimuli which I know will result in making me cry.  I can only guess at how unsettling it must be for B to see me standing there, headphones encasing my head, tears rolling down my cheeks.  She must wonder why too.

Sometimes, it is that a piece of music has an association with a specific event in my life. Regardless of its musical or lyrical content, it triggers an emotional response in the same way a smell can take you back to nursery school (something that happens to me when passing by the Swiss Cottage McDonalds – only that branch does it) .  Effective – but this is a superficial evocation.  It isn’t the music per se, but an external relationship between the music and my life which the composer and performer had no knowledge of or control over.   For me, the song Let Her Cry by Paul Bollenback performed by Hootie & the Blowfish is the best example.  It’s not a brilliant song.  It is brutally sad in its own right, but what gives it the power to make me cry uncontrollably is that it was playing on the radio constantly as I drove back and forth to the hospital in LA during the week in which my mother died.   I also found the lyrics strangely relevant -as though Hootie knew the situation and was singing for me.

Thus, Let Her Cry, unintentionally, became the official soundtrack to that short but traumatic period of my life.  I cannot listen to it without that week materialising in my mind as though it were yesterday.  It is painful to remember.  And yet, from time to time, I deliberately put it on knowing full well what the result will be.  Though it rekindles the sadness, it also brings back the memory of my mother more powerfully and tangibly than anything else.  I just wish I had a happy song that had the same effect.

More interesting to me is music that makes me cry not because it is acting simply as a cheap emotional trigger, but that the music embodies emotion within itself and communicates that to me directly.  It becomes part of my internal emotive mechanisms and drives them without my conscious participation.  There are two pieces of instrumental music which make me cry – and for completely opposite reasons: one because it sounds so sad and the other because it sounds so beautiful.

Classical music has many examples of exquisitely sad pieces – Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor and Barber’s Adagio for strings are obvious and well worn examples – but the one that does it for me every time is the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and specifically as performed by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter.  I discovered this piece in a strange way when I was a teenager.  A solo piano arrangement of it was used as the background music in a Peanuts cartoon – the one with Charlie Brown – to evoke Charlie’s sad-sack, dumped on existence.   The music grabbed me immediately and it took some good deal of investigation to discover what it was.

The 2nd of the 7th has been a guaranteed tear-jerker for me ever since.  I don’t know why, but that piece just makes me cry.  What can I say?  Beethoven clearly has his finger on my musical sad-button with that one.  It covers all levels of sadness, running the gamut from a sombre whimper to Burghers of Calais torment – the way the wailing theme is handed back and forth between the upper and lower registers.  Very finely crafted and very, very minor.  By the way, I’ve tried many other versions: Von Karajan, Rattle, Toscanini and many other conductors.  In my opinion, no one gets Ludwig Van like Bruno.

On the other side of the spectrum is an instrumental electric guitar piece by Joe Satriani called Friends from his album The Extremist.  It’s a crunch chords and wheedley-woo number, but unlike most power-rock played by pyrotechnic Strat abusers, it is incredibly melodic and any fretboard acrobatics are all in the service of the music, not the other way around.  Undoubtedly there is a component of admiration involved because I know how much is involved in playing it from a technical perspective.  Perhaps I’m crying because I know I’ll never play that well.  Not really – I just think it’s gorgeous.  The lines soar and lift my heart with them.

Finally, there are songs that make me cry primarily because of the lyrics.  Lyrics are lyrics because they are meant to be set to music.  The two must support and reinforce each other.  It is frequently the case that great lyrics make lousy poems.  There are a number of songs with evocative, emotive lyrics that move me to tears: The Cruel War performed by Peter Paul & Mary,  Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns performed by Judy Collins – but the song that really does me in every time is Comfortably Numb by Roger Waters & David Gilmour performed by Pink Floyd.  Each time I think: “no, not this time”, but as it works its way through the second verse I lose it:  “When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse/ Out of the corner of my eye/ I turned to look but it was gone / I cannot put my finger on it now/ The Child has grown, the dream is gone/ I have become comfortably numb“.

These words, set to the backdrop of the sombre, resigned melancholy of the music – written, I believe, by Gilmour and beautifully arranged – are imbued with such a powerful sense of loss and hopelessness that I feel my entire existence vanish into the darkness. My child’s dream is gone. This is then followed by what is, in my opinion, Gilmour’s most powerful and exquisite guitar solo which cries too, along with me.

So why do I do it?  Perhaps you are worried about me – what’s this guy doing to himself? I am happy to say that in daily life I have few legitimate reasons to cry – so maybe this is a way to empty out the few tears that accumulate over time and have no other outlet.   But I’m not the only person who allows music to move them to tears.   And if it’s not music, then perhaps it’s some other art form such as movies.  Plenty of people (who shall remain nameless) are happy to subject themselves to romantic weepies and blubber away.  Clearly, many of us use art as catharsis.  In some way we need it – this strange enjoyment we get from self inflicted sadness.   Sometimes, for some reason, we need to cry for the sake of it – whether in sorrow or in joy.  Somehow, it makes us feel better.  But by using art we are in control.  We can turn it off or walk away.  The emotional release is in there, but only if we allow it.

Beethoven was not a good “melodist” and he was bad at harmony,”  Leonard Bernstein

Go to 5.18 as Bernstein discusses with Maximilian Schell  Beethoven Symphony No. 7

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CLARA BUTT (1872–1936)

 By Tony Locantro

In Victorian and Edwardian times, there was a great vogue for female singers with deep,  contralto voices, who drew huge audiences to concerts of arias from operas and oratorios as well as popular ballads. Clara Butt (1872–1936) was one of the most famous and was under exclusive contract to The Gramophone Company from 1899, when she made her first recording on a 7-inch Berliner disc. A number of composers wrote songs specially for her, including Sir Edward Elgar (Sea Pictures) and Samuel Liddle (‘Abide With Me’).

She was such an important artist that the company gave her an exclusive rich dark blue label. Imagine the shock at The Gramophone Company’s headquarters at Hayes when it became known in 1915 that Madame Butt had been poached by the company’s arch-rival, the Columbia Graphophone Company! She re-recorded all her principal repertoire for Columbia and remained with them until the end of her career. Sir Thomas Beecham once remarked of her powerful voice that on a clear day one could have heard her across the English Channel.

  

Listen to Clara Butt rendition of Land of Hope and Glory (Benson/Elgar) Recorded: June 25, 1930. If you’re a SOTH subscriber following by email please go to the actual blog to get the full posting.

Thank you to our friends at the EMI Archive Trust in providing these fine images.

 

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961)

  By Tony Locantro

gat134-018-LFCourtesy of  © EMI Group Archive Trust

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961) came to the UK from his native Australia to study singing in 1903. His lessons with Sir Charles Santley stood him in good stead for a career that lasted almost 60 years and encompassed every kind of music, from the oratorios of Handel via Gilbert and Sullivan to rousing patriotic ballads and popular songs of the day.  He began recording in 1904 on cylinders for the Edison company, and in 1906 Fred Gaisberg signed him to an exclusive contract with the Gramophone Company. His first flat discs were on the G&T label but he was soon appearing on HMV when the dog and trumpet trademark started being used on Gramophone discs around 1909. He went on to become one of the most prolific recording artists of all time and remained exclusive to HMV for the rest of his life.

As well as his own name, he used many aliases, including Hector Grant, the pseudonym under which he performed the repertoire of Harry Lauder, not only on disc but also on the music hall stage in full Scottish gear, much to Lauder’s annoyance.

Listen to Dawson give a fine rendition of  “The Song of Australia“.   Written by English born poet Caroline Carleton in 1859 for a competition sponsored by the Gawler Institute. If you’re a SOTH subscriber following by email please go to the actual blog to get the full posting.

A stirring version of Dawson’s  Rule Britannia  is featured on the new double CD Scott’s Music Box, released on 14 May.

Paul Robeson sharing his latest hit with Nipper’s friend….

By Tony Locantro

Robeson began his recording career in July 1925 with RCA Victor in Camden. When he moved to London after playing in Show Boat at Drury Lane in 1928 he recorded extensively for HMV (actually The Gramophone Company) up to World War II. He made only the one side for British Columbia: ‘Ol’ Man River’ on 15 May 1928 as part of a series of Show Boat original cast recordings, but was legally prohibited from it being released at the time because it broke his contractual exclusivity with Victor for the recording of the same song that he had made on 1 March 1928 in New York. He later re-recorded ‘Ol’ Man River’ for HMV with Ray Noble on 12 September 1930 when the label exclusivity had expired. The original Columbia recording was not released until many years later.

Anyone Who Had A Heart…..

Watch our friends from the Vinyl Factory in Hayes press a special limited edition record of Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart on “The One Show” Friday 16th March

Cilla Black and Paul McGann join Chris Evans and Alex Jones on the One Show sofa.

The invention of the modern music star in a hotel bedroom in Milan

Caruso making a gramophone recording: a self caricature, 1902

Fred Gaisberg was one of the men who invented the recording industry. In 1893 he worked in the States as the assistant to Emile Berliner, who had just invented the gramophone disc, and then Gaisberg went on to open and run the world’s first recording studio. In 1898 Gaisberg moved to London to make the first European gramophone recordings. He had a great career going on to become a shareholder and senior executive at The Gramophone Company, that turned into EMI, where he personally sketched out the design for Abbey Road Studios, but his first love was the discovering and recording of world class artists. One of the first artists he recorded was Enrico Caruso who went on to become the world’s first recording superstar.

Gaisberg had what he called “portable”recording equipment that he took with him on his journeys around the world to record local artists. It was not really that portable as it took six crates to ship it with him but Gaisberg nevertheless used it to make some of the most significant recordings at the very dawn of the recording business.

In 1902 he was in Milan and after hearing a young Caruso singing at La Scala was determined to record the singer. Caruso, like many of the great stars of the day was reluctant to be recorded and demanded a huge fee of 100 pounds for ten songs (which was the standard Gramophone Company contract in those days). Gaisberg telegrammed his record company for permission to press ahead with the record, but quickly received back the negative response “FEE EXORBITANT FORBID YOU TO RECORD”. Believing Caruso to be an extremely special talent and backing his judgement to the hilt, Fred chose to ignore the order and underwrote the payment to Caruso out of his own pocket.

In the middle of the day on April 11th Caruso arrived at the Grande Hotel “dressed like a dandy, twirling a cane.” He was taken up to the room where Gaisberg had set up the recording equipment but the singer initially appeared impatient to get the job over as quickly as possible to earn his 100 pounds and proceed to lunch.

Once the young singer began to sing, however, he threw himself fully into the recording process. The songs were, according to Fred himself, “all about 2 and a half minutes long and one after another, as fast as we could put the waxes on the machine, Caruso poured the fresh gold of that beautiful voice on to them.”

As a souvenir of the occassion, Caruso who was a decent cartoonist, drew the picture of himself recording for Gaisberg that is at the top of this article. He even included his version of Barraud’s Dog and Trumpet picture which was a Gramophone Company logo. Caruso pocketed his 100 pound payment and left Gaisberg in the hotel room with the post euphoric realisation that The Gramophone Company would need to sell an unheard of 2,000 copies to recoup the cost of the 100 pound fee. At this time very very few people had gramophones and so the market for discs was tiny. This is the first of the recordings that Fred had paid for:

The ten sides of Caruso did become a huge success both for the Gramophone Company, who made a profit of 15,000 pounds on the recordings (which meant that had sold in excess of 300,000 copies; the first true world wide hit records!), and for Caruso who became famous and much sought after all over the world, these recordings acting as viral marketing for the Caruso brand.

He became hugely successful and made many more recordings; 290 in total, most for the American company that became RCA Victor. He sang to great and lucrative acclaim at all the major concert halls and great opera houses of the world, made a couple of (ironically silent, of course) movies and was the featured of the first ever public radio broadcast in America in 1910.

Fred Gaisberg had recognised a special talent in Caruso and by recording it and making it available to be listened to throughout the world, he helped move the gramophone business to a popular tipping point as people bought gramophones to be able to hear Caruso’s sensational voice and in doing so gave recording stars access to a level of worldwide audience that had been hitherto impossible to reach. Fred had in fact helped to create the blueprint for the modern music star.