MICHAEL VRONSKY WONDERS: What happened to composers?

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I’m building my big library of recorded music. It’s a continual process and I’ve have noticed something interesting.

In classical music traditionally the library by the name of the composer – Bach, Beethoven, Delius and so on. In contrast, when it comes to non-classical we tend to file by the name of the performer – Kinks, Howlin’ Wolf, Genesis.

The big turning point in this cataloguing change happened when we gained the ability to actually record a performance - which makes sense since the only way to record music for the classical composers was writing it down on a sheet of paper. No record of any performance before April 30 1877 remains. ***

So here’s my current thinking. I stress current because I am prepared to be swayed away from this if circumstances change. So yes, I am inviting comments. Anyway … my guess is if the playing field were even and we had recordings of the performers in Beethoven’s day then this cataloguing shift would not have taken place and we would always sort by performer.

If I'm correct then this suggests that the medium has a great impact on how we mentally catalogue artists: we remember authors because we read their book – actors because we watched their films – performers because we listened to their music – but composers?

Many of us have a special place in our hearts for classical composers but only, I think, because that’s all we have to catalogue in our minds. In summary then, perhaps a great example of how technology changed our world view.

As always, comments invited.

Thank you

MV

***  On April 30, 1877, French poet, humorous writer and inventor Charles Cros submitted a sealed envelope containing a letter to the Academy of Sciences in Paris fully explaining his proposed method, called the paleophone. Though no trace of a working paleophone was ever found, Cros is remembered as the earliest inventor of a sound recording and reproduction machine. The first practical sound recording and reproduction device was the mechanical phonograph cylinder, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and patented in 1878.[6] The invention soon spread across the globe and over the next two decades the commercial recording, distribution and sale of sound recordings became a growing new international industry, with the most popular titles selling millions of units by the early 1900s. The development of mass-production techniques enabled cylinder recordings to become a major new consumer item in industrial countries and the cylinder was the main consumer format from the late 1880s until around 1910. (From Wikipedia)

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  • Ray Purchase

    I almost agree, but not quite. I think the shift that has occurred is that the modern creators of popular culture are creating specifically for new media that enable them to emphasise and sell the performance, rather than the new media inadvertently changing our way of thinking about performances.