The following abstracts are taken from the second special CHARM issue of Musicae Scientiae, 'Towards a musicology of recordings' (forthcoming 2010); click here to access the sound examples and downloads related to the issue.


Nicholas Cook

The ghost in the machine: towards a musicology of recordings

This article introduces the other contributions to this second issue of Musicae Scientiae devoted to the work of the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM), and sets them into the larger context of musicological research into recorded musical performance. There is consideration of musicology's historically odd relationship to performance, including the historically informed performance movement and what is referred to as the 'page-to-stage' approach of recent music theory: CHARM's analytical projects focussed on aspects overlooked by the score-based approach, on the potential for bottom-up methods, and on the nature of performance style and the extent to which it can be meaningfully analysed by empirical methods. Another strand of CHARM's research investigated the extent to which the commercial practices of the record industry help to shape twentieth-century performance. The author includes brief accounts of his own projects with CHARM so as to provide an overview of the Centre's work as a whole.


Neta Spiro, Nicolas Gold and John Rink

The form of performance: analyzing pattern distribution in select recordings of Chopin's Mazurka Op. 24 No. 2

The investigation described here focuses on twenty-nine performances of Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 24 No. 2, which features clear four-bar phrases and correspondingly consistent sectional units, but which also has characteristics such as a steady crotchet accompaniment that remain constant throughout. This results in a potential tension between “through-performed” and sectionalized features. In this study we examine the performances accordingly, investigating the relationship between the work’s structural and thematic characteristics on the one hand and the timing and dynamic characteristics of performances of that work on the other. Following this, we narrow our investigation of these and other features by undertaking a comparative analysis of three recordings by the same performer, Artur Rubinstein. A toolkit of methods is employed, including an approach that has been little used for this purpose, i.e. Self-Organising Maps. This method enables the systematic analysis and comparison of different performances by identifying recurrent expressive patterns and their location within the respective performances. The results show that, in general, the structure of the music as performed emerges from and is defined by the performance patterns. Particular patterns occur in a range of contexts, and this may reflect the structural and/or thematic status of the locations in question. Whereas the performance patterns at section ends seem to be most closely related to the large-scale structural context, however, those within some sections apparently arise from typical features of the mazurka genre. Performances by the same performer over a 27-year span are characterized by striking similarities as well as differences on a global level in terms of the patterns themselves as well as the use thereof.


Daniel Leech-Wilkinson

Performance style in Elena Gerhardt's Schubert song recordings

This final study from the CHARM Schubert project aims to examine personal style in one early recorded singer, Elena Gerhardt (1883-1961). The period style of Gerhardt’s generation of Lieder singers presents the problem of changing performance style and its relation to musical meaning with special clarity. The stark differences compared to modern performance on the one hand force us to confront the contingency of musicianship and on the other render performance style far easier to disassemble into its constituent elements. Gerhardt’s Schubert recordings, made right through her career, offer a good environment in which to develop suitable techniques of performance analysis. The article examines her manipulation of timbre, especially in relation to problems of register left over from an abbreviated studenthood, exacerbated by her prioritising emotional communication over technical perfection, and her use of timbral change for text illustration and for formal articulation. Also under the microscope are her ability to vary vibrato and tuning in response to text and form; her use of pitch scoops for text illustration and rhythmic articulation; her characteristic manner of portamento used rarely but when used (for texts with particular associations) used overwhelmingly; and her rubato, especially its interaction with portamento and loudness. All these elements are examined as constituents of her personal style.


Georgia Volioti

Playing with tradition: weighing up similarity and the buoyancy of the game

This paper explores some of the common assumptions and beliefs surrounding the concept of ‘tradition’ in performance. It presents an exploratory study which interrogates the use of style analysis for determining whether tradition can be detected effectively within a specific cultural-historical context. The paper seeks to highlight the distinction between ‘tradition’ as objective reality, which can be captured and quantified through stylistic likeness in performance, and tradition as intersubjective practice which might elude empirical measurement and could even resist conceptualisation. Using a comparative case-study of recordings, this paper shows that a quantitative index of stylistic relatedness may not always capture the plausibility of tradition. Instead, other approaches are proposed for understanding the operation of tradition and elucidating more fully the involvement of social actors.


David Patmore

The Columbia Graphophone Company, 1923-31: commercial competition, cultural plurality and beyond

Although the Columbia brand name has a long and distinguished history as a record label, it only reflected the work of an independent commercial organization in the United Kingdom between 1923 and 1931. At all other times it was part of a larger body. This article considers the work and achievements of the Columbia Graphophone Company during this short period, and assesses its influence, particularly in relation to the classical music repertoire and the performers who committed their interpretations to disc. The commercial and cultural impact of the merger of this company in 1931 with its rival, the Gramophone Company, to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI), is then considered, together with the longer-term influence of the American media industrialist, David Sarnoff, the chief executive officer of RCA-Victor and a board member of the Gramophone Company and of EMI at this time.


Nick Morgan

'A new pleasure': listening to National Gramophonic Society records, 1924-31

This paper presents research into the National Gramophonic Society (NGS), a British record label of the 1920s which specialized in chamber music. Existing accounts of the early development of the record industry concentrate on the production and marketing of recordings; reception of recordings has also been addressed but on very broad scales, chiefly in the field of popular music, and mainly using the words of prominent critics and well-known, published sources. Because it operated by subscription, the NGS can be used, in the manner of a historical microscope, to sharpen this focus considerably and so identify individual consumers of recorded 'classical' music during this period and study their backgrounds, motivation, tastes and listening habits.