Essay about Recorded Music's Social & Musical Impact

Submitted By warrcamp
Words: 2333
Pages: 10

Through hundreds of years of development in technology there has been no greater influence on the music world than the invention of recording technology. The simple concept of having tangible, portable, music readily available changed the way people regard music, as well as changing the course of the creation and presentation of music itself. The social implications of music around the turn of the 20th century were completely reversed to what they are today. In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which was originally planned to be used as a business tool to record speeches (Ross 1). Before this innovation, music was limited solely to live performances. To hear professional musicians, concerts were expensive. Music was not a daily occurrence for just anyone; music was limited to the upper crust of society. Dr. Susan McClary, a professor of Musicology at the University of California, conducted an interview with Artists House Music about the experience of music in an era prior to recording capabilities. She said: “A hundred years ago you could hope to hear a performance of a Beethoven symphony once or twice in your life. You would have to come away with your impression of that piece marked by that one experience. Many pieces you would never ever hear. We have accounts by Berlioz... who would travel long distances because he heard something was going to be performed and he would just kill to hear this being done live.” When the first records were manufactured the product was relatively cheap and demand was high. Music made its way to everyday people and was no longer the sign of the elite (Katz 13). This availability was a double edged sword for the music world. Not only did it bring music to people’s ears all over the world but it created the problem of a loss in desire for live performances. Why spend time, money, and effort to go to a concert when you could have a similar experience from the comfort of your own home? As one could imagine, this brand new world became a troublesome place for composers, conductors and professional players alike. Even the great American patriotic composer John Phillip Sousa thought that the phonograph would destroy the career of the professional musician: “The time is coming when no one will be ready to submit himself to the ennobling discipline of learning music... Everyone will have their readymade or ready pirated music in their cupboards.” Although the phonograph did not destroy the career of professional musicians, it did alter the way that they created their music. The record made countless opportunities for producing sounds not capable during a live performance but at the same time was a complicating factor in simply documenting already written pieces. The early phonograph was not a perfect renderer for all musical qualities. Often softer instruments were replaced with louder counterparts to cut through cracks and hisses of a record. For example, the violin was often replaced with a louder instrument named the Stroh violin. The Stroh violin replaced the hollow wooden body with a brass bell to increase volume and give more direction to the violin’s sound (Katz 44). This sole change had significant influence on the popular music of the time. One instance of this change was when Johannes Brahms attempted to record his First Hungarian Dance in 1889. In 2005, New Yorker columnist Alex Ross wrote the following about Brahms’ early recording: It sounds as if the Master were coming to us from a spacecraft disintegrating near Pluto. There was something symbolic in Edison’s inability to register so titanic a presence as Brahms...classical music had a hard time getting a foothold in this slippery terrain.
He continued to say: From the start, the phonograph favored brassy singing, knife-edged winds and brass, the thump of percussion... Pianos, by contrast, were muddled and muffled; violins were all but inaudible. Classical music, with its softer-edged