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John Culshaw and the recording as a work of art David Patmore, University of Sheffield.

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Presentation on theme: "John Culshaw and the recording as a work of art David Patmore, University of Sheffield."— Presentation transcript:

1 John Culshaw and the recording as a work of art David Patmore, University of Sheffield

2 Presentation outline Culshaw: life Culshaw: ideas Examples of these in action Suggested explanations for decline Sources: Culshaws articles for record press, interviews

3 The central issue John had the concept of the recording being an art form in itself – and thats what he believed in. – Gordon Parry in interview, 8 th April, 1999.

4 Life (1) Born: 1925, Southport, UK Bank clerk before joining Fleet Air Arm After war, writes freelance music articles 1946 Joins Deccas publicity department 1947 Begins work as a producer with Decca 1951 Becomes permanent with Decca Heads Capitols European classical operation

5 Life (2) 1955 Returns to Decca as producer 1956 Replaces Victor Olof as head of classical production at Decca Introduction of stereo LPs Produces major recordings for Decca and RCA 1967 Leaves Decca to become head of music at BBC TV 1975 Leaves BBC TV, and pursues freelance career 1980 Dies of hepatitis

6 Ideas and influences (1) - general Foundation: working internationally for large corporation, dedicated to recording Access to capital plus freedom of action Primary function of producer: to draw out best from performer Saw value of recordings as long-term documents, in the service of the composer Team player not an autocrat But not shy in pushing forward his ideas

7 Ideas and influences (2) - the keys John had not only the musical side…but he also had this deep sense of what the market wanted, where it should be going. Stereo: as soon as John heard of stereo, he was there. He saw the potential. – Jack Boyce (Decca marketing) in interview, 8 th April, A fine production in any medium is the sum of its small details, which have to be mastered and absorbed before it an transcend then and approach the realms of art. – John Culshaw, Records and Recording, February 1962.

8 Ideas and influences (3) Key influence: Gordon Parry Parry saw Das Rheingold as an ideal work for stereo production Convinced Culshaw of this Timing excellent: strong interest in stereo in USA Rheingold recording a major commercial success Opened the way to further similar productions

9 James Mallinsons view Re: the recorded performance as a legitimate art work in its own right: …that is what it is. It is what it should be. You should never look at a record as being a sort of poor relation of a live performance. – in interview, 2 nd June, 1999.

10 The key recordings 1959 Das Rheingold 1961 Tristan und Isolde 1962 Salome 1963 Siegfried, War Requiem 1965 Gotterdammerung 1967 Elektra

11 Key characteristics of successful (opera) recordings Constructed : too many errors in live recordings The recording is artificial and unique: key features: Satisfactory balance: relationship with conductor key (Solti) (Rheingold) Uniqueness: getting inside the score gives specific vision (Tristan designs) Movement: acting and so intensity of expression (Tristan) Atmosphere: drama (Salome) Authenticity: fidelity to composers intentions (War Requiem)

12 Recordings and Film Parallels with film: - created in the studio - cost - cutting - continuity - the record producer = the film director Example: Gotterdammerung film

13 The recording as art work Culshaw strove to create recordings that were parallel to successful theatrical and film productions Individual concept, mastery of technology, attention to detail, outstanding performances = A work of art

14 Decline and Fall Immediate: no-one followed Culshaws ideas SonicStage childish (1980) Possibly seen as classical parallel to Phase 4 (critical opinion dismissive – but vast sales) Long-term: miniaturisation and improved recording eliminated need for studio Made live recording technically as good as studio, as well as cheaper Overall discourse: the objective of recordings: to emulate the concert hall: in conflict with these ideas The recording now seen as no more than a process

15 The verdict of history? It is …open to question whether any studio recording of The Ring could reasonably be expected to be more atmospheric, exciting or better performed than this one. – Arnold Whitall, Gramophone, March 1989.


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