Sunday, 19 June 2011

Farmer Grumpy says, ‘Get orff moy paast!’

Archiv AP 13013 front

Mozart Sonata in A K.311
Fritz Neumeyer
(fortepiano by Johann Gottlieb Fichtl, late 18th C)
Archiv AP 13013 (rec. 30 October 1952)

Apologies for my long, rude silence and a big thank you to everyone who has read this blog and left kind comments. Blogger has been broken for some time and I am tired of dealing with the pointless ‘improvements’ to technology which I had been happily using for months without problems. I hope to respond soon. The good news is, I have been writing my PhD! Slowly, but surely…

Still, I am known to slink naughtily off for some retail therapy. Yesterday, my bad friend Jolyon and I went to visit a kind man who sold us some interesting 78s and LPs from his gargantuan collection – like me, he can’t bear to see anything thrown away.

Among them were some LPs formerly in the library of a British university music department, which was notoriously closed down a few years ago. I was very glad to find this one, which I’m fairly sure is one of the earliest complete recordings of a Classical keyboard sonata on a fortepiano. Ralph Kirkpatrick was making records on one around this time, although I believe that was a modern instrument by John Challis. If you know of earlier or other contemporary recordings, I’d be very interested to learn of them.

I knew of this disc but had never seen nor heard it. Nor would you, if it was up to the record industry’s ‘To-infinity-and-beyond!’ copyright-extension lobby and its superannuated self-appointed terrors of the newsgroups, to the early music thought-police or to keyboard-lion worshippers and Martha Argerich scrapbook compilers. (NB I specifically exclude DG from this list of villains; I very much doubt they could sell this disc at a profit, precisely because of all the other people who would immediately tell us it’s worthless.)

Another reason is that this LP was apparently roundly condemned when first issued in Britain – unfortunately, the January 1955 issue of Gramophone is one of several missing entirely from the magazine’s archive, although the scathing review was cited (approvingly) when a 12-inch LP reissue was covered in November 1963.

No, it’s not the greatest performance ever recorded. But who is to tell us which is? Who is to dictate to us that we should never hear it again? That we should not try to appreciate the pioneering efforts of artists like Neumeyer? Are all today’s fortepianists really that much better? I think Neumeyer is rather sensitive and poetic in the first two movements. And good on him for going for broke in the finale – Turkish music was meant to be a bit kitsch, I suspect. Also, recordings of instruments by this Viennese maker are none too common.

Get the three fully tagged, mono FLAC files in a .rar file here.

Yes, like Farmer Palmer, when I see someone braying ‘deservedly forgotten’ and worriting moy sheep, I reach for my 12-bore…


  1. I hope your dissertation is as witty and pointed as this post.

  2. As always, reading your subtle articles and listening to your fine transfers are my delight. Thanks again, Nick.

  3. "This square-toed, conscientious performance is the reductio ad absurdum of teutonic musicological earnestness. Fritz Neumeyer plays on a late eighteenth-century Fortepiano built by the Viennese instrument-maker J.G. Fichtl and restored by Dr. Rueck of Nuremberg. The last movement, the Turkish Rondo, sounds extraordinary. The instrument itself jangles unbearably when it is played loudly, or the recording is hideously distorted, or else someone has been at work 'preparing' in the manner of Mr. John Cage with clothes-pegs and paper-clips to produce a ludicrous 'Turkish' effect.
    But instrument apart, the plodding way that the player attacks Mozart's phrases precludes musical pleasure. None of the three Forte-piano Mozart records that have appeared so far (the others are a Badura-Skoda recital on Nixa, and a concerto on D.G.G.) can be called a success. None sounds as pleasant as Ralph Kirkpatrick's K.453 on a twentieth-century recreation of the instrument (Nixa).
    One Sonata, too, is rather poor value for 27s. A good deal of the second side is blank. A.P. [presumably Andrew Porter]."
    I have a pdf of this I could send

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  5. Oh, that's very interesting and much saner review, thanks so much for that. My dad got the Monthly Letter, I wonder where his old copies went? G

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  7. I don't give a flying fig what anyone, critic included, says about this performance, I love it, play it often and am glad I was able to locate several copies. I agree, I don't much care for the performance of the concerto on the other side of ARC 3012, in the USA Decca Records distributed format (I have both 10 German permutations, too) but this is the real thing, a brooding reading up till the raspberries of the rondo. Don't they all get it? Thank you for posting and sane comments.