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July - September
2017

The Divine Art Story – the first 25 years

Richard Holm

Divine Arts

An outline of the growth of the independent recording group, now celebrating its Silver Jubilee this year.

The high calibre of this composer’s writing is so inextricably linked to his individual, protean ideas that hapless commentators (the present writer included), when attempting to describe his music have fallen back on such well-worn, though not unbefitting, adjectives as ‘distinguished’, ‘finely wrought’ and ‘fluent’.

Though it may not feel like long ago to most of us, in terms of the recording industry, 1992 was a different world. The vinyl record was just about finished (for a while), the CD was still relatively new and gaining respectability, the cassette was still a major format, and the ‘major’ labels still had a proud history and exciting release schedules. Naxos was just breaking ground and in the UK, Hyperion and Chandos were becoming front runners in the market. Digital music? No such thing!

It was in that world of 1992 that the Divine Art company was established. Unusually, founder Stephen Sutton had no musical or recording background, being a solicitor in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He had grown up with a love for music of all kinds and a fascination with record collecting from an early age. As he recalls, “From the age of about ten I had this fantasy of having my own record label (as well as my own bus company and so on!)”. The opportunity came when the fine Walker organ in his home village church needed restoration. A team of volunteers including engineers and organist was assembled and ‘The Simonburn Walker Organ’ became the first Divine Art release, on cassette only, to raise funds for the organ restoration (since released on CD/digital and still selling).

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Beethoven: his son’s impact on his music

Susan Lund

Bettina von Arnim

Having written several books on Beethoven, the author outlines the impact on the composer of the birth of his illegitimate son in March 1813.

Recently I switched on the radio to hear, ‘Compare early Beethoven with late Beethoven. It’s like two different composers.’ For too long in Beethoven scholarship, there has been debate as to whether biography affects the music. In whose life does trauma not affect productivity? Why is it not legitimate, in Beethoven’s life, to ask why?

The Immortal Beloved letter and the situation surrounding this has become almost a source of humour and disdain among some scholars, ever since it became fashionable to drop Maynard Solomon’s evidence-based research in favour of support for Bettina Brentano, with her fraudulent letters, and Josephine Deym, Beethoven’s earlier beloved, with her ‘missing diary pages.’

Why did some turn from Solomon’s evidenced-based research? I fear that I may be to blame. Beethoven wrote his Immortal Beloved letter from the Bohemian spa of Teplitz on July 6th-7th, 1812, to a woman who had visited him – unexpectedly – in Prague, a few days earlier. There is no evidence that either of the women named above, nor any other woman put forward as Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, had been in Prague on the night in question. However, Antonie Brentano was (pictured).

 

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Toscanini in Salzburg 1937 – the greatest Meistersinger

Robert Matthew-Walker

Toscanini

'Only an exceptional man imposes order upon others, and nothing arouses profounder veneration for this outstanding apostle of faithfulness in work than his success in teaching a chaotic and incredulous epoch to feel fresh reverence for its most hallowed heritage.’ The man about whom Stefan Zweig was writing in his Foreword to a biographical study by Paul Stefan, published in English in 1936, was Arturo Toscanini.

Stefan’s book concludes with his own first-hand reports and recollections of the Salzburg Festival of 1935, in which Toscanini conducted Fidelio and Falstaff, asking the question based upon the fact that since 1929 Toscanini had rarely appeared in any theatre: ‘Was the stage calling him once more; or did he wish to emphasize the fact that Salzburg, a German-speaking city, had for him replaced Bayreuth as the musical centre of a Germany which he no longer wished to visit?’

Toscanini’s response to Stefan’s rhetorical question was in the affirmative, artistically speaking, for he returned to Salzburg in 1936 to conduct a new production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, produced by Herbert Graf, with Charles Kullmann (Stolzing), Herbert Alsen (Pogner), Lotte Lehmann (Eva), and Hans Hermann Nissen (Sachs). We do not have Zweig’s or Stefan’s reactions to this legendary production, but the following year Toscanini returned again to Salzburg for a new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and a revival of Die Meistersinger, with a slightly different cast.

 

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The Venezuelan Pianist, Teresa Carreño

Clara Rodríguez

Teresa Carreño

This year Clara Rodriguez will be playing a number of concerts in memory of the Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño (Caracas December 22, 1853 – New York June 12, 1917) who was also a singer and composer and who was variously described throughout her life as “Liszt in petticoats”, “The Empress of the piano”, “The Valkyrie of the piano”.

Teresa Carreño was one of the most accomplished pianists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, giving performances and concerts all over the world. She composed, since the age of 6, a total of 70 works for the piano; many of them were published in Europe and in the USA during her lifetime.

She represented the third generation of child prodigies that had held the position of “meritorious musicians” from at least six years of age in the Cathedral of Caracas as singer-soloists, organists and string players and was the first musician of her family to gain recognition outside Venezuela from her highly acclaimed debut at the age of eight, at the “Irving Hall”, New York, on November 25, 1862. She was the third of five children of Manuel Antonio Carreño (born June 17, 1813), mainly known as lawyer and minister of finance in Venezuela, who wrote an influential and widespread Manual of urbanity and good manners in 1853. Manuel Antonio was a trained musician too and wrote 500 exercises for his daughter that she played regularly in all keys, achieving great technical ease from an early age. He also taught her harmony and composition.

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The Dream Project

Angela Brownridge

Angela Brownridge

The distinguished pianist outlines how her relationship with the Dutch record company Challenge Classics arose and continues to develop.

Many young artists starting out in their careers wish to make CDs as a great publicity tool, and before making my first recording I had an experience which surprised me somewhat.

My husband was working for Saga Records and was assigned to record a pianist playing Scriabin. Two weeks before the event we were invited to his home for a run-through which took the form of a concert with quite a large number of people present. From the outset it became clear that the pianist was having great difficulty with the Studies Op. 8; the fluency just was not there. Two sonatas fared slightly better, but my husband, for whom this was his first recording, said “What on earth am I going to do?”

As a solution, I turned the pages during the recording and the pianist was so reluctant to have me anywhere near him that I had to hide behind a screen which we found in the hall. Without shoes, I had to run swiftly out, turn the page right at the last minute, then retreat as quickly as I could. The pieces were executed in very small sections, sometimes less than eight bars, repeated as many times as necessary before they were satisfactory, and on the second day we continued until two in the morning to complete the task. I had to memorize every page turn so in the end I felt I knew this repertoire by heart.

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