You, me, the music, and me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Deutsche Grammophon 2543 007 (1973)

'1898' was composed by Mauricio Kagel to comemmorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Deutsche Grammophon, a prominent German record label specializing in classical music. It is unique in several ways, not the least of which is its instrumentation. Kagel was inspired by a photograph from 1910 of an ensemble led by Bruno Seidler-Winkler in which the musicians played instruments that appeared to be violins with horns protruding from them (actually trumpet bells). These strange hybrids were called Stroh-violins, named for their inventor, Charles Stroh, who wished to create an instrument loud enough to be recorded on the phonographs of the day. Kagel was unable to find any existing Stroh-violins, so he created his own for the purpose of this recording.

Stroh-violins sound almost as strange as they look, with the amplified quality of an electric violin but more woody resonance. The composition itself lends to the unique sound of the record; Kagel avoids harmonic complexity by using no more than two notes at once in the string parts, producing a haunting, homophonic quality. Add to that a choir of untrained children's voices who alternate trills and open vowels with bursts of laughter and the end result is a rather spooky sounding composition, even for the time in which it was written.

'1898' is a difficult but rewarding listen; while recommended to adventurous music lovers and historians, it is not for everyone, as evinced in Kagel's self-effacing liner notes: "Right from the start I had declined to select children distinguished by the quality of their voices, and had invited a class of schoolchildren I didn't know to come to the recording studio. True to my view that there are no unmusical people, only those whose musicality is damaged by wanting or defective education, I now tried... to awaken the childrens' interest... After two sittings I was content with the outcome. On the other hand, one child told me: 'Write that nothing was achieved.'" Listeners are invited to track down a copy of '1898' and decide for themselves.


At 8:35 PM, Blogger el said...

In the town I live (Netherlands) there is a streetmusician (from Eastern Europe) who has such a stroh-violin. it's funny to watch him playing (not so well btw).
Nice to read about this instrument.

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