Sunday, December 7, 2014

Negligence, Malice, and the Serious Listener

Back when I tended to post more regularly to this site, I had an almost morbid fascination about how, in our brave new world of "working smarter," it was getting harder to distinguish malice from negligence. However, that distinction was rearing its head long before people started hating their jobs because they felt as if they were being made to work dumber, rather than smarter, and, accordingly, getting paid less for what they were doing. Barbara Garson saw that distinction coming through the rise of technology longer before anyone else did when she wrote The Electronic Sweatshop. This afternoon I found myself musing on how Columbia managed to take such an antagonistic stance towards serious listeners when, in fact, everything was probably just due to dimwitted negligence.

My favorite example is Igor Stravinsky 1882-1971, what was supposed to be a "luxury item" collection of Igor Stravinsky's long history of making recordings for Columbia. This was a monster collection of twelve volumes, most consisting of a single CD with some having more. These were accompanied by a booklet whose contents had absolutely no relationship to the contents of all of those CDs, consisting, instead, of a glorified photo album.

Stravinsky was, of course, a prolific composer. However, it would appear that no one at Columbia every thought that someone who liked Stravinsky's music might actually want to search for a particular composition as being just the right thing to listen to at the time. It turns out that the genre that suffered the most in this regard was the concerto. The fifth volume of the set is a single CD called Concertos, but it has only two of them: the concerto for piano and winds and the violin concerto. It also has the capriccio for piano and orchestra and the set of five pieces that Stravinsky called "movements." To this day I am not sure I have tracked down the other concertos. However, I know that the "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto and the D major concerto for string orchestra (the "Basel Concerto") are in the six volume (Miniature Masterpieces) and the "Ebony Concerto" (Stravinsky's jazz concerto) and the concerto for two solo pianos are part of the seventh volume (Chamber Music & Historical Recordings). I suppose that one of these days I shall have to create my own index, just to check to see if I missed anything!

Long-time readers know that this is far from my only beef with Columbia. I have, in the past, picked on the mess they made of many of their jazz releases. Since that time, I have read and reflected on Robin D. G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, where I discovered that Columbia could make just as much of a mess in their relationship with jazz performers as they managed to do with jazz listeners.

Of course debating about negligence or malice may be the wrong approach to thinking about the situation. After all, back in the days of the studio system, Hollywood seemed to have a reliable reputation for attracting some of America's best writers, chewing them into a pulp, and then spitting them out like a worthless piece of gum. Perhaps Columbia was just conducting "business as usual" based on what the big boys in Hollywood were doing.

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