Editor's Blog

Links between art forms - and just how long should an album be?

Martin CullingfordThu 16th August 2018

Gramophone's Editor introduces the September issue

I’ve written before about the links between musical genres. But when attending the unveiling of Japan’s Praemium Imperiale Awards at London’s Royal Academy of Art I was reminded how strongly they exist between different art forms too. Conductor Riccardo Muti received the music award, but prizes are also given in other fields, and I was struck by how, when an art form’s specifics are stripped away, there are thought-provoking similarities. The sculpture recipient was Fujiko Nakaya, a Japanese artist famed for her fog sculptures. For her, part of the power of her work is the impermanence, the momentary nature of what we experience; how often have I heard musicians say the same? And in receiving the architecture prize, Christian de Portzamparc – whose buildings include Paris’s Cité de la musique which integrates music, dance, sport and housing – talked of the challenge ‘to solve within a unity, so many different aspects’. Isn’t that the extraordinary aim of so much music? 

There aren’t many musicians who work across art forms – Alfred Brendel’s poetry and Stephen Hough’s painting and writing are just two examples that come to mind – though it’s always fascinating when many of our My Music interviewees reflect on the relationship of their chosen discipline, be it writing, ceramics or architecture, to the structure of music. Centuries ago, great artists would indeed excel across disciplines; perhaps the intense specialism of the modern world makes that less likely today, but an openness to other fields and the way they often address the same challanges enhances artists and audiences alike.

On a completely different note, back in my March issue editorial issue I celebrated the concept of the traditional album, arguing that in the streaming age its programmatic approach, while rooted in the physical form, still had a power worth preserving. I was thus delighted to see last month's launch of National Album Day in the UK. This initiative promises to highlight the cultural resonance of something which will (certainly once) have defined the way most readers think of recording. Though far from implying that streaming is merely a tide to swim against – and regular readers will know my embrace of streaming couldn’t be further from that! – it perhaps offers even greater creative freedom for the album format. By way of example, Richard Blackford’s engaging new release Niobe is just 23 minutes long – ‘which is only a problem if you want it to be’ as Andrew Mellor rather unanswerably puts it in his review on page 55. And he’s right. If a CD’s size was, it is said, set to accommodate Beethoven’s Ninth, it doesn’t follow that all recorded programmes therefore need to fill a similar-size space. In many other genres – pop or jazz for example – the notion that a shorter album short-changes the listener has never really applied. So why should it in classical music, particularly when streaming renders the notion of ‘value for money’ rather obsolete anyway? (And in fact the CD of Niobe is sold at a price that reflects its length.) We’ve got used to experimentation with concert lengths – lunchtime or rush-hour recitals, late night Proms or even all-night epics – so why not be similarly creative when it comes to albums too?

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

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