Thoughts from our founder – 80 years on
Martin Cullingford, Gramophone Editor
Friday, November 6, 2020
Consulting Gramophone's archives unearthed some powerful parallels
Covid-19 and the associated restrictions may have led to increased separation, but sometimes hands can reach out across the decades to make surprising connections. Last week I needed to scan an old copy of Gramophone, from July 1942. The war years are always a poignant presence among our bound volumes – the significantly thinner spines reflecting paper shortages and wider deprivations of the day, but there all the same, offering proud continuity and occasionally carrying correspondence from serving soldiers, grateful for links to art in unimaginable circumstances. I’m not, for one moment, equating the horrors of that global conflict with the challenges of our own time – the world is today united in fighting a common enemy – but turning to our founder Compton Mackenzie’s opening editorial, I was still struck by some powerful parallels.
‘I have just been spending a crowded five weeks in London,’ he begins – the parallel immediately falling down a little given today’s somewhat subdued city streets – ‘my first visit for two years. Among innumerable impressions of every kind none was deeper than the impression made upon me by the vitality of the gramophone … It is true to say that never since recorded music was made available has recorded music been so precious as it is today. So intense is this vitality of the gramophone that it is over-coming the most fantastic difficulties and obstacles in a way that those who are fully aware of those difficulties and obstacles still find hardly credible.’
The difficulties and obstacles facing artists and ensembles today are immense too, and so to all those releasing recordings, streaming performances and making recording sessions happen – a heartfelt bravo. Warm summer months may have offered hope – or at least hints – of normality, but autumn’s darkening days bring renewed restrictions, and just this week I’ve received several more notifications of cancelled seasons from organisations bowing to the inevitable. I’ve thus cherished live music where I’ve found it – church bells rung in a Covid-compliant manner, a little later the organ voluntary – but such moments are rare. And let us remember other genres too – spaced out seating might just about suit symphonic music, but if you usually perform to packed pubs or rock venues, these days have been bleaker still. So I’m with Mackenzie: never, not in my lifetime anyway, has recorded music felt quite so precious. Last month we held our annual Gramophone Awards online – and I urge you to watch if you aren’t among the 320,000 who have already done so, where aside from hearing some fine speeches and beautiful music-making, you can enjoy simply celebrating and giving thanks for this glorious art form.
And one final parallel. Concluding his thought, Mackenzie said: ‘This vitality is reflected in the support which our own paper receives. I find it impossible to express with sufficient warmth my appreciation of the spirit animating our readers and our advertisers’. Almost 80 years later I couldn’t put it better myself, extending that to everyone, from artists, to those innovating in online areas that Mackenzie could never have foreseen, who all keep the spirit of both Gramophone, and the gramophone, burning so brightly.
This article appears in the November 2020 issue of Gramophone, available now