All Good Things
Christina writes: Most people who read our posts know that Wayne and I have an extensive book collection, and not just of Tolkien. A substantial part constitutes a joint interest: Tolkien, Pauline Baynes, Victorian art, and children’s literature, along with other authors, artists, and subjects. But there are also areas where we have differing interests, or at least interests to differing degrees. In the area of history, for example, I am relatively more interested in the ancient, classical, and medieval periods, while Wayne tends to be more concerned with American and military history. Many may not know, though some may recall, that we also have a large collection, or rather two large collections, of music and videos, and there – apart from a little overlap, mainly in nature programming – our interests are almost entirely distinct. I collect mainly opera (on CD and DVD), but also lieder, chansons, and songs in various languages other than German and French (generally on CD), as well as ballet (on DVD). Wayne, on the other hand, prefers orchestral or instrumental classical music, with relatively little vocal, and has a substantial collection of soundtracks, with lesser numbers of jazz, pop, rock, and New Age CDs, and his DVD collection consists mainly of films and television series.
Although we enjoy acquiring books, records, and so forth by chance discovery, coming upon them in some out-of-the-way shop or otherwise serendipitously, many are sought out only after we have done research, and this is particularly important with music, where the performance and sound quality are as important as the work performed. For fifteen years, one of our most reliable sources of information about classical music recordings has been the British magazine International Record Review, or IRR. A few days ago, Wayne looked up from his computer and said: ‘I have some bad news. There will be no more issues of the International Record Review.’ He had just read in an email that due to the death of Barry Irving, sole director of the company that published IRR and evidently its financial support, the firm ceased to exist, and the March issue we received a few weeks ago was the last. We first saw the International Record Review in Blackwell’s Music Shop in Oxford during a visit to England in 2000; it was the second issue, dated April, and we read it on the flight back home. We both liked it enough to subscribe and to purchase the March number as a back issue to have a complete run. Over the years, IRR has covered the areas that interest us far better than other music magazines have done. I was particularly happy to find it, because in Autumn 1999 I had lost the International Opera Collector, which I enjoyed but which ceased publication after only thirteen issues.
I also look at several other music magazines to help me choose what to buy. It’s sometimes amusing to see how opinions differ. I subscribe to the American Opera News, but this is mainly about performers and live performances, with only a few pages devoted to reviews of CDs and DVDs. I originally subscribed to Opera News to get advance information about Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, in the days when our cable company offered an FM music channel for only a few dollars a month: the same broadcasts were carried by one of our local FM stations, but much less clearly over the air than by digital cable. This too was discontinued, because the cable firm decided that it served only a minority interest, and wasn’t worth their trouble to keep even though its fans offered to pay more for the service. Luckily, by that time I was too busy writing books to follow a broadcast schedule, and instead was buying CDs or DVDs for such moments as I could devote to music.
Wayne writes: More recently, Sirius XM, the subscription satellite radio service we have in our car, dropped their Classical Pops channel for car listening, moving it exclusively to their tabletop radio lineup where it does us no good under our particular subscription. They had only three classical channels to begin with, against umpteen pop, rock, talk, and sports channels, and are now down to only Metropolitan Opera Radio, which I don’t listen to (and Christina prefers not to listen to opera in the car), and Symphony Hall, which seems to have a preponderance of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and Telemann, but not much Ravel, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakov, Vaughan Williams, et al. which one found on Classical Pops, so it’s not a substitute. According to the Classical Pops Facebook page, Sirius lost a number of subscribers over this. We haven’t left yet, though we’re seriously considering it as our renewal date approaches. This seems to be another case of corporate accountants deciding that even though the firm serves niche interests, the classical music niche is just too small or inconsequential.
Christina writes: For reviews in the British Opera and Gramophone and the American Fanfare, I rely on the copies received by the Williams College Library. Opera, like Opera News, is mainly devoted to performances and performers, while at least half of each Gramophone and Fanfare comprises general articles on music, performers, technical matters, and so forth. Fanfare has the widest coverage of all, since half of each issue comes to nearly 300 pages, but the reviews are listed in alphabetical order by composer rather than by separate category, which makes it harder to use for my purposes, and it is published only once every two months, so reviews tend to appear later than in other sources. I might subscribe to Fanfare, as it constitutes a good historical reference source, but can’t afford the shelf space it would eat up (yes, I could subscribe to the online edition, but I find it harder and more time-consuming to read reviews on a screen than in print). And while Gramophone can be entertaining, and sometimes has an interesting article or two, both Wayne and I find it too slick and ‘popularized’ for our tastes. (BBC Music Magazine is in much the same vein.)
Apart from the quality of a performance and recording, I am particularly interested in two other factors. Firstly, with regard to DVDs, I want to know about the production. I do not like most current productions, which play to the producer’s ego and perversely make nonsense of both words and music. I do check YouTube clips when they exist, but that is not always sufficient. Secondly, for CDs of more unusual items, I want to know if the text, at least, is included, if not a translation if the work is not sung in English. International Record Review provided this information, and Fanfare still does. Gramophone has symbols which are supposed to speak to this, but they are rarely included. Indeed, recently Gramophone actually said that no libretto was included for Francesco Maria Veracini’s Adriano in Siria, and I had crossed it off my list of desiderata until the final issue of IRR stated correctly that the recording had the text of the opera but not a translation. I’ll admit that when I first removed the shrinkwrap from the jewel case I was worried, as the booklet seemed very thin, but the text was there, if rather horrible in white printed on black!
Wayne writes: I’ll miss the International Record Review too, and hope that its knowledgeable and talented reviewers fare well in other magazines or media. I was unhappy a few years ago when IRR changed its typography, making it (I thought) harder to read, and I wrote to the editor to say so – I mean, digital Perpetua looks washed-out when printed on coated paper. But either they made subtle adjustments or I got used to it. I haven’t found any good equivalent online, at least not yet. I must admit, though, that in recent years it has been for me a case of diminishing returns. I have so many recordings that new performances aren’t often better than those I already own, and I have to be careful that ‘new’ CDs aren’t just reissues I’ve already bought. I’m noticing, for instance, attractive recordings on the Helios budget reissue label which I bought years back on Hyperion. But also, I’ve read fewer reviews about unfamiliar composers that make me want to give them a try. I remember how an early number of IRR led me to try out the Russian-born Aaron Avshalomoff, some of whose orchestral works are available on Marco Polo.
Christina writes: A more serious loss was the Book and Magazine Collector. I began to collect this magazine with about its third issue in May 1984, and purchased the earlier two as back issues. We have the complete run of all 328 issues, until it folded after the Christmas number in 2010. The magazine had been taken over a short time earlier by a company who thought they could change it and make it even more profitable. They succeeded only in bringing it to an end. The greater part of each issue consisted of a number of articles on authors and topics, with bibliographies and suggested secondhand prices. The first issue, for example, contained ‘Ian Fleming and the James Bond Books’, ‘Collecting Penguins’, ‘Victorian Small Wars: A Guide to Some of the Most Valuable Books about the Colonial Wars’, ‘Rare Cookery Books’, and ‘Bibliography of U.K. Fan Magazines’. The penultimate issue carried articles on Neil Gaiman, L. Frank Baum, Enid Blyton’s ‘Secret Series’, and Victorian dust-jackets.
Articles included author biographies where relevant, and brief but tantalizing summaries or descriptions of topics or works of fiction. All of these were interesting to read even if one knew nothing much about the author or topic. Over the years, the magazine provided a wide-ranging overview of both fiction and non-fiction. Some popular topics were dealt with more than once, with later articles noting changes in popularity and prices or special anniversaries. Tolkien was dealt with in nos. 17, 57, 95, 214, and 238; the last also included an article on the Tolkien Society. There were occasional articles on aspects of collecting and selling, and a letters section. Each issue also gave considerable space to listings of books for sale and books wanted, though the latter usually took up only a few pages. While I was living in England, I did not have a subscription, but would buy B&MC as soon as it appeared for on the newsstand. I would often make a detour to Smith’s on Waterloo Station on my way to work when I knew the new number was due. Before reading the articles, I would scan the lists of books for sale, though I only ever found a few items I wanted (this was before such listings began to migrate to the Internet). My memory is not clear, but I think I found my copy of Leeds University Verse (with early Tolkien poems) through the magazine.
A good blog post about the demise of the Book and Magazine Collector, and about the differences between print and Internet resources (both content and standards), may be found here.
Wayne writes: In the late 1980s I discovered Cook’s, and enjoyed it as a good home-cook alternative to magazines like Gourmet, which featured sometimes very elaborate, professional-level recipes and articles on travel. I see now that Cook’s was started and sometimes edited by Christopher Kimball, later of America’s Test Kitchen fame. I subscribed to Cook’s, and had hardly done so, it seemed, when it folded, and in compensation for the issues remaining on my subscription I was offered one or two months of – Gourmet. I wrote a harsh letter to the publisher, saying that Gourmet wasn’t to my liking; they replied: Right, then, we won’t send you anything. A few years later, Kimball started Cook’s Illustrated, and I subscribed to that for a while, but gave it up when it seemed that the material was being more compactly presented in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks. Looking back at Cook’s now, I see that Kimball left as publisher very near the end, when the magazine was sold to the Condé Nast syndicate), and that the senior writer then was Mark Bittman, which explains some of the quality.
Christina writes: As preface to another loss, I have to tell you that as a child, one of my favourite authors was Violet Needham (1876–1977). Many of her novels were Ruritanian, but others were historical or involved mythic elements. Most of her heroes and heroines were orphans who had to show courage, make difficult decisions, or adapt to living with strangers in different and sometimes overwhelming circumstances. She did not spare her characters – one hero dies in battle, another is tortured by the Spanish in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. I borrowed the first few Needham titles from the library, and thereafter bought each as it came out. One of the earlier ones I read only years later, when I found it in the reserve collection of Holborn Library. A few years after that, I found a copy to buy. Although she is not one of the best remembered children’s authors of the twentieth century, Violet Needham was popular enough at the time her books were published for at least a couple to be dramatized on BBC Radio’s Children’s Hour programme.
On 18 May 1985 I attended the inaugural meeting of the Violet Needham Society. The Society thereafter produced three issues a year of a magazine called Souvenir, which soon expanded from articles on Needham to juvenile Ruritanian stories generally, and to books by Needham’s contemporaries, who, like her, had been largely forgotten. Over the years it brought back many nostalgic memories of childhood reading. Unless prevented, while I was still living in London I attended annual general meetings and went on excursions to places associated with Needham and her books, or to other literary venues. On one occasion, we visited the area described by A.A. Milne in his stories about Winnie the Pooh and stood on the bridge and played ‘Pooh sticks’. Members of the Society have included several authors of works on children’s literature, and two other Tolkien Society members beside myself: Rikki Breem and Jessica Yates. But we’re all growing old, and there are fewer people who remember reading Needham’s books, and fewer still willing and able to take on some of the burdens of running the society, and in particular editing Souvenir. There will be a final AGM this autumn (which, alas, I will be unable to attend), and a final Souvenir to be followed by a collection of the best articles from Souvenir and an Index. Thereafter there will be a website, and perhaps informal meetings, but no journal, subscription, or formal gatherings.
Wayne writes: One of my favourite authors, Arthur Ransome, still has enough popularity (for Swallows and Amazons and the other books in that series) that the Arthur Ransome Society seems in good health, at least for the moment. Its survival will depend on finding younger members to take over as officers and organizers and editors. May this good thing go on for a long time.
Images, from top: International Record Review, April 2000; Book and Magazine Collector, May 1984; Souvenir, Summer 2014.