Arbiter of Cultural Traditions is a 401c3 non-profit arts organization founded in 2002 as a means to continue the work of the former Arbiter Recording Company by saving performances of musicians whose work embodies our classical music at its height. Our efforts are critical as the aging survivors of past traditions are not long for this world and decaying media threatens to lose its sounds: our cultural heritage often hangs by a thread. Western classical musicians we have saved such as as Roman Totenberg, Mieczyslaw Horszowski and Ignace Tiegerman played at the highest musical level of their time, of any time. We spare no effort to locate such music-making wherever it survives.
World Arbiter seeks authentic traditional music from cultures beyond Western European classical music. The late Teresa Sterne who created Nonesuch’s legendary Explorer series was our guiding light in the beginning. Sterne personally intervened to sharpen and define our methodology. Our vital examples document traditions with scholarly texts to serve as a musical guide and reference work. Multimedia CD projects go beyond music with extensive PDF and video files when placed in a computer. Arbiter recently received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to restore and publish the entire known surviving recordings of Balinese music made in 1928. The resulting publication effected a repatriation of performances that had remained inaccessible since their release and subsequent destruction.
Many of our downloads contain bonus tracks, many of which were previously unpublished. All are available only as downloads; many CDs also have been completely remastered with new software provided to our studio through a grant. All discs and bonus tracks are listed below in the catalog. CD Orders within the United States are shipped gratis: foreign requests should email us for postage fees:
In 1850 Russia had one major composer and several piansts but within sixty years their music scene dominated the world's concert halls. We bring to light Stravinsky enrapt in a state of ecstacy while conducting a work by his mentor Rimsky-Korsakov. Our latest expedition follows pioneers who sought to either imitate Western music or excavate native Pagan, Mythic, and Central Asian sources. When Tchaikovsky's violin concerto hit Vienna, a critic wrote: "We know that in contemporary literature there have started to appear works whose authors love to reproduce in detail the most repulsive physiological phenomena, including foul smells. One might describe literature of that kind as stinking. Well, Tschaikowsky has shown us that there can also be stinking music." Musorgsky instead deprecated Westerners: "A German, when he thinks, starts by analyzing, then demonstrates, while our Russian brother starts by demonstrating, and only then amuses himself by analyzing." Performances include lost recordings by Erica Morini, Georg Szell, Alfred Hoehn, Rachmaninoff, Issay Dobrowen, Albert Coates, Michael Zadora, Konstantin Igumnov, Alexander Kamensky, Oskar Fried, Igor Stravinsky himself, and Vladimir Sofronitsky. Sounds and text follow a path that not only overturned the West's musical hegemony but became a risk to a Soviet regime that tried to recast them into obedient fodder for their obligatory Socialist Realism cult.
First complete publication ever! The sounds and intensity of Volume Five's folk music surpasses anything heard in their classical music. With Japan's ongoing modernization and loss of its traditional music, our audio restoration removes artifacts from chronological chains to resonate in the eternal flow of sound that defies time and space to remain vital and always in the present.
When a grandiose culture encounters a “lesser” one in its midst, the potential for something remarkable arises. One instance is when a man of the Hungarian minority within the Austro-Hungarian Empire journeyed beyond societal borders into villages in Transylvania. Béla Bartók lugged an Edison cylinder recorder and blank wax rolls to capture sound. Among the Romanians of the zone were Germans, Hungarians, Jews, Gypsies, Huzuls, Greeks, Turks, Russians, Armenians, Ukrainians and others living in harmony foe centuries until World War II split them and forced all to become chattel for insane dictatorships,
On a trek around 1910, Bartók strayed onto a flutist and a few fiddlers. We hear five cylinders among the thousands recoded after he gained the confidence of people who had no idea that such technology existed and relented to sing and play into a mysterious horn without losing their souls.
One single LP of a few cylinder came to the light when UNESCO funded Hungarian ethnomusicologists to preserve and publish their heritage, an action no longer a part of the UN’s agenda. Their editions of regional folk music extended into central Asia, covering Mongols and ethnic groups thriving along the Western route taken by the Magyars some one thousand years ago. Bartók’s research dried up when funding was no longer forthcoming and after a 1936 field trip to Turkey for which he prepared by studying their language, his expeditions ended with exile in New York.
When Bartók’s machine was at home with him, a few waxes were made of his son and relatives.
In 1915 he played the Romanian Folk Dances, composed after having heard the cylinders streaming above that document the first moment when he encountered these dances. The first contains its opening dance upon which a recording is superimposed, perhaps from an earlier trip to Biskra, Algeria. Although it seems like an accident, the pitches and their shapes oddly resemble his Romanian field recording: a serendipitous collage or perhaps an intention aside on stylistic propagation?
(an A440 pitch blown by Bartók at the end was his way of making sure the cylinders would be played back at the correct speed).
The remaining dances of a second cylinder are damaged by gaps in the wax, something now capable of being restored through a digital scanning of the original cylinder. It and many others will languish until the forces that possess such expensive technology awaken to what’s at stake and intervene to preserve all possible before time erodes them further.
Irén Marik (1905 Szölnök-1986 Independence California) had studied with Bartók for some six months, as she explained to me. After she played some of his works to the composer, he commented: “I see you understand it so we’ll work on other composers.”
Friends of Bartók’s that I had located in Budapest in 1984 implied that they had worked together for a good two years. Marik often made practice tapes at home on a 9-foot Steinway grand located in her one-bedroom house off the desert in California’s East Sierras. Her neighbor and companion, the writer Evelyn Eaton, once pulled me aside to hand over a large bag. “Irén throws them out but I always put them aside. Here you are, and make good use of them!” One was an unpublished performance of the Romanian Dances, undated but made c.1974 she was 71 years old. It may be of interest to compare the chain of how Bartók set the tunes like precious jewels and maintained the integrity of the music he captured, and how Marik grasps elements in his own playing.
The Romanian Folk Dances were further devoured when Bartók would perform them as a transcription for violin and piano, recording it with violinist Joseph Szigeti in 1929.
Classical music grows especially when cultures mix. Keeping it reined in creates atrophy and we can witness that when the languages of Bartók and others developed in this way, they end up keeping Western Classical music alive and healthy.