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Many of our downloads contain bonus tracks, many of which were previously unpublished.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:

info /at/ arbiterrecords.org

Latest Arbiter Records Release

Russian Visionaries

Russian Visionaries: from Glinka to the Firebird

  • 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.

Latest World Arbiter Release

Japanese Traditional Music: Songs of People at Work and Play

  • 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.

Latest from the Blog

When Debussy came to Budapest

Antal Molnar (1890-1983)

Back in late July of 1983, Janos Sebestyén the harpsichordist thumbed through his little black book and suggested I call an old scholar who had been a violist in the ancient Waldbauer-Kerpely String Quartet. Eager to ask him about Irén Marik and Etelka lurryreund he received me at home and spoke a greeting to Nicholas Milroy, Etelka’s son who had fled from Hungary around 1940:

 

After asking him about Ignaz Friedman, whom he heard and knew somewhat, my burning curiosity was if he could recall Debussy’s one visit and concert with Molnar’s quartet on 1 December 1910 in Budapest. They played Debussy’s String Quartet and Rose Féart, who had taken the role of Melisande the previous year in London, sang the Fêtes galantes and Pensées lyrics with the composer at the piano. Debussy played his Children’s Corner Suite and pieces from his Images and Estampes: Pagodes, Hommages à Rameau, and Jardins sous la pluie.

My inadequate German aside, he eagerly recalled the event, mentioning how pleased Debussy was with their performance of his quartet and comments on how he played his solos :

 

As Molnar had known

Etelka Freund

and her older step-brother Robert, a close associate of Liszt and Brahms, there was more to cover:

 

Molnar told of numerous rehearsals for Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1 which they premiered, saying that by the end they knew the work from memory. Putting Debussy and the classics aside he motioned me over to a bookshelf. Having no idea what awaited me, I turned off the cassette recorder and followed him to a shelf of red hardbound volumes. Eyeing a few, he reached out for one, flipped to a page and began singing a folk song he had collected before World War I, as he was then accompanying Bartók and Kodaly on their field work and was moved to share this treasure he encountered in a remote village in what is now Romania.

A few days ago while researching Debussy’s trip to Budapest, translations of Molnar’s published comments were contained in a tasty article by Gergely Fazekas entitled “Unhealthy” and “Ugly” Music or a ‘Compass Pointing towards a Purer Art of Superior Quality’? published in 2008. To put it mildly, Molnar was not thrilled with Debussy’s music, as his close relationships to Kodaly and Bartók had a greater impact on his understanding of new musical directions.

On Debussy coaching the quartet, Molnar writes:

He agreed with everything, remarked only two things in the Andante. At the end of the climax (in the middle section) he found the little crescendo of the phrases not expressive enough. He sang the melody and made all the phrase endings pass into forte, then at the beginning of the next wave sank back into being piano. At another place he said: ‘I would like you to play it more purple.’

Five years later and greater familiarity with Debussy’s music, another Molnar article appeared:

I have to divide Debussy’s faults into two groups if I want to be fair with him. The first group will contain the features I personally didn’t like; the second will contain the undeniable faults.

. . . to cut my particular criticism short, I just hate it when sturdy, vigorous Frenchmen play at being irritable, oversensitive creatures with a world view that wraps a mystically flickering universe in a pink veil. Incompetence often resorts to pompous sophistication to make up for a lack of wholesome ideas.

When a flurry arose, Molnar retracted: “I became aware that the ‘debussysts’, i.e. those who think of their prophet not without bias but in a fever of excitement caused by a half extinct theme of fashion, were not happy with my essay.”

Soon after he was approached by Kodaly: “It’s as if you were passing yourself off as his former lover.”

No wonder Molnar was eager to move over to the folk song anthologies! Four months after this visit, Molnar was gone.

While the Waldbauer-Kerpely were never recorded, the first evidence of how a Hungarian string quartet approached Debussy’s masterpiece comes through the Lener Quartet, captured in London on 15 March 1928.

Their first violinist Jeno Lener was born in 1894 and may have attended the Debussy event but certainly the older group’s members were teaching and available to advise the Leners.

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©2017 Allan Evans