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Many of our downloads contain bonus tracks, many of which were previously unpublished.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:
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.
Other than some snoring, what was going on inside Debussy’s head? At a certain point, change was in the works, a foray into creating something that defied labels he loathed, such as Impressionist. Earlier blog posts examined how Russian music acted on his art but there are unsettling elements in his Etudes, works that Pierre Boulez described as having “burned the mist off Debussy,” not that he felt obligated to destroy any lingering Turneresque quality that many interpreters still desperately seek to impose on his last piano cycle and fail by doing so.
As an example of his new language, the Belgian pianist Marcelle Mercenier (1920-1996: alas no photos of her so far . . .) plays Debussy’s Etude in Fourths in 6’25”:
Many listeners were influenced by critics and authoritative experts that
Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) was the quintessential acme excelsior of Debussy interpreters. Nasal adenoids introduced heavy breathing while the German pianist played so his clever EMI producer Walter Legge had the recording mic impressively placed at an impressionistic distance to camouflage his snorting. The pianist rarely performed Debussy’s Etudes and his rapid traversal clocks in at 4’10”:
Mercenier played works by Messiaen and Boulez: she understood how Debussy’s last piano pieces paved the way into a new language.
Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) was another highly regarded Debussy specialist. Among his multifold activities, Cortot managed to write a volume on the composer’s piano music, drawing on picturesque references and occasionally judging the worthiness of his works (photo of the artist at home near his beloved Renoir portrait of Wagner):
“In 1910 appeared a waltz, ‘La plus que lent,’ half a parody, half serious, and beyond question [italics mine] totally insignificant.”
Debussy’s piano roll in no way captured anything remotely resembling his touch and tone but is the Satiesque presence of a ‘ninth’ struck by his left hand’s thumb when the theme gets its final restatement, compositionally insignificant? An earlier experiment lies in Masques, an independent work from 1904. Cortot’s many students cherished the descriptions he offered as a key to each musical work played in his presence, as if he had formulated the most effective description of a work’s mood, background and expression and drew out of it like a catalog. While it could enhance a budding pianist’s grasp that something lurked behind the notes it probably inhibited them from seeking this remote sphere on their own, as his stereotypes were so seductive! (photo: joyous dining with Margarete (Mrs. Albert) Speer at the Hotel Ritz, Paris 1941)
According to Cortot’s meditation on Masques:
Without doubt there lives and moves in “Masques” all the comedy of ltaly, its color and movement: Scaramouche with his fine doings, Cassandra ridiculed, Zerbinette irritating, Pierrot dreaming to the moon and hidden by friendly night, Harlequin at the feet of Colombine. And “l’Isle Joyeuse” spreads the snare of its laughter and easy pleasures before the careless lovers whose light barks draw up on its fortunate shores, under the friendly looks of Watteau, of Verlaine and of Chabrier of whom one must think under the sensual bent of this music. Further, what we may call the pianistic orchestration of these compositions – in the absence of terms which might define more exactly the variety of combination of registers which animate them with their caressing fancy – is literally an enchantment and Debussy has never surpassed the ease and assrance with which he makes the rhythms play with them.
In spite of this, in spite of the flare and ingenuity of these two pieces, their musical attraction and the perfection of their construction, it may be we do not find in them, at least to the extent of our expectation, that rare pleasure whose secret Debussy has taught us, because the subjects he has proposed have sinned by too direct suggestion.
If one listens to the contrast between his Boulezian “mist”, whole-tone scales and Asian modes, one is convinced by the playing of Marius-François Gaillard (1900-1973) published by Arbiter in Debussy’s Traces:
that different masks are imposed by Debussy onto himself as he struggles over which direction to follow: abandoning 19th century music? whole tones? the deep influence of Javanese gamelan? Gaillard shows how the latter as having been a difficult but compelling choice.
Roger Nichols writes “Masques was published in the autumn of 1904, but has never enjoyed the popularity of its companion (L’Isle joyeuse.) True, it doesn’t have the advantage of a big tune, but the many subtleties in it should be enough to keep the most alert listener engaged. Matters may not be helped by the fact that Debussy never spoke about its meaning to anybody—all we have is a note found among his papers after his death by his widow: ‘It is not the comédie italienne, but the tragic expression of existence.’
Au revoir Walter! Au revoir Alfred & Renoir! Let Debussy rest.