|The most spirited recording of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas was the first: Arthur Schnabel’s studio recording sessions from 1932 to 1935.
The reason is the same one when considering why spirit photography and spiritism exist: The very nature of the medium, its flat resolution, and ambiguity.
The recordings of the 30s were flat in comparison to today’s ultra high resolution capture methods. Both image and sound captured a reality that is clearly distinguishable from living experience.
Photography was “black and white”, a duotone spectrum that lacked color and depth. Audio was monophonic and lacked any information outside the spectrum that makes speech comprehensible. It was further limited to around 5 minutes in order to fit one side of a 78 rpm record.
When looking at or listening to these old representations of reality we inadvertently make up our own. We complete the picture or sound to match, or at least relate to the one in our memory.
This ambiguity creates a different reality for each of us, we literally have to “fill in the blanks” or interpret the observed to become real. We see the invisible and hear the unspoken.
For spiritists this is a creative force, a technique to be used to fathom the unfathomable.
Arthur Schnabel knew this as he observed that “It is a mistake to imagine that all notes should be played with equal intensity or even be clearly audible. In order to clarify the music it is often necessary to make certain notes obscure.”
Schnabel was a conjurer of the spirit of Beethoven. It was the spirit of Schnabel that communicated to me in a studio in midtown Manhattan in 2017, sixty-six years after his death in 1951.
Neither Schnabel nor Beethoven ever went anywhere near today’s country of Colombia in South America.
Neither have I, but 10 years ago I lived in Jackson Heights in New York, among many South Americans, especially the Colombians on Northern Boulevard. Our co-op apartment complex was right there.
The lasting musical contribution of Colombia is the genre of Vallenato, made up of the four rhythms of Son, Puya, Merengue and Paseo, but most influential is the Cumbia. That’s what I heard when I went to the clubs where I sat alone, the only German drinking Aguardiente, also known as “Firewater” and taking it all in.
Beethoven in Colombia is therefore a transfiguration.
These are the flawed 78 rpm recordings made in the 1930s in Colombia by a Schnabel-conjured Beethoven, who had just the right amount of notes and tamales wrapped in banana leaves to forever change the course of music history.