Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Conspicuous consumption

Thanks to the Canadian archives that have opened their collections to digitization, there are now hundreds of musical scores to French operas from 1820s - 1920's online, for free. Other than causing me tremendous distress because I feel I must have them all, it is an astonishing lesson in musicology and history to see the sheer number of men (very few women) who have spent their lives writing opera for the French stage, and the librettists who sometimes are their salvation and sometimes their scourge. Each of these scores is filed, sometimes more findably than others, and many are in their original bindings, with telltale library cards in the back, betraying that most of them had never been taken out since they were donated in the 1960s, and many of them probably hadn't been opened long, long before that. They are in their beautiful bindings, some stamped with their previous owner's names, most with the oil-paper as the binding's endpapers, each charming and sometimes surprising in its treatment. Some have lithographs, some chromos on the title pages, each with its own artistic bent, each with a style befitting the publisher. Some of them, Choudens, Sonzogno, are familiar, others I worry about, such as "MmeCendrier"...(who could name a publisher after its founder, "Mrs. Ashtray?")
But inside these time-capsules, what merriment - what torturous feeling, what racking of the nerves; some of the music is just like some of the other music - and was there a lot of it! But some of it is so very peculiar and singular.

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