Should classical music turn up the bass?
BTW, regarding your most recent blog post about attracting young people to classical music, Jonathan Harvey's comments mirrors something I've been saying for years, that classical music is lacking bass. That was one of the first things I noticed when I switched from being a blues/rock fan to a classical fan was that one expects to have a visceral experience at a concert.That blasphemous email arrived from composer and techno-maverick Jeff Harrington. Or is it blasphemous? There is a strong correlation between the popularity of works such as the 1812 Overture and Ravel's Pictures at an Exhibition orchestration and their bass content. And Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Leonard Bernstein, and Dmitri Mitropoulos all agreed with Jeff and turned up the bass by performing the quartet repertoire with string orchestras.
Above is the LP release of Bernstein's recording of Mitropoulos' version for string orchestra of Beethoven's Op. 131 Quartet. It uses 18 first violins and 12 cellos, but selective doubling of the cellos by the basses is the only change to the score and there are no alterations to Beethoven's dynamics. In the now deleted CD transfer the Op. 131 is coupled with Bernstein's own string orchestra version of the Op. 135 Quartet which again uses some doubling of the cello part.
Turning up the bass also touches on another recent thread. Mobile media and miniature speakers are the enemy of properly articulated bass, as are the wretched 'ear bud' transducers used with most iPods, and as indeed are low resolution formats such as MP3. In his email Jeff also draws attention to an important piece of research by Jonathan Berger, professor of music at Stanford University, which showed that students preferred the sound of MP3 to higher quality formats because that they have become conditioned to the lower resolution format.
All of which suggests an interesting experiment. It should be easy to emulate the signature sound of MP3 rock by reprocessing a classical recording with the top end frequencies cut, the bass boosted, the dynamic range reduced by compression and by mastering the result at a high level. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony lasts for around 35 minutes. So how about a CD with two version of the symphony, one in audiophile sound, the other in a 'bass mix'? I think I know which version younger listeners would prefer. And before anyone cries 'blasphemy!' No, I am not suggesting all new releases should come in a bass mix. But remember, my suggested experiment simply uses new technology to do what many legendary musicians did in the past using the old technology of larger instrumental forces .
Same difference - Mahler-lite.
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