Telling tales out of school


although after sixty-five years they look a little passé.


The publication date is 1947.  O’Connell was music director for the Victor recording company in the United States, and wrote this book of personal reminiscences – somewhere between name-dropping and kiss-and-tell – about some of the distinguished musicians who recorded with the company in the 30s and 40s.  Most of it is positive, and often entertaining, though there is an occasional sense of him getting his own back.

O’Connell can turn an enjoyable phrase  (“When Koussevitzky … walks out on the platform to conduct his orchestra, he suggests to me not so much an individual as a procession …”)  and knows how to develop an enjoyable rant (the one about the Hammond organ was particularly good).  In among the personal anecdotes, The other side of the record offers an unusual perspective:  the politics and the role of recording in the careers of such musicians as Eugene Ormandy, Toscanini, Rachmaninov, Stokowski, and their attitudes towards it.  The limitations of the technology emerge incidentally:  records with a playing length of 4 – 5 minutes per side, so that musical works had to be broken into artificial chunks of dubious tactfulness; the horrors which could befall wax masters en route to the manufactured disc; the experimental use of ‘sound film’ in San Francisco as no proper recording equipment existed away from the east coast.

You wouldn’t call it a great life-changing read, but it’s not like anything else either, and I’m glad I read it.

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