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Thread: A collector's life

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    Default A collector's life

    SEVEN PHASES IN THE LIFE OF A HARD-CORE COLLECTOR

    By David Hurwitz


    Do You Recognize Yourself Here?

    I’m sure that some of you have seen that famous little poster called “The Six Phases of a Project?” In case this escaped your attention until now, these are: (1) enthusiasm; (2) disillusionment; (3) panic; (4) search for the guilty; (5) punishment of the innocent; (6) praise and honors for the non-participants. It occurred to me recently that the life of a typical hard-core classical music record collector might be similarly categorized, and so I modestly propose the following:
    Phase 1: Discovery. This is the most wonderful time of all, when the world seems full of an almost limitless number of masterpieces crying for your attention. The only constraint on your enthusiasm is your pocketbook, and you do whatever you can to purchase as much as possible as quickly as possible.

    Phase 2: Expansion. You notice that the same music sounds different in different performances, and so you begin collecting multiple versions of your favorite works and start to get a sense for which artists offer interpretations that are most to your liking. You smile knowingly when friends and family members ask the perfectly logical question: Why do you need 15 different recordings of Mahler’s Second Symphony? Foolish people!

    Phase 3: Fandom. Your taste in various performers leads you to fixate on one or two (or more) who you believe hold the key to indisputable artistic greatness. Now instead of purchasing multiple recordings of the same music, you’re after multiple recordings of the same music by the same artist at different periods (sometimes only a few days apart). You begin looking for pirate air-checks, private recordings, every scrap you can get your hands on, no matter if it sounds awful and your idol might have had a really bad day. You MUST have it anyway. You find great signficance in relatively tiny interpretive differences from one performance to the next.

    The next four phases are not necessarily the inevitable outcomes of the first three, and not every hard-core collector experiences all of them, but most eventually manage at least one or two.

    Phase 4: Nostalgia. This is a transitional phase: now comes that terrifying moment when you feel that you’ve heard it all. You’ve mastered the basic repertoire and know all of the great performers, those you like and those you don’t, and have reached the dreaded Great Works Saturation Point. What’s missing in your life is the thrill of discovery: that first flush of enthusiasm for each masterpiece as it first sounded when you originally encountered it.

    Phase 5: Crusade. Happily salvation is at hand, in the form of dozens of fine independent labels specializing in all sorts of repertoire niches just waiting to be explored. There are two principal dangers with this phase (not including possible bankruptcy). The first is the inevitable and chronic lack of shelf space, a difficulty avoided as you make your first trips to that fabulous musical safety-valve, the used CD shop. The second danger is the tendency, similar to what happens in phase 3 above, to make exaggerated claims for music that really isn’t all that special or interesting just because its novelty excites your fancy. People will look at you strangely as you vigorously try to defend the assertion that Havergal Brian was England’s greatest composer, Sorabji a genius, or that Beethoven was a musical pygmy compared to Ferdinand Ries. This phase can go on for years, with literally thousands of discs passing through a typical collector’s hands in an endless crusade for that Holy Grail of classical music: the neglected masterpiece. If you seriously believe that the “three Bs” means Bax, Boughton, and Bach (W.F. of course!), then you’ve gone too far, and it’s really time to move on to Phase 6.

    Phase 6: Renewal. One day, as you look through the letter B in your carefully alphabetized collection, you see those 40 or 50 Beethoven cycles that you haven’t touched in months, or even years. Playing the symphonies, just for old time’s sake, you’re stunned to realize that they truly are light years better than the second rate novelties that have constituted your main musical diet lately. So you move on to Brahms, Mozart, Handel, Mahler, Haydn, Bach, even (gasp!) Tchaikovsky, and Richard Strauss. It’s as if you’re hearing them all for the first time--and how alive, how refreshing they all sound! You fall in love with the great classics all over again, and you realize that the judgment of history isn’t always wrong. They don’t call ‘em “warhorses” for nothing!

    Phase 7: Maturity. If you’re lucky, you may get this far. You realize that it’s not necessary to own 50 Beethoven cycles, 46 of which you never play, when you can be just as happy with 20 of them, 16 of which you never play. The complete harmonium music of Siegfried Karg-Elert, that Bulgarian Mahler cycle, 20 or 30 Gregorian Chant collections, six copies of the same historical recording reissued on six different labels in marginally varying (terrible) sound quality, your cherished 12 CD box containing pirate recordings of Sviatislav Richter’s “legendary” Spandau Prison concerts, and literally dozens of Baroque operas about which you remember nothing beyond the fact that they all sound exactly the same--all of these go straight to the used CD store where, like lost umbrellas, they will be returned to circulation to nourish the next generation of classical CD collectors. And as for you, well, you still purchase new releases, but discretely, selectively, and you take the time to enjoy every one.

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    That's a great article!

    Although I visit that site almost on a daily basis (a specific page actually), I never read this. Thanks, Manuel.

    "Musical pygmy"! Haha...loved that. *Can we have a ROTFL emoticon, please?*

    Edit: BTW, I'm on Phase 1, still waiting to get the 7 remaining Beethoven symphonies into my collection.
    Regards,
    Navneeth

    Want a piece of classical music identified? Post a link or upload a clip here. Someone might have an answer.


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    Senior Member ChamberNut's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting that Manuel. That was an enjoyable read!

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    Senior Member gHeadphone's Avatar
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    This is a fantastic article and a great warning to a relative newbie like me

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Great article. But I think I've come to Classical Music too late to ever go through these stages.

    With me, it's more 1) Revelation - suddenly classical music has come to me with the joy of a miracle.
    2) Freneticism - chasing up every composer in sight, posting here, there and everywhere, putting the computer on in the middle of the night, trying to hold my own on TC.
    3) Sadness - realising a) that I just don't know anything and b) that there isn't enough time and c) that Classical Music is as full of argumentative types, cliques and pseuds like me, just the same as any other human activity is.
    4) Disillusion - what's the use; wouldn't it be better to just let it go?
    5) Mellowing - realisation that plenty of other people are in the same position as me, and besides, it's fun to be on the edges of the Magnificent Procession of Music Lovers.
    6) Resolution - to play my fiddle & listen to as much music as poss while I am still on the Planet.

    The whole thing is reminiscent of the Five Boys:

    Last edited by Ingélou; Apr-08-2015 at 15:44.
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    I've never had enough money to go through these stages.

    But I think he leaves out one thing that happens, or at least has happened to me - once you come to admire a performer, you start to trust that performer to introduce you to new music. This has been one of the main ways I've gotten to know new music in the last few years, actually.

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    Of course, I recognize myself there, slightly. I seem to be in a permanent state of Discovery and Renewal and have arrived at a kind of Maturity, all at the same time, whilst having skipped the other steps. There is so much more for me to discover, if only I had the time and money, the great classics really are recognized as great for a reason, and I am actively making time to hear every last one of the ones I've gotten.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    And then there are those like myself who thought that they had an interesting and broad collection only to join TC and realize just how trivial it is compared to others!

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    As a kid I was impressed by bombast. Liszt, Bruckner, Wagner, Verdi. The bigger the orchestra and the louder they played or sang, the more I enjoyed it.

    No more.

    I have achieved a rather ethereal listening state in my maturity thanks to many years of listening, where I now appreciate the solo keyboard music of Bach; the late piano pieces of Brahms; the strange, hauntingly beautiful sounds of Schönberg's Piano Concerto.

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    Has David Hurwitz plagiarized from my autobiography? Specifically, from the Chapter entitled "My Madness"?

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    Senior Member Marschallin Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    And then there are those like myself who thought that they had an interesting and broad collection only to join TC and realize just how trivial it is compared to others!
    I think the most important thing is discovery and talking to people- lots of people; especially people 'in the know.' I can't tell you how much I constantly learn from people at TC who specialize in one area of music or another: opera, orchestral, chamber, or instrumental.

    I have way, way to many cd's- and I'm always trying to pare them down to essentials, but believe me, you'll never get there: one performance may have a conductor's reading you incline to; another performance might have a fantastic engineering job where all of the textures can be clearly heard; and yet another may be a historical performance with severely-limited sound, but with the absolute best singers or soloists on the planet.

    In my experience, one will never get to a modest collection of five or seven or ten thousand cd's of 'essentials'- because new stuff is constantly coming out- whether its re-engineered and re-furbished recordings of the past or the occasional rabbit-out-of-the-hat new release.

    It never ends.

    One can be pessimistic about it or look forward to an infinite and endless candy store.
    Last edited by Marschallin Blair; Apr-08-2015 at 17:36.
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    I've gone through all of the stages at one time or another, but this is old school collecting. I don't see myself in there any more at all. I have a huge collection, but I don't have any music that I don't listen to. iTunes has changed the game. I listen to music most of my waking hours. You can't do that without a file server based system, and it creates its own stage of development beyond all of the ones listed above.

    If I had to describe where I am, it would be to say that I have reached the point where I am digging in deeper to interpretation... like opera collectors generally do. I don't focus just on composers and works, I focus on the performers as well. I'm far more likely to choose to listen to a playlist gathering together multiple Bernstein performances, or Stokowski, or Karajan, than I am Brahms, Beethoven or Stravinsky. I am also more into piano music and comparing technique and interpretation of various pianists, or violinists or singers. The differences between interpretation is what interests me now... the style that isn't notated in the score.

    When I first started out, I just wanted "the best" recording of each major work. It wasn't until much later that I realized that there was no "best", only interesting performances and dull ones. And the interesting ones could be radically different and still be good. I think the last stage listed above is just "old man thinking". When you start having trouble reading the spines and the walls are covered with disks, it gets overwhelming. You tend to want to prune back to "the essentials". But that is a regression to the useless quest for "the best". A music server has prevented me from hitting that regression for me. I listen to more music more often than I ever did.

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    Senior Member Blancrocher's Avatar
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    On another thread about collecting, I recall someone with a particularly impressive library of recordings at home said "collections are for amateurs." I still chuckle at that line.

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    Senior Member Marschallin Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blancrocher View Post
    On another thread about collecting, I recall someone with a particularly impressive library of recordings at home said "collections are for amateurs." I still chuckle at that line.


    Its a pathology.

    "Hi, my name is Blair and I'm a shop-o-holic. . . nice to meet you, Mr. Kane."
    "Let me have my own way in exactly everything, and a sunnier and more pleasant creature does not exist." - Thomas Carlyle

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    Quote Originally Posted by hpowders View Post
    As a kid I was impressed by bombast. Liszt, Bruckner, Wagner, Verdi. The bigger the orchestra and the louder they played or sang, the more I enjoyed it.

    No more.

    I have achieved a rather ethereal listening state in my maturity thanks to many years of listening, where I now appreciate the solo keyboard music of Bach; the late piano pieces of Brahms; the strange, hauntingly beautiful sounds of Schönberg's Piano Concerto.
    Your post struck a chord with me, because at the beginning, I was purely into orchestral music (among my earliest discoveries were the music of Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Glazunov, Bax, Dvorak. Imagine that). I ignored instrumental, vocal, chamber music, and even opera for quite a long time. It was not until about several years later (with my acquaintances with Russian chamber music) that I began appreciating other genres (Russian & otherwise).

    But Hurwitz's article is a very good read, and something I relate to quite wholeheartedly.
    David A. Hollingsworth (dholling)

    ~All good art is about something deeper than it admits.
    Roger Ebert

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