Classic Mornings

Keeping A Watch Out For Great Music


It happens regularly. We celebrate recordings that came into the Friends of WILL Library 20, 25, or 30 years ago. And why not?

I don’t always check to see when we received a CD or when it was recorded and released. Sometimes I’m surprised when I’m reminded that some have been around for as long as they have. Last week I noticed that a CD of Ottorino Respighi’s music performed by the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (Telarc 80309 ) was recorded 30 years ago. You probably hear me play selections from it regularly. It includes the suites known as Ancient Airs and Dances as well as Trittico Botticelliano. Jesús López-Cobos is the conductor.

I looked at the CD booklet and learned that it was recorded in the Swiss city of La Chaux de Fonds, located north of Lausanne and known for watchmaking. I’m guessing that the recording crew members were using Swiss timepieces to assist them during the recording and post-production sessions. At the very least, they may have glanced at Swiss watches to get an accurate idea of when the workday was coming to a close.

It reminded me of the state-of-the-art reel-to-reel tape recorders we used here at WILL for many years.  They were from Switzerland. And it was almost as if they came with Swiss watches “in their pockets.”

When we timed music or voice tracks in the analog days, we had to use a clock, timer, or stopwatch while playing that material from start to finish. If you began to time something and got distracted, you had to begin the process all over again. Those Swiss tape recorders had a unique feature. While many others had counters, which enabled you to associate a number with a particular moment on a tape, the counters on the Swiss recorders were timers as well. So, you actually could advance to “5 minutes, 36 seconds” into the tape just by fast-forwarding!

Little did we know that when digital technology arrived, the task of timing would become as obsolete as the tape recorders. Now timings are always displayed along with the visual representation of music or voice tracks. And we can edit segments even within fractions of a second. It’s done with a monitor and a mouse. In the days of tape recorders, it was done with a white grease pencil, a razor blade, and splice tape.

Given the legendary precision of Swiss watches, I found it amusing that when I searched for the distance between Lausanne and La Chaux de Fonds, the online site indicated anywhere between a 66- and 89-minute ride. It depends on the route you travel, not the type of watch you wear. Anyway, I think it was a worthwhile trip for the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. It resulted in a recording that we have enjoyed over the years – since 1998, when it came into the Friends of WILL Library.

I remember learning about workplace time studies years ago. They examine the time it takes to perform the various tasks that are a part of someone’s work in order to find a way to make that work more efficient. That came to mind with the 175th anniversary of the birth of the French pianist and teacher Marie Jaëll on August 17.

She was born Marie Trautmann in Alsace. She won first prize in piano at the Paris Conservatory and was a pupil of Franz Liszt. She married the Austrian pianist Alfred Jaëll. They performed together throughout Europe. But she also performed as a soloist and recitalist. The time studies reminded me of her because she had tried to develop ways of playing the piano with the least amount of movement and best suited to the anatomy of a particular player.

I was excited to learn that Camille Saint-Saëns dedicated two works to Jaëll that I play regularly on the program: his Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Étude (Study), op. 56. no. 6, which is subtitled: “En forme de Valse.” The latter is a demanding piece that only begins to sound like a waltz when one has mastered the other elements of the study. It seems as if it could take quite a while to learn the piece. Saint-Saëns was a piano virtuoso and organist. He probably had no problem playing it. It’s interesting that he dedicated it to Jaëll in light of her work with minimizing the physical effort of a pianist. The étude seems to demand non-stop motion from the player.

I’m still hoping to read about a study that links Classic Mornings with having a great day. In the meantime, I can only ask you to try it and see if it works. I certainly think it does! Join us Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or at