Take Me Out to the Outtakes
There used to be just films – films with a beginning and an ending.
That’s not to say that some films didn’t make you wish that there had been more. You couldn’t help but wonder if there was more, especially after hearing an occasional reference to a legendary “cutting room floor,” presumably with mounds of outtakes from generations of films. (It’s funny. Nobody ever seemed to wonder how one floor could hold so much film even as living spaces seem to gather more than their share of clutter in no time.) I’m not sure anybody ever imagined they’d ever see any of that footage, but just the thought of it was exciting. In the meantime, you simply allowed your own imagining to satisfy your desire for more of a film.
These days it’s almost expected that an alternate version of a film will be available with footage that wasn’t a part of the original theatrical release. For years even theatrical releases have included some outtakes in the closing credits. Besides listening to every last bit of soundtrack music on a theatre sound system, the outtakes have provided another reason to stick around for the closing credits right up to the MPAA rating letter(s) on the screen.
In the digital era, with much more space available to store information than in the LP and tape days, music recordings from earlier times are re-released with never before heard tracks or alternate versions. It’s tempting to re-purchase a recording, just for the chance to hear a bit more. Sometimes it just serves as a reminder of why the track wasn’t included on the original recording. But it satisfied your curiosity, right?
If you didn’t know, you might guess that classical music was immune from all that. After all, compositions are played just as they were written. The ink has been dry for a long time. Yes, they were written. Many were re-written too. You can read stories about how composers labored over works for years or destroyed manuscripts. Some composers altered compositions after their initial performance much like film makers who make changes to a film after it’s shown to a preview audience. It’s also common that changes are made to works of the past by composers, performers or conductors of succeeding generations for one reason or another. A performer wants to make a work slightly less than impossible to play or a conductor feels that a composer of the past may not have been gifted with the skills of an orchestrator.
All of this was prompted by the arrival of a recent recording of Tchaikovksy’s violin concerto featuring violinist Philippe Quint and the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Martin Panteleev (Avanti 5414706 10432). Quint reminds us in the recording notes that Tchaikovksy withdrew the original slow movement of the concerto, writing another that seemed more in character with the opening and closing of the work. He titled the “outtake” Méditation and added 2 other pieces, creating a little suite for violin and piano titled Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Memory of a Dear Place). Alexander Glazunov later orchestrated that suite. On the recording, Quint doesn’t go back to the original slow movement. He does include an alternate finale. There’s the original written by Tchaikovsky and a somewhat shortened version made by violinist Leopold Auer, to whom Tchaikovsky dedicated the concerto. Auer’s version is not just an alternate version. According to Quint, it’s the preferred version for performers – and has been for quite some time. He included the original finale just to satisfy the curiosity of listeners.
Don’t be startled by that. Mendelssohn’s famous 4th symphony, the “Italian” is most often presented in the “outtake” version. Mendelssohn revised all but the opening movement of the symphony in later years. The revised version has been recorded, but the original is the preferred version in our time. Numerous recordings of Bach concertos feature modern re-constructions of concertos from which Bach had borrowed for use in other compositions. The original versions no longer exist. So why not restore them? It’s almost as if posterity has decided that following the lifetime of the composer, it’s a whole new ballgame. During the composer’s “post-season,” there’s a sort of competition for the winning presentation of that composer’s works. (I’m sure the baseball playoffs brought the analogy to mind.) In the musical world, there really are no winners or losers. While some look upon the outtakes as distractions, others see them as studies of sorts, much like those of painters. If an alternate version results in a bit more fascination with a composer’s music, you may not care if you ever get back to the standard version. Classical music listeners are as passionate as any other audiences. They too would like to hear every last bit of music by their favorite composers or performers. That’s not a bad thing.
WILL-FM makes classical music available for thousands of listeners in central Illinois. During the next week or so, we’ll be asking you to help support that music in whatever way you can. You’ll hear the message on the air and see it online. Please take a moment to consider the role of classical music in your life and in the life of the community. If you’ve never made a contribution, consider it an investment in something special for you and many others. If you have been a supporter, your renewal is just as important. Thank you in advance!
Join me for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu. I’ll be expecting you.