Each year, the US Library of Congress adds 25 significant audio recordings to the National Recording Registry, housed in the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia. These recordings can be of almost anything – speech, natural sound, and all kinds of music.
This week (the week of 4 April 2011) the LoC announced their selections for 2011, and they include two significant classical recordings – one of music from the Renaissance, one of music from the 20th century.
In 1545, Pope Marcellus responded to the Protestant Reformation with the Council of Trent. Over a period of 18 years, the Council met for a total of 25 sessions. Their findings were sweeping. Included were serious condemnations of church music.
Briefly, the Council suggested that liturgical music had become so complex that its structure obscured the text, defeating the music’s purpose as a form of teaching and worship.
Legend has it that Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina composed the Pope Marcellus mass in 1562 to demonstrate that sacred works could be both artistically and liturgically satisfying, and thus "saved church music."
Choral director Roger Wagner founded his chorale in 1947, initially as a group of 12 madrigal singers.
In 1951, the growing Roger Wagner Chorale recorded Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass. In selecting this recording for the National Recording Registry, Librarian of Congress James H Billington cited the Roger Wagner Chorale’s "rhythmic precision and tonal opulence."
The year 1954 brought with it the establishment of a record label dedicated not to maximizing profit, but to expanding the reach of newly composed music. Composers Recordings Inc (CRI), founded by Otto Luening, Douglas Moore and Oliver Daniel, devoted its full attention to modern music by American composers.
George Crumb was born in Charleston, West Virginia in 1929. From 1965 until his retirement in 1995, he taught composition at the University of Pennsylvania. His early years there were some of his most creative ones.
Crumb was profoundly affected by America’s military activity overseas. In 1970, this inspired Black Angels (Thirteen Images from the Dark Land), a work for amplified string quartet with added percussion and vocalizations by the musicians. Richard Steinitz has called Black Angels a "strikingly dramatic, surreal allegory of the Vietnam War."
Two years after its composition, the New York String Quartet recorded Black Angels for CRI. This week, the Library of Congress selected this recording for their National Recording Registry.
Other additions this year include Edward Meeker’s Take Me Out to the Ballgame; Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man; a 1955 unauthorized recording of Mort Sahl’s At Sunset, considered the first recording of modern stand-up comedy; Voice of America broadcasts by jazz producer Willis Conover; the parlance of the last Yahi Indian in 1915; the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in 1944; and a recording from 1853 believed to be the first sounds ever captured. The Registry also added performances by Nat "King" Cole, Les Paul, Lydia Mendoza, Blind Willie Johnson, The Sons of the Pioneers, the Boswell Sisters, John Fahey, Steely Dan and De La Soul.
Works for the Registry are nominated by the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board, and by members of the public online.
Further Reading and Listening:
Roger Wagner at Wikipedia
Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass in the Roger Wagner Chorale’s 1951 recording, from Arkivmusic
George Crumb’s Black Angels at Wikipedia
Black Angels at George Crumb dot net
Black Angels as performed by the New York String Quartet in 1972, from New World Records
Black Angels in a performance by the Kronos Quartet, from Nonesuch and Arkivmusic
Black Angels Part 1 performed by an unknown ensemble at Youtube