Saturday, April 10, 2010

In Search of Beethoven's Sixth

Things get broken during moves.  It's inevitable, like rain in Seattle.  Sooner or later, it'll happen.

I've been lucky in that, while some objects that have been shipped to me have been scuffed, only two items actually received irreparable damage.  One was an Easter egg (not a real egg, folks!) attached to a string, which my mom thinks I received when I was very young, for one of my first Easters.  That egg cracked, since my mom decided to ship it to me in a box full of hard objects, protected only by the layer of cotton that my socks gave it.  The other damaged item annoyed me more, and was damaged in a somewhat strange way.

I received this Furtwangler conducts Beethoven Symphonies two-CD set several Christmases ago.  Disc one contains a 1952 live recording of the Third Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic, and a 1947 live recording of the Leonore II Overture with the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra.  Disc two contains BPO performances of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, taken from a single concert in 1954.  Other than the annoying two-second pauses that Music and Arts puts between each movement (the third and fourth movements of the Fifth and the third, fourth, and fifth movements of the Sixth are played with no breaks in between), I loved listening to these recordings, especially of the Sixth Symphony, Furtwangler's best recording of the work.  And, I should point out, that without Music and Arts, many great live broadcasts (particularly those filed away in the German radio archives) might never have seen the light of day, and with Furtwangler, his live recordings tended to catch fire more often than his studio recordings did, benefit as the latter did from superior sound.

But, as fate would have it, here is what happened to that second disc, despite the fact that the CD case was undamaged and wrapped in clothing:

At the very edge of this almost 79-minute long CD, part of the data is missing (the little dot to the left shows damage, too, but only of the top layer).  According to my brother, this kind of damage can occur if the top of the CD (which is only coated two times with protective material versus the bottom of the CD being coated six times) is damaged down through the bottom of the disc.  Can't see it?  Here's a closeup:

Now, if this disc had been 74 minutes long, I wouldn't have noticed a thing, but because it's as long as it is, the data goes right up to the edge of the disc, which means that this happens in the final movement of the Sixth Symphony (from the 5:14 mark till the 5:59 mark, getting really bad around the 5:22 mark till 5:59).

I was, however, able to clean it up a bit on iTunes, so that the loss of music doesn't last for as long (starts around 5:23 and lasts until 5:38):

Still, the music is not whole, and is currently not available on Amazon....unless, of course, you feel that paying $80 for a used CD is a good deal.  Even an alternate release of these tracks (included with other great postwar recordings of Furtwangler on the Tahra label, which I believe does not have the annoying two second pauses in between tracks, and may even include better-sounding versions of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies than the ones I own) is out of my price range.

What to do?  Why, check out used CD stores, of course!

First, I went to Half Price Books on Roosevelt (I should also go to the one in Capitol Hill, but that's for another day).  Half Price Books carries mostly books, but also movies, CDs, and even vinyl.  In fact, they have almost as much vinyl as they do CDs, which is to say, not much.  And their classical music area takes up about as much room as the top of this desk does.  Still, one can find occasional goodies in there.

Unfortunately, I found nothing there on the several occasions that I visited the place, so today I went to a place called Neptune Music Co, which is near the Neptune Theatre.  Better yet, it's down some stairs, and then some more stairs, reminding me of the out-of-the-way music stores in Tokyo.  So I go in there, and the place is packed with DVDs, CDs, vinyl, cassettes, VHS tapes, and boxes upon boxes upon boxes.  Even better, the background music is off of a vinyl record.  Oh yeah, this is a place for a serious music collector.

Their classical music section seemed even smaller than the section in Half Price Books.  Then again, I was only looking at the CDs.  The selection, however, was better, and on two occasions, I found a CD in my hand, only to put it back upon further reflection.  I also found a Tahra CD of Furtwangler's famous Brahms recordings of the Haydn Variations and the First Symphony, which were included in that boxed set that also featured the recordings of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies whose transfers might have rivaled, ever so slightly, those on the Music and Arts label.

So, until I find a suitable replacement, this blog is to be continued.  Unless you want me to make something up.  This is, after all, a literary blog.  You do?  Okay, here goes:

So I find out that Music and Arts is based in Berkeley, CA.  Even better, their phone number is on the back of the CDs.

So I call them up and say, "What the hell is wrong with your CDs?"

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Yeah, your CDs suck.  Furtwangler knew not to trust his music to recording studios."

"Sir, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that your CDs fall apart at the merest touch."

"Is one of your CDs damaged?"

"Yeah!  What did you guys make it out of, cheap plastic?"

"Well sir, that is how CDs are made."

"So are you saying I'm stuck with a coaster because you guys use cheap plastic?"

"Would you like us to replace the CD?"

"Damn right I would!"

"Well, if you send it back to us, sir, we'll send you one, free of charge.  You just have to pay shipping."

"Well, all right, how much is shipping?"

"Seven dollars per CD."

"Seven dollars?  Fuck that shit!"

So I slammed down the phone and went searching for a used CD store.

I first went to Half Price Books, which was weird in that all of the tags were cut in half.  Not only that, but they sold half CDs, and even half books.  And the people at the counter looked homeless.  I got out of there as soon as I could.

Walking down 45th Street, I came across a sign on a wall: Neptune Music Co: Enter if You Dare!  Oh, I dared, all right.  I walk down several flights of stairs, some twisting, some turning, until I arrived in a subterranean dungeon.  I jumped as an ugly, wrinkled, and tiny man appeared from behind a desk cluttered with stacks of CDs.

"May I help you?" he hissed.

I explained my situation to him.  He nodded his head several times, then said, "I have just the thing for you.  Please, follow me."

We headed into a back room, where he produced a key from his raggedy overcoat and unlocked a door which blended into the wall.

"After you," he said, gesturing into the passageway with his hand.

I entered, then heard him say, "This is the labyrinth.  If you can find the David Bowie CD hidden inside, then what you seek will appear before your eyes."

I turned around, but the shrunken little man had already closed the door behind me.  The door lacked a handle.  The only way to go was forward.

The labyrinth was massive, and filled with all sorts of creatures that wanted to kill me and plants that wanted to destroy me.  I remember thinking, This is an awful lot to do for thirty seconds of missing music, but continued pressing onward.

The ending was anticlimactic.  I found the Bowie CD lying on a table, next to a huge sword.  I grabbed the CD and the sword, at which point a huge minotaur came crashing through the wall.  Before I had time to react, he impaled himself on my sword, and died.  Then the scene around me changed, and I was back in the dungeon, er, store.  The little geezer was clapping from behind the counter.

"Well done," he said.  "My customers are always asking for that CD, but none of them want to get it themselves."

"So, where's the Furtwangler CD?" I asked as I handed over The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.

"We're currently out.  Come back next week," the man said.

Luckily, I still had the sword with me, so I impaled him with it, and left.

Oh, and I took the Bowie CD, too.  Jerk.


  1. Hahaha!!! I'm sorry! {and amused! but mainly sorry}. That's a pain. Good luck in your search! If you are brave enough to continue it. I'm not sure I would be after facing a minotaur... ;)

    {and I answered your technical question on my blog, I hope the answer is what you needed!}

  2. Yeah, thanks. When I have some free time, I'll attempt to make a video per your instructions.

    Actually, I'm hoping that someone from Music & Arts reads this blog and sends me a free replacement CD, but that is unlikely to happen. Still, one can hope.

  3. From a purely literary viewpoint, not finding the object of your desire is better than finding it, since then you have a better chance to compete with the Thousand and One Nights.

  4. Everything--everything--is online, and freely. I suppose it depends on whether [read as, when] one is willing to go that route.

  5. Okay, I finally got my sound files posted. Thanks, Melee! I ended up seeing what service you used to share music files, and then signed up for the same thing, as that was easier than trying to figure out how to convert mp3 files into video files (of course, I probably could have left them as mp4 files, but whatever). And for people who like music, check out the crescendo from about 6:29 to 7:00 (particularly around 6:53, when the horn comes in), and the decrescendo that follows. Awesome stuff.


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