There’s a long story to this LP, and here it is.
In the late 2013-early 2014, I was on a Michael Tippett listening spree. Tippett is somewhat shadowed by Britten, I consider him something like the “number 2” British composer of the second half of the twentieth-century, somewhat more of a “modernist” than Britten in compositional approach, although he was his elder by a number of years (but Tippett came of age late). These days, sadly, he seems to be suffering the fate of many excellent composers after their deaths: oblivion. Anyway, I am very fond of his music.
Some years earlier, I had found an excellent discography of Tippett online, hosted by The Michael Tippett Society or something of the sort, but when I returned, in 2014, it was, alas, gone – even the website was dead. With some Google browsing I found the contact of a Michael Tippett Foundation, which I thought might be it.
Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 10:38 AM
Subject: discography and website
Hi, there used to be a Michael-Tippett.com website with a complete discography. It is now invaded by a horrendous ad for some bank or loaning system, which is an insult to Tippett’s memory, really. Has that anything to do with you? Was this a former domain of yours that is now parasited by who knows who? Is the complete discography and bibliography available with you?
But they said they weren’t the same and knew nothing about the other organization and its discography. The only discography to be found online was the one hosted by Tippett’s publisher, Schott of London, and it was pretty pitiful, its selection apparently chosen at random, and with some essential discs of the Tippett discography not mentioned, like the recording of the complete Piano Sonatas on CRD by Paul Crossley, who had no less than commissionned and premiered Sonatas 3 and 4: not a performer and recording to be neglected.
I was rather incensed to see Tippett so “betrayed” by his own publisher, and I wrote Schott an e-mail that was not particularly kind and polite.
Sent: Friday, January 17, 2014 12:42 PM
Subject: Tippett discography
Hi, on advice of the Michael Tippett Society, I’ve been looking at your discography of Michael Tippett. Well, I guess it is kind of you to even provide one, but – sorry to be harsh – yours is so incomplete that it is immensely frustrating, if not truly appalling. Like, you don’t even mention the versions of Paul Crossley among your listing of the piano sonatas – not only his earlier recording for Philips of Sonatas 1-3, although they HAVE been reissued on CD, but even his 1984 recording of the four on CRD – which is really an insult to Crossley and possibly to Tippett, given the pianist’s role in the inception of Sonatas 3 and 4. Did something happen between he and the composer that makes him now taboo? You have two different listings for the First String Quartet – because one CD calls it the Quartet in A MAJOR rather than Quartet in A, so you consider it as two different works ??? And likewise, you have two listings for Quartet No. 3, 4 and 5 (but not for 2???), only to send the Naxos recording to the second listing? And what about the Chandos recording by the Kreutzer Quartet? You fell out with Chandos? They refused to pay you copyright?
Indeed, although I haven’t checked on all the entries, you fail to mention many Chandos recordings: not the Piano Concerto, not the Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, and some of the Symphonies mentioned only in the set gathering them together but not in their original issues which had important complements (like those mentioned above). And why even mention the composer’s own recording of the Handel Fantasia with Margaret Kitchin, not reissued on CD? After all, it’s not very significant: only the composer’s recording, forget it.
So, all this is very frustrating, because what could have been a very useful feature of your Tippett pages turns out to be, because of its glaring gaps, more misleading than informative. If I can help to improve things, let me know. It would be nice if a truly complete discography of Tippett was available online.
Thank you for being the publisher of Tippett during his lifetime and after. THAT was useful.
I would have expected them to respond – if they even did – with a resounding “fuck off!”. But no. Schott’s artistic director Sally Groves – she turned out to be the daughter of noted conductor Sir Charles Groves – responded very kindly, and with an invitation:
Sent: Friday, January 17, 2014 2:06 PM
Subject: Fw: WG: Tippett discography
Many thanks for your email and it is great to hear from such a strong Tippett fan.
I am assuming that by the ‘Michael Tippett Society’ you mean the Michael Tippett Musical Foundation, which only gives funding to non-Tippett projects, in accordance with the composer’s wishes. Sadly, there is no real Michael Tippett Society which could partner our efforts here at Schott, as with Benjamin Britten and many other composers.
You are right to take us to task over the Discography on our website: it is patchy and needs to be properly overhauled.
Your wide expertise as evident on various websites and your knowledge of Tippett’s recordings leads me to ask if you would be prepared to make a properly critical Tippett discography?
With all good wishes,
I have no clue how Sally could have concluded about my “wide expertise as evident on various websites”, as I had written Schott under my real name, not my “Discophage” alias from which she might have infered that I had, indeed, a measure of discographic expertise. I don’t know, maybe she was being ironic, with a typical Brit’ sense of understatement. Like, translated in Texan: “Yeah, buddy! Talkers, we see a lot’ o’ them around here. But why don’t you show if you can DO anything?”
Well, I happily picked up the gauntlet, only asking, as a favor, to be remunerated in scores of Michael Tippett that were missing to my collection – scores of contemporary music, and especially full orchestral scores, are EX-PEN-SIVE! It was ultimately a lot of work, which I’d have done even for free (look at the other discographies posted on this website – and you have no idea how many are dormant on my computer !), so I consider that I made a very good deal.
In constructing my own discography I was able to use, of course, all the previous ones, those published in Tippett biographies and the one, fairly large but far from complete, maintained by the helpful Archivist from Schott Alan Woolgar.
Getting the broad lines was easy enough, what made compiling that discography a helluvalotowork was checking all the minutiae, the obscure releases of obscure Tippett repertoire on obscure labels. It involved exciting sleuth work, too, especially for recordings from Japan and listed online only in Japanese characters (I went to Tippett’s entry and associated ones on Wikipedia English, than clicked on the Japanese page, to copy those names and indications in Japanese characters, and then paste them for Google searches), and it was often with a minuscule but elating sense of victory that some of the riddles were solved.
That research was also, for me, a watershed in my approach to discographies, as it is there and then that I realized the importance of barcodes. Given the vagaries, inconsistencies, and downright mistakes of listings on many online websites, commercial or discographic, I realized that the surest and sometimes only way to find a CD online was using the barcode. This has become since my discographic mantra (see my Christian Ferras CD-discography, for instance), and I’ve had to sweep out many memories from my brain, in order to make space for so many barcodes (I don’t yet dream of barcodes – I think, because I don’t usually remember my dreams… Which raises a difficult question: if androids dream of electric sheep, what does that make me when I start dreaming of barcodes?). I am sometimes dumbsmacked when I go back to some of my pre-2014 reviews and realize that I was lacking accuracy in my referencces to other CDs because… no barcode! Before 2014 was prehistory for me as a reviewer and discographer.
Of course, I took the opportunity of that discography to complete my own collection, with many purchases including of rare LPs that had never been reissued to CD.
And here how I get back to the LP in question. This one LP from EMI Australia 1972 showed up in the discography and, with its clever coupling of Britten and Tippett’s respective Second String Quartet, it seemed very attractive… but to be found nowhere, except as a listing in the discographies. So, I added it in the permanent searches of my eBay profile… and waited. A fisherman needs patience, nothing moves for a time, until it does.
Well, it took 8 years. Prior to that, the search yielded, occasionally, but it was always junk, pages and listings where the words “Britten”, “Tippett”, “Carl” and “Pini” were mentionned (that’s how Inter… nets function), but never my LP.
And finally, Eureka, end of September ’21, it showed up, a London seller, with bidding deadline set on October 7. I put on all my alarm clocks not to forget that one.
It says a sad tale of the composer’s current standing that I was the only bidder. But, hey, no personal complaint here, I won it for 10 pounds, add customs and post and double the price, but after 8 years of wait I was ready to break the piggy bank. So I paypaled it and waited to receive it.
And it wasn’t coming, long after CDs subsequently bought from the UK had arrived.
So I started getting alarmed, and thinking that LP was cursed. I contacted the seller, who very courteously gave me the expected appeasing talk, “normal, covid, UK Post, it can take longer, be patient”, but with each day I got more jittery.
So a month later, with deep disappointment I had to cross out any prospect of receiving the LP (it happens, very occasionally, that an order will get lost in the mail), asked the seller for a refund, which was duly afforded. Cursed LP! A fisherman has to be patient, and be ready for the line to break at the last second. So I was going to wait again, for who knows how many years.
And two days later the LP was delivered. I was happy to refund the refund.
Almost the end of my story, but there is a small codicil. Earlier this year I digitalized the LP – clean copy, quite surfaces, there won’t be much de-clicking to do – and put it aside. Some days later, I realized that I needed to take photos of back and front covers – those on the listing had been excellent, but as I let time lapse it wasn’t on eBay anymore. So I looked for the LP – and it was impossible to find where I had put it. I searched everywhere, once, twice, and again, and it was driving me crazy. Cursed LP!
In those cases, go run an errand, get your mind off of it, then start again. So I did – and, of course, it was there, very close to exactly where I thought I had put it, only in a different position than what I had envisioned – more visible, in fact, but when you are looking for the invisible you are likely to miss the visible.
Or maybe it was Buzz Lightyear and the other Toys who had borrowed the LP to rescue the universe, and put it back in it’s place when I left the house for my 10-minute errand of groceries. They are known to do such mischievous things.
It’ll be some time before a review the LP, I think, because it has to be comparative and I’ll have to plunge in multiple recordings of both quartets. But I thought I wouldn’t wait that long to tell the story of this LP. Cover illustration is pretty nice, too isn’t it?
Ultimately, it is ironic that Schott did close to nothing with my Tippett discography. For a (short) while, it was hosted on a page of their website, so burried that even I, knowing where it was, had difficulties finding it. No chance for a Google search “Michael Tippett discography”. And then, it was gone, even from there. Probably not coincidentally, that’s also when Schott’s Sally Groves retired. Well, their loss: I think it was a great service to the Tippett admirer – however few are left.
I need to repost it here and for that, I’ve got to do a bit of cleaning-up work. Sadly for the composer but happily for the discographer, not much I think has been added to the Michael Tippett discography since 2014.