Interview with Music & Arts Founder, Frederick J. Maroth

By Heuwell Tircuit
(From In Tune [Tokyo] June, 1995; revised September, 1999)

Music and Arts Records was not so much founded in the traditional sense as willed into existence by the gods. It just happened as fate pushed Hungarian-born Frederick J. Maroth's personal interest into filling an individual notch of public demand. Although established in its final form in 1984, the roots of this internationally acclaimed company reach back to Maroth's radio shows, produced between 1964 and 1966 for Berkeley's famously liberal KPFA radio ― a publicly supported centerpiece of 1960's political and artistic causes.

Maroth produced a series of major radio programs called The Art of the Performer. Because of Maroth's journalistic detective talent for digging up sensational, otherwise unavailable performances by major artists, the program soon became an international hit. At its peak, the show was carried on 150 public stations around the United States, plus several Canadian and European stations. Maroth sought out musical materials from private archives, in university or radio station libraries, from performers themselves or their heirs. None had previously appeared as commercial recordings.

The original intention was purely educational. Maroth's programs intrigued specialists, collectors, scholars and fans of this or that major artist. In many cases, he excavated performances no one knew existed. Maroth seemed like a magician, calling up ghosts from beyond the veil. Among other things, Maroth had offered his radio listeners large cycles. Included were long, in-depth looks at a single composer. With his late colleague, William Mallock, he produced, for instance, ten programs ― 15 hours worth of music ― on Stravinsky performances.

Maroth also found major performances by legendary pianists such as Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking and Edwin Fischer; violinists Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Szigeti; conductors Wilhelm Furtw?ngler, Hans Knappertsbusch and Willem Mengelberg...all of which emphasized the breadth of their repertoire.

"I began getting letters and post cards from around the world, asking ? Where can I get this??," recalled Maroth. "I had to write back: sorry, you can?t. But the demands became so frequent and so strong, that it occurred to me to issue a few prized items on LP.

"Those began to appear in 1968, through the non-profit Educational Media Association of America, Inc. These were not intended as more than a public service project. Prices were designed to cover expenses and no more. That, unfortunately, meant limited issuance. You couldn't count on finding a copy in other than the very largest shops, or by direct mail. Demand far outstripped production capacity. Thus Music and Arts was established in 1984, as a successor to Educational Media. The group still produces cultural programs for public radio, as well as releases of recorded music on a non-commercial basis.

Instead of private gain, Music and Arts plows its profits back into new, expanding projects ― including brand new recordings, mostly of modern music. The company has also expanded into serious jazz, both classics and new, adventurous music making. It's a matter of idealism.

Maroth, a relaxed man of obvious sincerity, is as far removed from the "hippie" look and style of the 1960's as one can get. Although he immigrated to the U.S. at age 19 for his advanced education, Maroth looks and acts the very model of the European scholar-gentleman, his English colored by just the vague perfume of a Hungarian accent. Curiously, his background was not in music.

"On arrival in America, I studied just about everything except music: literature, economics, the University of Minnesota, and then Oregon. I always loved music, but it was not until 1964 that I had the opportunity to work in music ― for KPFA. At the time, I was mostly interested in older artists ― some of whom had made few commercial recordings.

"My original tastes were quite conventional," he blushed. "At KPFA, I was considered a moldy fig cat . My colleagues already thought of John Cage as passe´. They influenced me, as I hope I did them."

That's surely ironic. What Maroth was producing was, in its way, avant-garde. Nobody else had attempted anything of the sort. There had long been reissues of old recordings, but almost always as remastered versions of previous releases. With his historic "live" music documents, Maroth set a standard for adventure and quality production still not matched by many in the field.

* * *

But how, and where does he uncover such treasures?

"It began with my great interest in Egon Petri. He recorded a good deal. Columbia and later Westminster recorded him. But the commercial recordings" (mostly of Liszt), "never documented the fullness of his interests and artistry. They represented only a fraction of his repertory." (Petri, 1881-1962, was born in Germany of Dutch parents. He originally studied violin, playing in his father?s Quartet, before moving to piano study with Teresa Carre?o and Busoni, whom he followed as professor at the Berlin Hochschule. Petri came to the U.S. in 1939, when world War II broke out.)

"Petri died in Berkeley, after years of teaching at Mills College in Oakland," continued Maroth. (Petri joined the faculty in 1947.) "So I contacted Mills to see if they had any recordings of his recitals there. They did. Not only that, but they told me his daughter lived in Oakland and had further material. I then contacted her, and she was delighted to make them available for broadcasts. That?s how it began.

"Joseph Szigeti was still alive, so I contacted him. He cooperated. My first LPs were from those from the Szigeti and Petri archives. Next came singers, and I was launched."

That expanded itself through personal contacts -- mostly via Europe. "I began receiving letters from London, Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, Munich, etc. They were from others of similar enthusiasms with similar materials. So we began exchanging tapes, which opened a wealth of possibilities. It still goes on. We managed to acquire numerous tapes from German, Hungarian, Italian and Dutch radio stations."

Sonics on many of the refurbished M&A releases are indeed enough to leave jaws agape. Some of their reissue of recordings of 50 years ago sound as if they?d been recorded 15 years ago.

"We?ve been lucky to have an association with Lowell Cross...a scholar and musician who?s also an electronic composer. There?s hardly an engineer in America who does not carry Lowell?s article on mic placement around like a Bible. He?s widely recognized as one of the major authorities in audiophile recording technique.

"It all began when we were to do recordings with the Mirecourt Trio. They were then in residence in Iowa, as was Cross. So I contacted him to ask if he would make the recordings for us." (Lowell is Professor of Music at the University of Iowa?s School of Music, as well as director of their Recording Studios -- a major center for training sound engineers.)

"When I visited him," continued Maroth, "I found he had a fabulous studio, with an astounding array of state-of-the-art equipment. The University had provided Cross with the best of everything available, and he then set about improving it.

"He processed a number of important tapes for us, as well as making new recordings. (Cross recorded the outstanding disc of Stockhausen and Bart?k for Music and Arts, solo piano recordings of Ursula Oppens and Marc-Andr? Hamelin, as well as the Mirecourt Trio, plus several of advanced American composers such as William Hibbard.)

"The thing about Cross which is so special, aside from his expertise in recordings, is that he?s also a musician. He studied at Mills as a composer of electronic and computer music. He?s not just a mechanic; he can hear! If I send him an antique tape, he not only can edit the notes of the music, he knows what an orchestra is supposed to sound like -- in detail. Matters of balance, for example, may be off center on the tapes. But Lowell can adjust that precisely. It?s a very rare talent within his field." (One of Cross? teachers was David Tudor, a major pianist associated with the John Cage school.)

* * *

Maroth has carefully built a major staff of expert producers. Maggi Payne, who records in multi-track studios, is also a composer. She?s on the Mills College faculty, teaching sound engineering, composition and electronic music. Freelance record producer Judith Sherman, who is responsible for a number of Music & Arts? highly acclaimed piano recordings, has worked extensively with major artists such as Rudolf Serkin, the Kronos and Mendelssohn Quartets and composer Steve Reich. (Her products have also appeared on CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, New World and Nonesuch.)

"So actually, we?ve been very lucky that way. All three of our recording engineers have excellent ears, and know what music sounds like," smiled Maroth.

"We licensed from Deutsches Rundfunk Archiv, Frankfurt & Berlin, a number of historic broadcast performances for release on the Music & Arts label beginning January 2000: nearly all are previously unissued." Among these are:

OPERA & VOCAL: a 1942 Salzburg festival Marriage of Figaro, conducted by Clemens Krauss; a 1942 Bayreuth Festival Goetterdaemmerung conducted by Karl Elmendorff; and numerous songs of Beethoven, Brahms, Loewe, Pfitzner, Schubert, Schumann and Weber, sung by Hans Hotter with Michael Raucheisen at the piano, recorded 1942-45.

ORCHESTRAL: various works performed under Kabasta (Berlin & Munich Phil., 1943/44), Schuricht (Berlin Phil., 1943), Abendroth (Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus & Leipzig Radio Orch., 1939-1949), Richard Strauss conducting his own works and those of Mozart and Wagner (Vienna & Berlin Phil. & Munich R.O., 1936-1942), Jochum (Berlin Phil., 1943-1949) and Celibidache (Berlin Phil, 1947-1948).

A substantial portion of these performances comes from RRG recordings (those up to 1945); the postwar performances from radio station tapes deposited in the DRA collection.

In addition, Music & Arts has licensed rare archival material from North-German Radio (NDR, Hamburg), including a concerto played by Neveu and a Gieseking solo recital, and Hessian Radio (HR, Frankfurt), including several concerto and solo piano performances by Gieseking.

Maroth keeps expanding the Music and Arts catalog, in new directions. Besides his many releases of historic performances and modern music by both established and obscure figures, jazz has become increasingly important. These releases go back to Prohibition days in the 1920?s, as well as from new, adventurous improvisations by the celebrated performers such as Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Don Pullen, and the combos of Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake.

* * *

The Japanese market has become increasingly important to Music and Arts. And as usual, Maroth dove into the spirit and culture of his new audience?s need. (The day of the interview, he had sushi for lunch, while I indulged my passion for Oyako donburi.) When at his request, I mentioned my years in Japan as an orchestral player under a Japanese conductor who studied with Erich Kleiber, Maroth shocked me by saying, "Ah -- Hidemaro Konoye! Did you know he made the first recording of Mahler?s Fourth Symphony -- in 1930?! That was long before Bruno Walter or anybody else. I think it was re-released on CD in Japan. But you know, the Japanese market is odd...or perhaps I shouldn?t say that? Hardly anything stays in print long. Konoye?s Mahler Fourth was only available for about six months.

It looks from here as if some Japanese companies publicize a release before it?s actually available, to test the market. Once they have an indication of demand, then they release, but don?t keep the recording in the catalog for long."

"I?ve had some surprising Japanese experiences. Let me say, we?re delighted to be distributed by King Records in Japan, who are caring, competent and highly organized. I think that?s because they are also a recording company, not just a distributor. We made recordings on two CDs of traveling Tibetan Buddhist monks -- in Iowa! One was religious vocal music, the other of sacred dance. Thanks to King, Japanese sales were twice what they have been in the U.S.

"King also leased 70 discs from us for their own editions, issued with booklets in Japanese. Often, they release our masters months before we do. Then, when we release it here, they may order hundreds of our copies. I say to them, ?Are you sure?? They tell me that some Japanese want American product. You can never be sure what will happen."

On the other hand, that?s what makes Maroth, as well as Music and Arts, thrive. Fresh material, concepts and ideals serve to fertilize the catalog with seemingly endless strings of surprises. Their success has grown out of a combination of ideals, flexibility and dedication -- oh yes, and blind chance.

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