The famed biologist and behavioral scientist Alfred C. Kinsey revealed a life-long love of music in a 1956 article for High Fidelity magazine. Published in the same year he passed away, Kinsey’s love was previously known only to friends, colleagues, as well as his family. He began the article by posing a question:
“There is a science of sound and an art of music. As a scientist I am supposed to be interested in the science of sound and not in the art of music—or am I?”
Kinsey’s high school years were spent amassing a record collection, the first of three he would have throughout his life. Given that his family had little money to spend on such luxuries, he managed to acquire records by requesting them as birthday and Christmas presents. He also bought them himself from the money he earned teaching piano lessons.
For the rest of the article, Kinsey writes about the music and the type of records that made up each collection. We discover that music from the Renaissance, baroque, and classical periods was an integral part of them. He was especially fond of Mozart and, at one point, proclaimed his recording of Leon Goossens’ performance of the oboe quartet to be definitive. The recording is found on the 1998 compilation album, Testament, which features Leon Goossens and members of the Léner String Quartet.
With warmth and humor, Kinsey extols the virtues of records by describing how each of his collections was influenced with every major development in recording technology. The first comprised of what he described as pancake pre-electric records, which were then set aside for a second collection at the advent of electric recordings. The third was made up of LP’s, or long-playing records.
One ensemble that Kinsey mentioned was the Flonzaley String Quartet, which he praised for their recordings of entire quartets, a rarity in those days. He also expressed what he called “lasting regret” that the quartet broke up before electric recording reached its zenith.
Listen to a recording of the Flonzaley String Quartet performing the first movement, Allegro moderato, from Mozart’s K421:
Among the numerous discoveries we make surrounding Kinsey’s love of music is the regular events he held at his Bloomington home from 1930 onward. For nearly three decades he held record playing evenings once a week when he was in town. His guests included musicians and university colleagues, in addition to many kinds of scientists, which he listed as “an astronomer, an endocrinologist, a plant geneticist, a student of fungi, a geologist, a couple of mathematicians, a chemist, two zoologists, and some others.”
One of the artists whose performances Kinsey enjoyed and had as part of his record collection was Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. We don’t know which of her recordings he owned, but Landowska was, by the mid-1950s, famous for her interpretation of Bach and Scarlatti. It is not unlikely that Kinsey’s collection included her Scarlatti recordings made in Paris shortly before the German occupation in 1939 and 1940.
We can only dream of what new recordings Kinsey would have acquired had he lived longer. Perhaps he would have started a fourth collection as he suggested in the article. Imagine what his reaction might have been to a recording of the German baroque ensemble performing pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli on period instruments?
Our new release of the week is titled Garden of Early Delights and features 16th and 17th Century music for recorder and harp. Former Palladian ensemble member Pamela Thorby is joined by harpist Andrew Lawrence King on the Linn record label.
The music heard in this episode was performed byLeon Goossens, members of the Léner String Quartet, the Flonzaley String Quartet, Wanda Landowska, and Musica Fiata.