The original concept of the Marco Polo label was to bring to listeners unknown compositions by well enough known composers. The great Russian nationalist composers, the Mighty Handful, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Balakirev and Cui were not unfamiliar, but lesser known works by these composers were included in early Marco Polo catalogues.
Since those days many changes have taken place in public taste and in the availability of recorded music to listeners. The development of the compact disc has, even more than the earlier long-playing record, brought an ever wider repertoire of music into the home. Composers that were once little known, are now heard with some frequency. With this change in taste and knowledge, the Marco Polo label has widened its own horizons to explore even further afield.
This exploration has not concentrated its attempts entirely on late romantic repertoire, although here there was an obvious store of music that had immediate attractions. The field of activity was to be greater than this. In opera Marco Polo turned its attention to Weber, in his unrecorded early opera Peter Schmoll and His Neighbours, to Marschner in his ghost-opera Hans Heiling, to the remarkable Franz Schreker, a victim of anti-semitism, in Der ferne Klang and Die Gezeichneten and more recently to the operas of Siegfried Wagner, untypical son of the great Richard, with Der Bärenhäuter (The Man in the Bear's Skin) and his mysterious Schwarzschwanenreich (Kingdom of the Black Swan). From Russia, by way of Wexford, comes a remarkable first compact disc recording of Anton Rubinstein's The Demon, to set beside other recordings of music by one of the most remarkable pianists of the nineteenth century. Less usually, Marco Polo has recorded a contemporary opera by the Italian composer Azio Corghi, Divara - Wasser und Blut, based on the terrible events that took place with the Anabaptist seizure of the city of Münster in the sixteenth century.
While Marco Polo opera may breathe a rarefied atmosphere, the attention paid to lighter music introduces quite another element. With the collaboration of interested societies has come a massive series of 51 volumes that includes all the instrumental compositions of the younger Johann Strauss, a remarkable compendium of the Viennese dance in its nineteenth century heyday. Music of a more recent date is found in an equally adventurous exploration. The British Light Music Series brings British listeners and others music that may, by association, be well enough known. The series includes composers from Richard Addinsell, accompanist to Joyce Grenfell and composer of the Warsaw Concerto, to Haydn Wood, composer of Roses of Picardy.
The list of composers represented is a distinguished one - Ronald Binge, Eric Coates, Coleridge-Taylor, Frederic Curzon, Robert Farnon, Edward German, Archibald Joyce, Ketčbey, Billy Mayerl, Roger Quilter, Ernest Tomlinson and Sydney Torch.
Music that we may know well enough, even if we cannot always put a name to the composer, is included in the Marco Polo Film Music Classics. This series is devoted to music by many very respected composers for the cinema, including classics of the French cinema in music by Honegger and Ibert, classics of the English cinema in music by Vaughan Williams and Arthur Bliss, and, inevitably, music from the great days of Hollywood, often by émigré composers from Germany or Vienna, whose careers now took a different turn.
Other areas into which Marco Polo has entered include various national schools of music, revealing unsuspected treasures. There has been a notable and successful collaboration with Da Capo in Denmark to produce a Danish music series that ranges from the music of the great organist Buxtehude, whose daughter both Bach and Handel in turn refused to marry, by way of leading nineteenth century composers to the contemporary. An anthology of Flemish music throws light on an attractive late romantic tradition, while other revelations come from Latin America, from Mexico and elsewhere.
Western Europe has allowed excursions into French musical tradition. This has produced recordings of music by Ropartz, Rabaud and Tournemire, music by the Saint-Simonian Félicien David and by Méhul and, more recently, a fascinating set of competition pieces entered for the Prix de Rome by the successful composers André Caplet and Debussy and, from Ravel, five failing attempts at the prize, faulted by conservative judges on academic rather than musical grounds.
Eastern Europe has proved an equally fertile area of activity. Hungary has provided material in music by Lászl— Lajtha and by Mosonyi, contemporary and colleague of Liszt; Slovakia has given us Ján Bella in releases of piano music and string quartets, and Bohemia the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh by Martinu; from Poland has come an extensive series of releases devoted to the music of Szymanowski, including his opera King Roger; from Lithuania music by Cüiurlionis and from Russia untold riches both from the cosmopolitan tradition of Rubinstein and the nationalist tradition of the Five and their successors.
All in all the Marco Polo catalogue represents a significant and remarkable addition to musical knowledge. In that most of the music included on the label is recorded here for the first time on compact disc or, indeed, often for the first time ever in any form, the collection represents a major contribution to repertoire. Marco Polo tells no lies about the musical wonders discovered: listeners, unlike the old explorer's original audience, can experience this for themselves.