Classical collectors, be sure to check out A Classical Discography, another outstanding free online database. It’s compiled by Michael Gray (who was also a major contributor to CHARM) and focuses on major-label 78s and LPs from 1925 through 1950, domestic and foreign, using original company file data. As you’d expect with anything Michael does, the level of detail and quality of research and editing are first-rate.
The search engine offers numerous search fields and returns pinpoint results. The screen-shot below shows the first two of 165 entries returned for Feodor Chaliapin (in this case, sorted alphabetically by composer):
A while back, we were lucky enough to acquire the late James Bratton’s collection of historic pipe-organ 78s at an estate sale in Denver. Bratton was a prominent organist, instructor, and journal editor who moved to Colorado from Baltimore (where he’d studied at the Peabody Conservatory) in the early 1970s. We’ll be posting some of the most interesting recordings from his collection on the blog from time to time. (The crackle heard on the third selection is an unfortunate characteristic of many British HMV pressings of the period, even on pristine copies like this one.)
EDOUARD COMMETTE (Organ of St. Jean Cathedral, Lyons, France):
Symphony No. 2 (Widor): Finale
Columbia 50285-D (mx. [W] LX 1004 – 1)
Lyons, France: April 18, 1929
EDOUARD COMMETTE (Organ of St. Jean Cathedral, Lyons, France):
Symphony No. 4 (Widor): Toccata
Columbia 50285-D (mx. [W] LX 1005 – 1)
Lyons, France: April 18, 1929
MARCEL DUPRE (Organ of Alexandra Palace, London):
Variations from Fifth Symphony (Widor) — Conclusion
His Master’s Voice D.1898 (mx. CR 2750 – 2)
London (relay to van): March 17, 1930
ALBERT SCHWEITZER (Organ of All Hallows Church, London): Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Bach)
London: December 1935
Columbia 11022-D (English Columbia mxs. AX7716 – 1 / AX7714 – 1) Master numbers are correct as shown; the two parts were recorded out-of-sequence, and intervening mx. AX7715 was assigned to an unrelated title..
Not as widely known as the Discography of American Historical Recordings (although it certainly deserves to be), the UK-based CHARM website offers another outstanding online discography — in this case, of historical classical and operatic recordings. Hosted by the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, CHARM is partnership of Royal Holloway, University of London (host institution) with King’s College, London, and the University of Sheffield.
CHARM is the perfect complement to DAHR, offering hard-to-find data on foreign as well as domestic recordings, primarily from the 1920s onward. The database includes much of The Gramophone Company’s 78-rpm output (from original file data compiled by the late Alan Kelly), as well 78s and some LP series from numerous other US, UK, and European companies, including Columbia and Decca, from data supplied by Michael Gray. *
The CHARM site includes a very flexible search engine, and results can be downloaded as comma-delimited text (.csv) or Microsoft Excel files. Here’s a small part of the results from our search on Cesare Formichi’s Columbia recordings: .
In addition, almost 5000 streaming sound files are available via the Find Sound Files facility. Sound files are transferred from 78-rpm discs held by the King’s Sound Archive at King’s College London.
Like DAHR and the affiliated National Juke Box site from the Library of Congress, CHARM is an entirely free service, with no registration or log-in required.
* Dr. Alan Kelly compiled the monumental His Master’s Voice Discography for Greenwood Press during its glory days in the 1990s; when new owners pulled the plug, he completed the project on his own, self-publishing the entire run on a set of inexpensive CDs. In 2007 he was honored with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Michael Gray — besides being one helluva nice guy — has had a distinguished career that includes a long run as director of the Voice of America’s Research Library and Digital Audio Archive projects. He served as series editor for Greenwood Press discographies, has written numerous books and articles, and is the recipient of ARSC’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.
We’re happy to announce that the next installment in Dick Spottswood’s Columbia ethnic-series discography is now available for free download. This section covers the C-prefixed series, which was intended for the Spanish-speaking markets — a tantalizing mixture of performances by Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and other Latino artists (most of them recorded in their native countries by traveling Columbia engineers), operatic arias and light classics from domestic and imported masters, and various odd-and-ends “repurposed” from other catalogs. .
Click here to download the discography in PDF format (approximately 5 megabytes). As with the previous installment, this material may be copied or distributed for personal use, provided that the source is cited. Sale or other commercial use is prohibited.
Dick’s latest update of his Columbia “E” series discography will be posted soon.
The Gramophone Company began producing “complete” operatic recordings in Italy in 1906. The earliest attempts were rag-tag productions, sometimes with different singers substituted if those originally scheduled couldn’t make a session; and in at least one case, a domestic Red Seal recording had to be substituted for a missing side in the U.S. There were no Carusos or Farrars or other Red Seal–class celebrities to be heard — even had their Victor contracts allowed them to record for The Gramophone Company, their astronomical royalty rates would have driven the price of these sets beyond the means of most customers — but the recordings caused a sensation nonetheless. There are reports of record stores staging “Victrola Opera Nights” using these records, with costumed locals lip-synching their parts. You can find much more about them in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press.
Here are some highlights from a later, better-organized attempt, recorded in Milan in 1915 but not released in the U.S. until March 1919, on the lowly black-label series. These sets pre-date the “album” concept — i.e., the records were sold individually, and the big arias handily outsold the less-juicy portions — so assembling complete sets can be a daunting task. Our Cavalleria Rusticana set is growing steadily, but still has a ways to go.
CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (Mascagni)
FRANCO TUMINELLO, GEORGINA ERMOLLI, LENA REVELLI and E. PERNA, with LA SCALA CHORUS & ORCHESTRA (CARLO SABAJNO, conductor)
Recorded in Milan by The Gramophone Company (F. W. Gaisberg, engineer)
PARTS 1–4 (Victor 35680 / 35681)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Preludio e Siciliana (mx. 3022c; April 8, 1915) Cavalleria Rusticana: Preludio – Part 2 (mx. 3021c; April 8, 1915) Cavalleria Rusticana: Gli aranci (mx. 3017c; April 5, 1915) Cavalleria Rusticana: Tempo e si mormori (mx. 3018c; April 6, 1915)
PARTS 17–18 (Victor 35688)
Cavalleria Rusticana: A casa, a casa (mx. 3020c; April 7, 1915) Cavalleria Rusticana: Brindisi (mx. 3019c; April 7, 1915)
Discographic data from the Gramophone Company files, courtesy of the late Dr. Alan Kelly.
An incredible find from the Library of Congress — Bray Studios’ 1923 silent film, The Immortal Voice. Now posted on YouTube, it takes the viewer through Columbia’s entire recording and production process.
Filmed in Columbia’s New York studio and Bridgeport, Connecticut factory, it begins with an acoustical recording session by Rosa Ponselle and orchestra — staged for the camera, of course, but giving a good idea of how a real session might have looked, and how closely the musicians had to huddle (look for the horned Stroh violins, a necessary evil in the acoustic days).
From there the film traces the path of the wax master, from auditioning and plating to the pressing of a finished disc. At the end is a surprise tribute to Victor’s Enrico Caruso, with footage purporting to be him onstage at the Met — making it pretty unlikely that the film was commissioned by Columbia.
Our thanks to the ever-vigilant John Bolig for passing along the link.
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (Albert Coates, cond.):
Boris Godunov — Coronation Scene
Hayes, Middlesex: November 26, 1925
HMV D.B.900 (mxs. Cc 7064 – 3 / Cc 7066 – 1)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (Rosario Bourdon, cond.): Boris Godunov — Varlaam’s Song (In the Town of Kazan)
Church studio, Camden, NJ: March 16, 1927
Victor 1237 (mx. BVE 26100 – 4)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (with London Symphony Orchestra, Max Steinmann, cond.): Boris Godunov — I Have Attained the Highest Power
Small Queen’s Hall, London: June 6, 1931
HMV D.B.1532 (mx. 2B 577 – 3)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (with London Symphony Orchestra, Max Steinmann, cond.): Boris Godunov — Clock Scene
Small Queen’s Hall, London: June 6, 1931
HMV D.B.1532 (mx. 2B 578 – 2)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN, ANGELO BADA (with ROYAL OPERA CHORUS & ORCHESTRA, Vincenzo Belleza, cond.): Boris Godunov — Duet, Boris and Shuisky (Part 1)
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London: July 4, 1928 (live performance)
HMV test (mx. CR 2312 – 1)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Farewell and Death of Boris
HMV D.B.934 (mxs. CR 375 – 1 / Cc 10938 – 3)
Part 1 — Small Queen’s Hall, London (relayed to Gloucester House): May 21, 1926 (Eugene Goosens, cond.) / Part 2 — Studio C, Small Queen’s Hall, London: June 13, 1927 (Lawrance Collingwood, cond.)
The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:
2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:
ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.
Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.
Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylindersis the first study of these records to be compiled from the surviving company documentation (including the factory plating ledgers, studio cash books, remake and deletion notices, catalogs, supplements, and trade publications), along with first-hand inspection of the original cylinders. All American-catalog issues from 1897 through 1912, including the Grand Opera series, are covered.
Unlike previously published guides, which don’t list Edison’s numerous and often confusing remakes, this new volume lists all versions — even indicating those initially supplied by Walcutt & Leeds — along with the listing or release dates and the distinguishing details (changes in artists, accompaniments, announcements, etc.) for each. Plating dates for brown-wax pantograph masters and early Gold Moulded masters, which provide valuable clues to the long-lost recording dates, are published here for the first time.
Other features include composer and show credits, medley contents, accompaniment details, pseudonym identification, an illustrated footnoted history of Edison cylinder production during the National Phonograph Company period, user’s guide, and indexes.
Chaliapin performs the roles of Boris, Pimen, and Varlaam, in the Rimsky-Korsokov revision of Mussorgsky’s original work. Discographic data are from the Gramophone Company and Victor Talking Machine Company files, courtesy of Drs. Alan Kelly and John R. Bolig.
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Yet One More Tale [Pimen, Act I]
Moscow: August 31, 1910
His Master’s Voice 022157 (mx. 2016½c) Orchestra of the Imperial Moscow Opera directed by I.Semenov
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — In the Town of Kazan [Varlaam, Act I]
Camden, NJ: January 30, 1922
His Master’s Voice D.A. 100 (mx. B 26100 – 2) Studio orchestra directed by Josef Pasternack
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Once at Eve [Pimen, Act IV]
St. Petersburg, Russia: November 26, 1911
His Master’s Voice 022252 (mx. 2548c) No conductor listed in the Gramophone Company file
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Farewell and Death of Boris [Boris, Act IV]
St. Petersburg, Russia: October 15, 1911
His Master’s Voice 022221 / 022222 (mxs. 2492½c / 2493c) No conductor listed in the Gramophone Company file
NEW YORK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (WALTER DAMROSCH, conductor):
Norwegian Dances, Nos. 1 and 2 (Grieg, op. 35)
New York: May 1, 1923
Columbia 65001-D (mx. 98078 – 1)
“The La Scala Orchestra was made up of green Italian musicians and we found it very difficult to make them comprehend just what we wanted them to do for record making, and we, the Recording Staff, were not sorry when the engagement terminated… The sailing of the steamship on which they had booked passage, for some cause, was delayed or postponed on two different occasions, which prolonged the recording engagement, as the Victor Company thought it better to keep them engaged, fearing if they had open time they might sell their services to some other recording company.”
— Victor recording engineer Harry O. Sooy (Memoirs, David Sarnoff Collection)
LA SCALA ORCHESTRA (ARTURO TOSCANINI, conductor): Carmen (Bizet) — Prelude to Act 4 (Aragonaise)
Church Studio (114 N. Fifth Street, Camden NJ): March 31, 1921
Victor 64999 (mx. B 24750 – 6)
LA SCALA ORCHESTRA (ARTURO TOSCANINI, conductor): L’ Arlésienne (Bizet) — Suite, No. 2 (Farandole)
Church Studio (114 N. Fifth Street, Camden NJ): March 11, 1921
Victor 64986 (mx. B 24984 – 1)
For a history of early attempts at symphonic recording, see A Phonograph in Every Home and Recording the ‘Twenties, both available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.