NEW • The “World’s Greatest Operas” Discography (RCA Victor Series) by John Bolig

Our thanks to John Bolig for the first fully detailed discography of the RCA-produced “World’s Greatest Operas” records. Data are from original RCA documentation at the Sony archives in New York. All issues were anonymous, but as you’ll see, some first-rate talent was employed.

John’s complete listing of RCA’s “World’s Greatest Music” records (a substantially revised and expanded version of our very basic  listing that was posted a few weeks ago) has also been posted.

Note that this listing is only for the original RCA-produced series. Other producers took over the “World’s Greatest…” series after the RCA Victor connection was severed in 1940.

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NEW • The “World’s Greatest Music” Discography (RCA Victor Series) – Revised & Expanded by John Bolig

Our thanks to Victor expert John Bolig for revising and greatly expanding the very basic “World’s Greatest Music” listing that we posted a few weeks ago. The data are from RCA’s original documentation at the Sony archives in New York. A complete listing of RCA’s “World’s Greatest Operas” series is also being posted later today.

(By the way, several of John’s landmark Victor Discography titles have sold out recently. The remaining volumes are still available on the Mainspring Press website, but supplies are very limited. The listing below will give you a good idea of the high-quality data and attention to detail you’ll find in all of John’s books.)

Note that this listing is only for the original RCA-produced series of 1938-1940. Other producers took over the series after the RCA Victor connection was severed, and later pressings are not RCA products.
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From the “Gennett Record Gazette” – Joie Lichter, Bob Tamm, and the Questionable “Gene Bailey” (1924)

The Gennett Record Gazette was a nifty promo publication filled with photos, release lists, facts, and “alternative facts.” Here are a couple of excepts from Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1924) — one correcting a likely error in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and the other opening a discographical can of worms.

Joie Lichter’s and Bob Tamm’s Milwaukee orchestras visited Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, studio on March 4, 1924 — Lichter recording five sides, with Tamm squeezing in a single title midway through the session, according to the Gennett ledgers. (“Tamm” or “Tamms”? It appears both ways in press reports and ads of the period, but “Tamm” is favored by a good margin.)

For god-only-knows what reason (since its compilers give none), ADBRF lists the Tamm side as a pseudonymous Lichter recording, even though the ledger, and the detailed information reported below, make that seem unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Rust credited the Tamm side to Tamm in his earlier  American Dance Band Discography, from which ADBRF was largely taken. If anyone can offer any credible reason for the change in ADBRF (credible excluding things like “so-and-so is sure he hears such-and-such” or “Joe Blow remembers that somebody said…”), please let us know, and of course be sure to cite the source. If it checks out, we’ll be happy to post it.

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Our next excerpt involves the ubiquitous Bailey’s Lucky Seven. For years it’s been taken for granted that this was a Sam Lanin group, and aural evidence does strongly suggest that was the case on many sides. Many others, however, are more generic-sounding. Unfortunately, the Gennett ledgers offer no clues in either case. (Note that the Bailey’s personnel listings in the various Rust and Johnson & Shirley discographies are all conjectural, even if the authors don’t make that clear. None of it is from file data or other primary-source documentation.)

But here we have one “Gene Bailey, of Bailey’s Lucky Seven” running a question-and-answer column in the Gennett Record Gazette. Not surprisingly, “Bailey” gave no answer whatsoever to the fan’s question concerning the Lucky Seven’s personnel, or where the band was performing, other than a vague reference later in the column to one “Saxophone Joe.”

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So, was there a real Gene Bailey involved with these recordings, and if so, in what capacity? Or was this just yet another case of the Gennett folks having fun with pseudonyms? We favor the latter, since we’ve found no trace of a Gene Bailey having been  active on the New York-area musical scene, either as a musician or a manager, at the time. (These were all New York recordings.  The cartoon above, by the way, is based on a well-known 1923 photo taken in the New York studio, which was configured differently than the Indiana facility).

There’s an old anecdote about Gennett borrowing the names of employees or other locals for its artist pseudonyms. And a Gene Bailey does turns up in the social notices of several eastern Indiana newspapers at the time, although with no mention of any musical connection. But just to muck things up a bit, Gennett once issued a record credited to “Jene Bailey’s Orchestra,” claiming (in the ledger as well as in their ads) that Mr. Bailey personally conducted the side:

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Of course, much of Gennett’s promotional material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This was, after all, a  company whose “Colored Records” catalog included a photo of an unknown black band that was captioned “Ladd’s Black Aces” — a confirmed pseudonym on Gennett for the all-white Original Memphis Five.

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While we’re on subject, here’s a terrific book that all Gennett fans should own, by Charlie Dahan and Linda Gennett Irmscher (Arcadia Publishing). It’s available on Amazon.com, and a real  bargain at just $21.99 — crammed with rare photos and little-known facts, and covering a much broader scope than the earlier Kennedy tome. Highly recommended!
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(That’s Art Landry’s Call of the North Orchestra on the cover. At the top, you can see the heavy drapes that contributed to the Indiana studio’s notoriously muddy acoustics.)

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An Important Online Classical Discography from Michael Gray

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):

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Like CHARM and UC-Santa Barbara’s Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR), this is a completely free service, with no registration or log-in required.

The Playlist • Cathedral Organ Classics — Commette, Dupre, Schweitzer (1929 – 1935)

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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

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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

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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

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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..

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CHARM: Another Outstanding Online Discographical Project

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:
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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.

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* 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.

 

Dick Spottswood’s Columbia “C” Series Discography (1908 – 1923) • Free Download Now Available

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.
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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 Playlist • Highlights from La Scala’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” (1915)

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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)

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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)

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PARTS 17–18 (Victor 35688)

Cavalleria Rusticana: A casa, a casa (mx. 3020c; April 7, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Brindisi (mx. 3019c; April 7, 1915)

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Discographic data from the Gramophone Company files, courtesy of the late Dr. Alan Kelly.

 

The Playlist • Lev Sibiriakov (St. Petersburg Recordings, 1910–1913)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV: Field-Marshall Death (Mussorgsky; “Songs and Dances of Death”)

St. Petersburg, Russia: November 12, 1913
Amour Gramophone Record M 022327 (face # 022328)  (mx. 2904c)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV: Judith — Cease your grumbling (Serov)

St. Petersburg, Russia: March 15, 1913
Monarch Record “Gramophone” 022319 (mx. 2730c)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV: Boris Godunov — Once at eve (Mussorgsky)

St. Petersburg, Russia: September 25, 1911
Monarch Record “Gramophone” 022233 (mx. 2439c)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV & MARIA MICHAILOWA: Faust — Church Scene (Gounod)

St. Petersburg, Russia: September 27, 1910
Muzpared 024048 (mx. 2045c)

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All with uncredited orchestras and conductors. Discographical data are from the original Gramophone Company files, courtesy of the late Dr. Alan Kelly.

1923 Columbia Recording Studio and Factory Film on YouTube

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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.

The Playlist • Vladimir Kastorsky (St. Petersburg, 1908)

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VLADIMIR KASTORKSY: Sadko (Rimsky-Korsakov) — Song of the Viking Guest 

St. Petersburg, Russia: 1908
Gramophone Concert Record G.C.-3-22817  (mx. 7770 l)

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VLADIMIR KASTORSKY: Prince Igor (Borodin) —
Nor Sleep, Nor Rest

St. Petersburg, Russia: 1908
Ammour Gramophone Record 022126  (mx. 403m)

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VLADIMIR KASTORSKY: Ruslan and Ludmilla (Glinka) — Farlaf’s Rondo

St. Petersburg, Russia: 1908
Ammour Gramophone Record 022125  (mx. 401m)

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Early Gramophone Company recording speeds vary widely; these transfers have not been checked for correct pitch.

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The Playlist • Feodor Chaliapin: Highlights from “Boris Godunov” (Electrical Versions, 1925–1931)

Note: Acoustically recorded versions (1910–1922) are also posted.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.)

Three ARSC 2015 Awards for Mainspring Press Books: Eli Oberstein, Victor Special Labels, Ajax Records

We’re honored to announce that three Mainspring Press titles have received 2015 awards from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Details and secure online ordering are available on the Mainspring Press website.

The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:

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2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:

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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.

Just Arrived — “Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders” — In Stock

NOW IN STOCK — Available Exclusively from Mainspring Press

ED2M-cover-x5EDISON TWO-MINUTE AND CONCERT CYLINDERS
American Series, 1897–1912
By Allan Sutton

398 pages, illustrated • 7″ x 10″ quality softcover
$49 (U.S. –  Free Shipping)
Order directly from Mainspring Press

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Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders is 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.

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The Playlist • Dimitri Smirnov (1912–1924)

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DIMITRI SMIRNOV & MARIA DAVIDOV (Julius Harrison, conductor)
Boris Godunov — Oh, Tzarevich, I implore thee (Mussorgsky)

Hayes, Middlesex, England: August 23, 1923
His Master’s Voice D.B.753 (mx. Cc 3335 – 1)

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DIMTRI SMIRNOV & KONSTANTIN KAIDANOV (Pierro Coppola, conductor)
Boris Godunov — Yet one more tale
(Mussorgsky)

Paris: June 24, 1924
His Master’s Voice D.B.765 (mxs. CP 260 – 1 and CP 261 – 1)

 

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DIMITRI SMIRNOV: May Night — The sun is low (Rimsky-Korsakov)

St. Petersburg, Russia: October 21, 1912
His Master’s Voice 022302 (mx. 2697c)

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Discographic data are from the original Gramophone Company files, courtesy of Dr. Alan Kelly.