One hundred and eleven years ago today Fred Gaisberg was in the middle of his third big recording expedition. He’d travelled to continental Europe over the summer of 1899 and the British Isles over the autumn of that year and had already made hundreds of the world’s first recordings.
In spring 1900 he and his colleague William Sinkler Darby travelled to Russia to make some more recordings of local artists. You can see them posing in newly purchased fur coats which were necessary to ward off the effects of the savage cold weather they encountered. Gaisberg is on the left.
Getting into pre-revolutionary Russia had proved a task in itself. Their equipment was packed in 7 huge cases and Russian customs extracted a then-hefty £7 charge as duty for it’s import into the country. The country was covered in thick snow and the trip to St Petersburg took 8 days by train but they passed the time giving gramophone concerts at the different stop offs. This would have been the first time the listening people would have heard recorded music. It must have seemed like magic to them. Gaisberg remembers the impact they had:
“We would give a gramophone concert at these stops and the amusement of the natives was great to see. I really think the train tarried an extra long time so we could finish our concert.”
Once they arrived in Russia their principal method of transport was a sleigh. Gaisberg got a real kick out of travelling around on the horse drawn sleighs and volunteered to do a lot of the leg work whilst in Russia because it gave him a chance for more sleigh-rides. It was all very Dr Zhivago. Gaisberg and Darby complained constantly about the cold (which they ward off with local vodka) until 110 years ago today when they bought the bear skin coats that you can see in the photo. Gaisberg’s diary recalls intriguingly:
“Sunday 1st April, 1900. We bought our huge bear-skins. After dinner we visited our friends on Milka Prospect where we met an English chap who was nearly crazy. We cut up high.”
It sounds like quite a party….