Gaisberg pursues an opportunity to record the Czar. More extracts from his field recordings of 1900.

(Fred is in St Petersburg recording local artists……)

On April 9th 1900, Fred Gaisberg returned to his hotel after watching the performance of Demon and flirting with Rodina to find a message asking him to “prepare to give a recording exhibition before the Czar’s secretary that evening”. This was news he had been hoping for. After “considerable bustle” he made his exhibition to “his High Excellence” Secretary Tanieff and entourage who all spoke good english. The exhibition consisted of a demonstration of the new-fangled recording technology and Fred played back some recordings from his trip, made a record of Secretary Tanieff playing one of his own compositions and then he and his colleague Darby sang a duet or two to round off proceedings. Gaisberg thought the evening had gone well (“they expressed themselves highly delighted”) and believed that it would lead to him having the chance to record the Czar’s voice for a charity release in Russia. This had been one of Fred’s great ambitions for this field recording trip to Russia. Darby and Gaisberg celebrated with a roister-doistering late supper and turned in after 2am convinced that they would be recording the Czar.

Alexander Sergievitch Tanieff, Secretary of State and Director of the Private Chancellerie of the Emperor

[Historical note: Tanieff’s daughter who was present at these recordings wrote a memoir of her time at court. She describes her family in “Memories of the Russian Court” in 1923:

” My father, Alexander Sergievitch Tanieff, during most of his life, was a functionary of the Russian Court, Secretary of State, and Director of the Private Chancellerie of the Emperor, an office held before him by his father and his grandfather. My mother was a daughter of General Tolstoy, aide-de-camp of Alexander 11. One of my immediate ancestors was Field Marshal Koutousoff, famous in the Napoleonic Wars. Another, on my mother’s side, was Count Kontaisoff, an intimate friend of the eccentric Tsar Paul, son of the great Catherine.”

Tanieff himself is clearly a good connection for Gaisberg and also personally very musical:

“My father, aside from his official duties, had no Interests apart from his home and his music, for he was a composer and a pianist of more than national fame. My earliest memories are of home evenings, my brother Serge and my sister Alya (Alexandra) studying their lessons under the shaded lamp, my dear mother sitting near with her needlework, and my
father at the piano working out one of his compositions, striking the keys softly and noting down his harmonies.”]

The St Petersburg part of the Russian trip begin to unwind at this point. One day of recording was expensively lost when the band failed to turn up and Gaisberg was left kicking his heels in a hired hall. When the band did arrive the following day, Friedman, the director of the band, refused to play the songs that Gaisberg had requested  and proved generally unhelpful to the recording process. This proved to the team’s last day in St Petersburg and on April 13th Gaisberg travelled by train to Moscow for Easter weekend hoping to meet the Czar.

Although he waited around for the opportunity, the Tanieff connection did not lead to an introduction to the Czar; Gaisberg’s luck was out. He did in fact get to see the Czar in Moscow but sadly only as one of thousands of people watching the parade of the Csar arriving at the palace in a convoy of twenty carraiges. Gaisberg got no closer to the Czar and after a couple of days of sight seeing at the Kremin and strolling around the bazaars he left on a late train to Warsaw arriving on Easter Monday 16th April 1900.

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #3

This little beauty from the EMI Archive Trust collection is an Oratiograph Phonograph which was made by John Schoenner in Germany in 1902

Its described by the Trust as:
 
“…a is a fascinating small machine about which not much is known. They were made in Germany by the John Schoenner Factory in the early years of the 20th Century. The Oratiograph outfit comprises of a box containing the mechanism, a box containing the cylinders, and a collapseable paper horn. Once set-up, unlike other phonographs, the reproducer and horn remain static, as it is the madrel which moves beneath it. The cylinders were wax on a tin core and came in a red box with decorative lid.”

Thank you to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to show these pictures. You can find out more about the EMI Archive Trust (and even arrange a time to go and visit their gramophone collection) here.

We’d love to make contact with people who have an interest in these kind of devices. Please get in touch via the comments section below.

April 8th 1900: What Fred did next

If you can remember from our last visit to his diaries of exactly 110 years ago, roving proto-field recordist Fred Gaisberg and sidekick William Sinkler Darby were in pre-revolutionary Russia in 1900 buying bear skin coats to ward off the harsh St Petersburg weather. (If you can’t remember you can read about it here.)

On April 3rd 1900 Fred & William were invited to “exhibit a Gramo” to a Russian princess which would likely have involved spinning some tunes for her majesty and making a recording for her amusement. This would proably have been the first time the royal lady would have ever have heard a recorded voice. Looking back from our perspective it is easy to forget what a revolutionary pastime Fred was engaged in. He was spreading the experience of recorded music  into new pockets of the world as he toured them searching for musical talent. This was futuristic bleeding edge technology that Fred was working with and showing off!

Fred was no mug. It had been suggested to him by a Russian colleague called Raphoff that this exhibit may lead to an opportunity to record the Czar himself so Gaisberg was playing the angles hoping to engineer what would have been a significant early recording. Tune in to next week’s extract from Fred’s diaries to find out if he was successful pursuing this man.

Nicholas II Czar of Russia

The rest of Gaisberg’s week was spent watching a performance of Carmen (written only 35 years previously), following the Boer War in the old English newspapers in the lobby of a local hotel (Russians overwhelmingly supported the Boers, Fred overwhelmingly keen to point out to the he was American not English!) and recording and flirting with a beautiful young soprano called Radina.

On April 8th he wrote in his diary “We attended an afternoon performance of …Demon by Rubinstein. Radina was our prima donna ….Between the acts we would present ourselves at the dressing-room of our beautiful prima donna and congratulate her on her performance of the foregoing act…I told her I wished I was the Devil in the last act, when he was embracing her….” The rogue!

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #2

This is a seriously cute piece; it’s another Phonograph called ” Le Mervilleux” (Meaning =  “Wonderful”) and was made by Henri Lioret around 1894.

Our friends at EMI Archive Trust, who own it, describe it thus:

“Henri Lioret was a respected clockmaker before turning his attention to phonographs. This unusual phonograph was made from around 1894, and based on the same mechanism that Lioret used in his Bebe Jumeau talking doll. The mechanism itself is mounted inside a pasteboard box and finished with a simulated leather covering. A side flap opens to allow access to the cylinders, and a top flap opens to reveal the integral-horn. This machine played only the smallest of Lioret cylinders, lasting a mere 30 seconds. Despite its simplicity and fragility, the Merveilleux plays extremely well for such an early phonograph. Their fragility too, makes them a relatively rare machine. It was also the first entirly Lioret machine to be sold, with a price tag of 16 francs.”

Lioret’s first commercial idea for playing back recordings was the talking and singing Bebe Jumeau doll mentioned above which had in effect a phonograph as innards. It looks like something from an episode of Doctor Who.

This strange looking toy, which was very successful in France, represented a step forward in recording technology as it was the first non-tin foil cylinder made in France. It contained improvements upon Edison’s original design including the fact that the cylinders were made out of celluloid and were the first unbreakable cylinders ever made. You can see more Lioret stuff, here.

So now you know!

Thank you to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to show these pictures. You can find out more about the EMI Archive Trust (and even arrange a time to go and visit their gramophone collection) here.

We’d love to make contact with people who have an interest in these kind of devices. Please get in touch via the comments section below.

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #1

This is the first of a series of early playback devices that are owned by the EMI Archive Trust. Its actually not a gramophone; its a phonograph. An Excelsior Pearl phonograph which was made in Cologne, Germany, in 1904

This is how the Trust describes the piece “Excelsior phonographs were produced by the Excelsiorwerk of Cologne at the begining of the 20th Century.They were mainly of the Type Q Graphophone family with a cover-plate round the motor. Some however, like the Pearl, were made with a cast-iron bedplate and a motor concealed in a case below. Decoratively, the Pearl shares the common Excelsior finish of black with a red lining. This Pearl also carries its name and a landscape / floral motif on the oak case. Originally cost 32/6.”

You can see how it would have played back sound in this video of a reproduced phonograph:

Thank you to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to show these pictures. You can find out more about the EMI Archive Trust (and even arrange a time to go and visit their gramophone collection) here.

I’d love to make contact with people who have an interest in these kind of devices. Please get in touch via the comments section below.

Hi Fi Boom Box 1954

 

You have got to love Shorpy’s Vintage Photograph’s. Its a simple but effective formula for a website. They publish one interesting historical picture per day in high resolution with an explanation of the photo’s origin and if you like the photo you can buy a print of it. As they say on their banner, there is “always something interesting” to look at. This is a vision of the hifi future taken in 1954. You can read more about it here. Love that valve amp, daddio!

Absolutely not the last about the King’s Speech….

I’ve been meaning to post a link to an interview with Abbey Road’s Peter Cobbin and Lester Smith on Absolute Radio. Pete recorded the soundtrack and used the EMI Archive Trust microphones to do so. Lester is guardian of the microphones at Abbey Road and looks after the Trust mics as well.

Here is what they had to say from the 45 minute mark on this podcast.

Gaisberg in Russia: April 1st 1900

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….

Fred Gaisberg. The World’s First A&R man.

Imagine a world where nothing yet has been recorded. 

Almost nobody on the planet has heard sound played back to them. Radio doesn’t exist. Music is played live and exists only for as long as the notes hang in the air.

And imagine then that somebody has developed a technology for recording sound and you have been given the task to go out and make recordings. To gather sounds from the air! Where do you start? What do you record? How do you make a living from it?

Fred Gaisberg is not so well remembered these days but he was the man whose task and privilege it was to be the first to go out and record the world. He was an early employee of Emile Berliner (as the German perfected the recording technology in America) and then he moved to England at the end of the 19th Century and came on board The Gramophone Company (precursor to EMI) as employee number four or five.

Fred was from a musical background and his strength was to spot talent and persuade the musicians to make recordings for his fledgeling company. He was the world’s first A&R man; in fact he invented the role. He set off on lengthy trips to the far corners of the earth to collect and bring back the treasures of the world’s music for all to hear.  

Gaisberg wrote a series of diaries that traced his adventures and we plan to use these writings as a way of highlighting some of the great early recordings that he made and the lengths to which Fred and his colleagues would have to go to obtain them from artists and people suspicious of the new technology.

Because Fred Gaisberg is such an important figure in the history of recorded sound, we have set up a separate page in his honour where we will collect information about the great man,

It’s called Fred Gaisberg’s Progress.