Filmed at HMV studios, London.
Times are tough in the recorded music business with sales revenues declining significantly and regularly this century. Times are particularly tough in the classical music part of that business with its decline outpacing the market at large.
We’ve been reading Norman Lebrecht’s marvellously pacey race through the history of classical recording in his book “Maestro’s, Masterpieces and Madness” and would recommend it to all people interested in the story of the record business.
At the end of the book, Lebrecht lists all the classical records that have sold over 1 million records. There are only 25 of them. The first record to do so – and clinging on to the list at #25 – is Gaisberg’s recordings of Caruso. Only ten classical recordings have shifted 3 million or more. The top 5 all time sellers are as follows
1. Wagner Ring – Solti (Decca) 1958 – 1965 18 million. Produced by Decca legend, John Culshaw, this is “a better record than Sgt Pepper” according to its fans. Here is an excerpt from a BBC documentary about the making of the records, starring Solti’s strange jerky style conducting and Culshaw’s calm comfortings. Style fact: Decca engineers (and Solti) wore white plimsolls when in the studio to avoid causing background noise.
2. The Three Tenors (Decca) 1990 14 million
3. Vivaldi: Four Seasons (Philips) 1959 9.5 million
4. The Three Tenors 2 (Warner) 1994 7.8 million
5. Canto Gregoriano 1993 5.5 million
Gaisberg and Sinkler Darby arrived in Milan from Vienna in July 1899. The musical city made a great impression on Gaisberg as he later recalled.
“My first visit to Milan..in 1899 was rich in experiences…I often saw Verdi (below) who would regularly take an afternoon drive in an open landau drawn by two horses. People would stand on the curb and raise their hands in salute as the carriages proceeded down the Via Manzoni to the Park. A frail, transparent wisp of a man, but the trim of his pure white beard so corresponded with the popular picture of him that one could not fail to identify him….
One could sit at the Cafe Biffi (below) in the Galleria and have pointed out to him Puccinni, LeonCavallo, Mascagni, Franchetti, Giordano, Tamagno…as they santered through the throng of chattering citizens on their way to to have their midday aperitif”.
Gramophone Company agents were already operating in Italy. Alfred Michalis worked Milan and his brother William worked in Naples. They were building the company but unfortunately the promise of Milan and the Michaelis brothers proved greater than the reality. Almost 250 recordings were made in Milan but the artists were largely “nonentities.” The big stars were not yet interested in or possibly even aware of the new recorded medium. Despite loving the experience of the Italian city, Gaisberg left Milan a tad professionally disappointed in mid-July. Future trips would prove much more successful, including the recording of Caruso in 1902, but until then the memory of the wonderful Italian food would have to suffice. Here’s a photo of Gaisberg and colleague William Sinkler Darby enjoying some local nosebag! It looks like a scene from Lady And The Tramp. Darby is looking up and into the camera and you can see Gaisberg’s trademark boater on the chair opposite him.
And here’s a little bit of Verdi to accompany the meal.