Recording pioneers- Part 8, William Conrad Gaisberg

 

“We realised how many different degrees of smells there are in the world”

-William Gaisberg’s observation of Hyderabad, India

Name:              William Conrad Gaisberg

Born:               26th June 1877

Resident:        Born in Washington DC, USA

Occupation:   Recording engineer, managing director & head of London Recording Department

Loves:            Travelling, opera, pushing the boundaries of music and his brother (Fred)

William Gaisberg

In 1894, Fred Gaisberg came to work at Emile Berliner’s laboratory in Washington D.C. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his school friend William Sinkler Darby and also by his younger brother William [Gaisberg], who had previously worked for a period of time as a recording engineer with the Berliner Gram-O-Phone Company in Canada. It was during this period in America where Berliner imparted his knowledge of the secrets of disc record-making to these young men.  Within a few years the three of them moved to Europe, where, as recording engineers, they became the most important figures in The Gramophone Company’s staff.

William Gaisberg vatican

    -Recording in the Vatican, Recording in the Vatican, April 1902. Left to right: William Michaelis, the castrato Alessandro Moreschi and William Gaisberg

William Gaisberg’s enthusiasm and enterprising nature led him to take over many of his brother’s duties, which included managing and leading the third recording tour of India. The third tour began at Calcutta in 1906, and then proceeded onto Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Madras.

Despite the Gramophone Company’s dominant position and success in the talking machine and disc record trade in Asia, It could not rest on its laurels of achievement, as American recording companies such as The Columbia Phonograph Company began making great advances. This motivated William to record artists of a higher repute and achieve a product of a much higher quality.

Gaisberg sought to record vocalists associated within the theatrical circuit, which resulted in him making the first recordings of Miss Janki Bai of Allahabad. He also placed emphasis on recordings of Gauhar Jaan, whose status had grown significantly, earning the reputation as a ‘Gramophone celebrity’.

In 1910 at the age of 33, William became manager of the Recording department, where he provided a vital link between the head office and its overseas territories.

In October 1918, a month before the Armistice was signed, The Gramophone Company became involved in a project to record the sound of the war. The reasoning behind the venture was that if there were to be no more war, then for the benefit of posterity, it was important to record and document the sounds of battle.

The Company elected to send William to the Western Front. It was in the French city of Lille that he recorded The Royal Garrison Artillery firing off a gas barrage. By the time the recording was completed, the war was over. Gaisberg had been slightly gassed during the expedition, and fell victim to the flu pandemic and tragically died a month later in November 1918.

Recording Pioneers- Part 7, William Barry Owen

 

Name:              William Barry Owen

Born:              15 April 1860

Resident:        Born in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

Occupation:   Sent to London to raise investment funds for the Gramophone Company to expand into Europe

Loves:             Music, Musicians, Gambling, London high society parties

 

Image

 

In July 1897 William Barry Owen resigned from his post with the National Gramophone Company in the United States and sailed for Britain. He was sent by Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and flat disc to set up the company in England and find investors. When he arrived he met a young Welsh lawyer; Trevor Lloyd Williams who became his co-founder of The British Gramophone Company in 1899.

Owen was an excellent sales man, having refined his selling talents as a sales man during his law degree at Amherst College. He was also a gambler who enjoyed the high stakes of starting up new ventures and more importantly he enjoyed living the high life that could be achieved if successful and so he jumped at the potential high profits in Berliner’s new Gramophone.

Initially he threw himself into the work but found high society London to be a tough crowd to crack, the Gramophones were selling but he found it difficult to attract investors to help build the business. It was his idea to bring in the Lambert Typewriter as an insurance product in case the Gramophone flopped. However, as fate would have it, the Lambert typewriter failed to bring in much revenue and The Gramophone Company stopped production in 1904. At this point Owen seemed to loose interest in the business,  he remained on the board for two more years and then left The Gramophone Company altogether in 1906.

After resigning he left Britain and returned home to the United States where he made several unsuccessful attempts in the agricultural business. By 1910 he had spent all of his money and was riddled with debt. He spent the rest of his life living off a pension paid jointly by Victor Talking Machine and The Gramophone Company.

Recording Pioneers- Part 4

Trevor Lloyd Williams

 

“The money behind the music”

Name:                        Trevor Lloyd Williams         

Born:                         18 July 1859, Deudraeth Castle, Penrhynd, Merionethshire, Wales

Resident:                  London

Occupation:             Solicitor, The first major British investor and registered The Gramophone Company in the United Kingdom in 1898 with William Barry Owen

Loves:                       Classical music, Law, Travelling, Investing in new inventions from across the pond

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Trevor Lloyd Williams Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Trevor Lloyd Williams
Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust


In the very early days of the Gramophone Company Emile Berliner (inventor of flat discs and the gramophone) sent his partner William Barry Owen to London to generate some interest and investors in the gramophone to launch the company.  After many months of high profile engagements in London Owen wasn’t having much luck.  In a final attempt for investment he gave his young solicitor, Trevor Williams, a gramophone to take home for one evening. Williams was unimpressed by the prospects of the gramophone to begin with but was convinced on trip to New York where he met Berliner and witnessed for himself the recording industry beginning to become established in the United States.

 

 When he returned to London, Williams along with three of his friends, arranged for a bank guarantee of £5000.  This wasn’t as much as Owen and Berliner had hoped for but just enough to kick start the company.

 

William  Barry Owen Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

William Barry Owen
Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

On February 23rd 1889 Owen and Williams registered the small, private Gramophone Company.  Trevor Williams had overall control and Owen was his general manager.  Gramophones would be assembled in London from components supplied by America.  The company made its own recordings, but the actual records would be pressed at a factory in Hanover, Germany, at a factory plant owned by Berliner’s brother.  Trevor Williams knew that the American taste in music would not be big sellers in the Victorian salons, so recording specific musicians that would be to the taste of Victorian Britain was essential.

“Williams put his foot down and insisted on selecting his own repertoire”

-William Barry Owen

The Company set up its offices at 31 Maiden Lane, just off the Strand. It was a shabby old building, part of which served as a make do hotel.  However it was close to many of London’s theatres and music halls, where London’s brightest and best singers could be found easily.  At the time Williams and Owen had no way of conducting the recording sessions for themselves, however Berliner was not prepared to share the details of his record making process with the two business men.  Instead Berliner sent his trusted young sound engineer, Fred Gaisberg, to London to start making recordings for the European market.

One of the first ever recordings was the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, sung by Trevor Williams’ niece, Madge Breese.

For Hound readers with access to the Welsh Language channel S4C wishing to learn more about the Welsh connection watch  S4C Darn Bach o Hanes (a little piece of History) 26 August 20.25 to 21.00                                            

Dewi Prysor looks at the Welsh connection in the history of recorded music. He learns about the Welsh roots of the music recording and publishing company  EMI, attempts to record his own voice using some early technology, and visits EMI Archive Trust to listen to the first recording in Welsh.     


 

Recording Pioneers- Part 2

Alfred Clark 1873 – 1950


“The fine thread running through the very fabric of HMV history”

-Fred Gaisberg

Name:                  Alfred Clark

Born:                    19 December 1873

Resident:             Born in New York,  moved to France 1899 aged 26  then resident of the UK, 1909 -1950

Occupation:        Gramophone Company Managing Director, Chairman and EMI President

Loves:                  Classical music, sealing the deal, travelling the world

 

Alfred Clark Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Alfred Clark
Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

 

Clark was born into an affluent New York family. He began his career in the newly forming recording industry with North American Phonograph in 1889, at the age of just 16. Throughout the 1890’s he also worked for Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope organisation, where he produced ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’ – Edison’s first scripted film.

“Clark had all the vision of youthful enthusiasm and it was not long before he had enticed to his recording studio the great stars of the Opera and concert halls…”

-Fred Gaisberg meeting Clark in Paris

 

He later went to join Emile Berliner as a sales manager at the Berliner Gramophone Company store in Philadelphia.  Around this time he also became involved in experimental work, redesigning and patenting a new design for the gramophone sound box with Eldridge Johnson.

Thomas Edison letter Alfred Clark Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Alfred Clark letter of introduction from Thomas Edison

In 1899 at the age of just 26 Clark immigrated to France as an agent for Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner.  He joined forces with the Gramophone Company to form ‘Compagnie Française du Gramophone.’  He remained here until 1908 and after one year’s short break he became the Managing Director of the Gramophone Company in 1909.  He stayed in this post for 21 years until 1930, when he became The Gramophone Company’s Chairman.

Alfred Clark Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Alfred Clark
Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

 

 

He played a central part in the negotiations that led to the formation of Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI Ltd) of which he was the first chairman. In 1946 he became EMI President. He stayed in this post for only 6 months before deciding to leave the company. Despite his incredible success Clark took a humble view of his career.

 

“…it has been a drab, plugging career, nothing spectacular, a business of laying one brick upon another…”

-Alfred Clark

Recording Pioneers- Part 1

Emile Berliner 1851 – 1921

“The key to victory is never-ending application”

-Emile Berliner

Name: Emile Berliner

Born: 20 May 1851

Resident: Born in Hanover in Germany, immigrated to the United States as a young man of only 19 in 1870

Occupation: Recording sound mastermind

Loves: His wife and family, inventing, campaigning for better health standards and shellac discs

Emile Berliner

Emile Berliner

Berliner applied himself to the science of sound and recording. On November 8 1887 he patented a successful system of sound recording. Berliner was the first inventor to make recordings on flat disks or records. Previously recordings were made onto cylinders. With Berliner’s new system a spiral groove with sound information was etched into the flat record.

Around the time of his invention Berliner met a young man called Fred Gaisberg. With a keen interest in the newly developing phonograph industry Gaisberg paid a visit to Berliner’s laboratory in Washington DC where he watched Berliner record Billy Golden onto a flat disc and then listened to the playback.

When Gaisberg first heard one of Berliner’s recordings he noted

“I was spell bound by the beautiful round tone of the flat gramophone disc”

-Fred Gaisberg

The superior sound and ease of mass reproducing recordings lead Berliner to set up the Gramophone Company in the United States. He later sent the young Fred Gaisberg to London to set up a recording studio to exploit the European market.

Emile Berliner & Hanover Factory - Germany Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Emile Berliner & Hanover Factory – Germany
Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Berliner has been described as an eccentric inventor and scientist but the intricacies of the business world never came naturally to him. The success of the Gramophone Company was due to his careful choice in business savvy partners, such as Gaisberg, who made the contacts and sales that pushed the company to be an industry leader. Gaisberg commented in his journals

“For many years Berliner was the only one of many people I knew connected with the gramophone who was genuinely musical and possessed a cultured taste.”

-Fred Gaisberg

For his achievements in the recording field Berliner was awarded the prestigious John Scott and Elliott Cresson medals by the Franklin institute. He remained a true scientist throughout his career. Both in public health by promoting the pasteurisation of milk thus reducing the rates of childhood infectious diseases and in the field of physics where he continued making developments in acoustic tiles, aeronautics and microphone technology.

Gaisberg’s Travels

On the 23rd of July 1898 Fred Gaisberg, at the age of 25 set sail on the 9 a.m. SS Umbria Cunard ship from New York to Liverpool. He was sent by the inventor of the Gramophone, Emile Berliner to London as one of the first sound engineers to set up a recording studio in London to cater to the European market. GAISBERG_DIARIES_11.pdf - Adobe Reader

Fred’s personal preparations for life across the sea were simple. “My baggage consisted of a complete recording outfit plus a twenty-five dollar bicycle with pneumatic tyres, and a notebook stuffed with receipts addresses and advice… “

GAISBERG_DIARIES_1.pdf - Adobe ReaderAt only 25 years old one can only imagine the excitement, curiosity and fear Gaisberg would have felt as his cousin, Carrie, waved him goodbye from the New York harbour. He must have wondered…would he like the new people? Would London be welcoming? Would the journey be comfortable?

Gaisberg (L) and Joseph Sanders (C) aboard the SS Umbria en-route to Liverpool, July 1898Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Gaisberg (L) and Joseph Sanders (C) aboard the SS Umbria en-route to Liverpool, July 1898Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Although he must have been anxious he was certainly ambitious, taking the opportunity to meet potential contacts and artists while aboard. During his journey he met the music hall comedian Bert Shepherd, whose wide repertoire and contagious laugh drew in Gaisberg. The two became friends and before leaving the SS Umbria Gaisberg  secured a promise from shepherd to visit the studio in London once it was set up.

The Proms 2013

Today marks the start of one of the World’s biggest Classical music festivals. The BBC Proms begins with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall featuring Sally Matthews (soprano,) Roderick Williams (baritone,) Stephen Hough (piano,) BBC Proms Youth Choir, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo (conductor) in a performances of Julian Anderson – Harmony (BBC Commission, World Premiere,)  Britten – Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes,’  Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,  Lutosławski – Variations on a Theme by Paganini and Vaughan Williams – A Sea Symphony.

Sir Henry Wood recording with the Queens Hall Orchestra for the Columbia Gramophone Company around 1912 © EMI Group Archive Trust

Sir Henry Wood recording with the Queens Hall Orchestra for the Columbia Gramophone Company around 1912  © EMI Group Archive Trust

This year the Proms will be broadcast to classical music enthusiasts all over the world. Many of the concerts and performances will be recorded and made available for purchase. It’s hard to imagine now but just 126 years ago a piece of music could only be heard when the audience was present, and as such was only available to those who could afford a ticket to see the best performers. At the end of the 19th century the Gramophone Company revolutionised this idea, making audio recordings available across the globe.

Tonight’s opening show which will be available via radio, TV or at the Royal Albert Hall itself is built upon the 126 year old legacy of Emile Berliner (inventor of the Gramophone) and the early Gramophone Company founders.   But for now relax and enjoy this clip of the God Father of the Proms Sir Henry Wood.