Happy American Independence day!

In the early days of the Gramophone Company the British founders worked closely with their American counterparts. A lot of the initial success can be attributed to one of the first sound and recording engineers – American Born Fred Gaisberg.

Fred Gaisberg

Fred Gaisberg, Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

He began working on the newly invented gramophone in the late 19th century and was taken on by the Gramophone Company in 1898.  Read more about the work Gaisberg did as one of the first sound engineers on a previous blog post here

Fred Gaisberg with Sinkler Darby, Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Fred Gaisberg with Sinkler Darby, Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

On this very day 113 years ago (4th of July 1900) Gaisberg himself was en route to Milan to record for the Gramophone Company as recorded in his personal diary. As one of the company’s best sound engineers he spend a lot of time in mainland Europe recording popular local musicians.

“Wednesday, 4 July 1900 [The Vatican → by train to Florence → Bologna → Milan]
“We started for Milan, passing through Florence and Bologna.
Arriving at the Hotel Milan about 9 o’c we entered, and were lucky enough to see the great composer Verdi. Fine-looking maestro now bent with age, yet with a distinguished look. He must be about 86 years old.” FG

File:Verdi-photo-Brogi.jpg

Giuseppe Verdi

So  please be upstanding for AMERICA and STAR SPANGLED BANNER by the Victor Brass Quartet – 1909

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Joe Batten’s Book: The Story of Sound Recording

SOTH would like to thank our latest contributor Michael Lloyd-Davies for his insightful review on the memoirs of Joe Batten – pioneer recording manager.   

By Michael Lloyd-Davies

 

 In his foreward to Joe Batten’s memoirs, Joe is described by Sir Compton McKenzie as “that other great recorder” bracketed with Freddy Gaisberg. Joe Batten’s story is perhaps wider in its horizons. The core of the book is the excitement of pioneer recording from wax-cylinder to L.P., in which mechanical hazards and progress are described as an explorer could write of his adventures.

The period before the First World War saw sound recording grow from being a novelty toy to become an industry full of innovation and eventually accepted as a serious medium and art form by both artists and the public.

Joe was one of the pioneers who began as a pianist accompanying vocalists in recording rooms as early studios were known, to become the artistic manager for Edison Bell, and later, the Columbia Graphophone Company which merged in 1931 with The Gramophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI).

At EMI he formed the Special Recording Department which was located at new studios at Abbey Road. This venture began making sponsored shows for the Commercial Radio companies which were springing up in the mid 1930’s. The department was almost immediately shut down at the outset of the Second World War but re-opened to make recordings for the troops through ENSA up to 1945.

In the last five years of his 50 year career in the music industry, Joe made some notable recordings including two historical events, the silver wedding of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the wedding of H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Inevitably Joe Batten amassed a vast number of friends and memories in the musical concert and light opera fields and it is fitting that the book (out of print since the first edition in 1956) should close with select memories of the life and times at The Savage Club, London’s last bohemian rendezvous where Joe Batten concluded his life as he began it – accompanist to those spontaneous musical evenings which from the West End to the East were once such a feature of London Life.

Joe retired in 1950 but died five years later before his memoirs were published.

Joe Batten’s Book: The Story of Sound Recording is now available via Kindle Book Store: www. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007Q1U4RA

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961)

  By Tony Locantro

gat134-018-LFCourtesy of  © EMI Group Archive Trust

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961) came to the UK from his native Australia to study singing in 1903. His lessons with Sir Charles Santley stood him in good stead for a career that lasted almost 60 years and encompassed every kind of music, from the oratorios of Handel via Gilbert and Sullivan to rousing patriotic ballads and popular songs of the day.  He began recording in 1904 on cylinders for the Edison company, and in 1906 Fred Gaisberg signed him to an exclusive contract with the Gramophone Company. His first flat discs were on the G&T label but he was soon appearing on HMV when the dog and trumpet trademark started being used on Gramophone discs around 1909. He went on to become one of the most prolific recording artists of all time and remained exclusive to HMV for the rest of his life.

As well as his own name, he used many aliases, including Hector Grant, the pseudonym under which he performed the repertoire of Harry Lauder, not only on disc but also on the music hall stage in full Scottish gear, much to Lauder’s annoyance.

Listen to Dawson give a fine rendition of  “The Song of Australia“.   Written by English born poet Caroline Carleton in 1859 for a competition sponsored by the Gawler Institute. If you’re a SOTH subscriber following by email please go to the actual blog to get the full posting.

A stirring version of Dawson’s  Rule Britannia  is featured on the new double CD Scott’s Music Box, released on 14 May.

The Paris Match: Gaisberg and Clarke make discs and cylinders side by side in 1899

Gaisberg’s first continental recording trip with William Sinkler Darby had begun in Leipzig in May 1899, where Thomas Birnbaum the Managing Director of the German Gramophone Company, joined them to travel to Budapest, Vienna and ultimately the dazzling musical city of Milan. The trip had been a mixed bag; lots of fun, some successses but Gaisberg ultimately left Italy a mite down-hearted at his failure to record any significant artists during their stay in Milan.

Gaisberg (right) and Sinkler Darby (with pipe) share a bottle of wine and write letters home from their hotel room in Vienna that doubled as their studio

Their next stop was Paris. This was where the thrusting Alfred Clark was building a highly successful recording operation. He leveraged his growing local power to deliver a series of great artists to Gaisberg’s recording sessions. Fred later recalled: “Alfred Clarke had all the vision of youthful enthusiasm, and it was not long before he had enticed to his recording studio the great stars of opera and concert halls”

It was also here that Gaisberg remembered making records with Clarke’s assistant so that they would fit both Edison’s cylinder and Berliner’s rival disc: “I recorded the first discs in Paris in 1899 under Alfred Clark’s direction. Cleve Walcott, his assistant, would record simultaneously the same artists on cylinders, as he [Clark] was then building up both a cylinder and disc catalogue….” This explains how Clark managed to reconcile the recording format wars and service both the cylinder and disc part of his Paris based business.

Gaisberg’s first recording trip goes Pasta Milano. 1899.

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.

Recording pianists, gypsies and tenors…in Leipzig, Budapest and Vienna

Fred Gaisberg and side-kick William Sinkler Darby were sent from London to the Continent to make more recordings for the Gramophone Company in 1899. The new Gramophone technology was in great demand and the company was struggling to keep up with it. The company had established a new disc manufacturing plant in Hanover that was producing discs for the continent. What was needed was more recordings to go on the discs. Hence Fred & William found themselves in Leipzig in May 1899. Oh, and there was also a side deal with Alfred Clark’s phonograph company to supply them with recordings for use on their rival audio technology.

They hooked up with Thomas Birnbaum, the Manager in charge of the German office of The Gramophone Company and made their first recordings in Leipzig. On Tuesday 30th May 1899, they boarded a train at Leipzig station arriving in Budapest where they began recording on the following Saturday.

This picture shows Fred (left on the pianothat is raised up to the level of the recording horn), Sinkler Darby (on the right) and Thomas Birnbaum horsing around with Marcella Lindh, a talented soprano who was based in Budapest at the time. Marcella was not Hungarian; she was American born and had performed with the John Sousa Band. This is probably where Fred knew Marcella from as he had worked with Sousa on several occasions. Lindh was a successful singer in the States, having sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and various social events in New York area before heading to the continent and ultimately Budapest with her Hungarian husband becoming Marcella Lindh Jellinek in the process. After her husband died, Marcella returned to America, settling in Detroit where she lived until 30 July 1966.

Gaisberg recorded over 200 sessions in Budapest. There do not seem to have been any recordings of Marcella Lindh on this trip which suggests that her visit to the studio was a social one. Many of the sessions were of gypsy style music, including some of this guy, Török Istvan:

As a whole, however, the Budapest stopover did not lead to any landmark recordings. On 15th June the recording team boarded the 8am train to Vienna.

Vienna proved to be a more successful recording venue. Gaisberg recorded a variety of musicians including yodlers and folk musicians as well as the Viennese dance orchestra of Carl Ziehrer. Ziehrer was incredibly popular in waltz-crazy Vienna at the time having returned from touring Europe and America. “Younger audiences liked his brash, highly rhythmic take on the waltz and by the end of the decade he had overtaken his old adversary, [Edward Strauss,] in popularity.”

Carl Ziehrer

The biggest success of Vienna was the recordings that Gaisberg and Sinkler Darby made of the piano virtuoso Alfred Grunfeld. Grunfeld was one of the great pianists of the era and perhaps the most prominent artist yet recorded at that point in time. Grunfeld played a stand up piano as featured in the photo of Marcella Lindh, above, rather than the grand piano he had been used to. . You can learn more about Grunfeld here, and listen to one of Gaisberg’s recordings of him:

Publicity photos of the early Gramophone stars #3: Florence Austral, Warrior Queen and proud Australian

This is the third in a series of publicity shots from the early years of the recording business that our friends at the EMI Archive Trust have made available to us. This photo is of Florence Austral who was an Australian soprano who lived between 1892 and 1968. She changed from her original name of Florence Mary Wilson to Florence Austral to reflect her nationality and probably took the lead of Helen Porter Mitchell who became the biggest singing star in the world at the turn of the twentieth century as Nellie Melba named after her home Australian city of Melbourne.

She is clearly an enthusiastic participant in the promo process, as you can see…

We award her 4/5 for her PR efforts. A wonderful picture from around 1925.

Melba was a fan of her younger compatriot, calling Florence’s voice “one of the wonder voices of the world”. Fred Gaisberg signed her to the HMV label where she made over a hundred recordings in the 1920’s and described her thus “In the early twenties Florence Austral was the most important recording artist we had, thanks to the beauty, power and compass of her voice” Here is an example of her singing.

Sadly Florence’s career was to end badly. She suffered terribly from multiple sclerosis and was forced to retire from singing in 1940 and return to Australia six years later when almost completely paralysed by the illness. Upon returning home, Florence lost many of her possessions in a fire. Royalty earnings from her recordings had declined, too, by this point and, finding herself in need of an income, she taught singing at the Newcastle Conservatorium (now part of the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia) from 1954 until her retirement in 1959.

You can learn more about Florence, here.

You can see earlier photo’s in this series of publicity shots:
#1 Gluck & Homer

#2 Albert Chevalier

If you have been affected by any of the content included in this post please don’t hesitate to get in touch with The EMI Archive Trust who will be happy to talk to you about this picture and the rest of their wonderful collection.

Recorded music sales are growing exponentially. Supply can’t keep up with demand….

….in 1898!

We followed how the Gramophone Company and its German sister company had some significant teething problems with the production of discs during the first year of business in 1898.

Whilst the English company was dependent upon its discs coming from Germany it had also agreed to source its gramophones from the American manufacturing plant run by Eldridge Johnson. The American company would send over gramophone parts and the UK company would assemble the gramophones in the Maiden Lane offices before despatching to their 600 retailers.

The huge demand for gramophones stretched this supply chain to the limit during the first year of trading in 1898 particularly as the busy Christmas season approached.

Fred Gaisberg recalled: “We looked upon that first Christmas as our last opportunity to turn a debit balance into credit but our stock of machines was cleared out early in December. Shipments of parts from America were held up, and the dealers were “sitting on our doorsteps” demanding goods. When eventually the cases did arrive, a few days before Christmas, everybody from the manager down to the office boy worked into the early hours assembling the parts. With faces and hands smeared with black lead from the spring-cages, we must have been a comical sight.

Nevertheless, early on Christmas Eve our stock rooms in Maiden Lane were cleared of machines and records, so we “trooped” into Rule’s to celebrate our achievement with drinks all round.”

You can almost hear the excitement of working in a start up business…Fabulous stuff.

Memoirs of a Musical Dog – Edison to The Beatles

As part of their Omnibus series, The BBC made a documentary about the history of recording in the late 1980’s which was called Memoirs of a Musical Dog. It aired on Friday May 27, 1988. It’s very good and thanks to the power of youtube, you can see it here:

Part One Early years of Edison and Berliner and Johnson including the origin of Nipper and His Masters Voice:

Part Two Fred Gaisberg recording Caruso recalled by his later assistant David Bicknell and Len Petts demonstrating a recording horn:

Part Three Electrical recording, Abbey Road, Menuhin remembering Elgar:

Part Four Gramophone accessories, Gracie Fields at the Hayes record factory, 1930’s picture discs, making 78 discs, recording messages home from the war:

Part Five The LP record, the 45 single, jukeboxes, The Beatles:

You would never guess this logo was designed in the 1980's