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:

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Photographs from long ago: #1 Paderewski.

We have been given access to a number of vintage photo’s from the EMI Archive Trust which we’ll run as a series. This is Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Quite a picture, quite a man….

Paderewski had a run of the mill career…..Born into a poor Polish family, he became a world famous pianist, married a Baroness, had a successful career composing a broad range of music including the only Polish composed opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera, bought a 2,000 acre farm in California and there made some of the earliest Californian wine, had a hit music hall song written about him (“When Paderewski plays” by “The Two Bobs” in 1916), formed the Polish Relief Fund to aid the Poles during WWI, gave a speech that inspired the Polish inhabitants of Poznań to begin a military uprising against Germany in 1918, became the second Prime Minister of Poland in 1919 and represented Poland at the Treaty of Versailles, became Polish Ambassador to League of Nations, was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, retired from politics to sell out Madison Square Gardens on his return to the concert hall, became a film star (Moonlight Sonata in 1937), returned to public life to head the Polish Government in exile in London in 1940 and following his death in 1941 was awarded a star on the Hollywood Hall Of Fame. There are many streets and buildings named after him in Poland and the USA.

Film Star

Fred Gaisberg recorded him in January 1912. I think the account of the session in Fred’s diaries gives a wonderful insight into the Great Pole and the relationship between recorder and recordee:
Paderewski…”was then at the zenith of his artistic career, with twenty brilliant, all-conquering years at the back of him. Was my awe and worship to be wondered at?
Of all the musicians I have known he was the most inaccessible and in his presence one had always to be on one’s guard…A clumsy act and he could humiliate one in the most withering way.

I remember arranging a session in our Paris studio. Without asking Paderewski’s permission, the Company’s very enterprising Paris manager had invited a journalist to be present….when the scribe, with a patronising manner, began to interview Paderewski, he sat there on the piano stool frigid and white. It slowly dawned on the company present that a most awful blunder had been committed, as Paderewski stalked majestically from the room, leaving us looking at each other in blank amazement.”

Paderewski not only cleared out of the studio but cleared out of Paris, returning to his home in Switzerland forcing Fred to follow him to recreate a recording studio in the Great Pole’s house some weeks later. It would take some of Fred’s renowned diplomacy and the absence of the French record company man to repair the relationship. But repair it he did and Paderewski and Gaisberg became great personal friends to the end of their lives. One of the lovely 1912 recordings can be heard here:

Thanks to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to publish the picture. You can learn more about the Trust and make contact with them to arrange a visit to their archive here.