Top 10 Aussie Sopranos

By Roger Neil

Sound of the Hound guest blogger
Someone started a thread on the unofficial BBC Radio 3 message boards asking for nominations for the top ten sopranos.

It seemed to me that the emerging lists were filled with the usual suspects, and since I’m currently in the process (with Tony Locantro) of finishing up a 4 x CD set for Decca Australia entitled ‘From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record’, this is the list I offered:

Melba as Rosina

Nellie Melba
Frances Alda
Elsa Stralia
Florence Austral
Margherita Grandi
Marjorie Lawrence
Sylvia Fisher
Joan Hammond
Elsie Morison
Joan Sutherland

What a team. Other nominations?

If you  have loved this article by Roger Neil you can find more articles on the Official Roger Neil blog.

 

Recording Pioneers- Part 6

Frederick William Gaisberg 1873 – 1951

“Fred was clearly one of those Children with a natural talent for the keyboard, and his mother made the most of this opportunity from the moment she began to teach him when he was four.”

-Extract from ‘A Voice in Time’ – Jerrold Northrop Moore

 Name:               Frederick William Gaisberg

Born:              1 January 1873

Resident:        Born in Washington DC, immigrated to the United Kingdom as a young man of only 25 in 1898

Occupation:   Sound Recording Engineer, A&R Supreme

Loves:             Travelling, musicians, engineering

Fred Gaisberg

© Courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

Fred Gaisberg’s love affair with music began at the early age of just four.  From the age of eight until his voice broke Fred was a chorister at St John’s Episcopal Church, here he met and studied under one of Washington’s most celebrated artists of the time – the young master of the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa.

“I attended rehearsals in his then modest home in the Navy Yard in South Washington. He (Sousa) patted me on the head and made quite a pet of me… I was one of those music-mad youngsters who hovered by his podium and never missed a concert.”

-Fred Gaisberg recalling his childhood

Although he was an excellent singer, the piano remained his first love and after securing a scholarship to study piano he gained a reputation for his excellent playing and accompanying and was soon playing for charitable organisations and amateur organisation throughout the city. In 1889 in search of some more pocket money, the sixteen year old Gaisberg came across an advert for the Columbia Phonograph Company.  They were looking for someone to play the piano loudly and clearly enough for its sounds to be captured by the apparatus as the accompaniment for a musician to record.

One of the first musicians selected to record with Gaisberg was John York Atlee, a Whistler. Together they would churn out in three’s countless records of performances of ‘Whistling Coon’, ‘Mocking Bird’, and the ‘Laughing Song’.  These recordings were made on small hollow cylinders of wax, where a needle moved gradually in a lateral way etching the grooves that represented the sound waves into the wax.

Fred Gaisberg secured his first job working at the Columbia Phonograph Company. He spent the next few years working for various people within the growing phonograph industry, including Thomas Edison.

In 1894 he met Emile Berliner and his career took on a new direction. His fascination with Berliner’s novel recording process was the start of his career change from an accompanying pianist to a recording sound engineer. Very soon after meeting and working under Berliner, Gaisberg was sent to London to record music for the European market, working with Trevor Lloyd Williams and William Barry Owen.

Once he reached London he was introduced to another sound engineer – Sinkler Derby and together they continued to travel all over the world recording local music for the ever expanding Gramophone Company. His travels are well documented in “The Fred Gaisberg Diaries” which have been made available by Hugo Strötbaum.  Fred Gaisberg was without a doubt one of the single biggest contributors to the success of the Gramophone Company.  More details on exactly what he got up to can be found in our Gaisberg Travels blog series.

Fred Gaisberg and Sinkler Derby

Nellie Melba and The Star Spangled Banner

The Hound is pleased to welcome our newest contributor Roger Neill

 

 

 By Roger Neill

As we all know, a vital ability in life is to respond creatively to an unforeseen threat quickly and decisively.

The great Australian diva, Nellie Melba, was set to sing Rosina in The Barber of Seville in San Francisco in 1898. Nothing unusual about that. It was one of her regular and best roles.

The problem was that the opera is set in Spain and, at that moment, Spain was threatening to invade and lay claim to Cuba. War appeared imminent and anti-Spanish feeling in the USA was running high. At the performance, although Melba herself was treated courteously by the audience, the barber, Figaro, was roundly booed.

What to do?

It so happens that in Act 2 there is a singing lesson where the composer, Rossini, allows Rosina to perform a song of her own choosing “ad libitum”. In San Francisco, the piano was pushed on stage, and Melba, a fine pianist, accompanied herself singing one of America’s favourite songs of the day, Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home”. And, when the applause had died down a little, she followed up immediately with “The Star Spangled Banner”.

A local reporter noted: “People rose in their seats and cheered themselves hoarse.” The audience wept – the diva with them. Problem solved.

Sadly there are no recordings by her of those songs, nor of The Barber of Seville, so here she is singing (dazzlingly) the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust in 1905

 

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Captain Scott’s Desert Island Discs. A flavour of what were the happening sounds in Antarctica 100 years ago

This article was written by and published on theartsdesk 11 April 2012

 
The gramophone on which Scott and his men listened to music hall and opera at the bottom of the world
 

Centenaries are sizeable business in 2012. It just so happens that the Olympics are coming to the United Kingdom for the third time in a year which finds us thinking very hard about if being British still means the same thing as it did 100 years when two momentous calamities singed themselves into the national psyche: the Titanic sank, and Captain Scott and his four companions never made it back from the South Pole.

Adam Sweeting has already reported on the deluge of Titanica fanning across the television schedules from National Geographic docs to Drownton. The Scott industry is spreading itself more widely across the year. As well as three exhibitions – at the Natural History Museum, the Queen’s Gallery and the National Museum of Wales – you can also enjoy a musical flavour of what it was like to be a the bottom of the world with the Terra Nova expedition by investing in a new double-disc CD. On it is a selection of scratchy recordings Scott and co took south with them to remind them of home in the long polar night. In fact they had a library of hundreds of tunes to listen to, and the choice can do no more than suggest the range of musical tastes catered for, from Enrico Caruso to Nellie Melba, from Harry Lauder to Weber’s Concertino for horn. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” was on hand to gird the loins as the men prepared to strap themselves into man-hauling harnesses. For many of the jauntier tunes some of the chaps will dressed up in drag and danced along.

The records were donated to the expedition by The Gramophone Company (nowadays known as EMI), along with two splendid old gramophones, one of which is on display at the Natural History Museum’s current exhibition. The main track listing concludes with “God Save the King”. Two additional tracks include Ernest Shackleton taking about his own unsuccessful attempt on the Pole three years earlier. There is a piquant irony to its inclusion. Scott and Shackleton had history, and were not friends, although that did not stop Scott using Shackleton’s expedition journal as a useful pathfinder. The full track listing of Scott’s Music Box is as follows.

CD 1:

  1. The Black Diamonds Band – Dollar Princess Two Step
  2. The Dollar Princess Operatic Party – Opening Chorus (The Dollar Princess)
  3. George Grossmith Jr – Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay (Our Miss Gibbs)
  4. Margaret Cooper – Love is meant to make us glad (Merrie England)
  5. R. Kennerley Rumford – Four Jolly Sailormen (The Princess of Kensington)
  6. Huntley & Carroll – The Golf Scene (Three Little Maids)
  7. Yvette Guilbert – I want yer ma honey
  8. Band of HM Coldstream Guards – Trafalgar March
  9. Walter Miller – We all walked into the shop
  10. Florrie Forde – Oh! Oh! Antonio!
  11. George Robey – The Prehistoric Man
  12. Harry Lauder – Stop your tickling, Jock!
  13. Harry Tate – Motoring
  14. Gus Elen – Wait till the work comes round
  15. Olly Oakley – Anona Two-Step
  16. John Coates – Take a pair of sparkling eyes (The Gondoliers)
  17. Eleanor Jones Hudson – The sun whose rays are all ablaze (The Mikado)
  18. The Sullivan Operatic Party – When Britain really ruled the waves (Iolanthe)
  19. HM Band of the Royal Artillery – The Blue Danube Waltz
  20. Stanley Kirkby – The Trumpeter
  21. Harry Dearth – A Sergeant of the Line
  22. Clara Butt & R. Kennerley Rumford – Night Hymn at Sea
  23. Edward Lloyd – The Holy City
  24. Elizabeth Dews – O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Messiah)
  25. A Church Choir – Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

CD 2

  1. Geraldine Farrar – Un bel dì vedremo (Madama Butterfly)
  2. Enrico Caruso – Recitar!…Vesti la giubba (Pagliacci)
  3. Nellie Melba – Waltz Song (Roméo et Juliette)
  4. Titta Ruffo – Largo al factotum (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
  5. Luisa Tetrazzini – Ombra leggera (Dinorah)
  6. Maurice Renaud – Serenade (Don Giovanni)
  7. Mattia Battistini · Emilia Corsi – Là ci darem la mano (Don Giovanni)
  8. Jan Kubelík – Chanson bohème (Carmen)
  9. Enrico Caruso – Mattinata
  10. Nellie Melba – Nymphes et sylvains
  11. Evan Williams – I’ll sing thee songs of Araby
  12. Edward Lloyd – Come into the garden, Maud
  13. Charles Draper – Weber: Concertino
  14. La Scala Theatre Orchestra – The Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walküre)
  15. Joseph Szigeti – Bach: Prelude (Partita No.3)
  16. Wilhelm Backhaus – The Harmonious Blacksmith
  17. Peter Dawson – Rule Britannia
  18. Ernest Pike – The Light of the World
  19. Robert Radford – Honour and Arms (Samson)
  20. Clara Butt – Abide with me
  21. Band of H. M. Coldstream Guards – God Save the King

BONUS TRACKS

  1. Major Sir Ernest Shackleton – The Dash for the South Pole
  2. Stanley Kirkby – ’Tis a story that shall live forever
  • Scott’s Music Box is released on 14 May

http://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/captain-scotts-desert-island-discs

If your interested in learning more about Captain Scott’s Gramophone check out EMI Group Archive Trust website.

http://www.emiarchivetrust.org/detail.aspx

 

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.

Russell Hunting day #4: Patriotic recordings

This week we are planning to run a five day series of blog entries about Russell Hunting, a maverick who was involved at the start of the very start of the record business when its pioneers were searching to find the best business model to capitalise on the new sound-recording and playback technology. Hunting tried all sorts of ways to make money. One or two of them sailed close to the wind. None were boring. This is day #4 of 5 about the early years of Russell Hunting.

In the autumn of 1899, the United Kingdom was embroiled in the Boer War and the newspapers were dominated by stories from the front. Fred Gaisberg had the idea for a mini drama to be acted out in the recording studio. But Gaisberg’s friend, Russell Hunting, fresh from his attempts at comedy and semi-pormographic recordings, had a better idea:

It was, as Gaisberg later recalled, for “a descriptive record entitled “The Departure of the Troop Ship”, with crowds at the quayside, bands playing the troops up the gang-plank, bugles sounding “All ashore”, farewell cries of “Don’t forget to write”, troops singing “Home Sweet home”, which gradually receded in the distance, and the far-away mournful hoot of the steamer whistle.

The record became enormously popular and eventually historic. It brought tears to the eyes of thousands, among them those of Melba, who declared in my presence that this record influenced her to make gramophone records more than anything else. I was directly and solely responsible for acquiring “The Departure of the Troopship” for my company, and together with my good colleague Russell Hunting, its author staged the recording. ”

Publicity photos of the early recording stars #1 Gluck & Homer

Musicians at the start of the twentieth century weren’t just having to learn how to deal with the new recording technologies, they were also called upon to help publicise their discs. They appear to have taken to the PR side of things with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success. This is the first of 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 first act up are Gluck & Homer. Two ladies. They were both successful classical soloists (one Rumanian, one American) who joined together to sing sombrous old religious songs. Despite this, the pair enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1910’s.

Gluck & Homer

Louise Homer, seated, was the American. She appears to be holding several dead foxes in her lap as she pretends to listen to the latest sounds from the rounds and her displeasure in the experience is clear from her stony faced demeanour. Louise was once described as “having the world’s most beautiful voice” by Nellie Melba herself. She would seem to be wondering how that had led her to this dreadful situation.

Her partner, Alma Gluck, is a PR natural. She is throwing herself into the pretend listening experience. Eyes closed, Alma is clearly lost in music but she was caught in no trap, though, because Ms Gluck tasted much success in a career which crossed over from the classics to the mainstream. Her 1916 recording of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” for the Victor Talking Machine Company was the first celebrity recording by a classical musician to sell one million copies.

We’ve decided to award marks for publicity posing to each of the photos in this series. Ms Gluck is awarded 5/10 for trying. Ms Homer rather lets the side down. She scrapes a sour faced lemon sucking 2/10. That’s an average 3.5/10 for Gluck & Homer. Tune in soon for more in this fascinating series.

You can check out the sounds of this old skool combo right here:

There is a website that reviews whiskies and matches them to appropriate music to drink along to. The game Ms Gluck’s singing is considered suitable to smooth the palette for a drop of Arran whisky. This might not have been a prudent selection as Ms Gluck sadly died from cirrhosis of the liver. Perhaps unsurprisingly Ms Homer has yet to be chosen to accompany a tipple on the site.

“That faint perfume of the salons” The Gramophone Company moves into Opera. 1902.

In the early days of their UK business (i.e. before 1900), Gaisberg and the Gramophone company made good headway in persuading music hall stars and comedians to record with the new Gramophone technology. They found it much more difficult to persuade the great Opera singers of the day to condescend to do so.

To try to alter this, Gaisberg recruited Landon Ronald, who had been Nellie Melba’s pianist and is seen above posing with her, to come on board as an A&R man to actively target the recruitment of Opera stars to the cause in 1900. Their breakthrough came a couple of years later with the huge success of the first Caruso recordings in 1902 which proved that the new medium sounded good but also, crucially, that it was a lucrative new source of revenues for the singers.

On May 30th 1902 Pol Plancon, who was a leading Opera star, arrived at Maiden Lane for a first recording session with Gaisberg in pursuit of the recording shilling. This photo is from the EMI Archives and shows Plancon in a publicity shot. Fred remembered him as “daintily booted and gloved like a Parisian dandy with that faint perfume of the salons about him” which certainly concurs with the picture. Plancon was not impressed by the dingy premises at Maiden Lane, literally turning his nose up at the place. It took some witty stories from Landon Ronald, who was there as accompanist, to relax Plancon sufficiently to deliver his contracted 10 sides of music.

Peachy. Dame Nellie Melba was born 150 years ago today.

Today marks the 150th birthday of Helen Porter Mitchell. She was born in Melbourne, Australia, on May 19th 1861 and was destined to become the leading opera singer in the world during the “Golden Age of Opera”. She also became a household name – Dame Nellie Melba.

There were a number of special qualities that separated Nellie from her contemporaries:

With the help of three teachers – Ellen Christian, Pietro Cecchi and Mathilde Marchesi – and the requisite “10,000 hours”, she developed a technique that enabled her to perform at the highest level over four full decades. “Salvatore, viens,” Marchesi called to her husband on first hearing the girl, “j’ai trouvé une étoile.”

In an age when married women were expected to give up work, she decided that instead the husband should do.

She had a wonderful sense of pitch and always sang in tune.

She learned many of her greatest roles with the composers themselves – Verdi, Massenet, Gounod, Puccini among them. And she promoted avant-garde songs by Debussy, Duparc, Chausson and others.

She took responsibility at all stages for managing her own career, bringing in a series of helpers, but never delegating the authority.

She was a brilliant entrepreneur, always ready to do what was necessary to maintain her profile and fill houses. “There are plenty of duchesses, but only one Melba,” she said.

“If you wish to understand me, you must understand first and foremost that I am an Australian,” she wrote. This attitude enabled her to break through the rigid barriers of British society of her day, speaking plainly with everyone at every level.

She was a catalyst in building the newly-emerging recording industry, negotiating a pioneering royalty arrangement.

When she died in Sydney in 1931, her coffin was carried by special train to Melbourne, stopping at towns and villages on the way so that crowds of people could pay their respects. Her grave at Lilydale carries a brief phrase from her most famous role, Mimì in La bohème: “Addio, senza rancor.” Farewell, no hard feelings.

Here she is at 65, singing that very aria , recorded live at her Farewell from Covent Garden in 1926:

This is our first guest blog. It’s by Roger Neil and you can see his blog here.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO DO A GUEST BLOG – GET IN TOUCH! Excuse the capitalised shouting…

Nellie Melba. Born 150 years ago, buried 70 years ago.

Nellie Melba is one of those huge musical stars from the turn of the last century whose name remains very familiar today – although sadly her music is less well known. She died just over 80 years go on February 23rd 1931 and you can see how significant she was at the time from this clip of film taken at her state funeral in Melbourne. The service was mobbed by thousands of fans and the motorcade that took her from service to burial was almost a mile long. Her death made front page headlines around the globe as billboards simply announced “Melba is dead”.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Melba is this endpoint. She was an Australian girl born Helen Porter Mitchell who rose from relatively humble beginnings to be granted a state funeral.

En route to the magificent send off her life blazed. Like many stars before and since she reinvented herself (as Nellie Melba; her new surname was a shortening of her home city of Melbourne). Unlike most other stars she was made a Dame of the Order Of The British Empire. Bizarrely she is probably now best known for the pudding she had named after her called a “Peach Melba ” and also thin toasts for pate called Melba toast ” that were created in her honour by the celebrity chef of the 1890’s and and Nellie-fan Auguste Escoffier.

She could also sing a little…..