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 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

Gaisberg’s Travels # 3

There’s no place like home…

114 years ago, 20th August 1899, Fred Gaisberg and fellow sound engineer William Sinkler Darby were on their way back to London from Madrid via Bordeaux. They came across many strange characters and had strong opinions about the local cuisine as this extract from Gaisberg’s show’s that even after the best adventure there’s no place like home…

Sunday, 20 August 1899 [at sea]

We awake and find we are on our way to London. We enjoy the good English food once more, and make the acquaintance of some nice English chaps.  The day is beautiful and the air is invigorating. After dinner, we sit in the smoking room chatting with the Captain, a jolly Englishman. We were discussing an article in a newspaper saying a woman in England had given birth to a sextette. Some of the men discredited the Captain’s statement, and he said he was not there – nor was he the father of the sextette.  The distance from Bordeaux to London is about 800 miles and we’ll arrive Wednesday morning (noon).

 

Extract from http://www.recordingpioneers.com ©Hugo Strötbaum – Gaisberg Diaries

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

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:

Setting up a record company #2 Finding the right artists

This week we plan to tell the story of how Emile Berliner and Fred Gaisberg set up their record company in America. Seven blog entries on seven days. This is day #2.
Its 1893.Fred Gaisberg has joined Emile Berliner in his attempt to bring his new invention, the gramophone, to the market. It meant Fred leaving behind the Columbia Phonograph Company of Thomas Edison and working from Berliner’s lab at 1410 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

Berliner's team at The United States Gramophone Company, front from left Berliner, Werner Suess. Back from left Gaisberg, William Sinkler Darby, Gloetzner, Joe Sanders, Zip Sanders.

This is a photograph of the early team who nurtured the gramophone project. Fred recalls the very early days when the team was just three people:

“Berliner did the recording, I scouted for artists, played the accompaniments, and washed up the acid tanks. Berliner’s nephew, Joe Sanders, made the matrices and pressed the samples.”

His artist’s were very varied and were selected to show off the potential of the new recording system. The first five were:
1) Billy Golden, who had introduced Gaisberg to Berliner. He sang “Turkey in de Straw”, a famous “negro” song.

2) O’Farrell an Irish comedian who recorded “Down Went Mcginty to the Bottom of the Sea.”
3) George W Graham who was a member of Indian Medicine Troupe who sold quack medicines at street corners and entertained the crowds accompanied by John O’Terrell on banjo. George recorded “his famous talk on ‘Liver Cure'”
4) Donovan, a train announcer, who recodrded nursery rhymes
5) Emile Berliner singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

No classical artists at this point, but from this initial selection of five recordings sprang the great recording catalogues of today.

Gaisberg pursues an opportunity to record the Czar. More extracts from his field recordings of 1900.

(Fred is in St Petersburg recording local artists……)

On April 9th 1900, Fred Gaisberg returned to his hotel after watching the performance of Demon and flirting with Rodina to find a message asking him to “prepare to give a recording exhibition before the Czar’s secretary that evening”. This was news he had been hoping for. After “considerable bustle” he made his exhibition to “his High Excellence” Secretary Tanieff and entourage who all spoke good english. The exhibition consisted of a demonstration of the new-fangled recording technology and Fred played back some recordings from his trip, made a record of Secretary Tanieff playing one of his own compositions and then he and his colleague Darby sang a duet or two to round off proceedings. Gaisberg thought the evening had gone well (“they expressed themselves highly delighted”) and believed that it would lead to him having the chance to record the Czar’s voice for a charity release in Russia. This had been one of Fred’s great ambitions for this field recording trip to Russia. Darby and Gaisberg celebrated with a roister-doistering late supper and turned in after 2am convinced that they would be recording the Czar.

Alexander Sergievitch Tanieff, Secretary of State and Director of the Private Chancellerie of the Emperor

[Historical note: Tanieff’s daughter who was present at these recordings wrote a memoir of her time at court. She describes her family in “Memories of the Russian Court” in 1923:

” My father, Alexander Sergievitch Tanieff, during most of his life, was a functionary of the Russian Court, Secretary of State, and Director of the Private Chancellerie of the Emperor, an office held before him by his father and his grandfather. My mother was a daughter of General Tolstoy, aide-de-camp of Alexander 11. One of my immediate ancestors was Field Marshal Koutousoff, famous in the Napoleonic Wars. Another, on my mother’s side, was Count Kontaisoff, an intimate friend of the eccentric Tsar Paul, son of the great Catherine.”

Tanieff himself is clearly a good connection for Gaisberg and also personally very musical:

“My father, aside from his official duties, had no Interests apart from his home and his music, for he was a composer and a pianist of more than national fame. My earliest memories are of home evenings, my brother Serge and my sister Alya (Alexandra) studying their lessons under the shaded lamp, my dear mother sitting near with her needlework, and my
father at the piano working out one of his compositions, striking the keys softly and noting down his harmonies.”]

The St Petersburg part of the Russian trip begin to unwind at this point. One day of recording was expensively lost when the band failed to turn up and Gaisberg was left kicking his heels in a hired hall. When the band did arrive the following day, Friedman, the director of the band, refused to play the songs that Gaisberg had requested  and proved generally unhelpful to the recording process. This proved to the team’s last day in St Petersburg and on April 13th Gaisberg travelled by train to Moscow for Easter weekend hoping to meet the Czar.

Although he waited around for the opportunity, the Tanieff connection did not lead to an introduction to the Czar; Gaisberg’s luck was out. He did in fact get to see the Czar in Moscow but sadly only as one of thousands of people watching the parade of the Csar arriving at the palace in a convoy of twenty carraiges. Gaisberg got no closer to the Czar and after a couple of days of sight seeing at the Kremin and strolling around the bazaars he left on a late train to Warsaw arriving on Easter Monday 16th April 1900.