Centuries of Sound
Centuries of Sound

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We’re a bit stuck in between ages here. The experiments are now fading into the background, phonographs are being introduced into the world, but the nascent music business still hasn’t really taken off. 1890 sees our last recordings from Edison’s British agent, Colonel Gouraud, and the first attempts, in Russia, to capture performances from classical musicians. What we don’t have that much of so far is the popular music of the time, though that was soon to change.


1. P.T. Barnum – Personal Speech To The Future
2. U.S. Marine Band – Washington Post March
3. Florence Nightingale – The Voice Of
4. Consolidated Quartet – My Old New Hampshire Home
5. Trumpeter Landfrey – Charge Of The Light Brigade At Balaklava
6. Alfred Lord Tennyson – The Charge Of The Light Brigade
7. Madamoiselle Nikita And Pyotr Schurovsky – At The Fountain
8. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky And Anton Rubinstein – 4-10 January 1890, Moscow
9. Ben Davies – To Mary
10. Miss Ferguson & Graham Hope – Big Ben Clock Tower Of Westminster
11. U.S. Marine Band – The Thunderer
12. Emile Berliner – Whist The Bogie Man
13. Karl Bernhardt – Wacht Am Rhein
14. Edwin Booth – Most Potent, Grave… (From Othello)
15. Vasily Samus – Dargomizhsky – I Am In Love, My Maiden, My Beauty

Our mix starts with a speech from P.T. Barnum directed at us, listening to him in the distant future. He is most famous these days for his circus and freak-show, but was a progressive activist and anti-slavery campaigner too. Next we have the first recording from the biggest star of the day, John Philip Sousa, though of course he is not playing here (Sousa dismissively called the phonograph “canned music” and refused to appear on recordings.) As leader of the US Marine Band, Sousa’s marches inspired local bands across America, and the “stomp” of these two-minute hits will perhaps surprisingly provide our first pointer in the direction of the Jazz explosion 27 years in the future. We also have The Consolodated Quartet giving an example of the vocal harmonies which would eventually morph into the Ragtime-era “barbershop” singing troupes of the early 1900s.

The second section of the mix is made up of three recordings made by General Gouraud in aid of the pension fund for the survivors of the charge of the light brigade. First Florence Nightingale, who seems to have known better than anyone else how to project her voice into a phonograph horn, then trumpeter Martin Leonard Lanfried sounding the charge on the same trumpet that was used on the day, and finally Alfred Lord Tennyson himself, reading the poem which made the charge so famous. A good blog post on the history behind these recordings can be found here.

Next we have the first of what will be quite a few selections from the collection of Julius Block, a Russian businessman who managed to get a prototype phonograph from Edison and bring it back to Russia. A keen music fan, Block counted some of the most important musicians of late 19th century Russia among his friends, and he was able to hold regular “phonographic salons” where they would come to be recorded. Block’s extensive collection was believed lost in the second world war, and has only been recovered within the last decade. Our first selection from these recordings features Mademoiselle Nikita, a singer from Kentucky who was at the time hugely popular in Russia. Then we have a clip of Tchaikovsky, unfortunately doing nothing more than clowning around in front of the machine. At the end of the mix we have Tenor Vasily Samus with a piece from mid-19th-century composer Alexander Dargomyzhsky.

Also in the mix; Ben Davies sings a surprisingly rare 1890 example of the sentimental ballads I will find myself wading neck-deep through by the end of the decade; Gouraud’s assistants’ recording of Big Ben’s chimes; another test disc from Emile Berliner – this time singing (in a sort of lugubriouly sinister fashion) one of the hit songs of the era; another uptempo number from Sousa’s U.S. Marine Band; a hearty rendition of the famous patriotic German anthem “Die Wacht am Rhein”, and a excerpt from Othello performed by Edwin Booth – then America’s most famous actor, but now better remembered as the brother of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth.

2 thoughts on “1890”

  1. I’d love to think that the Ben Davies recording was from 1890, but it sounds like the 1903 recording. Pathe were not active in 1890 and certainly not recording in London.

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