What was recorded sound for; historical record? dictation of memos? the arts? At this point nobody is really making the case for any one purpose. The phonograph is out there in the homes of the wealthy trend-setters, recording studios are being set up in major cities, and popular entertainers are being sought out to make recordings, but still, there is no sign of anything approaching a recording industry. Cylinders are recorded in spare moments in back rooms, and duplication is still impossible. The line between professional and amateur simply does not exist.
What does this mean? Well firstly that quality control is poor at best (but hopefully my job is to deal with that issue) and secondly that the moderating influence of standards and rules is out of the window. Everything is to some extent strange and experimental, unfiltered by clear ideas of what will sell, and as the medium is as yet uncensored, crude and openly sexual cylinders exist alongside the anodine and sentimental.
Our first selection is of neither type, but another military marching band (Holding’s Military Band, of whom I can find no information at all). Then we have Russell Hunting in his comic Irishman persona ‘Casey’ performing a vaudeville routine about conducting a door to door survey. This is underscored with a Julius Block recording of a young Jules Conus, a violinist and composer who survived as long as the second world war.
Next a trio of recordings about Grover Cleveland, who won the election of 1892 to become the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms. A burly, mustachioed fiscal conservative, he presided over the great crash of 1893 which put his party out of government for a generation. The first recording is of the man himself, reciting a campaign speech convincingly in front of a handful of people in a studio. Then we have the Grover Cleveland march, performed by Patrick Gilmore’s band. Finally, a shockingly rude set of jokes about Grover and his wife Frances Folsom, who had married in the White House during his previous term, Folsom being 21 and Cleveland being 49 at the time.
A clarinet piece by William Tuson is followed by a couple of novelty songs – Take Your Time Gentlemen, about a parrot, and Saving Them All For Mary, an otherwise undistinguished ballad with a fairly interesting bit of proto-country banjo playing. The something more familiar – “Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow-Wow” – generally taken as a childrens’ song these days, but full of smut and innuendo when presented on the vaudeville stage.
After another piece from a vocal group (the sort of thing later called “barbershop”) and a marching band’s attempt at a waltz, we have some more Julius Block cylinders, piano workouts from Arensky, Taneyev and Pabst, and a short excerpt of a Tchaikovsky operatic work. Finally there is another sentimental ballad, presented largely for the odd timbre of the singer’s voice and the melancholy of the accompaniment, and Walt Whitman finishes off the mix with a few lines from “America”, recorded shortly before his death this year.
Holding’s Military Band – The Night Alarm
Russell Hunting – Michael Casey Taking The Census
Jules Conus – Sarasate – Zigeunerweisen, op. 20, no. 1
Grover Cleveland – The Cleveland-Harrison Campaign Speech
Gilmore’s Band – Grover Cleveland March
Unknown – Boarding The Folsom
William Tuson – Esquimeau Dance
Press Eldridge – Take Your Time Gentlemen
Al Reeves – Saving Them All For Mary
Silas Leachman – Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow
Manhansett Quartette – Sally In Our Alley
Issler’s Orchestra – Cannon Waltz
Anton Arensky – Improvisation in E-flat
Sergei Taneyev and Paul Pabst – Suite no. 2 For Two Pianos, op. 23 no. 1 – ‘Le Savant’
Eugenia Jurjevna Werdan – Tchaikovsky – Legend, no. 5 from 16 Songs For Children, op. 54
Russell Hunting – Michael Casey At The Telephone
Richard Jose – The Blind Boy
Walt Whitman – America