J. Meade Falkner – The Lost Stradivarius

If obsessively uncovering secrets through ancient sound is our job here, then this is very much on-topic. It’s not exactly an obscure occult text, but The Lost Stradivarius is a great ghost story anyway, Falkner pitching it at a sweet spot somewhere between The Great God Pan and the works of M. R. James. It’s a long short story or perhaps a short novella, in any case worth an hour or so of your time.

The Lost Stradivarius
The Lost Stradivarius (free text at Project Gutenberg)
The Lost Stradivarius (free audio at Librivox)


H. G. Wells – The Time Machine

Looking back at people looking forward never fails to fascinate – in order to judge predictions, of course, but also because of what these stories tell us about the cutting edge of thought and values at the time. On the whole The Time Machine works well from this sort of perspective, the predictions are far too far into the future to be judged, and the concepts do seem at least modern in a pre-war sort of way. As a work of literature, it starts well, sags quite a bit in the middle (or perhaps the reveal about the morlocks was shocking at some point – it isn’t now), then gets its act together again at the end.

Time travel was not an original concept, but H. G. Wells coined the term “time machine” and his concept of a sort of fourth dimensional vehicle is still the one we tend to go to when we create these kinds of stories. The ideas of The Time Machine are still everywhere, but generally not unmediated – the film adaptations have all been pretty terrible.

The Time Machine
The Time Machine (Full Text at archive.org)
The Time Machine (Audiobook at Librivox)


The Importance of Being Earnest

Is there anyone out there who is unaware of The Importance of Being Earnest? If so then hello! The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s final, most well-known play – like his earlier comedies it is largely concerned with switched identities, sparring witticisms, and situations deliberated convoluted for comic effect. It’s still wonderful and very funny 122 year later, though certain thesps have done their best to ruin it by treating it as a restoration farce.

As a work it has proved a mixed blessing for Wilde. Its lightness compared to earlier and later works has contributed to his unfair reputation as a aesthetic fop with nothing to say beyond a few bon mots, and the play’s original run at St James’s Theatre coincided with the escalating feud with The Marquess of Queensbury, which would lead to his imprisonment just fifteen weeks after the play opened. Without it, however, how much of his work would ever be performed today? Probably not a great deal.

Here are a few of the many screen adaptations.

The first one, from 1952, is naturally the best, as it features Dame Edith Evans, the definitive Lady Bracknell. This is part one, further parts can be found on YouTube.

The second is from 1986, has Paul McGann, and looks shoddily shot in the way much British TV of the 80s does (this is not necessarily a bad thing)

The third is more recent, stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench, and is as much of a luvvie indulgence piece as you might imagine. Only Judy Dench really puts her own stamp on it.

Seventeen Seconds in New Jersey – The Premature Birth of Sound Film

If you were surprised to find that Thomas Edison reciting “Mary Had A Little Lamb” wasn’t the first thing in the first mix, you may also recollect that sound film started in 1927 with The Jazz Singer. But here we are 32 years earlier, and what do you know, here’s the first example of someone combining moving pictures with recorded sound.

Of course this makes sense when you think about it. If you’ve got a gramophone and an experimental film camera around, why not try using them at the same time? William Kennedy Dixon, one of the more important people in the invention of film, had two men dance while another played the violin, with a fourth man making a brief appearance in the final seconds.

Vito Russo posited that this was the first piece of gay cinema, but I’m afraid that’s probably just wishful thinking – these were different times, when it was also quite common for men to dance with men without any homosexual overtones. It’s also not a good example of either dancing or violin playing, of course.

What I do find fascinating about the clip, though, it is the picture it gives of Edison’s Black Maria Studio, especially the gigantic recording horn, suspended on a wire from the ceiling. The ugliness of the work uniforms the men wear is also very interesting – a reminder that the photos we rely on for a sense of the Victorian age are usually their Sunday best, and not a real representation of everyday life

So here it is then, sound and vision, married together as awkwardly as two studio workers forced to dance a waltz.

Elsewhere in 1895

The London School of Economics, The Swarovski Company, The internal combustion bus, The portable handheld electric drill, The National Trust, volleyball, The Northern Rugby Football Union (the modern-day Rugby Football League), The first professional American football game, The Proms. Auguste and Louis Lumière display their first moving picture film in Paris.

French officer Alfred Dreyfus is stripped of his army rank and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, Oscar Wilde is arrested in London for “gross indecency” after losing a criminal libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry, and given a two years’ sentence of hard labour.

The Venezuelan crisis of 1895, The Liberal Revolution in Ecuador, Japanese troops capture Liaoyang and land in Taiwan, the start of the Cuban War of Independence, The Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War begins, The Treaty of Shimonoseki is signed between China and Japan.

Félix Faure is elected President of French Republic
Booker T. Washington delivers the Atlanta compromise speech
A train runs through the exterior wall of Gare Montparnasse terminus in Paris
The gold reserve of the U.S. Treasury is saved when J. P. Morgan and the Rothschilds loan $65 million worth of gold to the United States government


Gracie Allen, American actress and comedian (d. 1964)
Corrado Alvaro, Italian writer and journalist (d. 1968)
Cristóbal Balenciaga, Spanish-French couturier (d. 1972)
Busby Berkeley, American film director and choreographer (d. 1976)
Vinoba Bhave, Indian religious leader (d. 1982)
Irving Caesar, American lyricist and theater composer (d. 1996)
Lázaro Cárdenas, 44th President of Mexico (d. 1970)
Chembai, Indian Carnatic musician (d. 1974)
Harriet Cohen, English pianist (d. 1967)
Jack Dempsey, American heavyweight boxer (d. 1983)
Paul Éluard, French poet (d. 1952)
Levi Eshkol, Israeli Prime Minister (d. 1969)
Kirsten Flagstad, Norwegian soprano (d. 1982)
Walter Freeman, American physician (d. 1972)
Buckminster Fuller, American architect (d. 1983)
King George VI of the United Kingdom (d. 1952)
Robert Graves, English writer (d. 1985)
León de Greiff, Colombian poet (d. 1976)
Leroy Grumman, American aeronautical engineer, test pilot and industrialist (d. 1982)
Dino Grandi, Italian Fascist politician (d. 1988)
George Halas, American football player, coach, and co-founder of the National Football League (d. 1983)
J. Edgar Hoover, American Federal Bureau of Investigation director (d. 1972)
Sir Brian Horrocks, British general (d. 1985)
Max Horkheimer, German philosopher and sociologist (d. 1973)
Shemp Howard, American actor and comedian (The Three Stooges) (d. 1955)
Alberta Hunter, American singer (d. 1984)
Dolores Ibárruri, Spanish republican leader (d. 1989)
Ernst Jünger, German author (d. 1998)
Buster Keaton, American actor and film director (d. 1966)
Wilhelm Kempff, German pianist (d. 1991)
Liaquat Ali Khan, 1st Prime Minister of Pakistan (d. 1951)
Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian writer (d. 1986)
Dorothea Lange, American documentary photographer and photojournalist (d. 1965)
Ernesto Lecuona, Cuban pianist and composer (d. 1963)
Hattie McDaniel, actress, first African-American woman to win an Academy Award (in 1939) (d. 1952)
Lewis Mumford, American historian (d. 1990)
Paul Muni, American actor (d. 1967)
Rolf Nevanlinna, Finnish mathematician (d. 1980)
John Knudsen Northrop, American airplane manufacturer (d. 1981)
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia (d. 1918)
Carl Orff, German composer (d. 1982)
Marcel Pagnol, French novelist and playwright (d. 1974)
Juan Perón, 2-Time President of Argentina (d. 1974)
Yvonne Printemps, French singer and actress (d. 1977)
Ruben Rausing, Swedish entrepreneur and founder of Tetra Pak (d. 1983)
Olga Rudge, American violinist (d. 1996)
Babe Ruth, American baseball player (d. 1948)
Semyon Timoshenko, Soviet general, Marshal of the Soviet Union (d. 1970)
William Tubman, 19th President of Liberia (d. 1971)
Tuanku Abdul Rahman, King of Malaysia (d. 1960)
Rudolph Valentino, Italian actor (d. 1926)
Aleksandr Vasilevsky, Soviet general, Marshal of the Soviet Union (d. 1977)
Xu Beihong, Chinese painter (d. 1953)
Sergei Aleksandrovich Yesenin, Russian lyric poet (d. 1925)
Nikolai Yezhov, Soviet politician and Great Purge Perpetrator (d. 1940)
Engelbert Zaschka, German helicopter pioneer (d. 1955)
King Zog of Albania (d. 1961)


Eivind Astrup, Norwegian Arctic explorer (b. 1871)
Lord Randolph Churchill, British statesman (b. 1849)
Frederick Douglass, American ex-slave and author (b. 1818)
Friedrich Engels, German communist philosopher (b. 1820)
Benjamin Godard, French composer (b. 1849)
Walter Q. Gresham, American politician (b. 1832)
Thomas Henry Huxley, English evolutionary biologist (b. 1825)
Ányos Jedlik, Hungarian physicist, inventor of the dynamo (b. 1800)
Liu Buchan, Chinese admiral (suicide) (b. 1852)
José Martí, Cuban independence leader (b. 1853)
Berthe Morisot, French painter (b. 1841)
Empress Myeongseong (Queen Min), last Korean empress (b. 1851), assassinated
Adam Opel, German founder of the German automobile company Adam Opel AG (b. 1837)
Louis Pasteur, French microbiologist and chemist (b. 1822)
Stefan Stambolov, 9th Prime Minister of Bulgaria (assassinated) (b. 1854)
Franz von Suppé, Austrian composer (b. 1819)
Allen G. Thurman, American politician (b. 1813)
Charles Frederick Worth, English-born couturier (b. 1826)



“Music is so helpful to the human mind that it is naturally a source of satisfaction to me that I have helped in some way to make the very finest music available to millions who could not afford to pay the price and take the time necessary to hear the greatest artists sing and play.” – Thomas Edison, 1921

Mid-way through the decade, and where are we? On the up, on the whole. Developments in technology like clockwork motors and commercially viable disc recordings mean that the volume of surviving recordings is increasing exponentially. Faced with competition on multiple fronts, Edison has finally done the unthinkable and accepted the reality of the demand for a music industry, with artists producing recordings for discerning listeners.

Therein lies the catch, of course. Edison, his competitors and the vast majority of record buyers still resided in what David Wondrich refers to as ‘Upworld’ and their tastes naturally reflect the most conservative, middlebrow elements of what has elsewhere been called the “naughty nineties.” At best this meant collectable curios, at worst more of those interminable sentimental ballads – what it certainly didn’t mean was artistry, either of the sophisticated European sort or the perhaps more interesting Underworld variety.

So what could be more middlebrow than the banjo? Originally an adaptation of traditional African instruments made by slaves in plantations, it had taken a bizarre route via touring minstrel shows and parlour lessons to become the instrument of choice for middle class white amateurs. Our selection starts with the “king of the banjo” Vess L. Ossman, a performer who was skilled and accomplished enough that he would later become the first recorded musician to venture into the world of ragtime. After a fuzzy clip from a Russell Hunting monologue we have the great bulwark of middlebrow America, John Philip Sousa, or rather a performance of one of his greatest hits, The Monty Python Theme Tune Liberty Bell March.

Then, after a number from unadventurous Vaudeville star Edward M Favor, there’s a selection from touring “actual black artists” The Oriole Quartette – sort of proto-gospel in that it’s quoting a bible verse, then after something from Sousa’s Band (without Sousa himself of course) we have possibly the most risky selection for 1895, a recording of “Dixie” by Edison house band Issler’s Orchestra. It’s mercifully an entirely instrumental version, but still carries a whole host of connotations.

Aristide Bruant is perhaps best known these days as the subject of this Toulouse Lautrec poster, but he was also responsible for the chanson réaliste genre and the modern cabaret. ‘Le Chat Noir’ is the name of the first cabaret, and this is its theme song.

Next we have a marching band version of a popular opera overture, a more developed version of the ‘Streets of Cairo’ theme first heard in 1893, and two versions of maestro demonstration piece ‘Carnival of Venice’. Then there’s the other extant recording from the Unique Quartet, not really up to the standard of ‘Mama’s Blakck Baby Boy’ but worth a listen at least, and a clip from the first sound film, which will be covered separately in more detail.

The usual selection of Russian cylinders from the collection of Julius Block again succeed in effortlessly outclassing the competition. This time we have the old guard, represented by Paul Pabst, only two years before his sudden death, and the future in the shape of 19-year-old Josef Hofmann – both playing sublime piano music with the spoken words of Leo Tolstoy mixed behind from time to time.

The final section has a Québécois national song, a solo from the cornet player from Issler’s Orchestra, the overture from a popular Austrian operetta, some more whistling from George W Johnson, our first song in Spanish (there will be quite a lot of these in about ten years’ time, but until then they are very thin on the ground), another snappy marching-band number, a maudlin ballad from George J Gaskin, a mysterious cornet solo from a Berlinner disc credited to “Miss Alice Raymond,” Issler’s Orchestra performing a song named after a sadly unrecorded black singing troupe and a sardonic old-fashioned-sexist-humour look at married life from Dan W. Quinn.

Then to finish, Sousa’s biggest hit, The Stars And Stripes Forever. You will almost certainly know this one – I remember first encountering it as “Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friend.”

This feels like the first time that we’re genuinely getting something like the greatest hits of the year. That’s not what I’m really aiming for, but even if it represents a tedious middle-brow spectrum of taste, at least the stage is starting to be set for genuine innovation.

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Vess L. Ossman – Cocoanut Dance
Russell Hunting – Casey As A Hotel Clerk
Baldwin’s Cadet Band Of Boston – The Liberty Bell
Edward M Favor – My Best Gal’s A New Yorker
Oriole Quartette – Brother Michael, Won’t You Hand Down That Rope
Sousa’s Band – Yazoo Dance
Issler’s Orchestra – Dixie
Aristide Bruant – Le Chat Noir
Holding’s Military Band – Overture Semiramide
Dan W. Quinn – Streets Of Cairo
Charles P. Lowe – Carnival Of Venice
Jean Moeremans – Carnival Of Venice
Unique Quartet – Who Broke The Lock?
Dickson – Dickson Experimental Sound Film
Leo Tolstoy – Spoken Word [14 February 1895, Russia]
Paul Pabst – Chopin-Pabst- Waltz In D-Flat, Op. 64, No. 1, “minute”
Josef Hofmann – Anton Rubinstein- Contredanse B, No. 3 From Le Bal, Op. 14
Paul Pabst – Tchaikovsky-Pabst- Paraphrase On Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66
Eugene Danton – Vive La Canadienne
David B. Dana – Evening Star
Baldwin’s Cadet Band Of Boston – Overture, Poet And Peasant
George W. Johnson – Listen To The Mocking Bird
Arthur B. Adamini – Caramba
Foh’s 23rd Regiment Band Of New York – The Melon Patch Schottische
George J. Gaskin – Sidewalks Of New York
Miss Alice Raymond – Love Me Little Love Me Long
Holding’s Military Band – Overture Semiramide
Issler’s Orchestra – Kentucky Jubilee Singers
Dan W. Quinn – Married Life
Sousa’s Band – Stars And Stripes Forever



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