“Another journey into the history of recorded sound with James and Sean. This time we delve into the vaults for 1890 and 1891, explore the pop music of the gilded age, and hear the voices of P.T. Barnum, Florence Nightingale, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.”
Centuries of Sound is a monthly mix of original music and sounds from a year in history. Right now we’re up to 1926. To download full mixes and a get host of other benefits for $5 per month, please come to https://patreon.com/centuriesofsound
Another journey into the history of recorded sound with James and Sean. This time we delve into the vaults for 1890 and 1891, explore the pop music of the gilded age, and hear the voices of P.T. Barnum, Florence Nightingale, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Thirty-five years after witnessing the last public hanging of a woman in Dorset, Thomas Hardy set out to show how an innocent soul can be so let down by the cruelties and hypocrisies of our society as to end up on the gallows. Tess herself may well be more a representation of an ideal than a real person, and Hardy may get a little too caught up in the experience of his natural world to judge what is real and what is metaphor, but overall I still find it to be a very powerful work.
Firsts: Basketball, The London–Paris telephone system, the removable pneumatic bicycle tire, New Scotland Yard, the Tesla coil, the Swiss Army Knife and Stanford University. Carnegie Hall has its grand opening and first public performance, with Tchaikovsky as guest conductor.
Disasters: The Springhill Mining Disaster. The SS Utopia, carrying Italian migrants to New York, sinks in the inner harbor of Gibraltar, killing 564. In Japan the 8.0 Ms Mino–Owari earthquake killed over 7,200, and created fault scarps that still remain visible. The Chinese Juu Uda League in Inner Mongolia massacres tens of thousands of Mongols.
Also: Liliuokalani is proclaimed Queen of Hawaii, and the Portuguese republican revolution breaks out.
Mikhail Bulgakov, Russian writer (d. 1940)
Ole Kirk Christiansen, founder of the Lego group (d. 1958)
Ronald Colman, English actor (d. 1958)
Max Ernst, German painter (d. 1976)
Antonio Gramsci, Italian Communist writer and politician (d. 1937)
Henry Miller, American writer (d. 1980)
Cole Porter, American composer and songwriter (d. 1964)
Sergei Prokofiev, Soviet composer (d. 1953)
Earl Warren, American politician and Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1974)
Grant Wood, American painter (d. 1942)
P. T. Barnum, American showman (b. 1810)
Sir Joseph Bazalgette, English civil engineer (b. 1819)
Helena Blavatsky, Russian-born author and theosophist (b. 1831)
Kalākaua, last reigning King of Hawaii (b. 1836)
Pierre Lallement, French inventor of the bicycle (b. 1843?)
John A. Macdonald, 1st Prime Minister of Canada and Father of Confederation (b. 1815)
Herman Melville, American novelist (b. 1819)
Arthur Rimbaud, French poet (b. 1854)
Wilhelm Eduard Weber, German physicist (b. 1804)
One of the main problems with making this Centuries of Sound thing is representation. The 1890s are the birthplace of ragtime and the blues, Buddy Bolden was playing proto-Jazz down in New Orleans, and over in Europe figures like Dvořák, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Puccini, Sibelius, Grieg, Saint-Saëns, and Rachmaninoff were leading classical music’s last great popular era. And what do we have in the way of photograph cylinders for this golden age? Marching bands, sentimental ballads, novelty instrumentals and nothing much else.
When I was about 10 I had a “Portable Action Replay Player and Keyring” which played 30-second clips from blockbuster movies, or monster trucks and dirtbikes.
Imagine for a second our civilization was destroyed and this was all that remained.
This is the narrow aperture which sound recording gives us at this point. Without a duplication process, every cylinder had to be an original, played into a brass funnel by at most five or six artists. These recordings were then consumed almost entirely in a small number of “phonograph parlors” which fed recordings to customers through a stethoscope-like device. Why would any fan of the arts consider this to be worth their time when the real thing was infinitely superior? And why would any serious performer take such a thing seriously?
The answer, of course, was that it was a living to be made. In this mix we meet (possibly) the best-selling artist of the decade and (maybe) the first million-seller, George W Johnson. Johnson was born in the South before the civil war, made his way to the streets of New York and found a living as a street performer, soon building enough of a reputation performing at the ferry terminal that both existent recording companies signed him up. Soon he was sitting in a “studio”, singing the same two songs into a bank of gramophones up to fifty times a day, for limited financial returns. “The Whistling Coon” is offensive all the way down the line from awful title to much worse lyrics, but apparently this is what the public wanted, and it made a black man the first star recording artist in the particularly racist post-reconstruction era of the USA. It’s included here as ignoring it would be an insult to his memory.
Also he can whistle very well, and that seems to have been a big deal in the early days of the record industry. Our mix starts with another example, “artistic whistler” John Yorke Atlee with the bird noise vaudeville staple “Listen To The Mocking Bird.” Then we have Sousa’s U.S. Marine Band with another of their jolly marching band anthems, followed by cylinder catalogue staple George J. Gaskin with “Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill,” a novelty song about Irish workers drilling holes in rock to blast out railroad tunnels. Just before George W Johnson we have a much more offensive item from blackface performer Billy Golden, presented for historical reasons but with a serious warning about its content.
Another U.S. Marine Band recording follows, this one allegedly a “Mexican dance” and providing a deal more subtlety than usual. Then we have Welsh baritone J.W. Myers with a bit of light operetta, an unknown singer called Will White with another bit of light operetta, a mournful trumpet solo from D.B. Dana, then the first of many selections from the 1890s foremost spoken word artist, Russell Hunting, here barely audible in his Irish ethnic stereotype “Casey”. This fades out into a pair of Julius Block recordings, firstly of noted Russian pianist and composer Sergei Taneyev, then of soprano Maria Klimentova-Muromtzeva, with Taneyev accompanying. Mixed into these we have the final words of C.H. Spurgeon, a British Baptist preacher whose influence was massive at the time. The words were, of course, not recorded at his bedside, but later by his son Thomas Spurgeon.
John Yorke Atlee – The Mocking Bird
U.S. Marine Band – Farewell to Dresden
George J. Gaskin – Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill
Billy Golden – Turkey in the Straw
George W. Johnson – The Whistling Coon
Hager’s Band – La Media Noche
J.W. Myers – Bell Buoy
Will White – Third Verse of Mary & John
D.B. Dana – Cujus Animam
Russell Hunting – Michael Casey as Physician
Sergei Taneyev – Mozart: Fantasie in C Minor, K. 396
Thomas Spurgeon – C. H. Spurgeon’s Last Words
Maria Klimentova-Muromtzeva and Sergei Taneyev – Schumann: Widmung, no. 1 from Myrthen, op. 25