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Edison phonograph cylinders (1888): Handel - Israel in Egypt

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Published on Nov 2, 2008

On Friday 29th June 1888, from 2pm, a performance of Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt was captured on a number of wax cylinder recordings. This performance was part of the trienniel Handel Festivals mounted in the UK. They were recorded from the press gallery in Crystal Palace by Edison-representative Colonel Gouraud, as a way to test and show off Edison's phonograph. Three of these cylinders still survive.

The conductor was Sir August Manns, conducting an orchestra of some 500 musicians and a choir of over 4,000 voices, in front of an audience of 23,722 people.

These are the earliest deliberate recordings of music known to exist (earlier recordings from the 1870s are considered lost). Fortunately these can be played back at a quite definite pitch, as we know the pitch of the Crystal Palace organ at this time.

Unfortunately, the recordings are in very poor shape, audibly speaking. You are going to have a very hard time grappling with the sound, and trying to make out anything. Each cylinder contains a number of tracks. This is what you are hearing:

Cylinder 1 (0:00 - 2:27) -

The first text is "[Mo]ses, and the children of Israel sung unto the Lord and spake saying", from the chorus at the opening of Part II (very hard to hear the orchestra in this).

Following this is "I will sing unto the Lord for he hath triumphed" from the next number in Part II (you should be able to hear the altos and tenors singing at the start of this). Near the end you might make out the word "gloriously" sung in Handelian semiquavers.

Cylinder 2 (2:30 - 5:10) -

The first track on this cylinder is effectively inaudible. We do not know what the music is on it.

The second track is no.24 from the Oratorio: "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power". Unfortunately, the stylus sticks in this track.

The third track is from the same number at "Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy", also with some stylus sticking problems.

Track 4 is yet more of this movement, ending with "For He hath triumphed gloriously".

Cylinder 3 (5:14 - 7:45) -

The first track is the last part of movement 37: "...ever, the Lord shall reign for ever and ever".

The second track is a fragment of number 39: "For ever and ever"

The third track is a continuation of the previous one from "...shall reign for ever and ever", and continuing as far as "For He hath triumphed gloriously".

The last track is the very end of the oratorio, from "...horse and his rider, the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea".

Well, as I say, all very hard to make out. You can perceive a very slow tempo being employed at least.

Incidentally, Colonel Gourard was also present at the "phonograph party" in 1888 which captured Sullivan's voice (see my posting of this), and his voice too exists on wax cylinder.

I would be fascinated to hear what people make of these. For more info about these rolls, there is a fantastic website to read here: http://www.webrarian.co.uk/crystalpalace

  • Category

  • Song

    • Shuffle Play: ground zero: June 29, 1888
  • Artist

    • Ensemble Diglossia
  • Album

    • John Schott: Shuffle Play
  • Licensed to YouTube by

    • The Orchard Music (on behalf of New World Records); Sony ATV Publishing, SOLAR Music Rights Management, and 3 Music Rights Societies

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