Edison phonograph cylinder (1888): Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) - The Lost Chord & Speech





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Published on Apr 11, 2008

On 5th October 1888 (yes, you read that year right), Sir Arthur Sullivan was present at a "phonograph party". At this event, he made a recording of his own voice to send to Thomas Edison (who had the idea that the phonograph may be used in a way similar to the letter). His comments are made having heard various recordings played to him at the event.

Also, earlier in 1888, a press conference was played a recording of Sullivan's "The Lost Chord" (amongst others). This recording is thought to be the same recording, made in 1888, and is performed by anonymous artists on cornet and piano. While not all that interesting musically, the recording is of supreme historical interst as being the first properly listenable recording of music ever made. One musical observation I have is to note the restrained attitude towards rubato - the presumably British players don't seem to be indulging in the sometimes wayward rhythmic tos and fros of the Austro-German piano school in this recording. There is still a degree of non-sychronisation between cornet melody and piano accomaniment though, typical of the treatment of melody and accompaniment in piano solo recordings from a few years later.

Anyway, afterwards (the cylinder runs out before the work has been completed, and irritatingly just as it starts to rise to its climax) you hear Sullivan's voice from the other event. He is first introduced, and then makes the following speech - rather perspicacious all things considered!:

Dear Mr. Edison, if my friend Edmund Yates has been a little incoherent it is in consequence of the excellent dinner and good wines that he has drunk. Therefore I think you will excuse him. He has his lucid intervals. For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening's experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record for ever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery. Arthur Sullivan.


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