10 August 2021
Discovery of a rare Bettini cylinder recording
By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music
In February 2020, just before lockdown, collector Richard Copeman contacted me about a concert cylinder he had just purchased in Paris. He wondered if we would like to make a digital transfer of it for the British Library Sound Archive.
Concert cylinders are not common, although I previously wrote a blog about one here which gives details about these larger forms of cylinder produced in the early 1900s. The cylinder Richard Copeman has is in its original green box with a hand written title on the label, but it has lost the label from the lid.
The date of 1899 is hand written in blue pencil on the bottom of the box. The title also appears engraved into the edge of the cylinder.
We know what the work is – Concertino in E flat Op. 26 for clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, and the performer’s name is announced at the beginning. However, the name of the recording company is not – Edison, and many others, always included the name of the company in the announcement.
Another avid collector came to the rescue in the form of David Mason who had facsimile copies of Bettini catalogues. In one of these he found ‘Rouleaux de Concert a Grand Diametre’ and listed there was the cylinder of the Concertino with the performer’s name - Henri Paradis.
Henri Paradis was born in Avignon in 1861 and at the age of nineteen won the Premier Prix for clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire. His teacher was the delightfully named Chrysogone Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) who had been consulted by composers Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod on the technical capabilities of the clarinet. Rose was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1900.
Bettini catalogue June 1901
As can be seen in the catalogue, Paradis plays his teacher’s version of the Weber composition published around 1879 in Paris. After a period in L'Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, Paradis joined the orchestra of the Paris Opera in 1890 and did not retire from his post until 1932. He was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1935 and died in 1940. From 1906 he was clarinetist in Le Double Quintette, eight of whose early recordings can be heard on BL Sounds here. The full title of Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Cordes et à Vent was shortened to Société du Double Quintette de Paris; for the disc labels they became Le Société du Double Quintette. Mostly born in the 1860s, the group consisted of ten players plus Georges de Lausney on the piano. The personnel were Pierre Sechiari (first violin), Marcel Houdret (second violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Jules Marnoff (cello), Paul Leduc (double bass), Louis Bas (oboe), Ernest Vizentini (bassoon), Francois Lamouret (french horn), Henri Paradis (clarinet) and Adolphe Hennebains (flute).
Paradis’s affiliation with the Garde Républicaine and Paris Opera are mentioned in the spoken introduction on the cylinder which begins with a pitch identification, something important with early primitive equipment. Paradis plays a highly abridged version of the score but the clarity and quality of the recording are extraordinary for something over 120 years old.
But what of Bettini, the producer of the cylinder? Early recording is dominated by Thomas Edison in the United States and the Pathé brothers in France – both working on various other inventions concurrently. Bettini was a fascinating, if relatively unknown, figure from the dawn of recorded sound.
Born in Novara, Italy in 1860 Gianni Bettini was a gentleman inventor who had a salon at 110 Fifth Avenue, New York in the late 1890s where he made private recordings of great singers and other famous people including Mark Twain. He was then based in Paris operating as the Société des Micro-Phonographes Bettini, 23 Boulevard des Capucines and although he brought his master recordings to Paris at the turn of the century, these were all destroyed during the Second World War. A Wikipedia article states that Bettini cylinders are rare and that ‘only a few dozen are known to exist’. This makes the discovery of this Paradis cylinder all the more exciting. Not only is superior sound achieved with the larger concert cylinder, but Bettini invented some improvements including the ‘Spider’ whereby the stylus was attached to the recording diaphragm by multiple legs, hence its name. Of course, the fact that this cylinder is not worn and in excellent condition also makes a great difference to the sound. It would appear that the cylinder was recorded right at the end of the nineteenth century, but it is not certain that the date stamped on the box is the date of recording. It appears in the 1901 Bettini catalogue.
It was the more widely circulated recording (both on cylinder and disc) that Bettini made of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) which has survived and kept his name alive in the annals of the history of recorded sound. Like Edison and the Pathé brothers, Bettini worked on a motion picture camera. He died in San Remo in 1938.
Thanks to Richard Copeman for discovering it and allowing it to be shared through this blog.
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