Sound and vision blog

4 posts from August 2021

24 August 2021

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23 August 2021

Recording of the week: Mrs Meurig Morris in a trance address

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

Columbia DX 265 disc label

In this week’s ‘Recording of the Week’ we feature the stentorian tones of Louisa Ann Meurig Morris (1899-1991), who was well-known as a spiritualist and medium in the 1930s.

In January 1931, she featured in the first ever filmed séance in the history of moving pictures, in the company of Lady Conan Doyle.

This recording for the Columbia label, which is different from the soundtrack of the Movietone film, was made a few weeks later, on 20 March 1931.

Here we present sides one and two in their entirety.

Listen to Meurig Morris [1CL0046884]

Download Meurig Morris transcript

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

10 August 2021

Discovery of a rare Bettini cylinder recording

Richard Copeman with cylinder editRichard Copeman with his Bettini cylinder (photo © Jonathan Summers)

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. 

Box imageImage of box label (photo © Jonathan Summers)

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. 

Inscription on cylinder edgeInscription on cylinder edge (photo © Jonathan Summers)

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

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 June 1901 pp. 16-17 Edit

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.

Weber Concertino Henri Paradis mp3

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. 

Gianni Bettini 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)Gianni Bettini in 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)

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.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

09 August 2021

Recording of the week: Memories of a theatregoer

This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

In the last year of closed performance venues, we have almost forgotten what it means to go to the theatre.

Alessia-chinazzo (576 pizel wide) Photo by Alessia Chinazzo on Unsplash

In this interview from 2008, recorded as part of the Theatre Archive Project, Barbara Silcock shares her memories as a theatregoer back in the Seventies.

From her recollections of attending pantomimes as a child to being in the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, she speaks about experiencing the theatre as sort of escapism filled with euphoria; the theatre as a place for empathy.

With the melancholic tinge of a distant memory, she recounts the wonders of being backstage at the Lyceum Theatre and the distinctive smell of theatres.

Excerpt of Barbara Silcock interview [BL REF C1142/222]

Download Transcript

The smells we experience play a crucial role in our lives: it is through smell that our memory can vivdly bring back feelings and experiences.

Her words remind me of the pure joy of going to a theatre performance, the passive-active role of being in a live audience.

It is hard not to admit that after a year of virtual performances, what I’ve missed is precisely that familiar ‘dump’ smell she speaks of.

The Theatre Archive Project investigated British theatre history from 1945 to 1968, from the perspectives of both theatre-goers and practitioners. The project was a collaboration between the British Library and De Montfort University, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.