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Once again, the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound invites You to a musical advent calendar with digitized recordings from the collection. This year's theme is Italian singers in the Italian repertoire - with the exception of what we deem appropriate. With this theme, we go right into Arne Dørumsgaards vision for the record collection at the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound, namely to study the old vocal performance traditions found in the earliest sound recordings from over 100 years ago towards our own time.
The first time it became possible to catch audio to a medium for later playback, there was a great revolution in the musical world. The technical developments that have taken place since Edison made his first phonograph recordings in 1877, via Berliners 78 discs that came in 1898, and then mono and stereo LPs in the 1940s and 50s to the digital technology from the early 1980s and the current fully digital recording and editing capabilities, have revolutionized the way we look at music as a cultural phenomenon.
When the gramophone was in its infancy, it was stars like the tenor Caruso and a number of other singers who paved the way for the new medium. Later on, in many people's eyes, only singers from the first decade of the 1900’s constituted the golden age of recorded music, and that performance quality in later years just went down into a standardized technical perfectionism. There is a much greater individuality of the artist’s expressions found in the oldest recordings, although of course this can be discussed from different quality standards.
To capture the sound on a medium is a much easier exercise today than it was 100 years ago due to the technical development. The international record industry and the possibility to edit recording and comparing performers may have led the development into a path where everything has been technically perfected and cool. Technology provides opportunities that are both good and bad. But when you listen to the old records, it is fascinating to imagine the possibility of listening to the performance traditions and distinctive interpretations of the past that are not alive anymore today.
Roberto Bauer with his discography Historical records, first published in 1936 probably contributed to the myth that it was the oldest recordings that were the most valuable, as this discography is goes no further in time than 1909. This discography practically became a bible for vocal record collectors and many sought to build up collections in accordance to this book. So even though valuable recordings of course were made after 1909 as well, this year was seen almost as a magic threshold, and the oldest recordings have thus gained a kind of exalted mystical status.
The oldest records gives an opportunity to listen to singers who were big stars in the 1800s, and is therefore a testimony of a performance practice that was linked to the major opera houses of more than a century ago. This is also why the singers' expressions were more locally diverse than it is today, although many of the great opera stars also then toured and performed in many different cities. The records also documents that there were no editing possibilities - a 78-disc lasts on average 3 to 4 and a half minutes, and this had to be sung straight in without the ability to fix imperfections. If something went wrong the artist had to do the whole record side again.
When we for this year's edition of the Musical Advent Calendar has chosen singers in the Italian repertoire, it is to show a spectre of the art of singing as it was possible to record during the first decade of the 1900s. Some newer recordings are also included, but on copyright grounds, we have not been able to introduce newer recordings than the late 1950s. The Dørumsgaards collection is sort of related to Roberto Bauer's work, which connects our theme of the yearr more closely with the collection at The Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound.
Arne Dørumsgaard (read biography here) had a vision for his record collection that today constitutes the core collection of 78 rpm records at the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sounds vocal disc collection, namely that Norwegian students should have the opportunity to study both musical interpretation through the ages, and not least the great diversity of singing that is represented on record.
When Dørumsgaard did his pioneering collecting work from his home in Italy, students had to travel to the large libraries to study the material that was found there. In line with technological developments, we can now make the material available in completely different ways, making music available not only locally, but online with access for all. Dørumsgaard was even interested in technology and had a state of the art music system for his time at home with various tape recorders and record players, not to mention a great antenna to bring in Italian, German and Swiss radio to record live broadcasts. That way he wanted to gather a range of interpretations, from the earliest recordings until concert and recording sessions of his own time.
He was also in contact with collectors all over the world, and they swapped recordings via tape transfers, thus he acquired a collection of copies of the rarest records that were mentioned in Bauer's discography. Bauer's own record collection was after his death taken over by Otto Müller, and Dørumsgaard was also central in ensuring the Bauer-Müller collection a lasting position in Norway. Today this collection is in the vaults of Norway’s National Library. Dørumsgaard had through his own collecting work thought to complement this collection as it should have been in Roberto Bauers days before Bauer sold the rarest records. As it became, Bauer's collection was not completed according to Dørumsgaards plans, but the collection Dørumsgaard himself had built up has in many respects surpassed Bauers in size, and not least, it is unique in that it represents the entire 78 rpm era.
The Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound is continually building up the collection, and all vocal 78 discs are now sorted by the singers’ names, so that it is possible to locate recordings with various singers although not all records are cataloged.
The magazine The Record Collector, published for the first time in 1946 has provided great inspiration to the short articles introducing each singer. This is a journal that is still published, see (this website). At the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound we is in possession of a collection of the journal back to very first number and up to current subscriptions, and it is one of the main sources of information about historical singers including discographical details that we use in our daily work with old vocal records.
It is with pleasure that we present this year's edition of the Musical Advent Calendar of ours, and wish everyone a peaceful Advent time in the company of legendary singers of the past and others who today are less known. We hope this will bring joy and give You impetus to a closer exploration of this part of the music history.
Sit back and adjust Your ears so you can listen through the hiss, crackle and noise on the old records. Be entranced by the music and performances made by singers from a long bygone era. Get ready for a journey back to the first half of the 1900s.
The records are professionally cleaned and digitized but we present them in urestored editions, complete with hissing and crackling, perfect for creating the atmosphere of a good old Christmas. The Institute holds a conservation audio file in wave format, but the files that are presented here on the website are mp3 compressions of the original files.
Have a peaceful Advent!
I am very much looking forward to what you provide in this year's Advent Calendar. The 2012 Calendar devoted to Grieg was especially excellent for me, but you always produce interesting recordings.
Borghild Bryhn-Langgaard was one of the singers that you featured in 2012, and you quite rightly pointed out: "In 1908 she participated at the famous performances of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in London conducted by Hans Richter". I am preparing an article about Richter's "English Ring" for "The Record Collector". May I put in a request for a non-Italian recording, namely her duet with Peter Cornelius from Siegfried (on your shelf N1116)? I have not found any other way of hearing this recording. It may well interest your listeners.
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