Gramophones And Grooves

Pianist and broadcaster David Owen Norris with a new series examining the early gramophone and phonograph industry and featuring only recordings made in the 19th century.



The 1890s saw cut-throat competition between cylinder and disc recording companies on both sides of the Atlantic. What kinds of music recorded best? Who were the early recording stars? How were customers able to listen to product?

And David Owen Norris visits the basement of a London pub en route to discovering why a singing barmaid and a hotel band were producer Fred Gaisberg's first signings to what was to become HMV.


In the late 1880s, American civil war hero Colonel George Gouraud set out to publicise Thomas Edison's 'perfected phonograph' by persuading a host of British public figures to speak into his recording tube. Hear the voices of Tennyson, Gladstone, Florence Nightingale and many others - not forgetting the sounds of a certain Big Ben. When Gouraud presented a phonograph to Dr Livingstone's discoverer, H M Stanley, another cache of recordings of the great and good was inspired.


Music may have been a staple of early recordings, but all kinds of other curiosities turned up. Farmyard noises, comic turns, adverts, Bible readings, political propaganda - all these and more can be found in the archive. Listeners can also hear the earliest recording of all that survives - an attempt at a speaking clock - and also the only wildlife sounds captured in the 19th century. As for the supposed recording of Queen Victoria, will we ever know if it's really her?


Early recording machines were soon seen as a way of preserving folk traditions and the sounds of indigenous peoples. There are astonishingly vivid recordings of Omaha Indians from the USA and of a Thai orchestra visiting Berlin. David Owen Norris also visits the British Library to sample a collection of recordings made by a Cambridge University expedition to the other side of the world in the late 1890s. Are they just historical curiosities or are there still live issues of ownership to be addressed?

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Music dominated the world of early recordings. But why did classical music feature so rarely? David Owen Norris nonetheless tracks down what may be the earliest musical recording ever made - Handel's 'Israel in Egypt' sung at Crystal Palace in 1888 - plus examples of rare piano, violin and 'early music' repertoire. You can also hear private recordings of Brahms playing the piano, Tchaikovsky playing the fool and Sir Arthur Sullivan playing to the gallery.