1925 - First Electric Recordings of

Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra

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1925 - First Electrical Recording of

Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra

 

Joseph P. Maxfield and Henry C. Harrison

of the Bell Laboratories

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Development and Licensing of the Western Electric Electrical Recording System

 

As described in the page: Bell Laboratories development of the Western Electric electrical recording system by late 1924, Bell Telephone Laboratories, lead by Joseph P. Maxfield and Henry C. Harrison had developed an electrical phonograph recording system using a Bell Labs microphone connected to a vacuum tube (valve) amplifier, and feeding the amplified signal to an electromagnetic disc cutting head which Bell Laboratories had also developed.

 

> As described in Licensing the Westrex Electrical Recording System to Victor and Columbia , Victor Talking Machine Company initially hesitated to license the new electrical recording system during 1924 when they first evaluated the Western Electric system.  This seems to have been primarily due to the cost of the system, and the timing, when in 1924, for the first time in the company's history, Victor failed to meet its sales plan.  Victor's total profit that year was reduced to $25,000.  Contrast this with the initial required payment to license the Westrex system of $50,000.

 

However, by early 1925, Victor was motivated to license the Westrex system, reportedly because they recognized the need for new technology to stimulate sales.  Victor may also have become aware of rival Louis Sterling and Columbia Phonograph's decision to license the Westrex system.  (This is also described in Columbia Licenses the Westrex Process   Consequently, Victor in early 1925 decided to enter into a license with Western Electric, the manufacturer and distributor of the Westrex system.

 

This new electrical system significantly extended the recorded frequency spectrum.  The acoustic system had recorded very little sound above about 2,400 Hertz.  This limited frequency response requiring the re-orchestration of the music to provide any musical content in the treble range (see Limitations to the Acoustic Recording Process ).  The new Westrex electrical process expanded the recorded spectrum to a much more natural range which began to lose reproduction above about 6,000 Hertz3.

Frequency response of the electrical amplification and

condenser microphone of the Westrex system 3

 

The electrical system was also able to record instruments at the low end of the frequency spectrum, below 200 Hertz. This meant that instruments such as the double bass could now be recorded. Previously, with the acoustic process, string basses had to be augmented or replaced by a tuba or a bass clarinet in acoustic recording.

 

The electrical system was also more robust than the acoustic process.  The recording system could now survive the effects of percussion in recorded performances. The high amplitude and rapid onset of percussion notes, particularly of lower frequencies, had caused recording difficulties in the mechanical acoustic process. The acoustic system simply could not tolerate most of the orchestra's percussion, because the cutting stylus, driven by the uncontrolled acoustic energy, could leave the surface of the wax master, ruining the recording.  It was for this reason that, in the acoustic process, timpani were replaced by bassoons and bass drums were replaced by tubas and contra-bassoons.  The electrical and mechanical control of the cutting stylus of the electrical system were now able to cope with percussion, including bass drums and timpani.

 

During the latter half of 1924, Victor engineers had evaluated the new Western Electric recording process.  In early 1925, Victor Talking Machine Company decided to license the system.  Preliminary patent license agreements were made with Western Electric in February, 1925.  As you may read in Victor Installation of the Westrex System, Westrex equipment was installed in the Victor Building 15 in Camden on February 3 and 4, 1925.  As was discovered by the fascinating research of Allen Sutton of the superb Mainspring Publishing 6, Victor's earliest electrical recording session with the Westrex system that resulted in a published record occurred on February 26, 1925 in Camden. This was of a vocal group which performed what was called "Miniature Concert". This recording was issued in July, 1925 on Victor 35753, matrix CVE-31874-3 and CVE-31875-4. The "CVE" (for 12 inch) and "BVE" (for 10 inch records) was the beginning of a wonderful new series of electrical matrix numbers produced by Victor between 1925 and the end of 1931. In 1931 a further, when a new matrix numbering system was introduced.

 

Victor and Western Electric signed the definitive license agreement for the Westrex system on March 18, 1925.  However, as late as March 4, 1925, acoustic records were still being recorded in the Camden Church Studio.  Soon thereafter, the Camden Church Studio was also wired for the Westrex electric recording system. 

 

Victor apparently made acoustic recordings of non-Red Seal recordings in the New York studio as late as August, 1925 8.

Western Electric engineer George Groves cutting an electrical master.

Groves was assigned to Vitaphone, and later relocated to Hollywood

where he became one of the great sound engineers, winning 2 Oscars 9

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1925 Electrical Recording of Saint-Saëns Danse macabre

 

This technology resulted in the first orchestral electrical recording in the United States.  This was also the first in the world, since no electrical recording system was yet in use outside the United States.  This "first electrical recording of a symphony orchestra" was the April, 1925 recording by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra of 'Danse macabre' by Camille Saint-Saëns.  (This label of "first" of course excludes the experimental electrical recordings of the New York Philharmonic made by Western Electric engineers from a feed from radio station WEAF done while developing the Westrex electrical recording system.  It also excludes the 1920 electrical recording by Guest and Merriman at Westminster Abbey, where we cannot tell if there is an orchestra or not, given the primitive sound.)

 

The first few weeks of experimental electrical recording was described by the Victor recording engineer Harry Sooy:

"...February 10th, 1925: We had our first Electrically recorded date to-day. Talent: Miss Helen Clark with piano (J. Pasternack) and violin obbligato (A. Schmidt)...February 11th, 1925: Made a duet selection by Miss Olive Kline and Miss Elsie Baker (Electrically). Messrs. [Joseph P.] Maxfield, [Stanley] Watkins and [Elmer A.] Raguse present...March 6th, 1925; We kept constantly on the go with this electrical recording from February 9th to March 6th...Vocal Solos, Instrumental Solos, Vocal Duets, Symphony Orchestras, Dance Orchestras and a Mixed Chorus of 36 voices, etc...March 11th, 1925...starting to make Electrically recorded records for our Catalog...This work started on permission from the Bell Company. Mme. [Olga] Samaroff being the first artist to make records for Domestic use..." 12

 

Further trial recordings with the new Western Electric system were done in the recording studio of Building number 15 on March 11, 1925.  On March 16, "Joan of Arkansas," Victor disk 19626 was recorded.  Then, on March 18 and 19, Margarete Matzenauer, a leading Metropolitan contralto recorded French opera arias.  On March 21, Alfred Cortot recorded Chopin and Schubert.  Then, on April 13 and 14, Serge Rachmaninoff recorded Liszt and Beethoven 7.

 

Then, on April 29, 1925 Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra made the world's first orchestral electrical recording.

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Continued use of Contrabassoon and Bass Saxophone in place of Double Basses

 

Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre, opus 40, in 1925, which became something of an orchestral show-piece.  Stokowski had attempted, unsuccessfully, an acoustic recording of Danse Macabre in 1924.  Now, with the new electrical process, neither Stokowski, nor the engineers knew exactly how best to use the new system, and the recording continued to be done with most of the techniques of the acoustic process.  For example, the orchestra continued to be reduced to a number of about 40 musicians without percussion instruments, as during acoustic sessions.  The timpani was replaced by a contrabassoon, or in the case of 'Danse Macabre', by a bass saxophone, and the bass strings were replaced by a tuba and bass winds. There were 7 first violins and 3 second violins, 3 violas, and 2 celli, similar to the acoustic sessions.

 

It is interesting (and amusing) now to clearly hear the contrabassoon (probably Ferdinand Del Negro , contrabassoon with the Philadelphia Orchestra for 40 years, from 1922-1962), croaking away during the first few minutes of the recording !

A contrabassoon in the 1939 Philadelphia Orchestra played by Ferdinand Del Negro

 

The contrabassoon and the bass saxophone also replaced the timpani, as can be heard in the following comparison.  First is from this first Stokowski electrical recording of April 29, 1925, using a what sounds like either a contrabassoon or a bass sax in place of the timpani, followed by the same passage from the January 15, 1936 recording, using timpani.

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1925 Danse macabre, followed by the 1936 Danse macabre

 

The Philadelphia Orchestra had a bass saxophone and a contrabassoon listed as part of the orchestra roster during the 1920s, and well into the electrical recording era.  In the 1925 Danse macabre, it is likely Ferdinand del Negro, long-time orchestra bassoon and contrabassoonist playing the contrabassoon.

One benefit is that Danse macabre with this instrumental arrangement was recorded with the new Westrex process.  So, for the first time, with the clarity of the electrical recording system, we can hear clearly what an orchestra, playing with these replacement instruments, and with the changed orchestral arrangements of the acoustic era would have sounded like 'live' in the recording studio.

Another plus with the Danse macabre recording is that we may hear in his prime, clearly, and without distortion Thaddeus Rich, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia orchestra since 1906.  Rich, still only 40 in 1925.  Rich had also played in 1901-1902 in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Artur Nikisch.  Beginning in 1906, Rich was concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra for twenty seasons.  We hear his art in this recording just prior to his resignation in 1926, as a result of a falling out with Stokowski.  Thaddeus Rich went on to head the Music Department at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Leopold Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia 1926

 

Danse macabre was released on a double faced Victor 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal disk 6505, matrices CVE 27929-2 and CVE 27230-2 in July of 1925.  This release initially did not highlight that it was from the new electrical recording process, although Victor dealers were encouraged to use the Danse macabre recording to demonstrate Victrola playing equipment.  Victor apparently did not want to suggest that its impressive catalog of existing acoustic recordings was suddenly obsolete.

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Adopting the Electrical Recording Process

 

In fact companies other than Columbia, the Gramophone Company of Britain, and Victor waited further to adopt the electrical recording process.  In the USA, the Edison company was still recording acoustically in 1927, such as their Carmen and Aida selections.  The low-priced Columbia subsidiary, Harmony "...continued to be acoustically recorded for some three or four years..." after 1925, according to Brian Rust 5, likely for economy reasons to avoid paying the Western Electric royalty on electrical recordings.

So, the Danse macabre recording was quietly issued some months before Victor's big push of the new electrical recording process. This big push was the large Victor promotion kicked off on "Victor Day" on November 2, 1925, with the largest advertising and Victrola promotion yet made by the Victor Talking Machine Company.  You can click here to read about Victor's "Victor Day" promotion of November 2, 1925.

As you can see below, the initial release of Danse Macabre in 1925, although an electrical recording, was issued on the famous 'bat wing' style label (called this from the pointed 'wings' on either side of Nipper), associated with labels of Victor acoustic recordings.  This first electrical release by Stokowski - Philadelphia was Victor Red Seal double faced disc 6505.

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Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse macabre opus 40

 

Danse Macabre was first composed by Saint-Saëns in 1872 for violin and soprano. In 1874, Saint-Saëns reworked the composition for orchestra, with solo violin replacing the soprano.  This revised version was first performed in Paris by Édouard Colonne with his orchestra on January 24,1875.

 

Danse macabre opens with the harp playing a single D twelve times to represent a clock striking midnight.  According to the legend, at midnight every Halloween, Death may call the dead from their graves to dance to his violin.  This is the violin solo played so beautifully in this April, 1925 recording by Thaddeus Rich.

 

Click here to listen to (or download) the first Stokowski electric recording: Saint-Saëns Danse macabre

 

 

 

However, even at this time, the Victor Talking Machine Company did not promote the new electrical process, as Victor and their dealers were seeking to sell off inventories of acoustic discs. The promotion of the electrical process would need to wait some 6 months, until November 2, 1925, "Victor Day".  You can click here to read about Victor's "Victor Day" promotion of November 2, 1925.

 

Not only was the electrical recording process not publicized, but electrical recordings were not labeled as such. Notice that the label of this first Victor electrical recording gives no indication of being from a new electrical process.  The classic Victor Red Seal "bat wing" label, used on the previous acoustic records, was also used with no special marking on the first electrical recordings.  However, the small symbol 'V.E.' in an oval was engraved in the disc matrix between the run-out scroll grove and the label, as shown in the photograph below.  As you may see, most people who bought these recordings would not have noticed this V.E. marking.

 

On October 1, 1926 13, a year and one half after the commercial launch of electrically recorded disks, Victor revised their record labels, and introduced the famous "Victor Orthophonic" trade name and scroll label with the "VE" logo at the top and bottom of the label, indicating an electrical recording, and the famous label scroll work surrounding. This scroll label was used from October1926 until October, 1937 14.

 

T he VE logo and Orthophonic trade name

introduced in October, 1926

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Columbia Phonograph (US) and Columbia Gramophone (UK) Electrical Recording

 

As described in Licensing the Westrex Electrical Recording System to Victor and Columbia, Columbia also began making electrical recordings in early 1925, before Victor. According to Brian Rust's excellent Columbia discography 2, US Columbia had already cut a series of from February 25-27, 1925 that were commercially issued later in 1925.  This was of Art Gillham, the "Whispering Pianist", a pioneer radio performer, and experienced with the microphone, who recorded 5 sides4.  So Columbia preceded Victor not only in entering into a definitive Westrex license before Victor, but Columbia also make the first electrical recording that was commercially released, before Victor.

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Columbia Viva-tonal Electrical Process Records

 

Columbia soon began to promote its electrical process recordings under the name "Viva-tonal", the Columbia counterpart of Victor's "Orthophonic" name.  The name "Viva-tonal" and "Electrical Process" in lightening-bolt style font were added to early labels of Columbia discs recorded with the Westrex electrical system, as shown below.

 

 

The recording process used on many Victor and Columbia discs can be decoded by the symbol next to their matrix number.  Victor discs using the Westrex process had a triangle or diamond shape next to the matrix number.  Similarly, Columbia discs had a (W inside a circle) next to the matrix number.  This symbol on Columbia discs changed to a (C inside a circle) beginning in 1932, when Columbia changed to the Blumlein recording process.  HMV later placed a square shape next to the matrix number on its Blumlein recorded discs, after the EMI merger.

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Other electrical recordings by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra

 

To explore further electrical recordings by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, please click on the appropriate link below:

Navigation of Stokowski - Philadelphia recordings pages

Stokowski - Philadelphia acoustic recordings 1917-1924

click here to go to all Stokowski - Philadelphia acoustic recordings

Stokowski - Philadelphia electrical recordings 1925-1940

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1925 First Electrical Recording

1925 other electricals

1926

1927 - part 1

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1928

1929

1930

1931

1932

1933

1934 - part 1

1934 - part 2

1935

1936

1937

no recordings 1938

1939-1940

 

 


 

Note on listening to the Stokowski recordings

 

The recordings in this site are files in mp3 format (128 mbps) encoded from my recordings.  Links to the mp3 files are located in two places:

 

First - in the page covering the year of the recording.  For example, links to a 1926 recording are found in the page:   1926 - Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings  

 

Second - in the Chronological Discography page.  For example, links to a 1926 recording are also found in the electrical recordings chronological discography page:  Chronological Discography of Electrical Recordings    This page lists all the electrical recordings from 1925 to 1940 made by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski and issued by Victor, including of course the 1926 recordings.

 

The mp3 files in this site are encoded at 128 mbps.  This means that the files are of different sizes, according to the length of the music.  For example, the second electrical recording, the April 29, 1925 Borodin ‘Polovetzki Dances’ is small (3.6MB).  In contrast, the 1929 Le Sacre du Printemps file is large.  Le Sacre part 1 is 14MB and Le Sacre part 2 is 16MB.

 

This means that a large file will take a longer time to download, depending on your internet connection speed.  Please keep this in mind when you click to listen to - download a particularly music file.  You may click the link to the music file, but need to wait a number of seconds or even minutes to listen to the file. >/p>


 

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3    Maxfield, Joseph P. and Henry C. Harrison. Methods of High Quality Recording and Reproducing of Music and Speech Based on Telephone Research.  Bell System Technical Journal 5, July, 1926

 

2,4  Rust, Brian and Brooks, Tim.  The Columbia Master Book Discography. (4 volumes)  Greenwood Press.  1999.  ISBN 0-313-21464-6

 

5   page 2.  Rust, Brian and Brooks, Tim. The Columbia Master Book Discography.  Volume II Greenwood Press. 1999. ISBN 0-313-30822-5

 

6   The fascinating research of Allen Sutton is documented in his web page http://www.mainspringpress.com/vic_minicon.html with the title: "A Miniature Concert" - The Earliest Issued Victor Electric.

 

7   pages 341, 346 Bolig, John R. The Victor Red Seal Discography Volume 2: Double-Sided Series to 1930. Mainspring Press. Denver, Colorado. 2006. ISBN 0-9772735-5-5

 

page xiii.  Bolig, John R. The Victor Discography Green, Blue and Purple Labels (1910 - 1926). Mainspring Press. Denver, Colorado. 2006. ISBN 0-9772735-2-0

 

9   1972 Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers Samuel L Warner Memorial Award. Description of the career of George Groves.

 

10   page xiii.  Bolig, John R.  The Victor Black Label Discography 18000-19000 Series.   Mainspring Press, LLC.  Denver. 2008.  ISBN 978-0-9772735-9-1.

 

11   Sooy, Raymond.  Memoirs of my Recording and Traveling Experiences for the Victor Talking Machine Company . Manuscript, not dated, but ending with events of 1931.   An important contribution to the history of recording, the David Sarnoff Library edited and reproduced these memoires on their website. http://www.davidsarnoff.org/soo-maintext.html

 

12   Sooy, Harry O.  Memoir of my Career at Victor Talking Machine Company 1898-1925.   Manuscript, not dated, but ending with events of 1925.  Another important record of the history of recording, on the David Sarnoff Library website:   http://www.davidsarnoff.org/sooyh-maintext1909.html

 

13   page 64.  Sherman, Michael W. in collaboration with Moran, William R., Nauck, Kurt R. Collector's Guide to Victor Records Monarch Record Enterprises 1992 ISBN 0-9632903-0-4

 

14   page 75.  Sherman, Michael W.  op. cit.

 


If you have any comments or questions about this Leopold Stokowski site, please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail address: leopold.stokowski@gmail.com 


 

 

 

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L'Héritage de Stokowski - Accueil français

Victor Talking Machine Company, Eldridge Johnson, et le développement de la technologie d'enregistrement acoustique

1917 - 1924 les enregistrements acoustique Victor de Leopold Stokowski et l'Orchestre de Philadelphie

1917 -  Premiers enregistrements acoustique de Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1917 - 1919 autres enregistrements acoustique Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1920 - 1921 autres enregistrements acoustique Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1922 - 1924 autres enregistrements acoustique Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1919 - 1924 enregistrements acoustique Russe Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1920 - 1924 enregistrements acoustique français - Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1921 -1924 enregistrements acoustique Tchaïkovski - Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1921 - 1924 enregistrements acoustique Wagner - Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1924 enregistrements acoustique Rachmaninov - Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

 

Développement de l'enregistrement électrique

Permis d'exploitation du système Westrex donné à Victor et Columbia

1925 Premier enregistrement électrique Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1925 autres enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1926 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1927 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

Encore des enregistrements 1927 électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1928 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1929 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1930 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1931 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1932 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1933 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1934 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

Encore des enregistrements 1934 électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1935 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1936 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1937 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1939-1940 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

 

D'autres documents sur Stokowski et l'Orchestre de Philadelphie

Camden église studio - Victor Talking Machine studio d'enregistrement

Leopold Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie Enregistrement à l'Académie de musique de Philadelphie

Interviews avec Leopold Stokowski

Leopold Stokowski Orchestrations

Leopold Stokowski, Harvey Fletcher et les laboratoires Bell expérimental enregistrements

Maîtres de restauration moderne de disques historique

CDs de Stokowski et l'Orchestre de Philadelphie

Leopold Stokowski Discographies chronologique

      Leopold Stokowski Discographie chronologique - enregistrements acoustique

      Leopold Stokowski Discographie chronologique - enregistrements électriques

Leopold Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie bibliographie, des sources et crédits

 

L'Orchestre symphonique de Boston - musiciens principaux

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L'Orchestre du Metropolitan Opera de New York - musiciens principaux

L'Orchestre philharmonique de New York - musiciens principaux

L'Orchestre de Philadelphie - musiciens principaux

L'Orchestre symphonique Russe de New York - musiciens principaux

L'Orchestre symphonique de San Francisco - musiciens principaux

L'Orchestre symphonique de St. Louis - musiciens principaux