Saturday, September 07, 2019

Public Domain Observations - Seeking Stokowski

Animation for the Ear (from the ASIFA Central Summer 2019 newsletter)

        A rich musical resource, featuring Leopold Stokowski and his acoustic recordings between 1917 and 1923 (public domain by material, public domain by performance) is available for review and download from:

        For acoustic performances (recorded through a horn to the wax blank, and not with a microphone), these are quite sophisticated and well engineered.  I suspect that the  unusual, comparative roundness of the sound from the strings in these selections is due to the large size of the orchestra, with the additional violins working in close synchrony.  The engineers were giving it all for their attention as well, squeezing as much as possible onto the 12 inch matrices without sacrificing groove width and flexibility.
On the down side, they are all acoustic, with increased surface noise and muted fidelity.
On the plus side, they’re public domain, and of the available examples, are among the best.  Using some creativity with filters and speed adjustment, and you have some impressive sound beds.  The selections come as mp3s, along with the date of recording, just to smear the info into the faces of youtube or FB monitors.
Over the years, many of these 78s have found their way into the shellac-and-wax-based archive here, but these already-converted recordings are a remarkable collection of some very familiar selections waiting to join your digital library.  Through 1923, they include:

Hungarian Dances #1,5, 6, Brahms
Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from Orpheus and Eurydice, Gluck
Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt, Greig
Midsummer Night’s Dream, Scherzo, Mendelssohn
Symphony #40, 3rd movement, Mozart
Carmen, Prelude to Act 1, Changing of the Guard, The Smugglers, Bizet
Blue Danube Waltz, Strauss
Hungarian Rhapsody #2, Liszt
Largo from the New World Symphony, Dvorak
Finlandia, Sibelius
Faust, Waltz from Act II, Gounod
Dance of the Tumblers, Rimsky-Korsakov

        Next year, when 1924 opens its public domain vaults, Rachmaninoff’s Piano concerto #2, performed by Rachmaninoff, is at your service.  Like the acoustic version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (which is another 1924 release), this first recording provides what some (including your humble typist) consider the better piano performance of the piece.
        The  website is of the nice, old fashioned html variety, and the links were all still connecting to mp3 versions of these recordings as of 30 July 2019.  I had no problem downloading the files for my thumb drive (formerly called, according to my students, as a “memory stick”) of road tripping material.  The site also has in-depth information on early recordings, the evolution of Stokowski’s style, and his influence throughout the acoustic and early electric era of recorded sound.  Someone spent hundreds of hours putting this all together, and you can easily spend a couple of hours here.
        Another source of recordings that are in the public domain can come from the record catalogues themselves - Victor, Columbia, and Edison put out annual promotions.  Remember, the current cut off is 1923, but 1924 kicks in come January, 2020...

Remember - if it's in here, it's public domain! (1922.1923 catalogs)

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