Ballade (No 3 in G minor of Clavierstücke, Op 118) [2'38] Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) recorded 16 December 1903
Ilona Eibenschütz (piano)
No 6 in A major, 'Spring Song': Allegretto grazioso [2'38] recorded November 1903
Josef Hofmann (piano)
Norwegischer Brautzug im Vorüberziehen (No 2 of Aus dem Volksleben, Op 19) [2'52] Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) recorded 19 October 1908
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)
This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".
Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.
The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited existed for no more than seven years, yet during its brief life it was responsible for one of the most remarkable artistic and technical advances in the history of the gramophone. It was during this time that a few committed believers convinced a host of sceptical and suspicious luminaries that the gramophone should be looked upon as a valid artistic medium. The result was an astonishingly rapid metamorphosis: an expensive toy became one of the prime chroniclers of its age.
The story begins with The Gramophone Company Limited, formed in London in April 1898. This was the company which, just a few months after it came into being, employed a young American recording engineeer and talent scout called Fred Gaisberg. As the popularity of the gramophone gained a quite exceptional momentum, particularly in Britain, so Gaisberg and his fellow ‘recordists’ – as record producers were then known – set out on an unparalleled pilgrimage of exploration and documentation. It was largely due to their indefatigable efforts that The Gramophone Company was able to advertise the availability of no fewer than 5000 titles by December 1900. However, despite this runaway success the company’s managing director, William Barry Owen, was convinced the bubble would burst, to which end he decided to diversify into a totally unrelated field: the typewriter, in particular the Lambert typewriter, a machine which employed a rotating plate rather than the standard keyboard. A new company was consequently established in December 1900: The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited.
It was not long, however, before it became all too apparent that this particular exercise had been a major blunder; the Lambert machine proved to be as impractical as it was cheap. The magnitude of the flop resulted in Owen’s resignation as Managing Director in April 1904. Come February 1905, by which time Owen had also vacated the board room and returned to obscurity in his native America, The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited ceased the manufacture, sale and servicing of the Lambert typewriter. That the company survived this debacle was due entirely to the continuing success of the gramophone, though it was not until November 1907 that the company dropped ‘Typewriter’ from its name and reverted to being The Gramophone Company Limited. It was not, of course, the end of an era – indeed the gramophone went on to ever greater glories – though it was the end of what is commonly considered to have been the most adventurous and exotic period in the history of recording.
During the seven G & T years many sister companies were set up, notably in Germany, France, Russia, Austria and Spain. A magnitude of stellar names from across the globe were lured before the recording horn as moths to the flame. The briefest roll-call of the great and glorious includes Melba, Patti and Calvé; Caruso, Figner and Tamagno; Battistini, Plançon and Chaliapin; Joachim, Sarasate and Kubelik; Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Grieg; Pugno, Diémer and Grünfeld; Eibenschütz, Janotha and Chaminade; even Carmen Sylva (H.M. Queen of Romania), H.I.M. Mouzaferedin Chan (Shah of Persia) and the Sistine Choir (including the castrato Moreschi).
The first G & T discs, seven inches in diameter, were launched in the UK in December 1900. Most of them were among the first records to benefit from a new process of manufacturing and duplication, this being the cutting of a ‘master’ into a wax blank as opposed to the cumbersome zinc-etched process. In October of the following year the first ten-inch G & T discs, called ‘Gramophone Concert Records’, were released in Britain. Production of the twelve-inch disc, the ‘Gramophone Monarch Record’, followed in the middle of 1903. Advertisements not only stressed the advantages of the larger diameter which ‘averaged about four minutes’ but revealed that ‘the less acute curve which the sound waves are called upon to traverse’ enabled ‘the sounds to be reproduced with even more exactness and truth to nature’.
The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited continued to employ the familiar ‘recording angel’ trademark which had first appeared on The Gramophone Company’s records in October 1898 (see illustration on cover). Francis Barraud’s celebrated painting of ‘His Master’s Voice’ was first used on the company’s advertising material in January 1900 though Nipper, surely the most famous mongrel dog in history, did not begin to grace record labels until 1909.
Introduction to Volume 4
All known information concerning the recording of the discs included in this anthology is given, including recording date, the ‘recordist’ where known and a full listing of the relevant sessions with the repertoire details quoted as per the recording ledgers. (The precise identification of the music is to be found on page 24.) The titles included on this CD are highlighted in bold type.
Louis Diémer (born Paris 14 February 1843, died Paris 21 December 1919) attended the Paris Conservatoire where he studied with Antoine François Marmontel (piano), Ambroise Thomas (composition) and François Benoist (organ). His precocity was astonishing: in addition to capturing the premier prix in piano at the age of thirteen he also won premiers prix in harmony, accompaniment, counterpoint, fugue and solfège, in addition to a second prize in organ. Succeeding Marmontel as Professor of Piano at the Conservatory in 1887, Diémer counted among his pupils Vincent d’Indy, Alfred Cortot, Marcel Dupré, Robert and Gaby Casadesus, Alfredo Casella, Yves Nat, Sigismund Stojowski, Marcel Ciampi, Robert Lortat, Arthur Loesser and Edouard Risler.
Perhaps Diémer’s greatest achievements were in the concert hall, where he enjoyed immense acclaim as a virtuoso, inspiring numerous composers to dedicate concertos to him, not least Massenet, Lalo, Tchaikovsky (No. 3) and Saint-Saëns (No. 5). His repertoire was all-encompassing, as exemplified by a typical recital he gave in London during the 1880s. It was attended by Tchaikovsky who was astonished to hear in one evening music by Rameau, Couperin, Handel, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, Widor and Godard. Diémer was also instrumental in promoting the use of historical instruments, and his output as a composer includes a piano concerto and a quantity of salon pieces, two of which feature among his recordings.
There has been considerable confusion regarding the exact number of Diémer’s solo piano G & T recordings. Detailed research has revealed that he recorded six sides in Paris in 1904, five of which were published. Two years later he recorded a further four titles though only two were published, these being re-recordings of his own Grand valse de concert and Chant du Nautonier. For some reason, the 1906 discs were given the same catalogue numbers as the 1904 records – though not before the 1906 version of the Valse had appeared as 35541, a number already allocated to Pugno’s recording of Mendelssohn’s Scherzo Op. 16 No. 2 (see volume 2 in this series)! To cloud the issue even further, some copies of 35542 carried the suffix ‘X’, indicating a re-recording, while others did not. The haphazard management of the French branch of G & T has a lot to answer for. Here, for the first time, is proof positive of both Diémer’s G & T solo piano discography and published recordings. APR is indebted to Mr. Don Hodgman and Mr. Kiyoshi Yamamoto who made these recordings available.
It is regrettable that the 1904 recordings, played by ‘M Louis Diemer’, were affected by the same faulty turntable which had so blighted recordings by Debussy, Pugno and others. The first two titles were recorded with the recording horn unusually close to the piano, hence more ‘blasting’ than the norm. The remaining 1904 titles appear to have been recorded further from the horn and are consequently marginally less troublesome. Many commentators have placed much significance upon Diémer’s recording of Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat in the light of his ‘close proximity’ to the so-called ‘Chopin tradition’. Given that he makes an abrupt accelerando, obviously in response to a signal to speed up in order to accommodate the work onto the disc (which might explain a glaring wrong note), before eventually being forced to improvise a hasty conclusion to the work, this cannot surely be regarded as a reliable document. Perhaps it would be preferable to admire Diémer’s fabled fluency via his highly animated performances of his own compositions. The 1906 discs, played by ‘Monsieur Diemer’, mercifully recorded on a more reliable turntable, reveal a remarkable improvement with regard to both clarity and tone.
An extraordinary prodigy, Ilona Eibenschütz (born Budapest 8 May 1873, died London 21 May 1967) was born into a musically gifted family who claimed that she played a duet with Liszt when she was a mere six years old. What is certain is that the Abbé was responsible for the recommendation that the family should take her to study in Vienna. Progress was rapid – she played Mozart’s D minor concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra aged only nine, and three years later she graduated from the Conservatoire. Eibenschütz then moved to Frankfurt, primarily to study with Clara Schumann for five years; she also received instruction in counterpoint (with Englebert Humperdinck) and harmony.
Eibenschütz appears to have been born with an amazing facility. It is said that she could read and transpose at sight any music put before her. She developed a particular love for the music of Scarlatti and Brahms, as is reflected in the repertoire of her G & T sessions. A close friendship with Brahms dates from her time with Clara Schumann. It was to Eibenschütz, alone with the composer one day, that Brahms unveiled his set of then-unpublished Klavierstücke Opp. 118 & 119. (She became an ardent champion of these pieces.) She was also much praised for her Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. In her late teens she made her mature debut in Vienna (Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 111 and Schumann’s Études symphoniques), with her London debut following in 1891. After a dazzling start she abandoned the solo spotlight for married life in London, content to make the occasional public appearance in chamber music, notably with the Rosé Quartet in 1913. She also played at private functions, frequently as a duettist with a fellow Clara Schumann pupil, Adelina de Lara.
Eibenschütz recorded three sessions for G & T in December 1903, the second under her married name of ‘Mme Derenberg’. The Scarlatti and Brahms discs included here from the 16 December session are, according to surviving documentation, the only titles officially published, with only 5558 being advertised for sale. Both discs identify the pianist as ‘Mdlle. Iona (sic) Eibenschutz’ and appear to have had a very brief life in the catalogue, perhaps due to her abrupt withdrawal from the concert platform. The title from 22 December was unpublished and is included here thanks to the generosity of the International Piano Library at Maryland. The alternate ‘take’ of the Brahms Waltzes on 4756b was allocated the catalogue number 5560 but not officially released. As is evident from the listing below, the surviving documentation of the repertoire is particularly minimal.
Josef Hofmann (born Podgorze 20 January 1876, died Los Angeles 16 February 1957) was the son of a Polish pianist–conductor and remains perhaps the most celebrated child prodigy in the history of the piano. He gave a charity concert in Warsaw as an infant, toured Europe as a ten-year old and, after his USA debut at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York in 1887, commenced an all-American tour which was scheduled to include fifty-two concerts in ten weeks. When the tour was famously halted by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the family settled in Berlin where the boy studied with Moritz Moszkowski and, in 1892, with the leonine Anton Rubinstein who was to exert a profound influence upon his pupil. In 1894 Hofmann made his mature debut in Hamburg in the Rubinstein D minor Concerto with the composer as conductor. Hofmann returned to the United States of America, this time without hindrance, and enjoyed such success that he settled there in 1898. In addition to his fabled concert career he was the first director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. His pupils included Abram Chasins, Shura Cherkassky and Ruth Slenczynska.
The sheer polish of his technique, the sonority and dynamic range of his playing, and the mercurial nature of his interpretations can be heard via a treasure trove of studio recordings, few of which appeared to have satisfied him, and, more vividly, in live recordings. Those familiar with the latter might at first acquaintance find Hofmann’s G & T recordings relatively ‘sober’, a stark contrast to his later improvisational flights of fancy. Yet, despite the primitive sound, the hallmarks of Hofmann’s art, be it the technical command, the liquidity of touch and tone, are readily apparent.
These G & T recordings were not Hofmann’s first experience of the recording ‘laboratory’. As a child in the United States he played before a prototype cylinder machine for Thomas Edison, though it appears nothing has survived. Aware of the cachet of securing Hofmann, the German G & T branch proudly advised London in March 1903 that Hofmann had agreed ‘to play 10 records in Berlin for 5000 marks’. Sadly, the agreed ‘10 sides’ included ‘remakes’ rather than ten individual titles. In the event it appears that Hofmann recorded nine sides of which five were published, the remaining four being duplicate ‘takes’. Berlin was justifiably pleased with the sound of their recordings on both 10-inch (x/h) and 12-inch (y) matrices. The discs were pressed in Russia with the label details in cyrillic. (It is possible that some copies of 1710x/h were published with the catalogue number 45530X.) APR is indebted to Mr. Dino Olivero for making the 12-inch discs available.
A child prodigy, Wilhelm Backhaus (born Leipzig 26 March 1884, died Villach 5 July 1969) entered the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied with Alois Reckendorf for seven years. After some private lessons with Eugen d’Albert and Alexander Siloti the teenage Backhaus embarked upon a musical pilgrimage which was to last almost seventy years, stopping en route in 1905 to win the Rubinstein Prize in Paris (pushing Béla Bartók into second place) and joining the Manchester College of Music as Professor of Piano. Backhaus made his US debut in 1912 with a performance of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, partnered by the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch. The Leipzig tradition of interpretative and technical restraint allied to fidelity to the musical text remained the hallmarks of Backhaus’s priest-like attitude to the score throughout his mature career.
The early repertoire of a pianist who was eventually to become indelibly linked with Beethoven and Brahms was somewhat more eclectic, as is apparent in his first two G & T sessions, which are here represented in full. (Given the wide musical range of these recordings they have been presented as a self-contained recital rather than in chronological sequence.) Among Backhaus’s numerous subsequent G & T sessions, two in July 1909 are significant in that they were devoted to a potted version of the Grieg Piano Concerto with the New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Landon Ronald, the first-ever recording of a concertante work.
Backhaus’s 1908 recordings are in contrast to the familiar LP recordings by the mature pianist. Indeed we glimpse a fiery young man: Weber’s Perpetuum mobile, for example, is taken at a blistering pace, yet never is there a hint of flamboyance, though, unusually for Backhaus, there are some obvious finger slips. We also have the first indication of his more than satisfying approach to Chopin, a composer he served well during the middle period of his recording career. All records are played by ‘Herr Wilhelm Backhaus’.
Bryan Crimp © 2006
Other albums in this series