Monday, August 23, 2010

Classics from Arthur Pryor's Band

In the earliest days of commercial recording (roughly, from 1890 to 1910), military and concert bands, unlike orchestras, were frequent visitors to the recording studio. The reason for this is simple: massed strings didn't record well, while brass and woodwinds did. Bands recorded everything: popular songs of the day, medleys from operettas and musical shows, dance music, and, of course, marches. This upload, however, focuses on band transcriptions of standard orchestral repertoire. The following works are presented:

GRIEG: Peer Gynt Suite - "Morning" and "Death of Ase"
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 - Finale
ROSSINI: William Tell Overture
SCHUBERT: Unfinished Symphony - First movement (abridged)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche Slave (abridged)
WAGNER: Tannhäuser Overture (abridged)

These were all recorded between 1905 and 1914 (complete recording details are supplied in a text file accompanying the recordings) by Arthur Pryor's Band, one of the most active concert bands making records in the USA during this period.

Link (FLAC files, 134.31 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 49.75 MB)

Arthur Pryor (1870-1942) was a virtuoso trombonist who joined Sousa's Band in 1892, becoming assistant conductor of that legendary organization before leaving to form his own band in 1903. It was Pryor who actually conducted Sousa's Band on records - apparently the great man considered recording beneath him. He was also a composer, his most famous piece being "The Whistler and His Dog." (Fans of "The Little Rascals" films will remember Buckwheat pretending to whistle while a somewhat damaged record plays behind a curtain; "The Whistler and His Dog" is the tune in question.)

A particularly pioneering effort is represented by the movement from Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, which was recorded in 1910 and released in November of that year. It would appear that this was the very first time Victor recorded any part of a symphony. The record must have sold reasonably well, for the band had to remake it two years later. Clearly, the record-buying public had a taste for "serious" symphonic fare. Certainly my copy of Victor 31798 was much loved by its original owner!

In 1912, Victor embarked on a program of recording abridged symphonic works, not with a band, but with its own in-house orchestra, the Victor Concert Orchestra. Two Haydn and two Mozart symphonies, the Beethoven Fifth and the Schubert Unfinished, as well as movements from Mendelssohn's "Italian" and Dvorak's "New World," were among the offerings. Most of these do not credit any conductor, though Walter B. Rogers, Victor's house conductor, was probably responsible for most of them. Nearly three years ago, I uploaded to the newsgroup "" (RMCR) a selection of these recordings, containing the following:

HAYDN: Military Symphony (No. 100 in G)
MOZART: Symphony in G minor (No. 40, K. 550)
MOZART: Jupiter Symphony (No. 41 in C, K. 551)
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 (Op. 72a)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 - Adagio
    (played by Vessella's Italian Band, as a filler for the Leonore Overture)

These are still available for download at the following links:

Link (FLAC files, 181.49 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 67.8 MB)



    This a such a valuable record of the history of the development of the wind band! We must always be reminded that in the days before radio and widespread recordings, most of America first heard the masterworks of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak through traveling concert bands such as Pryor's and Sousa's.

    You've really hit a home run here Bryan.

  2. Yes, concert bands were an integral part of American life in those days, weren't they? Thanks for mentioning that, Sacqueboutier - I knew there was another reason they were so active in the recording studios!