Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Symphonies on American Odeon

Today I present two samples from the earliest album set series to be offered to the American record buyer, that of Otto Heineman's General Phonograph Corporation, drawing on masters recorded by Parlophon in Germany, and released on the Odeon label.  (For an excellent article about the American Odeon label, click here.)  The first of these may well, in fact, be the very first complete symphony issued in an album in the USA - ironically, of an "unfinished" symphony - Schubert's:

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 ("Unfinished")
Orchestra of the German Opera House, Berlin, conducted by Eduard Mörike
Recorded November 22, 1921
American Odeon 5008 through 5010, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 55.88 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 22.92 MB)

The Schubert "Unfinished" has the distinction of being the symphony recorded the most times during the acoustic era - eighteen - but only nine of these recordings were intended as unabridged, and this is the first one of those.  I say "intended" because this recording actually omits four bars between sides 1 and 2.

Next is a sample of one of the earliest Beethoven symphony cycles on record.  Perhaps "cycle" is a misnomer, since different conductors were used, but in the twilight of the acoustic era, two companies in Germany vied with each other for the honor of having all the Beethoven symphonies recorded and on sale.  The first to start its series, in 1923, was Deutsche Grammophon (using five different conductors, among them Fried, Klemperer and Pfitzner), but before they could finish (Nov. 1925), Parlophon (using two conductors -Mörike and Frieder Weissmann) had started and finished their series.  All of the Parlophon series were released in albums by American Odeon.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 ("Pastorale")
Berlin Opera House Orchestra conducted by Frieder Weissmann
Recorded November 21 and 24, 1924, and January 21, 1925
American Odeon 5086 through 5090, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 111.44 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.71 MB)

When I had both of these sets in my possession three to four years ago, I did not, alas, have a scanner.  The Schubert album even had liner notes printed on the inside front cover, which I did transcribe into a text file that I include with the download.  But I have no way of showing what the lovely purple labels looked like, other than to show this photo of a Richard Tauber record from the same series, that I lifted from an eBay auction:


  1. Thank you so much -- Morike is a name encountered in lists of pioneer recordings, but rarely heard. His performance and the sound are remarkably good. Any more of this vintage would be much appreciated!

  2. Thank you so much for posting these Odeon recordings. The history of symphonic recording in the pioneer days of the recording industry remains very murky. It is interesting that even though sound recording was born in the U.S., it is difficult to trace its history accurately. For example, I am trying to find the first attempt in the U.S. at recording a complete symphonic work. This is accepting that it will be truncated following the general practice of the day. The earliest recording I can find so far is the Victor recording of Haydn's Surprise Symphony performed by the Victor Concert Orchestra on two 12" double sided records, catalog numbers 35243 and 35244. The recordings were made in one take each in November 1912. I do not think its release in February 1913 brought much fanfare. In fact to serious musicians it may have been a source of derision. The then insignificance of this historic recording may also be due to the fact that the recording of the 4th movement is marred by a mechanical error, rare on released Victor discs and the fact that the labels incorrectly identify the movements. But there it is. The question is does recording contend as the earliest effort in the U.S. to record a complete symphony and are there any earlier recording?

  3. Terry - The Victor "Surprise" would seem to be the first four-movement symphony recorded in the US. Prince's Orchestra (on Columbia A-5267) recorded both movements of Schubert's "Unfinished" in October or November of 1910. And the first truly complete recording of a symphony (in the sense that it is uncut) is Stokowski's of the "Unfinished" of April, 1924.

  4. Just to add to Peter's appreciation of the Morike, mine of the Weissmann. It has to be said this is not a great performance - routine would be fairer than perhaps it deserves! But it is so valuable to be able to compare the 2 German sets being recorded at the same time in the mid-20s; Pfitzner's Pastoral is very mannered, very slow, very personal: well worth hearing (at Neal's This is fast & brash but it's good to know that there were such widely-ranging views of Beethoven then. Thanks so much for making this recording available - a minor footnote in history but a great discovery for me.