Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The First American Recording of an Unabridged Symphony

For Leopold Stokowski's birthday this year (April 18, 1882), I present what is not only his first recording of an unabridged symphony, but the first such recording anywhere in the USA, in fact the only American recording of an unabridged symphony made during the acoustical era.  (I say "unabridged" instead of "complete" because some may consider Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony not to qualify as a complete work.  I don't agree with that assessment myself; I have always suspected that Schubert didn't finish it because he knew that it is perfect as it stands, and that to add the obligatory scherzo and finale to create a finished symphony would be akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa!)  The first five sides were waxed on Stoki's 42nd birthday (after apparently unsuccessful attempts the previous December and January), ninety years ago:

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor ("Unfinished")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded April 18 and 19, 1924
Victor 6459 through 6461, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.29 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.38 MB)

This set was Victor's first entry in a series of albums they called the "Music Arts Library of Victor Records" - issued in tandem with an abridged recording of the Schumann Piano Quintet as a five-record package.  Alas, I don't have the album or the Schumann, but I did find online a newspaper ad (from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, dated October 9, 1924) announcing the series, and here is a cross-section:

Victor's subsequent issues in this series included a number of Blue Label sets, among them Sir Landon Ronald's 1922 version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.  The series continued into the early electrical era before being supplanted by the much more famous "Victor Musical Masterpiece" sets in 1927.


  1. Thanks Bryan

    I have not heard this before - apparently the records were issued under the International DB prefix but not in the UK so we don't see copies of these here.

    Best wishes


    1. I wondered about that. I'm assuming the UK branch wished to avoid competition with the Ronald/RAHO version of about the same time. There were more versions of the "Unfinished" during the acoustical days than of any other symphony! (Not all of them complete, of course.)

  2. I did a bit more digging on this and seemingly it was earmarked for release in the UK for August 1924 but it is not in the HMV monthly 'New Records' supplements and as you say the Ronald's set was issued in Dec 1924 on the cheaper black label. Ronald/RAHO recorded the whole symphony in Sept 1923 but then abandoned this but then recorded new takes of all sides again in Sept 1924 - the issued set being an amalgum mainly of the new takes.

    Harry Sooy mentions this:- September 15th, 1923: Mr. J. Jackson of the Gramophone Co., England, arrived in Camden to go over some Recording matters regarding Symphony Orchestra recording (D.R. type), also to discuss Recording quarters (size, etc.). Mr. Jackson sailed on his return trip, October 3rd, 1923.

    I know Victor were critcal of HMV from time to time so it may have been something technical that delayed issue initially too.