Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History: Newsletter 2, October 2021

Dear all,

Quite a lot has happened since our first newsletter back in the summer! We held our first symposium, and we have heard about a number of publications and other initiatives on the topic of early recordings – please remember that we are happy to publicize in our newsletter and blog any news you have in this respect.

Using early recordings in practice-led research held in Huddersfield in September

The first symposium of the network took place at the University of Huddersfield on 12th September, under the title Using early recordings in practice-led research. Featuring four lecture-recitals from expert practitioners, the highlight of the day was a practical workshop led by Duncan Millar (Vulcan Records) where delegates had a chance of recording their own performance on a phonograh.

An archive of the day’s proceedings can be found here – including videos of the lecture-recitals and of the workshop, as well as the digitized transfers of the performers’ recording and commentaries where they reflect on their experience of recording for the phonograph.

Report: Caruso at 100: the Legacy of an Operatic Icon. Concert Hall, School of Music, Cardiff University, 23rd September 2021

By Kerry Burkhall

The event ‘Caruso at 100: the Legacy of an Operatic Icon’ was held in the Cardiff University School of Music concert hall, both in person and as a livestream. The conference began with Dr Barbara Gentili’s (Cardiff University) ‘Caruso on Disc: the Voice of Modernity’, offering insights into the ways in which Caruso revolutionised vocal technique and created the aesthetics that we now associate with the modern operatic voice. In order to illustrate the differences in tone, Dr Gentili provided excerpts of recordings accompanied by detailed explanations of the mechanical adjustments that Caruso employed to transform his bright, Italianate beginnings into his later rich, dark timbre. The stark difference between the two was evident, however, the evolution was further exemplified by exceptional demonstrations by Adam Gilbert, Associate Artist at WNO, accompanied on the piano by Lauretta Bloomer. This allowed the audience to experience the resonant and acoustic changes which are perhaps less apparent on a recording, feeling the difference that would have been felt by his audiences in the opera houses of the early twentieth century. We were then treated to performances of four of Caruso’s recorded arias by Adam Gilbert, which filled the small concert hall with warmth and light, demonstrating the promise of this young talent.

After a short interval, Professor Alexandra Wilson (Oxford Brookes University) took the stage to present her talk on ‘Caruso’s books’. Drawing parallels with celebrities such as David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury, Prof. Wilson’s talk shed light on 1923 auction of the vast collections owned by Caruso, specifically rare and aesthetically impressive books. However, it brought into question the purpose of these books to one who barely read. The talk highlighted the associations between the illusion of being a learned reader with middle-brow culture and displays of wealth. For Caruso, his humble upbringings appear to have fostered an impulse to collect and own rarities.

Next, Dr Carlo Cenciarelli offered his research on ‘Rendering Caruso: Mario Lanza as Reproduction Technology’, exploring the music of the 1951 MGM film The Great Caruso. Dr Cenciarelli demonstrated the ways in which the production of the film framed recording technology as the preservation of Caruso’s voice and legacy, as if creating a vocal afterlife, drawing parallels with the genetic legacy of his daughter. He also highlighted how Mario Lanza himself is now the next step of the evolution from a live performance of Caruso, to a reproduction of his voice through recordings, and finally, a recording of Lanza using updated technology, which could perhaps have been more authentic an experience than the original recordings themselves.

As questions were opened to the audience, a number of interesting observations were made, however, a query that encapsulated the session for me was whether Caruso was truly as special as he is now portrayed to have been or was simply a result of being at the right place at the right time. The consensus was, given his intentional development of a vocal style that enhanced the characters he was portraying, regardless of the physical challenges this presented him, he was a true genius.

New publications on early recordings

We are pleased to report on some recent publications focusing on early recordings:

The CLPGS Richard Taylor Bursary

The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (CLPGS) has alerted us to the call for applications for their Richard Taylor Bursary programme. It is designed to fund specific eligible projects in this field, including discography, bibliography, historical studies of the sound recording industry and its products, company label research, the history of talking machines, developments of the technology and any other subject likely to increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of the lasting importance of recorded sound. Richard Taylor Bursary grants are primarily (but not exclusively) designed to encourage applications from individuals whose research forms part of an academic programme at the master’s or doctoral level.

Both CLPGS members and non-members are eligible to apply for grants of at least £500.  Grant funds can be used to underwrite clerical, travel, and editorial expenses. Applications are due on 31st March 2022.

Full details of the scheme can be found in the CLPGS’s website news section here.

“Caruso at 100” at Cardiff University

The School of Music at Cardiff University will mark the centenary of Caruso’s death with the event “Caruso at 100. The legacy of an operatic icon” on 23rd September, at 3:30pm. Dr Barbara Gentili (Cardiff University, and a member of the Early Recordings network) will talk about the tenor’s recordings, Prof Alexandra Wilson (Oxford Brookes) will talk about his book collection, and Dr Carlo Cenciarelli (Cardiff University) will discuss Mario Lanza’s biopic The Great Caruso. Adam Gilbert, young artist at the Welsh National Opera, will also sing a selection of repertoire accompanied by Lauretta Bloomer.

In collaboration with CIRO (Cardiff Interdisciplinary Reasearch in Opera and Drama), Cardiff University School of Music, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff friends of WNO

Tickets for the in-person event are free and can be booked here. The event will also be livestreamed here.   

Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History: Newsletter 1, August 2021

Dear all,

A warm welcome to the first issue of our newsletter! Some of you might have learned about our AHRC-funded research network our May conference, Early Recordings: Diversity in Practice; others might have come across it from our recent announcement about our upcoming symposium in September. However you found us, we are grateful for your support in our aim to create a space for conversation and exchange on the topic of early recordings as sources for performance practice and history.


International audience for Early recordings: Diversity in Practice 

In May, we held the conference Early recordings: Diversity in Practice – with an in-person meeting being sadly still unfeasible, we decided to distribute the sessions over three Wednesday afternoons (5th, 12th and 19th), which provided a suitable antidote to “Zoom fatigue”. We were privileged enough to host thirteen presenters coming from nine different countries, on topics ranging from theoretical and methodological considerations of mediatisation and listening to a multiplicity a case studies covering flamenco, musical theatre, Hawaiian music and the classical repertoire. You can find the programme and abstracts, as well as some of the talks, on the conference micro-site.

Fatima Volkoviskii (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) presenting her paper on early recordings of flamenco

Even though the conference was not officially part of the activities of the Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History network, it provided an opportunity to present the project and learn more about the diversity of the research on early recordings being conducted all over the world.

Introducing our Research Resources

We have also been busy updating our website, including our collection of links to research resources! One of the things that came up during our May conference was the difficulty in finding out about the increasing number of digitization projects being developed all over the world, and so we wanted to contribute to bridge that gap. If you know of any other digitized collections of early recordings, please let us know; and, similarly, if you have completed a PhD on the topic, we will be happy to link to it.

We are also interested in publishing reviews of such resources – similar in tone and scope to reviews of books that you can read in any academic journal. While such resources are of course incredibly beneficial to research into early recordings, we believe it is fundamental that they are critically appraised and contextualized, for the benefit of both the research and the sound archives community. If you would like to contribute a review of a resource, please e-mail us.

Symposium Using early recordings in practice-led research to be held in Huddersfield in September

We are pleased to announce that the first symposium (of a total of five) organized by the network will take place at the University of Huddersfield on 12th September 2021, under the title Using early recordings in practice-led research.

The presenters include Kate Bennet-Wadsworth (Guildhall School of Music), Jeroen Billiet (Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles), David Milsom (University of Huddersfield) and George Kennaway (University of Huddersfield). The afternoon of the symposium is reserved for a public work-shop on making two minute cylinders, led by Duncan Miller (Vulcan Records) and Inja Stanović (University of Huddersfield).

If you would like to attend the symposium in Huddersfield, please e-mail Inja Stanovic to book your place. A detailed programme will be published closer to the date, but we anticipate that the day will start at about 9am and finish at about 6pm.

The event will also be streamed online, on our YouTube channel and we will let you know about the details of the streaming closer to the time.

Our blog

Please remember that our webpage has a blog where we will be more than happy to publish any of your news relating to early recordings research (announcements of events, publications, concerts and recordings; calls for papers; opinion pieces, etc.). Just e-mail us to tell us about your idea.

We hope you are all having a good summer, and we’ll be delighted to meet you in person at one of our forthcoming events.

Announcement: Call for papers for online conference “Early Recordings: Diversity in Practice”

Following our successful conferences in 2019 and 2020, we have decided to organize a third one this year, which will in practice consist of short sessions to run over a series of weeks in May 2021. See below for our call for papers. We look forward to hearing from you!

We are delighted to welcome submissions for the third edition of our conference on early recordings. The previous two editions (Past Performing Practices in Contemporary Research, 2019, and Methodologies in Research and Practice, 2020) confirmed that research into early recordings, as documents of performance practice, is thriving, and our conference provide a much-needed forum for discussion around new research activities and findings in the area. This year, the conference shall address diversity in early recordings, with the conference committee welcome submissions beyond classical repertoire. The event itself, ‘Early Recordings: Diversity in Practice’, shall run online, over three half-day events on the 5th, 12th and 19th of May, from 4-7pm (UK time). This short format allows for papers and/or research snapshots to be grouped around one specific topic in the day, followed by an invited research talk and informal chats over online drinks. 

Attendance is free, and Zoom links will be shared closer to time. 

We invite scholars and performers interested in any aspect of early recordings (pre-1945) as documents of performance practice to submit 250-word abstracts for either 1) 20 minute paper, or 2) research snapshot of 10 minutes, to both Dr Inja Stanovic ( and Dr. Eva Moreda Rodríguez ( by 1 April 2021.

Spanish piano rolls in Stanford Library’s Archive of Recorded Sound

Esther Burgos Bordonau, PhD (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) gave a paper on the María Jesús Casado García-Sampedro collection of piano rolls at our 2019 conference in London. In this blog post, she writes about an online exhibit she has recently curated dedicated to this collection.

The Piano Roll collection known as “María Jesús Casado García-Sampedro” is one of many that Stanford’s Archive of Recorded Sound conserves in its facilities. Although it’s not a large collection – just 54 rolls – it’s interesting because of the nature and origin of the items collected. It could be considered a “rare” collection.

Stanford’s Archive of Recorded Sound collects a very large number of piano and organ rolls from all over the world. Without a doubt, one of the most outstanding is the “Denis Condon collection” which was purchased in 2015 and marked the beginning of the Piano Roll Project, better known as SUPRA (Stanford University Piano Roll Archive). This project intended not only to keep and maintain these materials for future researchers and scholars, but also to undertake its digitization. Bringing back those old sounds and their appearance to our time is part of the goal of this ambitious project. 

During this time, the Casado García-Sampedro family contacted Stanford Librarians and agreed to donate the entire collection to Stanford University Library. This gift was immediately accepted as the Archive of Recorded Sound didn’t already have a Spanish collection. 

When examining the collection, Spanish and Latin American composers can be found as well as some classical ones. The repertoire is typically Spanish, encompassing a variety of Spanish musical genres: Zarzuelas, Pasodobles, Jotas, Lagarteranas, Peteneras as well as other Latin American musical works, such as Tangos and a typical Pericón. 

The rolls in this collection are all mechanical ones, for piano players. These were not conceived as “artist rolls”, which make them very valuable, but these rolls are also interesting as they permit learning about the music and style of a period of time, as well as habits and fashions of a given country at a certain time in its history. In fact, the date range given in the online exhibit perfectly showcases the most prosperous years of this type of support.

Through this online exhibition on the Stanford University Library webpage dedicated to the Casado García-Sampedro collection, we show an exhaustive study of the titles, composers, musical styles, publishers and main features of the entire collection. We have identified, described and catalogued all the 54 rolls together with a brief study of the collection as well as the donor’s biography. A short introductory video is included in the Chapters tab. Here we explain how the work was done with each one of the rolls and how we managed to unroll them and look at them carefully using the special device that Stanford built for this purpose. 

Also included in the Chapters tab is an explanation of the collection, the bibliographic catalogue and the biography of the donor. The user can also browse documents, pictures, all the piano rolls, and both catalogues (English and Spanish versions). In the About tab, the research Project is explained. To sum up, this is a remarkable contribution to the great sound collection of this outstanding archive as it has given life to 54 unknown Spanish/Hispanic rolls with its music audio files as well as its beautiful scanned images. Congratulations to all!


Piano Roll Online Conference

This is a message from Daniel Allenbach (Hochschule der Künste Bern):

We are excited to announce an online virtual conference on November 21, 2020 at 17:00 GMT (18:00 CET, 09:00 PST, 03:00 AEST). This half-day meeting will include condensed lectures from representative topics in piano roll study. It aims to continue the communication and collaboration sparked by the 2018 gathering, and to be a prelude to the planned 2021 conference in Switzerland. 

The conference will occur online via Zoom and will offer interactive opportunities for questions and group discussion. Topics will include the scanning and digitization of rolls, history of roll manufacturers, performance practice on rolls, and the pianola and roll performance today. Full program to be published October 1.

Speakers will include:
Heike Fricke
Neal Peres da Costa
Birgit Heise
Peter Phillips
Marc Widuch
Sebastian Bausch
Kumaran Arul

Please visit our website

Registration (free) is now open.

We are looking forward to meet you online!


Early Recordings Conference Report

We are happy to share the Early Recordings conference report, written by Joanna Staruch-Smolec and published on RMA website: