The sound of music - for the first time in 60 years
This week’s top ten includes one UK artist and 9 from overseas – but it wasn’t always that way.
Before two record companies merged to form EMI in the 1930s, local UK-based artists formed the backbone of their catalogues – but after the merger many of them were dropped to make way for more lucrative international musicians.
Now over 2000 recordings by those British and Irish artists are online in an open JISC-funded archive at King’s College London - allowing listeners and researchers to rediscover leading musicians who were once household names.
Most of the recordings are making their first public appearance since they came out on shellac over 60 years ago and are linked to a range of research resources about the history of recording to help people make the most of the collection.
The discs were selected specifically to highlight world-class British and Irish performers recorded between 1900 and 1950, especially artists neglected by the newly-formed EMI after the merger of the Gramophone Co and Columbia in 1931.
Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, project manager, said: “There is still a huge amount of recorded music that remains inaccessible in old formats. While the earliest formats are remarkably secure on account of their storage medium, very few people can now find, and still fewer can play, 78rpm discs. There is therefore much to be gained for the musical public, as well as for students and researchers, from projects that transfer and reissue early recordings.”
There are also some unusual pieces in the collection – including a recording of the choir singing at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 which includes one of the most spectacular wrong notes in recorded history from the organ.
Ben Showers, programme manager at JISC, said: “By making so many recordings available once again, ‘Musicians of Britain and Ireland’ aims to make possible a major reassessment of the history of musical performance in Britain, and to enable new research into the ways in which business decisions by record companies can profoundly change public perceptions of musical excellence.”
Distinguished author and critic John Steane of Gramophone magazine joined the team to curate the recordings, which are now available for free streaming as MP3s or for high quality download.
The project is part of JISC’s investment in bringing the past into the present, by supporting collections to open up the rich content that they hold.Access the collection onlineFind out more about JISC’s investment in digital content