Sunday, 16 March 2014

'Complete' in just under sixteen minutes



TchaikovskySymphony No. 6 in B minor, 'Pathétique'
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Allegro non grazia
3. Allegro molto vivace
4. Finale, adagio lamentoso

The Imperial Symphony Orchestra 
conducted by [Lilian Bryant]

Pathé 2079 & 2089
(Matrix Nos.79629; 79630; 79659; 79660)

London: March & June, 1912


 1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [about 48Mb]


There is everything to like about these records. It is the first Tchaikovsky Symphony to be recorded, it is conducted by a woman, it has not been heard much, the records are uncommon, difficult to play and equally hard to transfer and listen too in decent sound. What more could a record buff wish for!



The symphony is more than a bit curtailed for some two-thirds of music has been lopped out, but by some very clever arranging the essence of the work still somehow holds together. One wonders why Lilian's name did not appear on the records for Pathé in March 1912 mentioned that The Imperial Symphony Orchestra directed by Lilian Bryant was increased to 30 players. 


Anyway this is the first attempt at a complete recording of the Pathétique; indeed one of the earliest 'complete' anything symphonic from this period. Landon Ronald and the New Symphony Orchestra recorded the third movement, or at least 4 minutes of it in January 1912 and in 1913 recorded the second movement, maybe they where thinking to do more but nothing came of it. It was not until 1923 that all four movements were attempted again and this time the work was indeed complete running to 20 sides and once again conducted by Ronalds..  As the symphony was performed every year at the Proms from 1898 to 1974 excepting 1927 (three time in 1898, 1899 and 1904 and often twice in several other season) it was certainly then, as now, very popular.



Lilian Bryant

'Lilian Bryant might not be a household name to many music lovers and record collectors today, as it but rarely appears undisguised on the many thousand recordings she was heard on between the late 1890s and 1928. One of the pioneers of the British recording industry, she became "musical director" for the Edison-Bell cylinder recording studio shortly before the turn of the last century - a position that meant rehearsing with singers and instrumentalists, playing piano accompaniments for them, but also arranging and orchestrating music for recording purposes, and last not least conducting the in-house orchestra. As the early studio orchestras consisted mainly of wind instruments that registered well on the primitive recording equipment, they were mostly recruited from local military bands and led by military bandmasters. It is thus a particular exception to find a woman in this position, apart from the fact that woman conductors and composers were anyway considered an oddity in late-Victorian England. Despite these unfavourable circumstances, Mme. Bryant made her career, that had started at the very beginning of commercial record production in London, with various major companies over more than two decades: From 1905 to 1908 she was employed by Louis Sterling, in whose studios both Sterling cylinders and Odeon discs were recorded, to conduct for stars like John McCormack, and organize the first complete recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan operas ever. When Sterling had to sell his enterprise to Pathé Frères, that company promptly dismissed their former musical director in her favour. With the "Imperial Symphony Orchestra" under her direction, British Pathé produced pioneering recordings of symphonic and concert music. Beside all this studio work, Bryant found time to tour as piano accompanist (e.g. for Peter Dawson), compose, and conduct theatre orchestras in and around London. When the Great War put an end to Pathé's London studio, she worked as rehearsal pianist for HMV for several years (occasionally recording under her married name "Mrs. George Baker"), and in the 1920s, she resumed her career as musical director in the recording studio, this time for the newly-founded Crystalate company ("Imperial" and "Chantal de Luxe" labels). Her final recordings were made for Columbia in the mid-1920s.' This biography from taken from True Sound Transfers


Pathé records

14" records are difficult to play, the rumble on these records is appalling. Pathé recorded onto master cylinders and through a mechanical pantograph mechanism could transfer the master cylinder onto different sizes of disc. The unfortunate byproduct of this process was a lot of  rumble. I have alleviated it a lot but did not want to loose any more of the lower frequencies than I really had to. On the other hand because they used such a large master cylinder the sound that was captured was often very good even though quite faint. A short article on this method of recording can be found at The Mainspring Press Record Collectors' Blog

As was usual practise at this time the two records were announced at separate times with the first two movements issued in April 1912 and the last two movements in July 1912. The records were deleted, as were all 14" discs at the end of 1916.


Understanding Pathé numbering

The record  label, or rather etched lettering infilled with an ochre dye, at first looks a bit confusing. The record number is within the lozenge at 6'oclock [2079]; below this another number is the transfer number for the pantograph process [81098 - R.A.] and the matrix number is at 7'oclock [79629].




One other interesting facet of these records is a very, very faint date that can be discerned to the left of the transfer number. This mirror image scratched in gives us the day on which the stamper was made. Only the fourth side in this set has this complete reading '28/9/12' - side 3 just having 8/9 and side 2 with just  letter 'B' this may just equate to side 2. In any case it gives a date that the recording could not be after. I have flipped and and inverted the image above to make it a this a bit clearer.



Maybe not the best day to push something Russian onto 'my public' just one of those coincidences.

24 comments:

  1. Amazing - never heard of her!

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    1. It is great that even now there is so much still to discover and how incomplete our knowledge still is. Apparently she was called 'Billy' by other the musicians when she worked for Louis Sterling around 1905-1910. Just so little information about her other than anecdote.

      Jols

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  2. It's a miracle how you always succeed in supplying a very interesting item to your blog! I'm very curious to hear such an early Tchaikovsky, also very nice it's a woman conductor. Thanks!!!

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    1. Dear Satyr

      Your pretty good yourself at unearthing unconsidered trifles, hope you like it.

      Jols

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  3. Wow -- yet another sensational find of vast historical importance. The interpretation may not be one for the ages, but sheer competence is enough in light of the technological challenges (and the deliberate pacing of the march is fascinating and quite unusual, especially given the time constraints). Thanks so much for making this available!

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    1. Thanks Peter

      I suppose I don't really mind how mangled the performance is I am only so glad they did it at all. As you say it takes some competence to reduce a 45 minute work with and still include all the 'big tunes.'

      I don't doubt that Lilian was the arranger of this. When she was with the Sterling Record company, a few years before this recording was made ,she worked with the violinists Charles Stroh of Stroh violin fame] and Stroud Haxton, who had a rather complicated love life. Probably they are also playing on this this recordings too. The combinations sounds like a military band augmented with a few Stroh violins, in any case all of these musicians are really interesting recording pioneers.

      Best wishes

      Jols

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  4. Thanks so much, Jols, looking forward hugely to hearing this! I was wondering what you were up to... All the best, G

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    1. Wasting time with records I think but it keeps me quiet and out of trouble

      Jols

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    3. Never a waste, what you do with records! You're quite right, it's not a bad recording at all. I've now enjoyed listening to it several times - thanks again for a fascinating and rewarding post! G

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  5. Fascinating! The recording is worth hearing as an artifact of the period. But your piece on Lillian Bryant is a real treat. I wonder if the George Baker to whom she was married was the Gilbert and Sullivan singer.

    Thanks for a great posting, Satyr.

    Philip in Canada

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    1. Dear Philip

      You are quite correct that George Baker is the G&S singer. Lilian (or to give her full name Grace Lilian) was Baker’s first (of three wives).

      He had recorded for Pathe in 1909 and when she came to Pathe a year or so later they must have worked together and fallen in love.

      When they married on the 14th of November 1911 Lilian Bryant was 36 – actually Lilian may have been a bit older, probably 40 for I believe she was born in or about 1871, anyway I think she is allowed to knock a few years off.

      George deserted Lilian who was forced to file a court order for the ‘restoration of conjugal rights’ in 1921. Apparently George had been living with another woman at the Thames Hotel, Maidenhead between the 16th April to 30 May 1921. George seems to have ignored the courts 7 Lilian's request so divorce was fairly inevitable in 1922. George it seems was the guilty party but one really does not know, dispite the evidence it may have been a mutual arrangement, but in order to have a divorce decreed the court would have to be supplied with a story to satisfy the law as it then stood.

      Jolyon

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  6. I recently acquired US 14" outside-start pressings of this, and I have the first two movements on a later UK outside-start 11 1/2" disc. Did you run into the problem on your original 14" issue that I had with the first two movements in both my copies -- that is, to get them into pitch I had to slow the turntable down to 63 rpm? (I'm not kidding!) I have quite a few of Bryant's orchestral and band Pathés, and they are fascinating, both as performances and as physical artifacts. For instnace, the original 14" British issue of her MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR OVERTURE has the inscription "The Pathé Symphony Orchestra conducted by Miss Lillian Bryant", but neither the 14", 11 1/2", or 10" American issues credit her (and the 10" credits the Imperial Symphony Orchestra), and her name does not appear in the US Pathé catalogues. Probably my favourite recording of hers is Edward German's RICHARD III overture with her leading the Pathé Military Band; a terrifically colourful performance.

    The divorce proceedings read rather painfully, and I don't think it was a mutual arrangement -- evidently she and Baker had had one stillborn child, Bryant's statement to her solicitor about Baker's affair is pretty strongly worded, Baker was assigned all costs in the divorce (well over 600 pounds, as I recall), and he apparently never mentioned his first marriage in later life; in fact, Baker's obituaries only mention his later two marriages.

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    1. You must be one and the same as PHILIP C. CARLI AND THE FLOWER CITY SOCIETY ORCHESTRA - Great stuff you do. Played all your samples just now.

      I had better send you scans of a book I have which you may not have a copy of - Playing to pictures,: A guide for pianists and conductors of motion picture theatres,by W Tyacke George. Published by The Kimatograph Weekley, London, 1914

      Jols

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  9. Goodness, lots of interest here about my great great aunt Lilian Bryant! I corresponded with Christian Zwarg of Truesound Transfers a couple of years ago to piece together biographical details and, together with his painstakingly dedicated work cataloguing her recordings. and with documentary evidence confirming her marriage to and subsequently divorce from George Baker (my family already knew about this) we built up a detailed picture of her remarkable pioneering work in the recording industry. I am indebted to CZ for the huge amount of time and effort he has put into his research into her life and production of 2 CDs showcasing her recordings as pianist, conductor and arranger. They are available here: http://www.truesoundtransfers.de/Titellisten/TT3111.htm
    and I hope there are still some available for those who want them. By the way, I do not believe that George Baker was "a bit of a cad" - he kept in touch with the family (my father knew him well) and I am in possession of an affectionate letter he sent to Lilian's younger sister Ethel (a music hall soubrette) when she was residing in a home for retired artistes in the 1960s. I never met Lilian (she was known by my grandma and father as Aunty Lily) as she died before I was born. I would like Lilian Bryant to be featured on Radio 3 one day but word is slowly spreading of her remarkable achievements and I feel so proud to be one of her great great nieces, 100 years since she made so many wonderful recordings. (previous comment removed due to typos)

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    1. Dear Jane

      Thank you for the new information - I have deleted my scurrilous comments on George Baker and reposted my reply below. Do you have by chance any furhter details of Lilian's birth or indeed where she was born - I hazard a guess that this part of your family came from Medway by Rochester but have no real proof of this.

      Jolyon

      You are quite right I think they do pitch at a ridiculously low speed for Pathe although my set seems to hover around 74rpm - as they state 90rpm on the sleeve, I can't think what the original listener thought when they played it at that suggested speed - A 440Hz would sound like a C in my set and in yours would have been even worse and be nearer D. I suppose it was the only way they could get 4 minutes on each side via their pantograph method.

      I can only conjecture that having a unknown woman conductors name on the disc outside the UK may have given rise to the possibility the performance was not serious enough. Lillian was known in the UK, but nowhere else I assume. I don't know if they were issued in the USA prior to 1917 although they still being marketed with you in 1925

      I don't think I have the Merry Wives although I do have the Richard III, which is excellent, and also his Welsh Rhasody conducted by Lillian. Poor Edward German is so out of fashion I can't think how these pieces will ever be revived today. Still Bach was in the doldrums until Mendelssohn came along and rediscovered him – maybe James Levine or some such legend of the podium will do the same for German!.

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    2. I'm glad to hear that Baker was not thought "a cad"; he seems to have been held in enormous professional and personal esteem by everyone who knew him, and I adore his records. The circumstances of the divorce at the time must have been a horrible strain on everyone concerned, but it appears some affectionate feeling between the families was restored later. It may be that Baker's not mentioning the earlier marriage in later life was his own delicacy in not wanting to hurt the Bryants by opening old wounds; his generosity of spirit comes through everything I've read that he wrote, and he certainly was one of the great musical diplomats in the UK during his life through his various chairmanships and committee activities. There have been so few really "good guys" in the music world that the few who fully deserve that sobriquet need wholehearted celebration. (I also owe Jane some transfers from my own collection which I must get on!) And thank you, Jolyon, for your kind words about me and my orchestra!

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    3. Apologies for a late response to your replies, Jolyon and Philip, but I've only just found them here. My aunty Lily was born in 1871, named Grace Lilian Bryant, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. She died aged 84 in Harrow in 1955. Here's a link (if it works) to a small section of the family tree with her parents and siblings: http://bryantsofwellingboroughengland.com/gedmill/indiI476.html
      I will post more details about her another time.
      Best wishes, Jane

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    4. Philip, I am wondering if you would be able to send Chris Zwarg any "raw" digital recordings of your Lilian Bryant records that he doesn't already have as he has dedicated so much time and effort to researching her career and recording output and has produced those 2 wonderful CDs as a lasting memorial and tribute to her. A few years ago another 78 enthusiast I contacted sent him some and they were much appreciated by Chris. Although I haven't spent any time recently on further researching her career or promoting her recordings I do intend to continue to do this as I am very proud of her remarkable achievements and think she deserves further recognition.
      Best wishes,
      Jane

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  10. Perhaps I should also point out that some of the biographical detail quoted above about Lilian Bryant must have been found on a thread I created in December 2011 on the r3ok forum called Recordings by Lilian Bryant where I post as MabelJane.

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  11. Hello again! I didn't manage to listen to the Tchaikovsky when I first posted here but now I have - it's marvellous! Thank you so much for making it available for us to hear it, Jolyon. I wish I had met my Aunty Lily but she died before I was born. I feel so proud of her and so pleased that more and more people are talking about her, appreciating what she achieved, and are now transferring and sharing these extremely old and treasured recordings. She'd be amazed! :-)

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