Ghostly Wax Cylinders

If you haven’t ever heard (or seen) a wax cylinder, I highly recommend the experience. As the precursor to the flat record album, the wax cylinder was the first format to be mass produced and sold to a music-hungry public at the turn of the last century. Their ghostly presence is made even more ethereal by listening to a version converted for online consumption. What might those musicians of 1895 think of us, over 100 years later, listening to their recordings amplified from a computer connected to the world wide web?

Check out the mp3 files made available through UC Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Program. By selecting “Browse Collection,” you’ll find mostly popular selections, but do check out the opera and orchestra titles. What’s not to love about a 1909 group called the Indestructible Symphony Orchestra?

The prompt for this discussion came from a February post on  Joe Horowitz’ Unanswered Question blog discussing the Pittsburgh Symphony’s recent Tchaikovsky Festival. Mr. Horowitz poses an interesting point regarding the penchant for constant tempi fluctuation in vogue when these cylinders were created. Scholars researching their works in critical editions, Groves, and JSTOR should not neglect these old recordings. Check out a recording from the Block collection of wax cylinders here in your Media Library. It will sure give you a new perspective.


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