Peter Tchaikovsky (and Friends) Messing Around With A Wax Cylinder Phonograph

In 1890, a group of eminent musicians (including Peter Tchaikovsky!) got together to screw around and experiment with what was then a wacky novelty. On this early Edison Phonograph recording, the group alternately showboats, teases each other and generally pokes the new technology with a stick. This is basically the audio equivalent of how you (meaning me) used to spend entirely too much time playing with the system preference settings on the school library computer back in 1993.

Recording quality (and the fact that everybody is speaking Russian) makes it difficult to understand what's going on. Luckily, there's a translation after the cut…

This Edison phonograph cylinder recording from 1890 was made by Julius Block, a Russian Businessman of German descent (The Old Man with the Umbrella in this video) who became fascinated with the phonograph (and even convinced Tchaikovsky to sign an endorsement). The recording was re-discovered in the Pushkin archive of St.Petersburg, Russia in 1997, and was labelled with the names of the participants: Anton Rubinstein (composer), Elizaveta Lavrovskaya (singer), Peter Tchaikovsky (composer), Vassily Safonov (pianist and conductor), Alexandra Hubert (pianist), Julius Block (the host himself). One can imagine the scene – a group of eminent musicians each standing around this new 'wonderful invention', being gently encouraged to say something. So there are a few words of banter, some musical scales, whistles, etc., much of which is only just audible.

Here is the translated contents of this recording:

A. Rubinstein: What a wonderful thing [the phonograph].

J. Block: Finally.

E. Lawrowskaja: A disgusting…how he dares slyly to name me.

W. Safonov : (Sings a scale incorrectly).

P. Tchaikovsky: This trill could be better.

E. Lawrowskaja: (sings).

P. Tchaikovsky: Block is good, but Edison is even better.

E. Lawrowskaja: (sings) A-o, a-o.

W. Safonow: (In German) Peter Jurgenson in Moskau.

P. Tchaikovsky: Who just spoke? It seems to have been Safonow. (Whistles)

From Transforming Art