I love old recordings. Like film, old recordings give us a glimpse into a reality that, in some cases, no longer exists or has drastically changed from what it once was. An argument could be made that through film and audio recording, time machines already exist. One of the greatest examples for this argument is a twelve-minute film called, A Trip Down Market Street, that was made just four days before the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Do yourselves a favor and just spend a few minutes watching it.
It doesn’t take too long to see the enormous changes in the relationship with transportation that we’ve experienced in just over a century, from the lack of traffic signals, to pedestrians, horse drawn carriages, street cars, and automobiles sharing the road in some sort of balanced juggling act!
Audio recordings are just as magical. We can hear audio recordings from as early as the 1860, in a barely audible French folk song, Au Claire de la Lune.
What follows are some of my favorite historical recordings paired with a contemporary recording of the same piece. I am not comparing for quality, but in order for you to hear the difference in style, approach, and interpretation.
Louis Armstrong, West End Blues, recorded in 1928
Nicholas Payton, West End Blues, recorded in 2000
Mahler Symphony №5, Adagietto, recorded in 1926, Congertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Willem Mengelberg
Mahler Symphony №5, Adagietto, recorded in 1998, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade, recorded in 1934, Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade, recorded in 2005, Orchestra Anima Eterna, conducted by Jos van Immerseel.
Gershwin, An American in Paris, recorded in 1929, Victor Orchestra, conducted by Nat Shilkret (Gershwin is playing the celeste)
Gershwin, An American in Paris, recorded in 1959, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Tchaikovsky, Symphony №4, recorded in 1960, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky
Tchaikovsky, Symphony №4, recorded in 2004, Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Valery Gergiev