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Puccini by Victor Herbert

February 15, 2010

Victor Herbert’s Orchestra
Puccini: Madame Butterfly—Fantasie

Recorded in 1911

America’s best-known composer of operettas was also a conductor of some distinction. After leaving the Pittsburgh Symphony, he founded his own orchestra, which recorded for Victor beginning in 1911. This is from that first session.

Victor Herbert.

It would be hard to praise the Victor sound adequately. According to Paul Whiteman, whose memory was not always reliable, the essential part of the Victor acoustical recording process—the assembly with the diaphragm and stylus—was a secret so carefully guarded that it was committed to the hands of two engineers, a pair of brothers who lived together: they unscrewed the thing and took it home with them every night. [Update: Note a helpful comment below from “Pilsner Panther,” who helps sort the truth from the legend in Whiteman’s story.]

Victor Herbert’s orchestra, though reduced and rearranged a bit for acoustical recording, also deserves high praise. The better-known symphony orchestras are often ragged and out of tune on early recordings, but Herbert’s orchestra plays at the level we would expect from a symphony orchestra today. His arrangement of tunes from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is as tasteful and effective as you would expect from a man who was himself a distinguished composer.


From → Classical

  1. Paul Whiteman’s seemingly odd story about the two brothers who worked as engineers for Victor is mainly true; their names were Raymond and Charles Sooy. They were with the company from the very beginning up until the changeover of recording processes from acoustical to electrical in the mid-20’s. At that point, I believe they retired. However, I don’t think they lived together, and it’s very unlikely that they took the cutting apparatus home with them at night… that’s the stuff of legend and exaggeration.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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