Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 4 (August-September 1952)
The World's Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music, by F. F. Clough and G. J. Cuming. Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd. English Price £5-5-0
Here it is—the world's greatest gramophone catalogue, assembled from the unimaginable effort of two intrepid enthusiasts who have been engaged in their task, to my certain knowledge, for at least ten years. They begin by acknowledging the pioneer work of this kind, R. D. Darrell's ‘Gramophone Shop Encyclo paedia, published in New York in 1936 and twice re-issued, its last edition having been in 1948. The new British work follows basically the same scheme but incorporated a a host of new and invaluable features the most important being the attempted inclusion of every recording of serious musical worth issued since the dawn of the electrical era, whether still available or not. Record collectors know to their sorrow that the major companies make annual withdrawals from their catalogues, of discs which either have not sold in profitable quantities, or have been superseded by newer performances. But every such record has first been pressed by the thousand and has assuredly sold to the extent of a few hundred copies, and is thus, theoretically at least, obtainable somewhere. We must all have wished for a combined catalogue that would be really inclusive—if only to settle arguments—a discography unbounded by the horizons of one particular company or chain of companies. Here for the first time is a survey of the records of the whole world.
To call it a catalogue is to use a convenient form of discription, but I doubt whether the authors would be flattered by it, for no mere catalogue was ever half as informative and instructive. Into its nine hundred odd pages is packed an astonishing amount of relevant musical information.
We learn, to quote one small instance, that the universally known ‘Orpheus in Hades’ overture was not written by Offenbach, but put together by someone else for a Vienese production. The veil of secrecy with which certain companies love to shroud their activities has been torn aside in several places. It is safe to say that even well informed enthusiasts will be surprised at the number of recordings bearing English catalogue numbers, of whose existence they were unaware. Certain complicated issues are set forth in tables that might have strayed from the Kinsey Report—there are, for instance, elaborate listings showing just what portions of Tchaikosky's ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Swan Lake’ ballets have been included in the many current versions. The amount of research and scholarship which has gone towards accurate identification, especially where the earlier composers are concerned, staggers the imagination.
The authors themselves are the first to allow that there must inevitably be omissions, inconsistencies and errors, and indeed they earnestly appeal to their readers for corrections or for details of discs somehow omitted, so that they may be incorporated in future editions. There are at least two surprising omissions, that of Gavin Gordon, whose ‘Rakes Progress’ once available in abridged form on two Colombias, will surely be before the attention of the British public for as long as the Sadlers Wells Ballet services, and Benjamin Frankels, whose solo violin sonata is recorded by Decca. You will not find Lilburn, but John Antill and Frank Hutchens are there, and the Alfred Hill records make an impressive showing. Strange and intriguing releases meet one on every page—did you know there is a recording of Schubert's ‘Unfinished’ conducted by His Majesty the King of Denmark? You may also read of a Saint-Saens concerto recorded only in Japan, of a Dittersdorf concerto available nowhere save in the Argentine. Pieces that have been recorded ad infinitum are tabulated with unflagging zeal. Our sympathy goes out to the authors as they list the sixty odd vocal versions of Schubert's ‘Ave Maria’. But a sense of humour has not deserted them and I cannot think it just co-incidental that in this particular listing Benjamino Gigli is found next door to Bobby Breen.
The most heart-breaking aspect of any such work is that it goes out of date long before publication. Since the advent of L.P., records have poured out in a flood and several works listed here as ‘not recorded’ have subsequently materialised. The main body of the enclopaedia lists all issues up to mid 1950, an incorporated supplement brings us a year further on and this includes nine pages listing the impressive flood of Bach recordings which stemmed from the 1950 observances. Supplements are to follow at regular intervals. Most valuable among the additional features of this book is a series of tables showing the lettering and numbering systems used by the major record manufacturers.
The price may be considered high, but half and hour spent with the encyclopaedia causes one to reflect that it might have been even higher. As an American reporter said, this is the ‘disc bible’, a production both unique and indispensable.