Anniversary of first musical recording

Wired regularly posts a “this day in technology” item. Today’s caught my eye: apparently, it was on this day in 1888 that the first known musical recording was made–Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt:

Israel in Egypt, assigned the catalog number HWV 54, is an oratorio, a form in which Handel excelled. Like his more famous Messiah, Israel in Egypt is composed using biblical passages, mainly from Exodus and the Psalms.

Unlike the Messiah, however, it didn’t enjoy much of a reception when it premiered in 1739. As a result, Handel shortened the work and inserted a few Italian arias to lighten the mood a bit.

Nevertheless, it was selected by Col. George Gourand, Thomas Edison‘s foreign sales agent, for the first musical recording. Gourand made his recording in London’s Crystal Palace, using Edison’s yellow paraffin cylinder — candle wax, essentially.

And nowadays you can listen to ancient recordings like this on your personal digital music player, if you take the trouble to seek them out. For instance, click here to download an MP3 of “Selections from il trovatore,” performed by Foh’s 23rd Regiment Band of New York, released on cylinder ca. 1894.

Best of all…no digital rights management or RIAA lawsuits to worry about!

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