Tuesday, October 2, 2007

All the Music of the Centuries (1908)

The article below appeared in the January 3, 1908 Des Moines Daily News (Des Moines, Iowa) under the title, "The Poor Past Centuries." The piece describes a ceremony in Paris where phonographic records were buried beneath an opera house, to be opened in 2007. Sadly, I have not heard if this treasure has been unearthed yet.

Articles like these remind me of the genuine sense of wonder people felt about new inventions of the late 19th and early 20th century. Recorded music was to survive beyond the life of the creator thanks to new technologies. Hopefully, copyright law won't keep that from happening in the 21st century.

That was a curious ceremony performed last week in the subterranean passages of the opera house in Paris. Dignified people solemnly deposited in a specially constructed vault phonographic records of the great voices of today. There are songs and arias by Tamaguo, Caruso, Scotti, Plancon, Pattl, Melba, Calve and others. They are to remain there, hermetically sealed, for one hundred years. Then in the year 2007, they will be withdrawn, and the airships will stop while the passengers hear the historic voices of "the last century."

It's when we read of such things and think what they mean that we begin to realize what a wonderful age this is in which we are living, how different it is from other ages, and what it might have meant to us if the things we know today had been known hundreds of years ago.

Suppose the phonograph alone was nothing new?

We could go today and command all the music of the centuries. We could listen while Bach played the organ, Amati the violin and while Arion swept his harp. We could hear Paganini. We could listen to Palestrina directing the choir in the church of Santa Maria Maggioro, or to Father Ambrose chanting in the dim cathedral at Milan. We might even hear again of David in the psalms, or go back to the shores of the Red sea and listen to the song of Miraim.

And this is only a little in the realm of music alone. There are the orators and the poets and the players who might speak for us. Webster and Patrick Henry and Sapphe and Homer and Demothsenes and Aeschylus - the voices of history in our sitting rooms!

But what is the phonograph? Only one little invention of a multitude. Rameses could never call up the great pyramid. William the conqueror never dreamed of wireless telegraphy. Xerxes never saw a moving picture. Charlemagne never even got a glimpse of a single electric light.

At this moment the cub reporter stirred himself. He has been to college.

"No," he said, "and Darius never had any breakfast food."

"And Adam didn't have no street cars," observed the other boy.

See also:
Gardens of Glowing Electrical Flowers (1900)
Moving Sidewalk (1900)
Moving Sidewalk Mechanics (1900)


Isabelle said...

Hi - If what I believe on the Internet is correct, the records are no longer there. This one wasn't too difficult to find the answer to. I went onto yahoo france and did some searching. If you speak french, there is a link to the story here:

From what I gather, this person asked the current head of the Opéra Garnier, Gérard Mortier. Mortier responded that more records were "entombed" in 1912, as well. It turns out that in 1988, some "indélicates" people (perhaps that means clumsy) broke the urns, and the director at the time chose to have the records transferred to the French National Library.

Eoin O'Mahony said...

Bill Bryosn's book (with the words Thunderbolt Kid in the title) also makes reference to the ways in which people in Iowa in the 50s and 60s thought of a gleaming future based on progress. I'd type in tranches of text here but I've got some washing to do.

Anonymous said...

Well, we Iowans have always been an optimistic people... :)

Personally, it reminds me of a time when the Des Moines paper was actually something worthwhile, something with literary/historical value. That was before Gannett bought it and flushed it down the toilet.

Anonymous said...

Isabelle- thanks for the update. I wonder if they were ever copied and put on a more durable format. Doubt they're on itunes or anything, but it'd be nice if people could listen to them.

Anonymous said...

They have been opened and you can hear them here: http://expositions.bnf.fr/voix/index.htm