David Hall (sound archivist)

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For other persons named David Hall, see David Hall (disambiguation)

David Hall (born December 16, 1916 in New Rochelle, New York; died April 10, 2012 in Castine, Maine) was a sound archivist and writer.


Early life[edit]

Hall's parents were Fairfax and Eleanor Raeburn (Remy) Hall. He married Bernice Dobkin on June 8, 1940. Their children are Marion Hall Hunt, Jonathan Hall, Peter Dobkin Hall, and Susannah Hall.


After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Hall received a B.A. from Yale University in 1939. He was a postgraduate student at Columbia University from 1940-41.


At the urging of family friend, Saturday Review of Literature Editor Norman Cousins, Hall abandoned his graduate studies to write an annotated discography of recorded sound. The book instructed record collectors on "how to lay a solid foundation for a record library, what pitfalls to avoid in the buying of records, whether or not it is advisable to specialize, and how to distinguish between fair and excellent recordings of the same composition" (Hall 1940). The book also provided tips on playback equipment and offered detailed commentary on the whole range of recorded music, from classical through experimental music, jazz, folk, and spoken word. The Record Book appeared in 1940 and was followed by a series of supplements, and international edition (1948). The last supplement appeared in 1950. The series was an immediate hit, selling more than 100,000 copies.

In 1940, Hall began a lifelong involvement with the record business, taking a job as an advertising copywriter with Columbia Records, then located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1942, he became music program annotator for the NBC Symphony Orchestra -- the all-star orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini. In 1948, Hall joined forces with fellow Yale graduate John Hammond on a quest to post-war Europe on behalf of Mercury Records, then a Chicago-based produced of "pop" material.

Wishing to enter the growing classical music market, Mercury executives realized that radio stations and governments in formerly Nazi-occupied countries held a gold mine in superb performances by Europe's top musicians. Hammond's and Hall's objective was to acquire these assets for Mercury. Hammond had hired Hall, "a well-known authority on classical recording, to handle the considerable job of cataloging Czech and German material. He was known and respected by the Czechs, who were interested in establishing an international records archive. David would be an asset in delicate negotiations" (Hammond 1977, 282). Hall and Hammond left Prague one step ahead of Soviet forces as they crushed Czechoslovakia's democratic government.

Hall remained at Mercury Records until 1956 as classic music director. Under his leadership, Mercury began releasing its notable "Living Presence" series of classical recordings. Hall worked closely with sound engineering pioneer, C. Robert Fine. Fine's mobile sound studio toured the midwest, recording performances by the Detroit, Louisville, and Minneapolis symphonies and musical groups at the Eastman School at the University of Rochester. A 1955 recording of the Minneapolis Symphony performing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture under the baton of Antal Doráti became the best selling classical record of the decade.

In 1956, Hall was awarded a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, which enabled him to spend a year at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) teaching advanced recording techniques to Danish engineers and musicians. Hall had long been interested in Scandinavian music, having directed the music center at New York's American Scandinavian Foundation from 1950 to 1957.

On returning to the United States in the fall of 1957, Hall became music editor of Hi-Fi/Stereo Review (later Stereo Review). Hall contributed reviews of classic music and articles to the magazine until it folded in 1998. In his writings, Hall championed contemporary music. His 1964 article on Charles Ives included the first full discography of Ives's recordings.

In 1963, Hall became president of Composers' Recordings, Inc., a nonprofit record label devoted to recording and distributing the work of contemporary composers. Among the notable recordings produced under his leadership were a series of performances by avant garde composer Harry Partch.

In 1967, Hall was appointed curator of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, one of the units of the New York Public Library's performing arts collections at Lincoln Center. There he pioneered new techniques of cataloging recorded material as one of the initiatives of the Research Libraries Group, a consortium of the nation's leading research libraries. Hall and his associates also released an important collection of historic sound recordings, The Mapleson Cylinders, which captured the singing of Metropolitan Opera stars of the early twentieth century. This recording was given a Grammy Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences in 1986.

During this period, Hall helped to found the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) in 1966. He served as the group's president, 1980-1982. In 2002, he received the ARSC Award for Distinguished Service to Historical Recordings.

In 1986, Hall retired to the seaside village of Castine, Maine, where he continued to write record reviews and consult on recording projects. Through the 1990s, he chaired the classical records awards committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Late in life, Hall was at work on a biography of the twentieth century American composer, Roy Harris.

In addition to introducing American audiences to the remarkable riches of recorded music in the years following the second World War, Hall played an especially important role as a champion of contemporary music. At least half the composers listed in the 1940 Record Book were still living. They included such notables as Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Charles Ives, Harry Partch, William Schuman, and others. His writings also helped garner attention for jazz and folk musicians.


  1. Hall, David. 1940. The Record Book. New York: Smith & Durrell.
  2. Hall, David. 1948. The Record Book, International Edition. New York: Oliver Durrell, Inc.
  3. Hall, David, 1950. Records. New York: Alfred A Knopf.
  4. Hall, David. 1964. Charles Ives: A Discography. In three parts. HiFi/Stereo Review 13, no. 4 (October): 142-45; 13, no. 5 (November): 102-06; and 13, no. 6 (December): 92-96.
  5. Hall, David. 1982. The Mapleson Cylinder Project. Recorded Sound: Journal of the British Institute of Recorded Sound 82.
  6. Hall, David. 1983. The Mapleson Cylinder Project: Repertoire, Performers, and Recording Dates. Recorded Sound: Journal of the British Institute of Recorded Sound 83.
  7. Hall, David. 1986. The Mapleson Cylinder Project: A Mapleson Notebook. Recorded Sound: Journal of the British Institute of Recorded Sound 86.
  8. Hall, David, and Abner Levin. 1955. The Disc Book. New York: Long Player Publications.
  9. Hammond, John. 1977. On Record. New York: Penguin.
  10. David Hall, 95, sound archivist, writer, WiltonBulletin.com, April 16, 2012.