Historical classical music recordings

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"The world's greatest singers, players, bands and orchestras enter your home with Victrola" Advertisement for a phonograph player (1915)

Historical classical music recordings are generally classical music recordings made prior to the stereo era of vinyl disc recording, which began around 1957.[1][2]

As time passes, even later recordings, made in the early stereo era are also being released as "historical" recordings, especially if they were never released or were dropped from the record catalogs due to loss of popularity or "antiquated" sound. Typically such recordings are of artists and performances that were particularly notable at the time they were first released, or were unavailable because they were private recordings made at concerts or radio broadcasts. The latter can be of rather high quality if the recording derives from tapes made and archived by the broadcaster or the organization mounting the performance.

Recordings issued by arts organizations[edit]

Important sources of historical recordings are the broadcast archives of orchestras and opera companies. For instance, the Met Opera of New York has issued a number of historical broadcast recordings which are only available upon making a donation.[3] In the late 1980s, the Metropolitan Opera Guild issued a large number of two-disc compilations of historical recordings called Great Operas at the Met.[4] Each album featured recorded performances of arias from a particular opera, generally beginning in the early 20th century and continuing up into the early stereo era.[5]

The Boston Symphony Orchestra issued a 12-CD box entitled Boston Symphony Orchestra Symphony Hall Centennial Celebration: From the Broadcast Archives 1943-2000 in the 1980s. These recordings are now available for download from the orchestra's web site.[6]

Major label reissues[edit]

Many of the major record labels have also reissued important historical recordings. For example, Philips Records issued a 200-CD series of recordings entitled Great Pianists of the 20th Century in 1999.[7]

Record labels specializing in historic recordings[edit]

There are a number of record labels that have primarily issued historic classical recordings or have treated them as an important category.

Examples include:[8]

Recordings made and shared privately by clubs, internet groups, blogs, and other aficionado-run free forums[edit]

Recordings made from radio and internet broadcasts, in-house personal microphones and recording devices, and from performer's earpiece monitor transmissions are archived and disseminated in various ways. This kind of documentation of live performance is also known as a Recording Of Indeterminate Origin, or ROIO. Many blogs, clubs, internet groups and other forums exist whose members contribute and receive ROIOs, many of which have never been available commercially. Most of these forums traffic in non-commercially available broadcast/other classical music recordings for free. Historic recordings that begin as freely traded ROIOs often surface later as commercial products.

Grammy Awards Category[edit]

The Grammy Awards have a prize category for Best Historical Album which does not distinguish between classical and non-classical albums. Past classical album winners have been:


  1. ^ "Hi-Fi: Two-Channel Commotion", The New York Times, November 17, 1957, p. XX1.
  2. ^ For example, the British Library Archive of Sound Recordings contains classical recordings up to 1956. See this page. Accessed 19 August 2009.
  3. ^ Met Opera Historical Broadcast Recordings Accessed 18 August 2009.
  4. ^ See this amazon.com search. Accessed 18 August 2009.
  5. ^ The Opera Quarterly, 1989, 6(4):143-144. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. [1] Accessed 18 August 2009.
  6. ^ Boston Symphony Orchestra Digital Music Store Accessed 18 August 2009.
  7. ^ See amazon.com product page Great Pianists of the 20th Century: The Complete Edition. Accessed 18 August 2009.
  8. ^ A number of the record labels included in this list have been taken from this article: Will Crutchfield, "RECORDINGS; In Opera, 'Live' Is Livelier, but Also Riskier", New York Times, July 15, 1990. Accessed 21 August 2009. Subscription may be required.
  9. ^ RCA/Met - 100 Singers - 100 Years is still available: see this Amazon.com prod. page. Accessed 21 August 2009.
  10. ^ Segovia - The EMI Recordings 1927-39 is still available: see this Amazon.com prod. page. Accessed 21 August 2009.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]