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1907 __ 24 phonographic discs packed inside large metal urns at Opera Garnier, Paris
Comment : “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 Then in the year 2007, they will be withdrawn, and the airships will stop while the passengers hear the historic voices of "the last century." [...] 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.”. (Des Moines Daily News, Iowa, “The Poor Past Centuries”, January 3, 1908)So music lovers all over the world were recently stunned to learn that the famous death of “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux hid a real truth. There actually were phonograph records buried deep below the Palais Garnier (the Opéra). Twenty-four 100-year-old phonograph records were found carefully packed inside two large metal urns. These were the long-dead voices of some of the world's most famous operatic singers: Mebla, Patti, Calvé, Caruso. Not all of the music world, however, was surprised by the discovery. Some already knew about the long-sealed room several stories beneath The Phantom of the Opera's famous theatre. This room was a time-capsule, marked with a plaque: “The room in which are contained the gramophone records," a name “M.Alfred Clark" and a date, “June 28, 1907." The room was not to be opened until 2007 -- a request that the opera company intended to respect. A room with a mystery to be solved. The question was, who was Alfred Clark, and why did he place a “time capsule" inside the Palais Garnier? Clark, apparently, ran the Gramophone Company's Paris offices -- and was a leader in phonograph discs. It was clear that, inside the sealed room were records... very old records of the beautiful voices from The Phantom of the Opera's famous theatre. And that they needed protection and restoration. [...] One of these mysterious urns was opened in March of 2008. Sure enough, inside the urn were found recordings of some of the most famous voices in opera. [...] In the opera company's library in the Rotonde de l'Empereur, I asked Martine Kahane, then head librarian, if she knew about the room. She did not. She could tell me only that Clark (1873-1950) was an American pioneer in the transition from wax cylinders to discs who ran the Gramophone Company's offices in Paris. What he (Jean-Jacques Beclier, the opera company's technical supervisor,) found were four urns containing recordings, two buried in 1907 and two more in 1912. Sure enough, one of the newer urns had been damaged, so all four were removed and transferred without fanfare to the custody of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France until their 100-year interments were up. [...] Opening the 1907 urns, each of which contains 12 discs, is going to be tricky. According to Elizabeth Giuliani, assistant to the director of the audio-visual department at the Bibliothèque Nationale, the shellac discs were separated by glass plaques, which themselves were kept from touching the surface of the discs by small glass cubes. The whole assemblage was then wrapped in cloth treated with asbestos, then placed inside copper urns, which were then put in urns made of lead. At least one of the urns is to be opened this month in a laboratory under strictly controlled conditions. Eventually the recordings will be transferred digitally and made commercially available by EMI, the successor to the Gramophone Company. Music lovers will once again hear the voices of the long dead singing the music of their time. (Michael Walsh, Smithsonian magazine, March 2008)
French comment : “Il vous intéressera de savoir que les disques sont disposés de manière à ne pas être en contact immédiat les uns avec les autres ; le poids résultant de la superposition aurait pu, avec le temps, altérer la fine gravure qui représente ce que j'appellerai le tracé sonore, et compromettre ainsi l'exécution future. De plus entre ces plaques isolées, il fallait empêcher l'introduction de l'air. L'air est l'ami de tout ce qui respire ; il est l'ennemi de tout ce qui ne vit pas ; il est le grand destructeur par excellence, si subtil qu'il se glisse en les coins les plus étroits, si obstiné qu'on a beau le chasser par la porte il trouve toujours le moyen de revenir par la fenêtre. Il fallait donc soustraire les objets à son action délétère, et l'on a construit une petite boîte en cuivre, ce métal se laissant moins pénétrer que les autres; dans cette boîte on fait le vide, et l'on dresse contre tout retour offensif la barrière d'une soudure. Le précieux objet prend place dans une seconde boîte que l'on soumet à une opération analogue, en ayant soin que les soudures de l'une ne fassent pas vis-à-vis aux soudures de l'autre, afin d'éviter l'action directe de l'air, dans le cas où quelques atomes pousseraient l'indiscrétion jusqu'à forcer la consigne qui les éloigne. Notons aussi que les disques sont établis avec des matières résineuses, et que trop de sécheresse peut leur nuire ; alors vous devinez l'action bienfaisante que doit exercer sur eux un séjour prolongé dans les caves de l'Opéra ; la privation de lumière et d'air contribuera certes au bon état de leur santé.” “ […] - 1 - Montrer quel était l'un des aspects de la musique au XXe siècle, ce que chantaient et comment chantaient les principaux artistes de notre Opéra ; - 2 -Montrer quelle aura été la marche ascendante d'une des inventions les plus géniales de ce temps, en suivant, pour ainsi dire, pas à pas, les progrès pendant une centaine d'années.[…] Un parchemin spécial donnera, bien entendu, la liste détaillée de tous les morceaux contenus dans les caisses, et toutes les indications nécessaires pour mettre en mouvement la machine et ses accessoires, puisque, au cours d'un si long espace de temps, bien des détails, se seront forcément modifiés, et il importe que les ouvriers d'alors, munis des outils nouveaux, ne soient pas embarrassés pour manier ceux que l'âge aura plus ou moins démodés.[…]” (Charles Malherbe, discours du 23 décembre 1907). Au cours de la cérémonie qui précéda "l'ensevelissement des voix", dans les caves de l'opéra, les participants entendirent un gramophone "chanter" La Mort d'Othello par Francesco Tamagno, mort en 1905 d'une crise cardiaque.”. (Musica N°655, février 1908)
Urls : http://www.phonographia.com/SourcePhonoLinks/Record%20Find%20-%20Smithsonian%20Feb%202008.htm (last visited )

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