Episode: Edison, for the record


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Edison, for the record
Some have claimed that it was on today’s date in 1877 that the American inventor Thomas Edison recorded his own voice reciting, “Mary had a little lamb” on a tin-foil cylinder of his own design. Other historians date the precise birth of the phonograph earlier, others later. In any case, the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company wasn’t established until January of 1878. Initially, music wasn’t Edison’s top priority: He thought his phonograph might be profitable as an aid to stenographers, or for families who wanted to record the last words of beloved relatives. Eventually, however, classical music and the phonograph began to interact. In London in 1888, a bit of a Crystal Palace performance of Handel’s oratorio “Israel in Egypt” was captured on an Edison cylinder. In Vienna, Johannes Brahms, seated at the piano, recorded a snippet of his famous Hungarian Dance No. 3, with a spoken intro many wrongly assumed was by the composer himself. The voice of British composer Sir Arthur Sullivan WAS captured, however, commenting: “I am astonished—and terrified—at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever!” Well, Sir Arthur, I’m afraid there’s no going back now…

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