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Max Morath : The Advent of the Phonograph
Max Morath With the advent of the phonograph, people of all levels of society, all levels of musical sophistication, began to get an opportunity to hear the great music of the world, particularly opera. So with the phonograph in 1900 now becoming an actual fact, that is, you could go to the store and buy one, the opera stars began to sing. Now most of 'em at that time, in 1900, disdained the phonograph because the phonograph to a lot of people in serious music was considered a toy. Enrico Caruso was the first to say, "Oh, no, it's not a toy. It's immortality." And he did it and the others followed immediately. And so we had a great library, particularly on Columbia and Victor, to some degree Edison, of the great singers of that period. And the great Italian and German singers flocked now into the studios for that immortality. So that's another kind of music that was in the stores, so you went in and you bought a lot of the popular tunes and you bought a lot of the opera singers. Now, here again, by the way, is an interesting sidebar. And that is, technology. The early phonograph, clear up until 1925, did not use electricity. Phonograph records were made and replayed by the vibrations of their stylus, set in a mica diaphragm to repeat the vibration. That acoustic phonograph did not like the piano. It liked the human voice, particularly the tenor and the soprano. It liked the violin because it produced clear tone. It liked the woodwinds, but it hated the piano because the piano scale is imperfect. And the piano, to this day, by the way, any recording engineer will tell you it's the hardest thing in the world to record a piano well. So the piano, which was this dominant thing with ragtime all through the period, beginning with 1900, was not widely record. Scott Joplin, for instance, never made a recording, regrettably. He was known not as a performer, by the way, but as a composer. Ben Harney made a couple of -- of phonograph records around 1900, but they're vocal. Sure, he's playing the piano, but the focus is vocal.

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