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Historic Sullivan Recordings

An Edison phonograph in 1878.

In 1888 two models of the Edison "Perfected" Phonograph were sent to England under the care of George Gouraud. The recordings Mr. Gouraud made during this period were discovered at the Edison Library in New Jersey in the 1950's.

On August 14, 1888, Mr. Gouraud held a press conference in his home in London at which he introduced the phonograph. Several recordings were played, and some of the press members made a recording which was sent to Edison in America.

One of the recordings played that night was a Piano and Coronet recording of Sullivan's "Lost Chord." This was one of the very first music recordings ever made. A link to an MP3 copy of that recording is included below. Please be patient with it — it becomes much clearer as it progresses.

In the autumn of 1888 Mr. Gouraud held "Phonograph Parties" in his home for distinguished persons. At each of these parties he served a generous meal, and then the guests were invited to listen to recordings and make recordings to be sent to Mr. Edison, furthering the inventor's idea that the phonograph would be a replacement for written mail.

Sir Arthur Sullivan attended the Phonograph Party held on October 5, 1888, and we have a recording of his voice made at that party. There have been commercial releases of this recording, but they have not included the first part of his comments. Our recording is complete, including the host's introduction. It is not hard to see why the first part of his comments were not included in the commercial releases, as they are barely comprehensible even with extensive signal processing.

A transcript of Sullivan's comments follows.

Dear Mr. Edison, if my friend Edmund Yates has been a little incoherent it is in consequence of the excellent dinner and good wines that he has drunk. Therefore I think you will excuse him. He has his lucid intervals. For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening's experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record for ever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery. Arthur Sullivan.

The Recordings:

These recordings are also available on the web site of the Edison National Historic Site.

Page updated 14 March 2017