Phonograph Monthly Review, Vol. 5, No. 8 (1931-05)

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May 1931, Vol. V, No. 8 233 The Quick and the Dead By W. H. SELTSAM An appreciation of the rich historical legacy of recorded speech W ERE I asked to choose between a com- pletely recorded symphony and a record of Ellen Terry, my choice would be the latter without question. From the printed page of music one may re-create the power of Beethoven’s genius. But from the printed page of memoirs one may draw only a vague impression of the genius of a dead dramatic artist. Beethoven’s great endowment will be played and recorded as long as there are musicians and sound reproducing processes. But there never will be another Terry. Happily for posterity, she left not only memories, but some phonograph records. Through their medium future generations will be able to know and judge Terry’s art of dramatic utterance much more intimately than by the hearsay of stage chronicles. History is strengthened immeasurably by these tiny spiralling grooves. Where in the past we had only written documents, photographs, and draw- ings, we of this century have begun to preserve the actual tone and nuance of voice, and even the spoken thoughts of the immortals. Many actors and actresses whose names are now but legend, live on through this medium of “frozen speech.” Not long ago I played the 1903 Phedre record of Sarah Bernhardt for a young French student who had only heard of the “Divine Sarah.” “Beautiful, beautiful. I must have a copy of that!” he exclaimed. He was carried away by her golden voice and the dramatic intensity caught by the recording system, inferior as the acoustic sys- tem was in those early days. Equally beautiful in English are the old Shakes- pearean records of Ellen Terry and the Americans E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe. Terry’s record of Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech from The Merchant of Venice is one of my dearest recorded possessions. And one does not soon forget Soth- ern’s interpretation of Romeo’s words: “Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast! Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!” Other great actors who recorded were Lewis Wal- ler, Arthur Bourchier and Sir Herbert Tree. My friend, Frank Harris, who was well acquainted with Tree, has written in his Contemporary Por- traits : “Tree’s Julius Caesar was perhaps his finest achievement. . . . Tree was by nature adapted to render surpassingly the rhetoric and romance of Shakespeare’s Antony.” To the laymen who would consider Tree’s interpretation of Antony’s words in record form a priceless relic, we phono- philes can point with pride to the H. M. V. record E-1611 of Antony’s great lament over the body of Julius Caesar, recited by Tree in 1906. Our own John Barrymore has made an electrical record of Hamlet’s soliloquy and Gloucester’s soliloquy from Henry VI. Indubitably surpassing Barrymore’s rendition of the Hamlet soliloquy is that of Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson in his lec- ture on International Educational Society records. In his recorded Shakespearean recital this truly great actor includes other recitations from Hamlet and Henry VIII. that are of superb finish. Sacha Guitry and Yvonne Printemps, on Victor records, have made generous and noteworthy contributions to the list. A few of the major phonograph companies are recognizing the value of recording contemporary poets and authors reciting or reading their own writings. Besides his lecture The Speaking of Verse, John Drinkwater also recites his own poems on two other discs of the International Educational Society lecture series. Sir Henry Newbolt has done likewise. That erratic, ironic witted Jean Cocteau has been recorded by French Columbia. Here is a sample of the type poem you may hear Cocteau recite on records: The Clear Blue The overture of the sky cries Ah! in fireworks: heart, parachute, blue mouth open, you may behold the starry sky into the depths of its throat and if it cries Ah! and Oh! all God will fall as gently as a curtain at the Opera. George Bernard Shaw’s lecture on Spoken English and Broken English (on Linguaphone records) has been available in this country for a number of years. Let us not forget the early acoustic personal records of James Whitcomb Riley and the lone disc of that great pillar of Old Russia, Count Leo Tolstoi. While being of very weak recording (possi- bly due to the fact that Riley was in poor health at that time), the Hoosier poet’s discs are noteworthy for his quaint dialect. The one line “An’ the Gobble-uns ’ll git you ef you don’t watch out!”, as