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Voices from the past

HofmannHere is a great ghost story, just in time for Halloween: In Russia, researchers have discovered the world's oldest recordings of classical music. For years, musicologists suspected that these recordings -- on wax cylinders -- existed.  But for decades, there was no sign of them.

Now they have been found, and next month, their contents will be released on the Marston CD label.

The bad news is that there is a lot of surface noise. You cannot expect this stuff to have modern sound quality, no matter how many engineers go to work on it. But the good news is, we now have the first known recordings of pianist Josef Hofmann (pictured on the left) as well as the earliest recordings of music by Bach, Wagner, Verdi, Chopin, Schumann and others.

You get to hear Hofmann playing a transcription of Wagner's "Magic Fire Music." And the composer Anton Arensky playing piano in the first recorded performance of the enchanting Trio from the Scherzo of his Piano Trio No. 1. And singers who created roles in operas by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Musicologists welcome these recordings partly because they show the style in which musicians performed during the time period these cylinders were made, between 1890 and 1895. But the recordings are fascinating even just as curiosities. As the New York Times wrote in a story on the find: "Ghosts come alive, and the listener mingles with them."

Want to hear and see the ghosts for yourself? The New York Times' Web site has an interactive page that lets you look and listen. Find 10 minutes when you won't be distracted, and click here.

To read the New York Times' report on the find, click here.

Thoughts and opinions are welcome.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman



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