Sunday, 13 April 2014

Yet more duplication

TchaikovskySymphony No. 6 in B minor, 'Pathétique'

1. Allegro non troppo
2. Allegro non grazia
3. Allegro molto vivace
4. Finale, adagio lamentoso

The Royal Albert Hall Orchestra 
conducted by Landon Ronald

HMV D 713-D 717

(Matrix Nos.Cc2463-4; Cc2916-2; Cc2917-2; Cc2918-2; Cc2919-4; 
Cc2920-1; Cc2921-1; Cc2984-2; Cc2985-4 & Cc2986-7)

Side 1 on 30th January 1923 ~ Sides 2,3,4 6 & 7 on 1st May 1923 ~ side 8 on 15th May 1923
 sides 5 & 9 on 29th May 1923 ~  side 10 on 23rd June 1923 : [see chart below]

Zip of 4 Flac files , Here at Mediafire. [about 99Mb]

Oh no! not another Pathétique I hear you say, and yes it has been done before by others, but as I was doing this for my own selfish interest anyway, I thought I could also bore others with my enthusiasm. It is not quite complete as the two repeats in the second movement and fourteen bars at the end of the final movement are cut, plus a couple of notes of timpani between the third and fourth sides of the first movement.

It might seem curious that Landon Ronald was chosen to conduct the 'Pathétique' rather than Albert Coates the new conductor on the roster of HMV, however Ronald's association with the piece had a long gestation period. In his two autobiographical works he makes several references to the piece and more than did his part in popularising it in the UK.

Ronald began conducting in 1892 but it was really from 1904 that he started to conduct larger orchestral works. His career really took off as a byproduct from Henry Wood and Thomas Beecham's  fall out over the deputy system that was then prevalent with orchestras. Basically a time honoured substitution system that allowed another player to deputise during rehearsals.  Henry Wood sacked the Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1904 because he could no longer tolerate the deputy system, with the member reorganising themselves into the London Symphony Orchestra  Ronald became one of their conductors. The orchestra employed Nikisch and Richter for special concerts with Frederick Cowan, Edward Elgar, Alexander Mackenzie, Max FiedlerFelix Weingartner Wilhelm Mengelberg, and Ronald taking a half dozen or so concerts each. 

Landon Ronald & Henry Wood, 1909

Beecham at this time was also beginning his path to fame and created his own orchestra, he too fell out with his players and so his New Symphony Orchestra became a self governing orchestra from 1909. Ronald was asked if he would conduct some concerts with this orchestra and found himself conducting both the LSO and the New Symphony Orchestra from 1909. The policy of the LSO was not to have a permanent conductor, Ronald wanted to advance his career and although he never sought any permanent position he was disappointed that the orchestra restricted him to between six and eight Sunday concerts per year. 'Had they had any foresight they would undoubtedly have realised that an ambitious young man like myself would not be content to sit down and take crumbs thrown him by the the Directors of the London Symphony orchestra.' (see Landon Ronald: Myself and others [1931]) So it was that Ronald became the chief conductor of the New Symphony and conducted for forty Sundays each year at the Royal Albert Hall.

The New Symphony had quite an amazing group of players for the time, now alas for the most part all but forgotten; the leader was  John Saunders with his pupil Albert Sammons, deputy leader; Waldo Warner lead the violas; Jean Prewvenners the cellos (until 1911 when succeeded by Warwick Evans); Charles Draper first clarinet; Arthur Forman, first oboe; Aubrey Brain, first horn; Peter Anderson and H. Goddard, trumpets; Eli Hudson first flute and chairman of the orchestra; and F.C. Barker, harp. 

With the series of concerts every Sunday at the Albert Hall with the New Symphony Orchestra Ronald was able to bring his orchestra to HMV and pioneer a number of orchestral recording experiments. This is why this orchestra and a number of its players individually began to be employed by HMV around this time. When the New Symphony Orchestra renamed itself the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in 1915 Ronald was named as its permanent conductor, a position he held until the orchestra ceased to exist after 1928. Under Ronald it also became the first orchestra in Britain to have a recording contract, naturally enough with The Gramophone Company.

Ronald in 1920
Now why the Pathétique? Well quite simply he played it more often than anyone else between about 1910 and 1920. According to his autobiography Ronald relates 'It had been our custom to give the audience a voting paper during the season, and ask them to place a cross against any particular item which they would care to have performed at the last concert. I always counted the votes most carefully myself, and the program was duly advertised in the papers two or three days before the concert. As a matter of interest I may mention that nearly all the Plebiscite programmes I have conducted in London and the Provinces as a rule contained the same items. The Symphony receiving the greatest number of votes was either Tchaikovsky's Pathétique or Beethoven's No. 5 the Overture chosen was generally Tannhäuser Meistersingers or Leonora No. 3, and the two most popular suites were the Casse Noisette of Tchaikovsky and the Peer Gynt of Grieg - The Delibes Suite de Ballet Sylvia running the two very close.'

All of the above compositions were recorded by Ronald and the New Symphony or Royal Albert Hall Orchestra. 

This advert from The Times of 27th April 1919 clearly shows all the other items on the bill were also recorded by Ronald. I presume that these were 'Ronald's' pieces and although quite a number of them were the plums of the concert repertoire it would seem he had first pick not only because of his position in the Gramophone Company but was one of the few conductors prepared to take on the arduous task of recording them.

The recording of such a long piece was fraught with difficulties. Side 1 took four takes on the 30th of January 1923. I have a gut feeling that these four takes, the only waxes  recorded by Ronald and the Orchestra, were all sound tests. They would have worked out various different positions for the players at this session and probably many more takes were cut than the four which were mastered. Only these four proved technically, or at least visually, alright when the waxes were examined before processing. This supposition seems to be born out by the general clear run of recordings on the 1st of May. 

The last movement though proved to be a bit of a problem. The sheer volume of sound produced by trombones, trumpets, horns, timpani etc. not to mention the tuba replacement for double-bass all playing over long sections of the recording must have been just a bit too much for the small recording diaphragm and the wax grooves. HMV were not happy until a 7th take was made on the 23 June 1923 although it appears that they initially passed the 4th take of 29th May that lasted only a month or so before being replaced, it would be quite interesting to hear this take too. The sound scape changes a bit on this last side indicating some form of damping taking place although I have ameliorated this in my transfer.

Anyway for the lunatics like me around the world I have charted the recording session takes with blue = issued and green = initially issued but then withdrawn. Interesting also to note that Tuesday seemed to been the main free day for recording of this orchestra. 

The set was marketed in July 1923 but was effectively replaced by Albert Coates and the 'Symphony Orchestra' (actually the LSO) new electrical recording issued on HMV D1190-1194 in March 1927, Ronald's version still lingered on until June 1927.   


  1. All that work and the recording only lasted in the catalogue for four years. I wonder how many copies were sold?

    Thanks as always for your wonderfully detailed description!

    1. Ta Buster

      I get as much pleasure finding out the context in which these recordings were made under as actually listening to them. I doubt we can ever approach them as their contemporary listener would but I think it is worth having a go.


    2. Oh and as to the number of copies - I would think in the low thousands. The stampers tended to wear out after about 500+ pressings and as the stampers on this set are G, R, & A - the sequence for HMV and Gramophone Company pressings following the letter sequence G,R,A,M,O,P,H,L,T,D. It was issued also in France and by Victor in the USA so it a had a good exposure. Problem with acoustic recordings, especially so for orchestral, chamber music, it was not really saved by record collectors and masses of it went to recycling or was just trashed.

      As to shellac this is the editorial from the Gramophone from September 1942 which just about sums up the problem:-

      ”....the ever-increasing difficulty of importing shellac in this country. The supplies of it here are short in any ease, and on top of that there is the need to save as much shipping space as possible. Shellac is indispensable to gramophone record manufacturers and no satisfactory substitute has been found for it. After a great deal of consideration it was decided to enlist the public's help in securing shellac and at the same time to give the public an opportunity of benefiting two great institutions. These are the British Legion and The Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London.
      On August 15th every one of the 6,100 British Legion Branches throughout England, Scotland and Wales started a campaign to recover its share of what are estimated to be the ten million old unwanted gramophone records lying silently about the shelves and cupboards of the country. Arrangements have been made for the prompt and efficient handling and transportation of all records handed in to the British Legion Branches. The local post office will give any enquirer the address of the nearest British Legion office to his house. These old records can be treated in such a way as to recover the shellac from them and thus to do a great deal toward filling up the shortage. Please note that old-fashioned cylinder records and cracked and broken discs are not wanted, but discs which have the edges chipped are acceptable.
      Every ten or twelve-inch disc, single or double-sided, of the following makes is urgently needed, provided that it is neither broken nor cracked :
      H.M.V., Columbia, Parlophone, Rcgal-Zonophone, Zonophone, Brunswick-, Decca, Rex, Panachord. There are many good reasons for doing all we can to support this campaign, but I think readers of this paper will require no further incentive than to know that any records they may part with may easily suffer a sea change into something rich and strange, in other words that some cheap piece of music long outlived may be born again as Beethoven or Bach. It would be a sad day for the music lovers of this country if a remarkable recording like that of Heifetz and Feuermann in the Brahms Double Concerto were held up from being published for lack of shellac.'

  2. Lunatics of the world unite! You have only... err, your wives to lose!?

    Arise, and salute the only sane one among us...

    Thank you, Jols! As you know, duplication is our middle name.

    May I put in a word for Dr. Emily Worthington, who recently wrote a fascinating PhD thesis on wind playing in London orchestras during this period, including a study of the New SO and its recordings? It's available at:

    Thanks again and best wishes,


    1. Thanks as ever Nick

      Did not know that her thesis was available online - I'd better read it

      Better drop her a line on this issue as I don't think she heard it.


    2. No, I didn't know either! It's very interesting, well worth a read. You'll need her audio examples - ask Emily to send them to you. N

  3. Wonderful, and excellent information! Thanks!

  4. Many thanks Satyr

    best wishes