Metropolitan Opera  -  Mapleson Cylinders  (Maurice Grau at the Met)         (Symposium 1284)
Item# V2096
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Metropolitan Opera  -  Mapleson Cylinders  (Maurice Grau at the Met)         (Symposium 1284)
V2096. THE MAPLESON CYLINDERS: Maurice Grau at the Met, incl. Adams, Alvarez, Anthes, Bispham, Bréval, Calvé, Campanari, Dippel, Eames, Gadski, Gilibert, Homer, Journet, de Marchi, Melba, Nordica, Jean et Edouard de Reszké, Reuss-Belce, Salignac, Scheff, Schumann-Heink, Scotti, Sembrich, Ternina, etc. (England) Symposium 1284, Live Performances, 1901-03. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 760411284023


“Mapleson would take his machine down to the prompter's box during a performance, insert a blank cylinder, and ‘take’ the different arias and often entire scenes, at the moment they were being sung in the House. No one thought of objecting; no one had the faintest notion that Mapleson's hobby might contain the germ of an important commercial enterprise, involving permissions, restrictions, rights and fees. It was considered to be simply a wonderful lark, and the next morning would see the artists who had been ‘taken’, and many of their colleagues, hurrying at an early hour to Mapleson's office to hear the results. There would be comments, then, on the wonders of an age that could make such things possible. That was all, and it was quite sufficient for all concerned. These voices of Ternina, Nordica, and many others who made no (or few) public recordings were faithfully caught by Mapleson's wax cylinders.

The earliest published report I have found concerning the Mapleson cylinders, appearing as part of the New Yorker magazine's ‘Talk of the Town’ (18 December, 1935, p. 12) under the heading ‘Librarian’, offers yet another view. Mapleson is described here as ‘...seventy-one, a pink-cheeked old party with a testy disposition and starchy cuffs’. After recounting Mapleson's career and antecedents (he came of a long line of British music librarians and was a nephew of the celebrated impresario Colonel James H. Mapleson), the writer takes note of the 1901-03 recording activity, then tells us: ‘Now, he locks his door and plays the records on his phonograph once in a while, but he has consistently refused all sorts of fat offers from phonograph companies for the privilege of re-recording the old cylinders. 'They're much too personal’.’

And so matters stood until 1937, at which point William H. Seltsam (1897-1968) of Bridgeport, Connecticut, enters upon the scene. Since late 1931, he had been developing his International Record Collectors' Club (IRCC) as the foremost enterprise devoted to the preservation--and dissemination to a devoted clientele--of the great vocal recordings of the pre-electrical era, including great actors as well as singers. Originally a modern dance enthusiast with great interest in contemporary music (he had planned a Henry Cowell issue for IRCC that never was realized), Seltsam turned to historical recordings….

The year 1937 marked a major milestone for the IRCC, for in September it was able to announce ‘the first successful re-recording of cylinders to disc’ (other than what had been done in the past by Pathé in France from their giant master cylinders). Among the retired divas who had taken an interest in Seltsam's enterprise were Olive Fremstad and Geraldine Farrar. It was Fremstad who made Seltsam aware of the existence of the Mapleson cylinders, and Farrar who provided the entrée to the Mapleson lair. In December 1936, she wrote to Seltsam: ‘You could write to him at the Met about December 15th (the opera opens the 21st) and here's a card that might help. I hope you obtain results--for recordings of the Golden Era indeed!’"

- Rose Heylbut and Aimé Gerber, BACKSTAGE AT THE OPERA, pp. 152-53

“Few serious vocal collectors can be unaware of the Mapleson cylinders and their provenance. They were all recorded ‘Live’, between 1901 and 1903, at the Metropolitan Opera House by the house librarian, Lionel Mapleson. He had been given an early Edison cylinder machine and from high in the flies (and occasionally from the prompter’s box) he recorded brief extracts from a variety of performances. Most of the cylinders remained with the family until the 1930s, when William Seltsam, founder of the International Record Collectors' Club, dubbed them onto shellac disks in an extremely limited edition of the ‘Mapleson Cylinders’.

The Mapleson Cylinders are a group of more than 100 phonograph cylinders recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera, primarily in the years 1901-1903, by Lionel Mapleson. They contain short fragments of actual operatic performances and are historically important because of the aural picture they present of pre-World War I singers performing in a real opera house with a real orchestra, rather than with a piano accompaniment in a boxy room at a commercial recording studio. They also feature many famous singers and conductors who never recorded commercially.

On 17 March, 1900, Lionel Mapleson (the librarian of the Metropolian Opera) purchased an Edison Home Phonograph. Mapleson was apparently enchanted with the acoustic device, and on 21 March, 1900, his friend the cellist and occasional composer Leo Stern presented him with a new machine: a Bettini cylinder recorder and reproducer. By the end of the month, Mapleson had persuaded the soprano Marcella Sembrich to record her vocalization of Johann Strauss's 'Frühlingsstimmen' into it.

The following year, Mapleson came up with the idea of putting the recorder in the prompter's box of the Met. His first effort recorded Nellie Melba during Massenet's LE CID on 16 January, 1901. He recorded several more times from the prompter's box, although often with mediocre results. After a short cessation and with the beginning of the 1901-1902 season he resumed his recording activity from the flies of the Metropolitan Opera House, this time with a huge recording horn that would be able to capture the sounds emanating from singers and orchestra below. It was with this arrangement that enabled Mapleson to unobtrusively record many performances and artists from 1901 through 1903. The morning after his recording, he would invite the artists to listen to playbacks of their performances. His recording activity continued until the end of the 1902-1903 season. At that point Mapleson either lost interest or was terminated by management from recording activity (although a few cylinders exist of orchestral rehearsals or concerts from 1904).

Alerted to the cylinders' existence from an article in The New Yorker, William H. Seltsam, secretary (actually head) of the International Record Collectors' Club (IRCC), met with Mapleson a few months before his death. Mapleson offered two cylinders with the challenge to derive something from them. Seltsam's experiment met with success and after Mapleson's death, was able to borrow 120 cylinders from his estate for the purpose of releasing them on IRCC issues. Over the remainder of Seltsam's lifetime, the IRCC was able to issue about 60 sides on 78 rpm records and LPs.

After Mapleson's death, a number of cylinders were found in a junk store in Brooklyn, and were purchased by various collectors.

With the co-operation of collectors, by 1962 eventually all existing Mapleson Cylinders had wound up in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, a division of The New York Public Library. In 1985, under the direction of David Hall, the library transferred all the existing cylinders to six LPs which were released with a 72-page booklet containing translations and extensive historical and biographical notes."

- Z. D. Akron