Sunday, June 02, 2013

Putting Francesco Tamagno at the right speed on his Gramophone and Typewriter records.

                    A 1904 Victor pressing of one of Tamagno's records.

I recall as a kid I had an LP of great singers of the past. It had a number of singers on G&T records singing. Tamagno sounded so ridiculous on this record. Caruso sounded like a little boy and a few others sounded rather strange. The fact is that they played those original records at 78 RPM and transcribed them to the LP at that speed.  The album of mine made by RCA just took it for granted that a 78 record played at 78. Well few did! The sad part of the early years of recording is that 78 was an objective, or a suggestion as to a speed to use. Most recordings made from 1900 to 1925 fail to be at this speed. What is worse the really early days 1900-1905 find records going from 64 to 82 RPM's often. There was no true regulation. Even recording engineers felt that certain speeds were good for certain singers!  I have found a large number of G&T recordings hovering around the upper 60's and rarely are they at 78.

This has caused a lot of problems for historians, music lovers, and those who wish to allow new generations to hear the voices from the past. By 1926 the speed issue was pretty well handled and all electric phonographs had the speed of 78 factored in it. But what of the earlier recordings? Many forgot that there was a great discrepancy in speeds, so by the 1950's when LP records came into forefront and there were lots of reissues of these early recordings, sadly played at 78.

Play a recording of Caruso at 85RPM and it sounds stupid and not correct. But play it at 75RPM where most of his recordings were made at and it sounds natural.  The same can be said of Tamagno. For ages we have played his records at 78 RPM and they sound laughable. But at a proper speed  his voice sounds as it should.

 Listen to the recordings were he does a spoken introduction and see where it sounds right. Plus we need to remember that he was not in the best of health when these recordings were made. So instead of trying to pitch these recordings to a certain piece of music we must remember he pitched many of the pieces down. Nothing unusual about that, Caruso did it with several of his recordings as well.

We have learned over the years that Caruso's early G&T's play at 67RPM. Suddenly he sounds correct and not causing everyone to wonder how did his voice change so.  With Tamagno's recordings I listened and used several factors.

1. All the music was pitched down at his request

2. The pianist for the recordings was Landon Ronald, who was very adept at changing keys.

3. They were recorded by the same people who did the Caruso recordings

As I played the records keeping all of the issues in mind I found that Tamagno's voice sound reedy and weird at 78 RPM. If I brought it down to around 68 RPM  his voice sounded amazing and rich. Keeping in mind that he was singing at a lower key and was in rather ill health. He would die in 1905

I brought some people over to the house and played the records at this speed and people were amazed at the sound of the voice and how natural it sounded. Not every recording was done at the same time and there are variations. But the major bulk of the 1903 sessions seem to me to be very good and make sense around the speed of 68 to 70 RPM's

I found his voice to be very attractive, and pleasant to listen to. Not like that RCA recording I had as a kid in which I could hear him singing ever so shrill. Through this I have found a new admiration of his voice and the quality of his singing.

I was reading an article saying that many think that his records should be played at 77 RPM. Some said 73RPM. I truly believe it is the slower speed I found, that shows off his amazing voice to it's best advantage.

So I enjoy his singing now at what I believe is close to the proper speed.