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Tchaikovsky's Voice

I have a set of CDs of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concertos and on the last one there is a phonograph recording of about 30 secs purporting to be of Tchaikovsky and a group of friends speaking and singing into this new invention.

Does anyone know of this and whether it has been established that it is actually Tchaikovsky?

Graham Wright

Amazing though it may sound I once heard the sound of Tchaikovsky's voice. It WAS recorded on primitive equipment some time during his life. I heard it on the internet but I've not been able to find it again. He talked with great speed and energy and with quite a high pitch, not all what I expected. I thought he would have a deep baritone bear-like voice. He also whistled a tune! which I didnt recognise. There was an obscure recording of Tchaikovsky's concertos on CD which had a track containing this recording. I remember seeing it about 7 years ago, but can't remember much else.

It would be fascinating to hear it again. Can anyone help?

Norman Armstrong

This Edison phonograph recording was issued on a Koch Schwann disk (34690–2) containing a performance of the piano concertos by Andrei Hoteev (which otherwise has little to recommend it). The recording itself is only 100 seconds long, and was recorded by Julius Block, a Russian of German descent who became fascinated with the phonograph (and even convinced Tchaikovsky to sign an endorsement). The recording was descovered in a Russian archive in 1997, and was labelled with thenames of the participants: Anton Rubinstein (composer), Elizaveta Lavrovskaya (singer), Peter Tchaikovsky (composer), Vassily Safonov (pianist and conductor), Alexandra Hubert (pianist), Julius Block (the host himself). One can imagine the scene—a group of eminent musicians each standing around this new device, being gently encouraged to say something—anything—for posterity. So there are a few words of banter, some musical scales, whistles, etc., much of which is only just audible.

It has been supposed that the order of the names given on the label is the same order in which the participants are heard—in which case Tchaikovsky's voice appears three times (once whistling), sounding surprisingly shrill. We know from personal recollections of his contemporaries that his voice was "a rather pleasing baritone", so either this shrillness must either stem from the method of the recording, or the participants have not been identified correctly. The latter is certainly possible, since another source states that Anton Rubinstein resolutely refused to utter a single word into the infernal machine—if true, this means he could not be the first voice as labelled, and the sequence must be thrown into doubt.

This is an interesting curioisity, but it is frustrating not to be absolutely sure which of the speakers is Tchaikovsky. I'm sure I've seen a web-site which gives more details somewhere, and if I can find it I'll post the address here.

Brett Langston

Here is the content of the conversation of the Edison Wax Roll:

  • A. Rubinstein: What a wonderful thing [the phonograph].

  • J. Block: Finally.

  • E. Lawrowskaja: A he dares slyly to name me.

  • N.N: (Sings a scale incorrectly).

  • P. Tchaikovsky: This trill could be better.

  • E. Lawrowskaja: (sings).

  • P. Tchaikovsky: Block is good, but Edison is even better.

  • E. Lawrowskaja: (sings) A-o, a-o.

  • W. Safonow: (In German) Peter Jurgenson in Moskau.

  • P. Tchaikovsky: Who just spoke? It seems to have been Safonow. (Whistles)

  • E. Lawrowskaja: Anton Grigorievich [Rubenstein], play something, forever, please. A few chords, please, Anton Grigorievich, play.

  • A. Hubert: (German) Lassen Sie sich erweichen.

  • A. Rubinstein: No.

  • N.N: And everything dear comes undone.

  • N.N: Now, the little, well, a couple of chords.

1 min 21 seconds.

Copied from Koch Schwann booklet. The Four Piano Concertos, Pjotr Tchaikovsky. Andrej Hoteev, Piano.

Graham Wright

This is all very interesting, but although we have now even the text of the recorded material, many people (including me) just don\'t have the recorded track. My question is if it is possible to download it from somewhere or is someone willing to convert it to pc format?

Marcel Takac

Unfortunately there are copyright restrictions on recorded material. However, there is a clip—including the portion supposedly with Tchaikovsky's voice—here (click on the last track to listen): 59350

Brett Langston

I couldn't get the link to Tchaikovsky's voice to work. However I noticed in the set of CDs in which this recording occurs a piece called Bohemian Melodies, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra. What is this mysterious piece?

Norman Armstrong

Sorry I should have been clearer—you need to click on the speaker symbol in the last track to hear the Edison recording.

"Bohemian Melodies" is a less-than-accurate translation of the Ungarische Zigeunerweisen by Sophie Menter (perhaps really by Franz Liszt), which Tchaikovsky arranged for piano and orchestra in 1892.

Brett Langston

In 1999 I went to the Library of Performing Arts to hear this specific segment (Tchaikovsky's voice). What I heard was much more clear than this rendering which is virtually unintelligible. What I heard was a male bartione voice saying "Good Morning" in English, and then the chirping of a high-pitched woman's voice singing scales to which a male voice also contributed. I assumed that the "Good Morning" was Tchaikovsky and some of the singing. It was quite distinct and clear. I would suggest to anyone who really wants to hear this properly that you acquire the CD recording of the music. Since I believe there are three CDs it might prove to be expensive just to hear 90 seconds of what may be Tchaikovsky's voice. Still it is something and the closest we can ever be to him.

Albert Gasparo

Albert, I'm a little confused. You said that the recording on the CD was "virtually unintelligible", but then suggested we should acquire the CD to hear this properly. As it happens I have the CD (which differs from the recording you heard at the Library of Performing Arts), and can confirm that it is of very poor quality. I understand that the experts still disagree over exactly who was speaking on the recording, and what they were saying.

Brett Langston

The CD recording of the Edison roll is not so bad that it is completely unintelligible—it is certainly superior to the version given on the link by Mr Langston.

I purchased the CD box set containing the Edison roll recording about 10 years ago at great expense and have played them once. The interpretations—if that's what one should call them—are simply awful.

Graham Wright

Hello everybody. That´s a really interesting thread. Just to add something to it, i found this preview of the track on, that has a lot better quality than the one, here we can hear the three speeches attributed to Tchaikovsky:

http: //–4869492–3041516?ie=UTF8&qid=1177904171&sr=8–2...disc_3 

The track is in the Disk 3, number 10.

Octávio Augusto

What a fascinating thread thus far. However, I’ve tried everyone’s suggestion on listening to the supposed voice of Tchaikovsky on the internet via all of the links provided, but I’m unable to find where to click to hear it. Augusto, there is no track 10 on disk 3 on the link you provided. Please help!

Michael S. Svoboda

The last postings to this discussion were two years ago, and I suspect that the internet links may have changed in the meantime. Unfortunately the recording itself (as digitally remastered on the above-mentioned Koch Schwann CD) is in copyright, which prevents us from placing it on this web-site.

Brett Langston

I just purchased the box of CDs that were mentioned in this ongoing thread. The description on the famous website to which I purchased these CDs spoke of the voice of Tchaikovsky. To me, this is absolutely amazing. Setting aside who's voice is actually who's, it's just fascinating to think that one of those voices is in fact, Tchaikovsky's. I gather we're all speaking of the same recording...?

What a wonderful website!

Michael S. Svoboda

Just to note that our regular contributor Luis Sundkvist has provided further notes concerning this recording, which can be seen on this page.

Brett Langston

Dear Friends,

You may be interested to know that in December 2008, Marston Records issued the three-disc set "Dawn of Recording: The Julius Block Cylinders (1890-1927)." The very last track (33) on the third disc contains the conversational snippet under discussion here. Because of Ward Marston's ministrations, this version may well be the most listenable we can expect for a long time to come.

Unfortunately, one must buy the entire set to hear it. But for those who are seriously interested in the history of recorded sound, this set is a uniquely precious treasury.

For details, please check the Marston website:

Happy listening!

Marvin Hightower

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013