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?
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.
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 disgusting...how 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.
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.
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?
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):
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?
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.
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, 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.
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.
Hello everybody. That´s a really interesting thread. Just to add something
to it, i found this preview of the track on Amazon.com, that has a lot better
quality than the allmusic.com one, here we can hear the three speeches attributed
The track is in the Disk 3, number 10.
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
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.
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: