Fred Gaisberg


Fred Gaisberg

Frederick William Gaisberg (born, Washington, DC, USA, 1 January 1873; died, Hampstead, London, England 2 September 1951) was the among the first classical producers for the gramophone. He himself did not use the term ‘producer’ and was not an impresario like his protégé Walter Legge of EMI or an innovator like John Culshaw of Decca. Gaisberg’s genius was in talent spotting and persuading performers to make recordings for the new-fangled gramophone.

His father, Wilhelm, was the son of German immigrants. Gaisberg was educated in Washington and was a chorister at St John's Episcopal Church. [DNB]

A musically talented youngster, he encountered the fledgling recording technology in the early 1890s, and got a job working for the ‘Graphophone’ [sic] company in America. Sound quality and short playing time, however, meant that recordings were more an amusing novelty than a serious means of reproducing music. In this decade the first of the recording industry’s format wars was taking place, with the original cylinder recordings gradually being ousted by the superior and more convenient flat disc. Gaisberg played an important part in this, helping to establish 78 revolutions per minute as the standard playing speed and shellac as the standard material for making discs.

In 1898 the Gramophone Company was formed in London. Gaisberg, by then working as piano accompanist and recording supervisor for Emile Berliner, left New York for London to join the Gramophone Company as its first recording engineer. He landed in Liverpool with recording outfit, a $25 bicycle and introductions and instructions from Berliner. [Times obit] Among his first recordings in London were several sung by Syria Lamonte, a barmaid at Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane, but greater things were very soon to follow.

Gaisberg was the first person to record the tenor Enrico Caruso, in Milan on April 11, 1902. The voice recorded well even on the primitive equipment of the time, and the entire enterprise paid off financially as well as artistically. Caruso's recordings were released in 1903 on the premium-price Victor 'Red Seal' label, the first recordings to feature Nipper, the ‘His Master’s Voice’ dog, listening to the acoustic horn of a gramophone. Caruso's Victor recordings sold prodigiously and turned him into an international star. Caruso himself said, ‘My Victor records will be my biography’. Gaisberg’s subsequent signings for the label included Fyodor Chaliapin, Beniamino Gigli, Nellie Melba, John McCormack and Fritz Kreisler. [DNB]

India's first disc had Gauhar Jaan singing a khayal in Raag Jogiya recorded on November 2, 1902, by Fred Gaisberg, an assistant to Emile Berliner, the father of Gramophone record who left America to become the first recording engineer with the Gramophone Company, London. The recording was done in a makeshift recording studio in two large rooms of a hotel in Kolkata, and at the end of the trial recording Gauhar Jaan announced - “My name is Gauhar Jaan“. Gauhar Jaan agreed to do the recording session for a princely sum of 3,000 rupees. By 1903, her records started appearing in Indian markets and were in great demand.

In 1921 Gaisberg became HMV's artistic director in the newly formed international artistes department. After the introduction of electrical recording in 1925, he delegated the role of producer and concentrated on artist and repertoire management. He remained artistic director after the HMV and Columbia merged in 1931 as Electric and Musical Industries (EMI). [DNB]

The recordings made under his overall supervision include Elgar’s series of records of his symphonies, concertos and other major works. With Bernard Shaw, the BBC and others Gaisberg was partly responsible for persuading Elgar to write a third symphony, though in the end the composer died leaving the sketches incomplete. (They were successfully ‘elaborated’ into symphonic shape by the composer Anthony Payne four decades later).

Gaisberg refused offers of a directorship of HMV, preferring to remain a link between the artists and the company. [Times obit] At the age of sixty-six, in 1939, Gaisberg retired; he remained a consultant to EMI and continued to have an important influence on the recording industry. In the late 1940s he argued in favour of long-play and stereophonic recording, both of which were introduced after his death. [DNB]

A banquet was given at the Savoy Hotel to mark his retirement. It was attended by musicians as diverse as Sir Thomas Beecham, Gracie Fields, Richard Tauber and Arthur Rubinstein. [DNB]

Gaisberg was the only record producer to record a castrato singer, and he was the first record producer to make discs in Japan, recording over 270 titles in one month of 1903.

Unlike his successors Legge and Culshaw, Gaisberg did not generally regard it as part of his function to influence the way performers performed. He found the best artists, signed them up and faithfully captured their performance on disc in the best possible sound. He told a colleague that he saw his task simply as one of making as many sound photographs or gramophone disc sides as possible during each recording session. [DNB]

Gaisberg retained his American citizenship to the end, and was a life-long bachelor. [Times obit] [DNB] He died at his home in Hampstead and was buried in Hampstead Cemetery in West Hampstead.

Notes

References

*Gaisberg, Frederick W.: "The Music Goes Round" [Andrew Farkas, editor.] New Haven, Ayer, 1977.
*Lipman, Samuel,"The House of Music: Art in an Era of Institutions", 1984. See the chapter on "Getting on Record", pp.62-75, about the early record industry and Fred Gaisberg and Walter Legge and FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recording).
*The Times obituary notice.
*Peter Martland, ‘Gaisberg, Frederick William (1873–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/56187, accessed 29 June 2007]
* Gauhar Jaan


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