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The First Records

What was Western popular music like?

At the end of the 19th century most music was disseminated in scores, mainly for piano, and created for domestic consumption. They are works written by liberal professionals and marketed by music publishers.

In Europe we find the German lieder by Schumann or the Italian canzonette by Donizetti. In the United States, the first creations of the music industry composed by the members of the Tin Pan Alley reign.

The Be Good Tanyas – Oh! Sussana (2001)

Interpretation of a song composed by Stephen Foster, one of the best known authors of his time. Its score was published, in 1848, by W.C.Peters & Co. Cincinnati.

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Stephen Foster was a preeminent singer and songwriter in the United States. Many of his songs are still popular one hundred and fifty years after their composition. Born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, he was one of the first musicians who tried to make a living as a professional composer. However, in the absence of copyright awareness in his time, Foster saw little of the benefit that publishers of his scores gained from his works. He died at the age of 37 in abject poverty.

What about the 20th century?

The invention of the phonograph, the gramophone and the radio, in the first decades of the 20th century, allowed an unprecedented diffusion of new musical genres of great freshness and vitality, played by self-taught musicians.

This altered the music industry and record companies were looking for new performers from every corner of the world. From rural artists from deep America to dance-oriented music and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Enrico Caruso – Vesti La Giubba (1904)

Aria from the opera Pagliacci written in 1892 by Ruggiero Leoncavallo In the voice of the Italian tenor, it was the first record in the history of music to be sold on a large scale.

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Enrico Caruso recorded this aria on three occasions: November 30, 1902, in a room of the Grand Hotel of Milan for the Gramophone Company of London, February 1, 1904 and March 17, 1907, both in New York for the Victor Talking Machine Company. With all of them he became the first record star in history to sell more than a million copies. These were flat gramophone records made of shellac and spun at 78 revolutions per minute. Classical records were 12 inches long.

What currents do predominate?

The variety shows, inherited from the 19th century, popularize the light song and its variations: the traditional American pop, the French chanson, the Neapolitan in Italy or the German Kabarett song.

These are picked up by the new inventions, which bring about the beginning of an era of great voices such as those of Carlos Gardel, Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, Jorge Negrete, Amalia Molina or Concha Piquer.

Maurice Chevalier – Valentine (1925)

Song composed by Albert Willemetz and Henri Christiné for one of the best representatives of this era of great voices that nourished the incipient recording industry.

Maurice Chevalier made his debut at the end of the 19th century in café-concerts in the Parisian district of Ménilmontant. After participating in the First World War, the French vedete and actress Mistinguett discovered him and made him her partenaire. From then on he personified the figure of the frivolous dandy who spoke with a suburban accent. In the 1920s, the phonograph picked up his hits on stage with various magazines, operettas and songs like Valentine, one of his greatest hits. In 1928 he began a film career in Hollywood.

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