Busch and the first disc recordings  [8/15]





The first disc recordings, 1923

Finding the first recordings made by the Staatskapelle of Dresden conducted by Fritz Busch was time-consuming and most problematic. The major German music archives contained at best a few individual works. The known private collections also brought up one or the other disc, but certain titles were long regarded as “untraceable”.
A worldwide search was necessary in order to bring together all the orchestra’s early recordings and enable their presentation in this edition for the first time. The following chapter is intended to convey the reasons why the original recordings are so extraordinarily rare.


Fritz Busch’s work schedules (beginning August 13, 1922) contain entries simply noting the word “Grammophon” on various days as follows: 1, 8 (2-5), 9 (10-1), 11 (3-6), 12 (10-1) and 14 (10-1) June 1923 (the numbers in brackets indicate times). Since it was in the middle of the season, the recordings must have been made in Dresden, but the exact location is not noted by Busch. In 1926 Fritz Busch notes a recording for a single day, September 12 (without times), but in view of the considerable number of pieces recorded, it is likely that another day was needed (probably also in Dresden). Fritz Busch noted no other disc recordings in his calendar until the summer of 1928. [Dr. Schaarwächter]

On six days between June 1 and 14, 1923, Fritz Busch reserved in his meticulously kept diary a total of six times for disc recordings between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. or alternatively between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., which were within the musicians’ normal work schedule. After the usual preliminary technical discussion on June 1, five three-hour recording sessions for the “Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft” (DGG) took place on June 8, 9, 11, 12 and 14.
The orchestra probably recorded its work for the first time just then because of the pending 375th anniversary of the Staatskapelle on September 23, 1923. As we now know, economic and technical difficulties dogged both that first series of recording sessions and the following one in September 1926.
In June 1923 the dollar exchange rate was 1:74,500. On June 9, a pound of beef cost about 12,000 Reichsmarks (RM), a pound of coffee as much as RM 36,000 and a pound of tea fetched prices of up to RM 48,000. A pound of sorrel was to be had for RM 600, while a single egg cost the equivalent of 810 Reichsmarks. Germany had entered a period of unprecedented inflation, the peak of which was still to come. The musicians were probably paid mostly in natural produce, which could be taken home and consumed. In those hard times, that first recording session probably meant welcome additional income for all concerned.

“His master’s voice”

Diregentenwerbung-Busch-for-webIn engaging Busch and the Staatskapelle to make the recordings, the management of the “Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft” will have been banking on a lucrative Christmas trade. However, the table of prices for November 1923, when the recordings were officially released for sale, is grim evidence that people in Germany had more urgent things to do than to buy records. On November 1 a pound of bread cost RM 260 billion, a pound of sugar RM 250 billion,a pound of meat RM 3.2 trillion. The daily wage of a trained worker in Berlin was RM 3 trillion. The previously well-off educated middle classes, at whom these recordings were mainly aimed, had been hit hardest. Most of them lost everything they had to inflation. On November 15, 1923 the government attempted to halt the economic crisis by replacing the Reichsmark with the Rentenmark. On that day the US dollar was quoted at 1:4,200,000,000,000!

In those two weeks in June 1923, the musicians in the orchestra of the Dresden Staatsoper had no way of knowing what dramatic developments lay before them. For the moment they were occupied with technical problems. The very cramped recording venue, located somewhere in Dresden and using mobile equipment, the gigantic funnel-shaped creation into which the musicians had to play as loudly as possible, the absolutely unaccustomed use of solid-bodied Stroh violins using a metal resonator and horn to project sound instead of a wooden soundboard and the new, technically dictated placing of the orchestra places sorely tried the patience of all concerned. It is probable that only those musicians with the strongest nerves were chosen to take part in this technical adventure. The full orchestral complement would anyway not have fitted into the studio. Listening to the recordings today confirms that assumption. They often sound as if a chamber ensemble was playing, and in the works calling for large instrumental forces, the brass section is clearly dominant.



In Blickweite von der Semperoper entfernt, lag am Dresdner Postplatz das “Palast-Hotel Weber “Weber’s Hotel” (links im Bild). Hier war ein Appartement zum Schallplattenstudio für die frühesten Aufnahmen der Staatskapelle Dresden umfunktioniert worden.
© Foto: Deutsche Fotothek Dresden


Label-Busch-Figaros-Hochzeit-1923-for-web“Kapelle der Staatsoper Dresden” …

Seventeen matrices from that first recording session were released in November 1923, labelled “Kapelle der Staatsoper Dresden, Leitung Generalmusikdirektor Fritz Busch“. Records kept by DGG give the details of the production method. Twenty-three wax masters were cut in all. Two of them – probably made in a production break – feature the members of the “First Wind Association of the Dresden Staatsoper“, consisting of John Amans, Johannes König, Karl Schütte, Paul Blödner and Wilhelm Knochenhauer. Two others seem to feature the “Dresden Cello Quartet“, consisting of Georg Wille, Fritz Nusser, Franz Schmidt and Johannes Fleischer.

1923-Busch-Galathe-for-webThat establishes the names of at least nine members of the orchestra who took part in the 1923 recordings. Nothing is known about two other matrices. Possibly the recordings were technically or artistically unsatisfactory and therefore never released. In spite of all the trouble it had taken, the recording company’s hopes of big business came to nought. One reason probably lay in the choice of works recorded, for with the exception of popular pieces like the Fledermaus Overture and Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, which probably sold relatively well, the programme did not have enough mass appeal. While the introduction of the Rentenmark on November 15, 1923 had temporarily stabilized the economy, people needed more time to recover. 1924 was a black year for the recording industry, and by the time the position had improved to some extent in 1925, a technical revolution had rendered the old recordings worthless almost overnight.


Richard Strauss: Minuet in G major
From the symphonic poem “Le Bourgois gentilhomme”
Staatskapelle Dresden

Dirigent Fritz Busch
Recording: Weber’s Hotel Dresden, 1923
Public in ther “Edition Staatskapelle Dresden” Vol. 30


Richard Strauss: Minuet in A major
From the symphonic poem “Le Bourgois gentilhomme”
Staatskapelle Dresden

Dirigent Fritz Busch
Recording: Weber’s Hotel Dresden, 1923
Public in the “Edition Staatskapelle Dresden” Vol. 30

next page [9/15]


Fritz Busch • A multimedia portrait of a music-maker

→  1/15    Introduction
→  2/15
   The Busch Family
→  3/15   “He is the right one!”
→  4/15   In search of great voices
→  5/15   Staatskapelle concerts
→  6/15   Correspondence between Richard Strauss and Fritz Busch  [only in German]
→  7/15    First concert tours
    8/15   First Gramophone recordings 1923  “Played into the horn”

  9/15   In Front of a microphone for the first time 1926
10/15   “On Air!”
11/15   Cinema film with photographic sound “Fritz Busch conducts Richard Wagner”
12/15   “Over!”
13/15   Only as a guest
14/15   Welcome home: Sinopoli’s “homage”
15/15   FACTS AND FIGURES The Busch era  [only in German]