Prince Bismarck and Count Moltke Before the Recording Horn: The Edison Phonograph in Europe, 1889-1890
Prince Bismarck and Count Moltke Before the Recording Horn: The Edison Phonograph in Europe, 1889-1890
On 15 June 1889, Adelbert Theodor Edward ("Theo") Wangemann started out aboard the four-master "La Bourgogne" on a trip to Europe on behalf of Thomas Alva Edison that was supposed to last for only a few weeks, but from which he was not in fact to return until 27 February 1890. Wangemann's assignment during the first two weeks after arrival was to maintain the phonographs on display at the world's fair in Paris, readjust them, furnish them with improved components, and train the personnel who operated them.
After Edison extended the duration of Wangemann's stay, the latter made use of the time to expand the repertoire of good exhibition cylinders. For his recording activity, he received blank cylinders on a regular basis from the Edison Phonograph Works; these were sent first to Paris and forwarded from there to wherever he currently was. Wangemann later stated that he had received between 2,400 and 4,000 blank cylinders during his trip to Europe. The first shipments contained cylinders of a brick-red color with a string core for stabilization. Recordings were made of popular and in part also internationally known artists and orchestras present at the world's fair, for example the pianists Édouard Risler and Marie Roger-Miclos, the comedian Paulus (Jean-Paul Habans), and the organist Charles-Marie Widor. Some of the recordings were supposedly to be taken to America and duplicated. A visit by Wangemann to Bayreuth on the occasion of the famous festival stage play of 21 July to 18 August was probably also planned, judging from correspondence between the contralto and voice teacher Anna Lankow and an unknown addressee at the Edison laboratory:
One of the cylinders recorded in Paris on 29 August was a vocal selection by the Tacianu Sisters. Members of Edison's traveling party had reacted with enthusiasm upon hearing this female quartet two weeks earlier in a small restaurant. Wangemann particularly liked to play this cylinder and boasted to a German public of the "international value" of this Russian melody, performed by a Hungarian quartet, on a French stage, before the American phonograph.
Werner von Siemens-Edison's friend and most important business partner in Germany-was unable to come to Paris, so Wangemann was sent to Berlin after the world's fair to show the apparatus there. On 7 September, he applied for a passport for himself and his wife Anna, who was accompanying him. Three days later, the couple found themselves at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin, and Wangemann was able to send an invitation from Siemens to Edison, who had himself embarked for Europe on 3 August:
Wangemann had an exhibition room placed at his disposal in the Berlin firm of Siemens & Halske & Co. at Markgrafenstraße 94. For transporting twenty-one cylinders at one time for the exhibitions that took place there, each of which lasted about two and a half hours, he used a lockable wooden box with a handle and extra compartment for accessories. This box was found in a damaged condition in Edison's library in 1957 with seventeen cylinders, partly broken. For the duration of his stay in Germany and Austria-Hungary, Wangemann had an employee of Siemens & Halske assigned to him as an assistant: the mechanic Devrient. On 13 September, the first exhibition before German scientists took place in Edison's presence. Several recordings were made by four members of the band of the Kaiser Franz Garde-Grenadier-Regiment who were identified by name: Herr Köhle played the cornet à piston, Herr Bading the clarinet, Herr Krahmer played the violin and Herr Schmalfuß the piano.
Wangemann only rarely recorded string instruments. It is therefore quite possible that the cylinder with Beethoven's Romanze op. 50 in F major, for violin and orchestra, here for violin and piano, came into being in the context of the above event. The fact that the cylinder has no announcement, which was certainly the exception with the recording of prominent musicians, would also speak in favor of this. The cylinder, which came from a new shipment, is light ochre without a string core; cylinders had not been manufactured with string cores since August 1889.
On 18 September, Wangemann went to the meeting of German Natural Scientists and Doctors in Heidelberg. There he showed the phonograph and also took over the address of Edison as guest of honor. In doing so, he alienated some of the professors who were present by making some remarks that were perceived as inappropriate.
On his short visit to Germany, which ended on 20 September, Edison was unable to meet the three most prominent Germans of the time-Emperor Wilhelm II, Otto von Bismarck, and Helmuth von Moltke-in person as had been hoped. The Emperor was attending a maneuver in Hanover, Prince Bismarck was ill, and Count Moltke was on his estate in Silesia. But all three communicated by telegram that they wanted to see the phonograph.
So Wangemann received the mission of returning to Berlin to visit these personages in Edison's name and to prepare recordings of their voices. Supposedly, copies of these recordings were later to be sent to scientific institutions and higher schools in all the larger cities of Germany. Ultimately this did not happen, perhaps because the potential for misuse was too great:
Edison did not fail to notice the enormous popularity of the phonograph in Europe, and he recognized that it would be advantageous to send Wangemann as his personal representative to additional European metropolises. Three engagements were originally contemplated per large city: one for engineers and scientists, a second for investors, bankers and wholesalers, and finally a third for a paying audience.
From Heidelberg, Wangemann first made a side trip to Frankfurt am Main, where Edison had already promised the phonograph to the local Electrotechnical Society. This exhibition-the first in Germany before a broader public audience-was held on 20 September in a large, fully occupied hall. However, Wangemann cut a poor figure by repeatedly treating his Frankfurt audience condescendingly and implying that they were backwards and provincial ("hinterwäldlerisch"). He also gave them excessive indications that he was eager to catch the night train and hence pressed for time.
The invitation of Emperor William II to the New Palace in Potsdam on the evening of 23 September was a great honor. The Emperor, who was enthusiastic about the phonograph, had the apparatus precisely explained and caused astonishment with his gift for quick learning. Among other recordings, Wangemann played the cylinder of the Tacianu sisters, which particularly pleased the Empress. However, he made no recordings and was asked to pay a further visit to the castle two days later.
The extra engagements-to which was added an invitation from the Russian Czar, who was staying in Berlin-increasingly threw Wangemann's travel and financial plans into disarray:
Despite his promise-see the above telegram-Emperor Wilhelm II once again failed to speak into the phonograph during the second meeting in the New Palace on 25 September. Instead, a cylinder was recorded of the German Crown Prince Wilhelm, then seven years old, and of his younger brothers Eitel Friedrich and Adalbert.
In the case of the cylinder of the Hungarian-born piano virtuoso Emanuel Moór, only the year of recording-1889-is known. On the basis of the light ochre cylinder color, the lack of a string core, and the German announcement, we can rule out Paris as a recording location with a high degree of certatinty. It is therefore presumed to be a recording made in Germany or Austria-Hungary between September and December 1889. The "Hungarian Melody," according to the announcement, might be identified with Moór's Opus 24, "Variations and Fugue on a Hungarian Theme."
On 28 September, Edison and his traveling party left Europe aboard the steamer "La Champagne." Wangemann and his wife remained behind. On 7 October, the opportunity arose for the couple to visit the convalescent Imperial Chancellor Prince Bismarck for two days at his castle in Friedrichsruh near Hamburg. After Bismarck had heard several cylinders recorded in Paris and Berlin, including the recordings of the German princes, he too made a recording at his wife's request. He did not want to play into the hands of his political opponents and so did not speak a message to the Germans on both sides of the Atlantic as Wangemann had expected and possibly prepared. Instead, he first recited some innocuous material into the recording horn: thefirst strophes of the songs In Good Old Colony Times and Gaudeamus igitur,as well as the beginning of the poem Als Kaiser Rotbart lobesam. More noteworthy are the first lines of the Marseillaise which follow. Excerpts of the content of this cylinder were disseminated in Germany as well as in the United States-but with the interesting difference that the German press, as far as it is available to me, made no mention of the recording of the Marseillaise. In conclusion, Bismarck directed an appeal to his son Herbert, who heard it via phonograph in Budapest several weeks later and recognized his father's voice. Bismarck's call for the moral life of his son ("Sittlichkeit" or "morality") became almost inaudible through damage to the cylinder, and it was never mentioned even in contemporary press reports. A complete transcription is now given for the first time since the moment of recording in October 1889. Bismarck's wife next spoke a second cylinder which remained with the Imperial Chancellor's family. Prince Bismarck contributed to this second cylinder only one concluding sentence.
The meeting with Czar Alexander III was delayed from week to week and did not occur until 12 October, when it took place under great security precautions late at night at the Russian embassy in Berlin. The Czar showed himself to be little impressed with the phonograph and did not dictate a cylinder. Besides Wangemann and Devrient, only members of the imperial family were present. On two further visits to the Russian embassy, the Czar was prevented from attending on short notice. During his forced stay in Berlin, Wangemann continued to show the phonograph by day to artists, scientists and government officials, and by night in the meeting places of clubs to invited members, which regularly led to considerable crowds.
Shortly before his departure for Vienna on 20 October, and as a farewell to Berlin, Wangemann organized a benefit concert for an admission fee in a hall of the Hotel Kaiserhof. The numerous visitors were apparently happy to pay the high price of 20 Mark ($5) to listen to the cylinders of the German crown princes and Prince Bismarck.
On 21 and 22 October, as a stop on the way to Vienna, the Wangemanns and Devrient were guests of the venerable Field Marshall Count Helmuth von Moltke, who enjoyed a legendary reputation in the German Empire on account of his military successes in the three wars of German unification between 1864 and 1871. This visit too is well documented. Wangemann played the cylinder of Prince Bismarck, whose voice Count Moltke recognized only after a correction of the playback speed, and had the roughly twenty relativesof the Count who were present speak into the phonograph one after another. At least four cylinders of Count Moltke's voice were made on 21 October, of which only two are preserved. These are the only recordings of a person born in the eighteenth century which are still audible today. Wangemann had previously received a new cylinder shipment with blanks of brick-red color without a string core, which he used on this occasion.
On the first cylinder, Count Moltke refers directly to Edison's groundbreaking invention but has to repeat his statement, having named the "telephone" instead of the "phonograph" the first time around. After that, he recites a few lines from the first part of "Faust," in which Goethe calls technological progress into question.
The beginning of a second cylinder was previously unknown from contemporary sources. Moltke quotes a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "Give every man your ear, but few thy voice," which again fits the phonograph theme well; he breaks off once and has to restart. The passage that follows refers directly to this: For if your opinion changes, ("For if your mind turns round"), what you've said immediately comes back to haunt you ("immediately it comes back"). This saying comes not from Hamlet but from Count Moltke himself, which he proudly expresses through the closing recitation of his title and name. The cylinder closes with a further excerpt from the first part of Goethe's Faust which Count Moltke repeats once, since part of the first attempt was recorded too softly.
A third cylinder of Moltke's voice is missing, but its content at least has come down to us in part: referring to Francis Bacon, he treats the theme of experimentation, the increase of knowledge, and the dangers accruing from it. A fourth recording was made while the Count and his three generals were playing cards.
After a sojourn with phonograph exhibitions in Breslau on 23 and 24 October, Wangemann left the German Empire and reached Vienna on 25 October, where several hundred written invitations already awaited him. Exhibitions for prominent persons took place in the mornings at the Grand Hotel, where the Wangemanns had taken a room, and by night the phonograph was shown to Viennese clubs and societies at various places in the city. Nowhere did Wangemann demand an admission fee. The first recordings were made on 28 October with musicians of Eduard Strauss's Elite-Kapelle.
The pianist Alfred Grünfeld was, alongside Johannes Brahms, one of the prominent Viennese artists who saw the phonograph especially often and made recordings of self-composed pieces-among them a piece from the Hungarian Rhapsody recorded on 18 November. For this recording, Wangemann shaved an old cylinder with a string core. One disadvantage of this kind of cylinder is that it rapidly effloresces through chemical processes, so perhaps the old recording had become unusable for that reason.
The main reason for Wangemann's trip to Austria was an invitation to the Vienna Hofburg to show Emperor Francis Joseph I the phonograph. Until the beginning of November, however, the Emperor stayed far from Vienna in Meran, South Tyrol. Wangemann made use of the wait by giving a journalist an interview every day, very probably via phonograph in order to demonstrate the utility of the apparatus for this purpose. The journalist's assignment was then to write down the interview and distribute it to other newspapers.
A reddish brown cylinder without string core with an announcement from Vienna was erased and finally spoken with a personal spoken letterin English. The circumstances of recording and the speaker are unknown.
On 3 November Wangemann showed the phonograph to Emperor Francis Joseph I., without thereby making recordings of his voice.Twice he travels for a few days at a time to Budapest, first on the 9th and then, at the wish of the Emperor who wanted to see the apparatus again, on 27 November. Wangemann stayed in Vienna until 3 December, thereafter his whereabouts can be established only sporadically from the sources available to me. He is alleged to have shown the phonograph to a series of prominent individuals in various larger Austrian and German cities through the end of December 1889, before he returned to Berlin. Wangemann was in Berlin for at least a short while on 19 December to borrow money from Siemens & Halske & Co. He might have lived at this time with his uncle, Hermann Theodor Wangemann, director of the Berlin Mission Society.
From a cylinder recording that was very probably directed to his brother Adalbert in Chicago, we know that Wangemann and his wife Anna were staying in the town of Altenkirchen in the Westerwald on 14 January 1890. They also spent the Christmas holiday with the family of a relative, Ottilie Klaube, called Odo, née Wangemann.
When Edison learned how much money Wangemann had borrowed during his travels, he ordered him to return immediately. The artistic metropolis located closest to Altenkirchen was the city of Cologne. In order to obtain further cylinders for the Edison Laboratory in West Orange before his departure from Germany, but certainly also to justify his extended stay in Germany, Wangemann invited some known vocalists and instrumentalists as well as select music lovers to the Pianohaus Rudolph Ibach Sohn on the Neumarkt in Cologne on 23 January. The event was not public and therefore hardly attracted notice in the city. Since he was no longer receiving any cylinder shipments at this time, Wangemann shaved some old reddish brown cylinders with string cores for the new recordings.
The Cologne musicologist, composer and pianist Otto Neitzel recorded a piano concerto by Frédéric Chopin on 23 January.
In the same place and probably also on the same day, the Cologne baritone Karl Mayer sang the piece "Wohin?" from the song cycle "Die Schöne Müllerin" by Franz Schubert, accompanied by the composer Franz Wüllner. As had already happened with cylinder 93948, Wangemann gave the wrong year, "1889," in his spoken announcement.
Several days later, on 28 January, at an unknown recording location in Cologne, the Frankfurt-born soprano Johanna Dietz sang the first strophe of "Kennst Du das Land" from the opera "Mignon" by Ambroise Thomas with piano accompaniment for the phonograph. Wangemann wrongly called the vocalist "Dietze." This is his last known recording in Europe.
This article was published on January 30, 2012. Transcription and identification of all sound recordings by Stephan Puille and Patrick Feaster. Thanks to Ward Marston for identifing the Frédéric Chopin and Ambroise Thomas compositions (cylinders EDIS 93948 and EDIS 93957). Thank you to Pietro Zappalà for identifying the Ludwig van Beethoven composition (EDIS 93955).
Source citations with the attribution "TAED" followed by an identification number refer to documents published as part of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, http://edison.rutgers.edu/index.htm
 Harry Frederick Miller to New York Herald and H. Stertz, 14 June 1889 TAED LB030375; Alfred Ord Tate to Thomas A. Edison, 27 February 1890 TAED LB038076
 Thomas A. Edison to Alfred Ord Tate, 12 June 1889 TAED D8955ACC
American Graphophone Company versus National Phonograph Company on Macdonald Patent No. 606.725. (U.S. Circuit Court. District of New Jersey. In Equity). A. Theo. E. Wangemann. Testimony on Behalf of Defendant, 29 December 1905 TAED QP003224;Alfred Ord Tate to Edison Phonograph Works, 23 January 1890 TAED LB036261
 Thomas A. Edison to John Henry Harjes, 1 July 1889 TAED LB031175; A. Theo E. Wangemann to Thomas A. Edison, 14 July 1889 TAED D8946ABT
 Anna Lankow to Unknown, Undated c. July 1889 TAED D9051ACA
 Margaret Storm Upton to Helen Storm, 14 August 1889 TAED X184B2
 Edison in Berlin, in: Berliner Tageblatt, Vol. 18, No. 466, Berlin, 14 September 1889, n.p.
 In the Palaces of Kings, in: The Sun, New York, 10 August 1890, p. 17
 Passport Application A. Theo E. Wangemann, Paris, 7 September 1889
 A. Theo E. Wangemann to Thomas A. Edison, 10 September 1889 TAED D8905AFW
 Edison in Berlin, in: Berliner Tageblatt, Vol. 18, No. 464, Berlin, 13 September 1889, n. p.
 Inspector's Handbook of the Phonograph, Newark, August 1889, pp. 60-61 TAED CA025B
 Tageblatt der 62. Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte in Heidelberg vom 18.-23. September, Heidelberg 1890, pp. 141-143
 Der Edison-Phonograph vor dem Kaiser, in: Berliner Tageblatt, Vol. 18, No. 484, Berlin, 24 September 1889, n. p.
 Der Phonograph in Breslau, in:Schlesische Zeitung, Vol. 148, No. 744, Wroclaw (Breslau), 24. October 1889, p. 9
 Vienna Sensations, in: New York Herald, New York City, 30 October 1889, n. p. TAED SC89187A
 In the Palaces of Kings op. cit. p. 17
 Der Phonograph in Frankfurt, in: Frankfurter Zeitung, Vol. 34, No. 265, Frankfurt on the Main, 22 September 1889, p. 1
 Der Edison-Phonograph vor dem Kaiser op. cit. n. p.
 A. Theo E. Wangemann to Thomas A. Edison, 25 September 1889 TAED D8958AAJ
 Aus der Reichshauptstadt, in: Teltower Kreis-Blatt, Berlin, Vol. 33, No. 114, 28 September 1889, p. 2
 http://www.emanuel-und-henrik-moor-stiftung.de/Emanuel/works.shtml, accessed 10 September 2011
 Czar and Phonograph, in: New York Herald, New York City, 19 October 1889, n. p. TAED SC89164C
 Bismarck Phonograms, in: New York Times, New York City, 3 November 1889, p. 16;Wöchentliche Anzeigen für das Fürstentum Ratzeburg,Vol. 59, No. 83, Schönberg, 18 October 1889, p. 2
 Die Hofjagd in der Schorfheide, in:Teltower Kreis-Blatt, Vol. 33, No. 121, Berlin, 15 October 1889, p. 1; In the Palaces of Kings op. cit. p. 17
 Aus der Reichshauptstadt, in:Teltower Kreis-Blatt, Berlin, Vol. 33, No. 116, Berlin, 3 October 1889, p. 2
 A. Theo. E. Wangemann to Thomas A. Edison, 18 October 1889 TAED D8958AAM
 Czar and Phonograph op. cit. n. p.
 Der Phonograph bei Feldmarschall Moltke, in: Schlesische Zeitung, Vol. 148, No. 740, Wroclaw (Breslau), 22. October 1889, p. 2
 Voices Phonographed, in: Minneapolis Tribune, Minneapolis, 31 August 1890 TAED SC90063A
 Der Phonograph in Breslau, in:Schlesische Zeitung, Vol. 148, No. 744, Wroclaw (Breslau), 24 October 1889, p. 9
 Der Phonograph, in: Die Presse, Vol. 42, No. 298, Vienna, 29. Oktober 1889, p. 10
 Vienna Sensations op. cit. n. p.
 Der Phonograph bei Sr. Majestät dem Kaiser, in: Die Presse, Vol. 42, No. 304, Vienna, 4 November 1889, p. 1
 Austria-Hungary, in:The Times, Issue 32872, London, 3 December 1889 p. 5
 In the Palaces of Kings, op. cit., p. 17
 Thomas A. Edison to Siemens & Halske & Co., 14 January 1890 TAED LB036042
 Alfred Ord Tate to A. Theo E. Wangemann, 14 January 1890TAED LB036049
 Kölnische Zeitung,No. 27, Cologne, 27 January 1890
Did You Know?
Thomas Edison was not a very good student. When he was 7, he left school after only three months. His mother, however, home schooled him, and he taught himself mostly everything he knew about science and technology.