Sound Fountain

 
 

Pseudonymous Performers on Early LP Records ~


Introduction

The author wants to present the results of his research in the field of pseudonymously published recordings on various labels of the "Record Corporation of America". This overview is a combined version of two articles written for the ARSC Journal. Both original articles can be accessed directly. David Diehl kindly made them a part of his own Blue Pages project. The link to the 'Blue Pages' and the links to the author's original articles can be found at the bottom of this page. The introduction presents a couple of facts concerning the nature of this company's business and sources and informs about some methodical proceedings of the research. The main part is a catalogue of identified performances, followed by a list of items of probable identification still open to discussion.

 

When the author had his original article published in the ARSC Journal, in which he attempted to shed light on the intriguing matter of pseudonymous performers on early American LP records, he met with considerable response from fellow-collectors, who shared with him information and views, supplying additional material and support. After four more years of collecting and evaluating recordings of this kind the author would like to present the results in the form of an updated list of identified performances, nearly all issued under fake names by the Record Corporation of America ("RCA") on their labels Royale, Gramophone, Varsity, Allegro/Elite, Halo and Concertone. Each of the identified items is listed in detail and with additional comments where necessary. Research in the last few years has brought to light more facts and this has also resulted in the need to correct some information published in the earlier article. Some basic facets of this business were described in the aforementioned and additional information on this topic forms the first part of this update.


Remarks on the Business

The "LP era" started with Columbia's first records of this kind, and a market for classical and other recordings in the new format was soon realised. Apart from the large and financially powerful companies, there were smaller ones which aimed to supply the music-loving public with affordable long play records generally not sold in established record stores. These companies often employed a less careful method of production, resulting in poorish technical quality in most of the cases. Hence, their reputation was never great enough to arouse the interest of serious music reviewers and their musical value largely went unnoticed. Judging from the variety and volume of their catalogue, "RCA" apparently was one of the major players in this segment of the record business, issuing material of general interest but doubtful origin.

It seems that from the beginning speculation about the source of these recordings circulated. It was an episode in 1954, when an LP set with Wagner's complete Ring was published on the Allegro/Elite label (3125-3143), naming an altogether unknown cast, that attention was focused on these recordings. In April of that year, it became known that this 19-record-set had been pressed from amateur tapes of a live performance in Bayreuth in 1953 and broadcast in Germany that year. One of the singers, Regina Resnik, sued the owner of "Record Corporation of America", Eli Oberstein ("Obie"), for having unlawfully used tapes on which her voice was clearly to be heard. Other singers' voices from that Bayreuth performance, such as Ramon Vinay, Hans Hotter, et al., could also be identified. The set was immediately withdrawn from the market.

In defending himself against the reproach of having consciously used unlicensed material, Oberstein disclosed an unidentified "Berlin source" from which material worth over $700,000(!!) had been purchased during the preceeding three years. None of this had ever been disputed, it was asserted. This seems to be the only time a source has been mentioned publicly. Research proves the information to be correct as far as the location is concerned. But it was not the complete truth. Oberstein also had other "sources" of a great variety at his disposal. With few exceptions, however, they had one thing in common: they were gathered in Germany and had been able to supply "RCA" with recordings made originally by commercial companies, or by German Radio during the war and in post-war times. A few times it also occured that Oberstein's "source" had supplied him with what was a broadcast of, or probably even a dub from, regular commercial recordings by major recording companies - the English Decca and the Deutsche Grammophon, in these instances.


The Role of Rosen

In this respect, the dealings of the American record company Mercury are of interest. Early in 1950 this company signed a contract with Herbert Rosen who was the American representative of the Bayerischer Werbefunk, the commercial branch of post-war Bavarian Radio in Munich. Rosen offered material for issue on LPs, recorded by this radio station during the preceeding five years. Collectors of early Mercury discs of the MG 10000 etc., series will know that a lot of records in the classical repertoire were issued by that company, in most cases offering performances under conductors with only limited exposure to the American public.

David Hall recalls that Mercury received tapes from Rosen, which were on German hubs and had to be transferred to American hubs before the mastering could be started. From this he concludes that, indeed, the original German tapes or first generation copies had been in Rosen's hands. This is of interest insofar as these tapes were returned to Rosen, but probably never found their way back into the archives of Bavarian Radio - with one exception: the complete recording of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman under Clemens Krauss.

The entire stock of licensed material contained wartime as well as post-war recordings, the whereabouts of which remain an unsolved mystery. What makes this official deal so interesting vis-a-vis Oberstein's business, is the fact that parts of these Bavarian recordings had been used for various of his own pseudonymous issues. The question whether Rosen may have offered these tapes to Oberstein for a second, "secret" issue, must remain open. An illegal use of dubs from some Mercury pressings of Oberstein's records may also have been a possibility. But then, it is also a fact that on some of his records he did not use the Bavarian material, although it would easily have been at hand, either as an original tape from Rosen or as a release on Mercury. Two such examples are Mozart's "Little Night Music" (Royale 1275) and Wagner's "Siegfried-Idyll" (Royale 1362). However strange these proceedings may have been, it is clear that Oberstein was drawing on more sources than he had admitted to in the 1954 lawsuit, at a time when already more than 250 Royale discs had been issued, not to mention the many Varsity and Gramophone releases.

Three more of his "sources" were recordings of the German broadcast companies of NWDR Cologne, SWF BadenBaden and NWDR Hamburg, material which was issued on the later Allegro/Elite series, deriving from airchecks with all probability. A fourth source was Soviet Russian 78s or LPs. Some part of the material supplied by the "Berlin source" apparently came from the archives of East German Radio, a station which also held a lot of German war-time tape recordings, apart from their own productions made after the war years. Finally, every now and then dubs were used from old German Telefunken shellacs. It was during Oberstein's earlier venture as the "U.S.Record Corporation" that he could also rely on Telefunken matrices obtained through Czechoslovakia (Ultraphon). A couple of these recordings had been released ca. 1938/39 on Royale's 78 format with the correct names of orchestras and conductors, but even during these times records existed which named the infamous "National Opera Orchestra" under Leo Blech, when in fact the Berlin Philharmonic was playing. It is unknown to the author what events or reasons may have caused the suppressing of the original orchestra's name while leaving the real conductor's name unchanged. Political considerations, though, may be taken into account.


The Author's Method

A few words about the author's method of evaluation and identification may be appropriate:

1) The author justifiably can rely on the names of conductors and soloists from material released by the Mercury and Urania companies, as well as on the fact that these persons and orchestras actually performed the works issued under their names. These persons were or still are well-known in Germany. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, material by them existed in the archives of Bavarian Radio and/or still exists to a certain extent in the archives of the former East German Radio. In addition, there is sufficient documentation on not so well-known musicians of those years at hand in radio journals from that time, as well as in music dictionaries. This applies also to the material from other German radio sources.

2) Every possible effort has been made to obtain surviving original recordings, commercial and from radio productions, to which the pseudonymous issues have been compared in detail. There are, however, items of which the original tapes apparently no longer exist. The identification of such items cannot therefore be considered as 100% accurate. However, sufficient evidence will be offered as to their probable identity through what was traced as an at-one-time existing recording or performance, and/or through certain characteristic features of the recording. Items of this kind are listed in a separate paragraph following the list of identified recordings.

3) The corrections to the author's earlier article and possible additional information, are integrated in this revised form of both articles. Both lists of identified performances from both articles have been combined here, expanded by recent finds.

4) On a technical note, the proof of the complete identity of a pseudonymous performance to any extant and reliably identified original recording has been worked out according to the following: the pseudonymous release has been dubbed on a cassette; the original recording, likely to be identical to the pseudonymous one, has been put on a turntable or played from another tape recorder; sound from the turntable or tape recorder is heard from the loudspeakers; sound from the tape deck with the pseudonymous performance (equipped with a variable pitch control) is heard from one side of the earphones. Starting both recordings at the same time, it is possible to begin with the comparison and to adjust a possible pitch difference. With this method it can be determined whether both recordings are identical or not. In the author's opinion there is no other way of comparing or evaluating two recordings reliably. With any other method one will be too easily exposed to errors.

Endnotes

1. "Pseudonymous Performers on Early LP Records: Rumours, Facts & Finds" published in the ARSC Journal, 1990;21(2):226-231. This article and the follow-up have been added to David Hall's 'Blue Pages' and can be accessed there -- see links at the bottom of this page!.
The author wishes to state that at the time of writing of his first article he was not aware of a piece written by the late John Swan and published in the ARSC Journal, 1983;15(2/3):19-25. Mr Swan reviews John Holmes's book 'Conductors on Record', also dealing with the matter of pseudonymous publications and the problem of fake names and he arrives in parts at the same conclusions as this writer. back to text


2. For a detailed account of the unveiling of the source and the lawsuit see The American Record Guide 1954;20(9):279-280, The Billboard (April 3, 1954), The Billboard (April 24, 1954, p. 30), and Musical Courier (April 15, 1954). Edward Cushing, in a masterly conceived piece of detective work under the title of "The 'Ring' Stolen Again", additionally presents the complete cast of that particular Bayreuth performance in Saturday Review of April 10, 1954, p. 42. back to text


3. It is most probable that there was no direct contact between Oberstein and the original producers and owners of the recordings, but only with certain individuals who worked for him on a 'private basis'. This does not rule out that some of these people were employed at German radio stations at the same time. In this respect it is of interest to know that a tone engineer and his wife, both employed at NDR Hamburg after the war, were convicted in the early sixties for having sold NDR Hamburg material illegally to someone in the U.S. Both underwent a severe trial, were given jail sentences and lost their jobs forever. It has not been possible for the author to find out whether they had been one of Oberstein's contacts at any time. William J. Collins has reported interesting facts about Edward ('Ed') J. Smith's activities for 'RCA' (see his letter to the editor in ARSC Journal 1991;22[2]:264-265). back to text


4. See The Billboard, February 13, 1950, page 16. Interesting is that this article makes mention of recordings with Walter Gieseking, Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic as forming part of the Bavarian material. If this was really the case, then Mercury apparently refrained from using these recordings. It may well be that these recordings were precisely those which later caused Urania to be charged with a lawsuit from Gieseking and Furtwängler, though on all accounts Urania acquired their tapes from the archives of Radio East Berlin. However, David Hall, in a letter to the author of April 18, 1995, reports that Rosen and his Bavarian source did not offer any Furtwängler or Gieseking material. back to text


5. Letter to the author, August 11, 1994. back to text


6. The author is not certain if the tapes in question were returned to Munich, as there is no reliable proof of "original" or "first generation copies" being offered by Rosen. But it is a fact that, except for the Flying Dutchman, none of those tapes issued on Mercury are still extant in the Bavarian archives. This fact is also documented with regard to the Bavarian Radio war-time recordings of Hans Rosbaud, in Dr. Joan Evans's Hans Rosbaud, A Bio-Bibliography, (Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 1992). Christof Ihn of Bavarian Radio recalls being told that when the station was given back to the German administration at the beginning of the Fifties, the archives made a rather "cleaned up" impression. back to text


7. Judging from certain Vox/Polydor LP releases from the early Fifties it is likely that Rosen may have also dealt with that company, which issued a couple of items clearly coming from Bavarian Radio recordings, one of the better-known items being the January 1945 radio studio performance of Schumann's Konzertstück op.92 with Eduard Erdmann at the piano, the conductor being named erroneously (?) as Gustav Görlich (an existing conductor) on Vox/Polydor PL 1700. In fact the real conductor was Hans Rosbaud. The original tape is still in the Bavarian Radio archives. Three other Rosbaud war-time recordings, issued also on Vox/Polydor, are not (cf. Dr. Evans' book on Rosbaud). back to text


8. Raymond R. Wile supplied the author with this information in a letter of June 26, 1990. back to text


9. Two such examples, from the author's collection, can be mentioned here: Royale 514 with Weber's Invitation to the Waltz, correctly identified as being played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Erich Kleiber with the correct Telefunken matrix numbers given on the labels (17033/17034), but crossed out on the record itself, and Royale 550 with two short works by Bizet and Smetana, played by the "National Opera Orchestra", conducted by Leo Blech, played by the BPO according to the Telefunken catalogue ( have a look at these two original Royale labels). Here again the old Telefunken matrix numbers are printed on the label, but strangely enough these numbers (18302/18304) appear also on the record as hand-written figures, contrary to the usual stamped ones of Telefunken. The writer even produced one wrong number by turning 18302 into 18032. Both items, recorded about 1931, were released by Telefunken under the numbers E 988 and E 1055. back to text

End of Introduction.

Ernst Lumpe: SERGIO FIORENTINO

Contact: elumpe@gmx.de

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