Despite the descriptive
title, I did not really know what to
expect when I started to read this book.
In fact I found it to be one of the
most fascinating books I had come across
for a long time. The gramophone record
was born in 1898 at about the same time
as the US went to war over Cuba. For
the first time records were used for
morale-boosting patriotic purposes to
This book however is
much more than a description of such
a use of recording. It provides a detailed
and scholarly history of recording in
the first half of the last century in
the context of the wars that disfigured
this time and of the dictators (and
their musical tastes) and their effects
on recorded music – both popular and
classical. It also outlines the technical
development of recordings, and the commercial
history of the record companies in most
of the major countries. This is an astonishingly
wide brief and the amount of research
that must have been carried out is mind-boggling.
One fascinating characteristic
of the book is the recital of strange
facts. For example, The Daily Mail persuaded
Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Sullivan
to collaborate in producing a piece
called The Absent-Minded Beggar
in aid of dependents of soldiers fighting
in the Boer war. This, when recorded,
was the first recording over two sides.
At one time during World War II, the
shortage of shellac was such that when
a record was bought you had to trade
in two discs for re-cycling! The strange
history of the infamous Horst-Wessel
song is provided. The music is actually
derived from music from Méhul’s
opera Josef; an English version
of the song was recorded by Decca for
use by Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
was illustrated by a description of
an exhibition of ‘degenerate art’ that
included recordings of music by Mendelssohn
(Jewish) and atonal composers, not to
mention jazz. By contrast, Mussolini’s
musical tastes were comparatively civilised.
The description of the progress of the
various wars is illuminating but concise.
The author’s own experiences in post-war
Germany were very interesting.
The book is well written
and has good illustrations; it is strongly