Three Early Weber Recordings

Most of the ear­ly record­ings that fea­ture the bas­soon did so in a com­i­cal fash­ion. A hand­ful of artists record­ed Quentin Ashlyn’s song “The Bas­soon” in the first decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry, and I have in my col­lec­tion a cou­ple of very strange (at least to mod­ern ears) “laugh­ing records” from the same era that include the bas­soon. In 1911, Carl Borg­wald record­ed Julius Fučík’s clas­sic “Der Alte Brumm­bär” in 1911 (released as “Polka Fan­tas­tique” in the U.S.). And in 1918, Edis­on released two some­what sil­ly piccolo/bassoon duets: “The Ele­phant and The Fly” and “The Nightin­gale and the Frog”, both fea­tur­ing Ben­jam­in Kohon, who would lat­er become prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist of the New York Phil­har­mon­ic. The ear­li­est “seri­ous” bas­soon piece on disc (the ear­li­est that I’ve been able to locate, any­way) was not the Mozart Con­cer­to, as one might guess. Rather, it was Carl Maria von Weber’s Andan­te e Ron­do Ongare­se. In fact, this Roman­tic show­piece was record­ed three sep­a­rate times between 1920 and 1938.

Aside from being his­tor­i­cal curiosi­ties, the­se record­ings give us a glimpse of ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry bas­soon play­ing. And as far as I can tell, none of the­se record­ings have ever been re-released. Below you will find copies of all three, dig­i­tized from discs in my col­lec­tion. I’ve applied a bit of noise reduc­tion and removed the worst of the pops and clicks, but the­se are far from professional-quality trans­fers. I’d rec­om­mend lis­ten­ing to the­se on head­phones or real speak­ers, as they may be a bit dif­fi­cult to hear on lap­top, tablet, or phone speak­ers.

Weber Recordings

The three discs in chrono­log­i­cal order. Click for a larg­er ver­sion.

The first two of the­se were in fact made by the same man: William Gruner, who played bas­soon in the Philadel­phia Orches­tra 1906–1917 and 1929–1951. Gruner was born in Berlin on Jan­u­ary 12, 1883 and arrived in the Unit­ed States aboard the S.S. Deutsch­land in April 1906. He became a U.S. cit­i­zen in 1914, and lived near Philadel­phia until his death in Feb­ru­ary 1971. In the peri­od between his two stints with the Philadel­phia Orches­tra (1917–1929), Gruner worked for the Vic­tor Talk­ing Machine Com­pa­ny, mak­ing numer­ous record­ings with the Vic­tor Orches­tra and numer­ous small­er groups.1

William Gruner

William Gruner, from his 1923
U.S. Pass­port Appli­ca­tion

Gruner and the Vic­tor Orches­tra first record­ed Andan­te e Ron­do Ongare­se in June 1920. They record­ed ten takes over the space of three record­ing ses­sions in Victor’s Cam­den, New Jer­sey stu­dios. The last of the­se, record­ed on June 24th, was issued as “Hun­gar­i­an Fan­tasie” on the B side of Vic­tor 18684, a ten-inch 78rpm disc. The piece was severe­ly cut down to fit this for­mat: it lasts a mere three min­utes and thir­teen sec­onds. (For com­par­ison, com­plete record­ings I have by Milan Turkovic, Nad­i­na Mack­ie Jack­son, and Masahi­to Tanaka clock in at 9:53, 9:02, and 9:20, respec­tive­ly.) After the ini­tial 16 mea­sures of the Andan­te, a two bar orches­tral tran­si­tion launch­es us right into the Ron­do. The Ron­do is a bit more sub­stan­tial, but is miss­ing huge chunks (includ­ing most of that dread­ed last page of 16th-note triplets). The end of the piece has been rewrit­ten, too. Hear it for your­self:

Listen to William Gruner - Andante e Rondo (1920)

When Gruner made this record­ing in 1920, the tech­nol­o­gy involved was quite sim­i­lar to that invent­ed by Thomas Edis­on 43 years ear­lier: the per­form­ers played into a large horn that trans­mit­ted sound waves to a flex­i­ble diaphragm con­nect­ed to a sty­lus that cut the sound direct­ly onto a wax disc. This method pro­duced record­ings with lim­it­ed fre­quen­cy and dynam­ic range and required per­form­ers to crowd around a sin­gle horn to be heard. But in 1925 Vic­tor (and many of their com­peti­tors) adopt­ed a new elec­tri­cal record­ing process that used micro­phones, vac­u­um tube ampli­fiers, and an elec­tro­mag­net­ic record­ing head. This sys­tem allowed for much greater dynam­ic and fre­quen­cy respon­se, and pro­duced a gen­er­al­ly much bet­ter sound­ing record­ing.

Gruner and the Vic­tor Orches­tra returned to the stu­dio on Octo­ber 19, 1926, and record­ed an addi­tion­al five takes of the Weber with the new elec­tri­cal record­ing sys­tem. They used the same pared-down arrange­ment — elec­tri­cal record­ing did noth­ing to mit­i­gate the format’s time con­straints. This new record­ing was released in June 1927 as the B side of Vic­tor 20525, anoth­er ten-inch 78rpm disc. Although Vic­tor didn’t set about re-recording their entire cat­a­log after switch­ing to elec­tri­cal record­ing, this is in instance in which they clear­ly want­ed to re-create an ear­lier disc. The A sides of the two discs are record­ings of Tour­bil­lon (Whirl­wind), a piece for flute and piano by Adolph Krantz, albeit fea­tur­ing dif­fer­ent per­form­ers.2

If you made it all the way through Gruner’s 1920 record­ing, you prob­a­bly don’t need to lis­ten to all of this one. His inter­pre­ta­tion doesn’t change appre­cia­bly, although it is inter­est­ing to hear the dif­fer­ences between the two record­ing process­es.

Listen to William Gruner - Andante e Rondo (1926)
Fernand Oubradous

Fer­nand Oubradous

The French bas­soon­ist Fer­nand Oubradous record­ed Andan­te e Ron­do Ongare­se in Paris in 1938, accom­pa­nied by the Orchestre de la Société des Con­certs du Con­ser­va­toire under the direc­tion of Roger Désormière. Oubradous was born in Paris on Feb­ru­ary 12, 1903. He won his Pre­miere prix from the Paris Con­ser­va­toire in 1923 — after only a sin­gle year of bas­soon study. He played with the Paris Opéra, the Orchestre Lam­oureux, the Orchestre de la Société des Con­certs du Con­ser­va­toire, and the Trio d’Anches de Paris. In addi­tion to Weber’s Andan­te e Ron­do Ongare­se, Oubradous record­ed con­cer­ti by Mozart, Weber, and Bois­mortier and a great deal of cham­ber music. But his first job after grad­u­at­ing from the Con­ser­va­toire was as music direc­tor of the Théâtre de l’Atelier, and he received much acclaim as a con­duc­tor through­out his career. Oubradous died in Paris in Jan­u­ary 1986.3 For more on Oubradous, see the­se two sites (both in French): fernand.oubradous.free.fr and Fer­nand Oubradous — Site de l’association Fou de Bas­son.

Oubradous’s record­ing of the piece is near­ly com­plete, thanks to it being issued on both sides of a twelve-inch 78rpm disc (L’Oiseau-Lyre O.L. 14). This is like­ly attrib­ut­able to the fact that Édi­tions de l’Oiseau-Lyre has always had a more spe­cial­ist and schol­ar­ly focus than more mass-market com­pa­nies like Vic­tor. Side A is the Andan­te, which is just over four min­utes long. The Ron­do (on side B) is slight­ly longer at four min­utes and six­teen sec­onds. The Ron­do had to be cut down a bit to fit; forty-two mea­sures have been excised. This is most­ly most­ly repeat­ed themes and sec­tions of orches­tral inter­ludes, but the entire last state­ment of the ron­do the­me has been removed as well. There’s one oth­er inter­est­ing change: the four mea­sures of quarter-note trills in the mid­dle of the last flashy sec­tion have been tak­en out of the solo part and given to one of the orches­tral bas­soon­ists!

Listen to Fernand Oubradous - Andante et Rondo Hongrois (1938)

It’s clear that record­ing tech­nol­o­gy and disc man­u­fac­ture had improved quite a bit in the 12 years since Gruner’s sec­ond record­ing. The bas­soon is clear­er and more present (the fact that he was play­ing a French bas­soon helps, too), and the orchestra’s sound has far more depth and def­i­n­i­tion. Frankly, the qual­i­ty of the bas­soon play­ing is much high­er, as well. Although this par­tic­u­lar record­ing hasn’t been rere­leased, you can occa­sion­al­ly find Oubradous’s Mozart Con­cer­to on CD on Ama­zon, or as mp3s here.


  1. John Ardoin, The Philadel­phia Orches­tra: A Cen­tu­ry of Music (Philadel­phia: Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999); William Gruner, Peti­tion for Nat­u­ral­iza­tion, March 20, 1913, Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Peti­tions for the East­ern Dis­trict of Penn­syl­va­nia, 1795–1930 (Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: Nation­al Archives and Records Admin­is­tra­tion, micro­film series M1522, roll 93), 335; William Gruner, 165–03-6373, Social Secu­ri­ty Death Index, 1935-Current (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Oper­a­tions Inc, 2011); William Gruner, Draft Reg­is­tra­tion Card, Sep­tem­ber 12, 1918, World War I Selec­tive Ser­vice Sys­tem Draft Reg­is­tra­tion Cards, 1917–1918, (Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: Nation­al Archives and Records Admin­is­tra­tion, micro­film series M1509, roll PA83), 278. 

  2. The ear­lier disc (Vic­tor 18684) fea­tures flutist Arthur Brooke of the Boston Sym­pho­ny, while the per­for­mance on the lat­er disc (Vic­tor 20525) is by Clement Barone, a mem­ber of the Vic­tor Orches­tra and for­mer­ly prin­ci­pal flutist of the Philadel­phia Orches­tra. 

  3. Jean-Pierre Seguin, “Fer­nand Oubradous: A Half-Century of Wood­wind His­to­ry,” trans. Philip Got­tling, The Jour­nal of the
    Inter­na­tion­al Dou­ble Reed Soci­ety
    , no. 14 (1986),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/Journal/JNL14/JNL14.Seg.html

  • Vincent Ellin

    August 5th, 2013

    Reply

    Inter­est­ing post.…I’ve want­ed to get a dig­i­tal copy of the Eli Car­men recording.….it was done some time lat­ter, and it would make an inter­est­ing com­par­ison too. By the way I’m a “blog­ging” bas­soon­ist too…excellent post.

    • David A. Wells

      August 5th, 2013

      Reply

      Thanks, Vin­cent. After a com­ment by Har­ry Sear­ing on Face­book, I found the Car­men record­ing on YouTube: 

      . Haven’t had a chance to real­ly sit down and lis­ten in a focused way yet, but will do so lat­er. It’s just the Ron­do, though!

      Thanks also for the link to your site. I’ve added you to my links to the right and to my per­son­al read­ing list, as well.

  • Volodymyr Runchak

    August 24th, 2013

    Reply

    Dear Mr. Wells,

    My name is Volodymyr Run­chak.
    I am a Ukraini­an com­poser, con­duc­tor and the artis­tic direc­tor of the cham­ber ensem­ble, New Music in Ukraine. 

    I would very much like the oppor­tu­ni­ty of cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion with you.
    I have writ­ten piece for bas­soon *, which I would like to offer for your con­sid­er­a­tion for per­for­mance.

    If you would like to have my score and CD, please let me know where to mail them.
    I thank you for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to send you this let­ter, and I look for­ward to your answer. 

    Respect­ful­ly,
    Volodymyr Run­chak

    Dra­homanova st. 22, apt. 163,
    02068, Kyiv, Ukraine
    tel: +38 044 5704135
    fax: +38 044 2342260
    e-mail: v_runchak@voliacable.com

    *
    The Bassoonist’s note­book (2 pieces for bas­soon solo, 3 pieces for bas­soon and piano)
    Homo ludens XI or sev­er­al com­pe­ti­tion SMS for bas­soon­ist and mem­bers of the jury

  • Christopher Weait

    May 1st, 2015

    Reply

    I bought the fine Heck­el bas­soon #6131 played on the lat­er record­ing from Mr. Gruner in 1968. I played it pro­fes­sion­al­ly and even­tu­al­ly sold it.

    • David A. Wells

      May 1st, 2015

      Reply

      Inter­est­ing! Now you’ve got me think­ing about trac­ing the bas­soons that were played on var­i­ous record­ings…

  • Elly Moses

    July 20th, 2015

    Reply

    I’ve just read your arti­cle on William Gruner and his bas­soon recording(s) for Vic­tor. Mr. Gruner was my grand­fa­ther. I have been gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion for a scrap­book re my grand­par­ents, so this was delight­ful to read. I also just lis­tened to his record­ing on anoth­er web­site. I see your com­ment from Mr. Weait — I have a signed pho­to of him that was in my grandfather’s pos­ses­sion. Small world!

    • David A. Wells

      August 26th, 2015

      Reply

      Wow, small world indeed! I’m glad you found my post, par­tic­u­lar­ly as you’re in the process of mak­ing a scrap­book about your grand­par­ents.

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