Early Recordings and Technologies

Panel: Early Recordings and Technologies

Thursday, May 16, 2019, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

University of Oregon, Collier House

All Musicking events are free and open to the public. All events are subject to change


Give Me That Old-Time​​ Cantus Firmus: Vocal Counterpoint in Early Recordings of the Carter Family
Brent Lawrence, University of Oregon

The Carter Family is remembered as a common progenitor for many country and folk artists. This is due, in no small part, to their signature style of vocal harmonization which relies heavily on building harmonic content around a​cantus firmus or lead vocal line. I will examine two songs from the Carters’ discography, specifically from their earliest recording sessions which took place on August 1st and 2nd, 1927. These recordings are demonstrative of the group’s aesthetic, which was carried through the 20th century and most certainly their early period from 1927 to 1938. The repertoire recorded includes material for solo voice, duets, and three-part harmony. This analysis aims to parse out hallmarks of the Carters’ contrapuntal style, and further, consider how a given harmony part interacts with the​cantus firmus. In addition to recordings, I will reference the​ Sacred Harp (White, B.F., 1860,1921), a primary source, which is a choir treatise and tunebook the Carters would have been familiar with. Scholars have connected this book not only to bluegrass, country, and folk music, but to medieval European organum, as well (McKenzie, W., 1989; Seeger, C., 1940; Tallmadge, W.H., 1984). I will reference these secondary sources and make additional comparisons to mainline contrapuntal technique. To date, there is not much theoretical research on the music of the Carter Family, only some rhythmic analysis. I hope that this project will begin to fill this gap and serve as a foundation for further research on the Carters and more recent artists.

Brent Lawrence is a composer and music academic native to Salem, Virginia. As a composer, he is often inspired by nature and is member of the Landscape Music Composers Network. Also an advocate for folk and roots music, Brent enjoys incorporating these passions into his research and analysis. Other academic interests include pentatonic background structures and harmonic dualism in Blues. He is hard at work on a Ph.D. at the University of Oregon.


Reconstructing zarzuela performance practices ca. 1900: a look at the early recordings

Eva Moreda Rodríguez, University of Glasgow

Zarzuela, the Spanish-language light musical theatre genre, was at the peak of its popularity when commercial phonograph recordings arrived in Spain in 1896; it is therefore not surprising that the Spanish early recording industry – composed of a multiplicity of small, independent labels called gabinetes fonográficos – recorded the genre extensively. About 250 of those cylinders have survived to our days, with more than 100 of those having been digitized. In this paper, I discuss the significance that these early recordings might hold to encourage and shape research of historical performance practices in zarzuela, which have hardly received any scholarly attention so far, with the exception of Regidor Arribas (1991) and Casares (2008). Consideration of the broader cultural context (technological, economic, cultural, artistic, aesthetic) and how it shapes both performance practices and the documents of it is central in my paper: indeed, I will briefly discuss both the theatrical culture of zarzuela ca. 1900 and the commercial and discursive practices of the gabinetes fonográficos, and then consider how this can inform our interpretation of specific recordings, as well as the broader conclusions we might draw about zarzuela performance practice.

Eva Moreda Rodríguez is Lecturer in Music at the University of Glasgow and the author of Music and exile in Francoist Spain (Ashgate, 2015) and Music criticism and music critics in early Francoist Spain (Oxford University Press, 2016), as well as numerous articles and book chapters on the political and cultural history of Spanish music during the 20th century. In 2018 she held an AHRC Leadership Fellowship, researching the early history of recorded music in Spain.


“Squeaking Pipes” and “Childish Sounds?” Mozart’s works for automatic pipe organs and their performance practice today

Natascha Reich, University of Oregon

Mozart’s KV608, KV616 and KV594 pose difficulties for modern-day organists who aim for historically informed performances. These works were written for “mechanical”, thus self-playing instruments, which limits the relevance and usefulness of performance instructions from eighteenth-century treatises and other written sources. Scholars so far have not paid much attention to these pieces, and those who have, encountered difficulties: the original instruments do not exist anymore, and Mozart seems to have had ambiguous feelings towards the “squeaking” and “childish” sound of “clock-organs.”  In this paper, I approach the subject matter from both a performer’s and an organologist’s point of view. By consulting eighteenth-century instructions for automatic organ building and looking at still existing instruments from the same time period, I will reconstruct the mechanical properties of the instruments for which Mozart composed KV608, KV616 and KV594. Contemporary eye-/ear-witness accounts and knowledge about Mozart’s relationship with pipe organs in general provide the necessary contextual framework for adapting the gained technical insights to modern-day non-mechanical performances. My paper will show that what I call “historically informed organology” can be a useful tool in the investigation of music for self-playing instruments. In the case of Mozart’s KV608, KV616 and KV594, it will reveal a much less “mechanical” performance practice than modern performers (and audiences) might expect.

Natascha Reich studied organ and harpsichord in Austria and in the Netherlands, and graduated in 2006 with an M.A. from the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria. Since 1999, Natascha has given solo performances in most parts of Europe, in Asia, and in the Americas. Natascha’s fields of interest are historical performance practice, ethnomusicology, and the intersection of science and music. She is currently enrolled in the University of Oregon’s PhD program for musicology, focusing her research on historical pipe organs in Peru. For more information see: www.nataschareich.com.


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