In a recent post, I wrote about a favourite novel, The Sixth Heaven, by L P Hartley, and, in particular, to a reference therein to a recording of Bach’s magnificent Concerto for two violins. In the book, set shortly after the First World War, the central character, Eustace, and his friend Stephen, listen to a gramophone record of the Bach Double. I wondered (as I have since first reading the novel many years ago) whether a recording of the concerto had in fact been made prior to 1919, or whether Hartley was using licence in having his characters play that piece on the gramophone.
Thanks to the estimable JDB over at the Augenblick blog, I now have the answer. There indeed was a recording of the Bach Double available at the time, and it can be heard on the US Library of Congress National Jukebox.
The record was made on 1 April 1915 (and it’s no joke). All three movements are available, but here is just the celebrated slow movement.
[Added 1 July: The above line appears to be broken, perhaps only temporarily. There is an alternative link given in the comments below.]
The performers are Fritz Kreisler and Efrem Zimbalist. It is an exquisite performance. The style will seem old-fashioned to modern ears, but I love the use of portamenti (and the way that it is used to provide a rich variety in the phasing) and its unashamed emotional directness is overwhelming.
It is possible that more than one version of the work was available on record back in 1919, but I no longer feel the need to speculate. Kreisler and Zimbalist were, I feel certain, the performers that Eustace and Stephen listened to in that room in Oxford, on the High, a hundred years ago.