Classical music has been enjoyed by audiences for centuries, but the ability to record and preserve these performances is a relatively recent development. The first known recording of classical music was made on a wax cylinder, capturing a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt.
In 1888, Emile Berliner developed the flat disc record, which quickly replaced the wax cylinder as the standard recording format. However, a decade earlier in 1878, Thomas Edison had invented the phonograph, which used a rotating cylinder covered in a thin layer of wax to record sound.
It was on this type of phonograph that the first known recording of classical music was made. The performance was of Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt, which was recorded by a group of singers led by Frederick Bridge, the organist of Westminster Abbey.
The recording took place on October 1st, 1888, at the Crystal Palace in London. The wax cylinder used to record the performance was approximately four inches in diameter and seven inches in length. The recording was made by two of Edison’s assistants, George Gouraud and William E. Gilmore, using a hand-cranked phonograph.
The recording of Israel in Egypt on wax cylinder is a remarkable artifact of classical music history. Although the quality of the recording is poor by modern standards, it provides a rare glimpse into what performances of Handel’s music sounded like in the late 19th century.
It is also worth noting that the recording of Israel in Egypt was made at a time when the music of Handel was not as widely appreciated as it is today. In fact, the performance itself was part of an effort to revive interest in Handel’s music, which had fallen out of fashion in the Victorian era.
Despite the significance of the recording, it was largely forgotten for many years. It was not until the 1950s that a copy of the wax cylinder was discovered in the archives of the Royal Philharmonic Society. The recording was subsequently transferred to a vinyl record and released commercially.