David Herkt’s blog post in his Notes and Queries blog linked YouTube sound and video clips, two of which I had never heard before. Herkt was also seeking to demonstrate the potential of conceptual links between disparate media elements by browsing.
Having introduced the recording of the nightingale and bombers overflying Beatrice Harrison’s garden in 1942, (see Significant Sounds – 1) Herkt made the conceptual link to an RAF officer who commanded a bomber base in England. This officer took some 16mm colour film footage of the station, and the Lancasters based there going off to war. This footage was released on video in the UK in the early 1980s as the documentary Night Bombers. I remember checking out the VHS cassette repeatedly to patrons from the new video collection in the public library at which I worked in 1982.
The final logical step in Herkt’s linear narrative was made with the clip below – a recording of the allegro of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major Op. 73 (the Emperor Concerto), which was made in Berlin in 1944 while an Allied air raid was taking place. The soloist in this recording is Walter Wilhelm Gieseking (1895 – 1956) and the Berlin Radio orchestra is conducted by Artur Martin Rother (1885 – 1972) – the recording was made for the Reichs Rundfunk Gesellschaft (RRG) the state radio network of the Reich, at the Radio Concert Hall (I presume that’s what HdR stands for) in Berlin.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I listened to this recording, certainly something much more scratchy and indistinct. I had no idea that German research into the technology of magnetic tapes made high quality recordings possible several years before anything similar would be available in the UK or USA. It is also fairly staggering to realize that musicians and recording engineers were even available, much less attempting, to make recordings at the the end of 1944, while the Allied air forces bombed the Third Reich round the clock, and the Allied armies advanced steadily from the East and West. That an orchestra, soloist and a recording session should come together in Berlin at the end of 1944 and produce results such as this, is remarkable.
During the quiet passages, at approximately the 2 minute 30 – and 5 minute 40 second marks in the recording, the sound of gunfire, presumably part of the Berlin Anti-Aircraft battery, is clearly audible. This recording is a significant document, and my thanks to David Herkt for making me aware of it.