Sound of Music

Sound check! On August 14, 1888, George Gouraud introduced the phonograph to the London press by playing Arthur Sullivan’s The Lost Chord, one of the first recordings of music ever made.

The Lost Chord is actually a fairly tragic piece of music—it was composed in 1877 at the bedside of Sullivan’s brother Fred, as Fred was dying of liver cancer and tuberculosis. The piece was finished just five days before Fred’s death and was immediately successful. Even Sullivan was pleased by it, saying that while he had “composed much music since then, [he had] never written a second Lost Chord.”

In 1888, Thomas Edison sent his “perfected” phonograph to Gouraud, who played a piano and cornet recording of The Lost Chord for the press. After the press conference, he introduced the phonograph to members of the social elite by carting it around to parties. On October 5, Sullivan heard the recording and recorded a little speech to Edison:

I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.

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