Historical woodwind recordings on the National Jukebox

Photo, alexruthmann

The United States Library of Congress’s National Jukebox project makes American recordings from the days before microphones available for streaming online. This is a fantastic resource for recordings—classical, jazz, and more—from the turn of the 20th century until the mid-1920’s.

These recordings are not in the public domain, like you might think; Sony, the owner of the recordings, has given the Library of Congress special permission to stream them.

Naturally, I’ve been searching the National Jukebox for woodwind players, and here are a few of my favorite discoveries. Some of the gems include oddities like the Heckelphone and bass saxophone, and there are a few woodwind doublers in there, too. Take note of how woodwind playing, like recording technology, has changed over the past century!

To kick things off, here’s a nice tour of the woodwind section of the Victor Orchestra in 1912:




A bassoonist


2 thoughts on “Historical woodwind recordings on the National Jukebox”

  1. Absolutely tell me if I’m wrong here, but…

    I listened a few of the William Gruner bassoon tracks and couldn’t help but think that that would not pass for artist-level playing today.

    I’m familiar with the fidelity limitations of old recordings and understand that he would not have had the opportunity to do many “takes” as one might today, but just on a “style” level the performance seems painfully dry and inexpressive.

    Is there an obvious mitigating factor I’m missing?

    • You may be correct. Styles, tastes, and standards do change over time.

      In any case, the collection of recordings does not appear to be curated with respect to performance quality—rather, it is a collection based on historical interest. The differences between these performances and modern ones (positive, negative, or neutral) are part of what makes these recordings so interesting to me. 


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