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Sound archives

"Records" and phonographic publishing

The Audiovisual Department holds a collection of around one million sound recordings dating back to the origins of recording (1877). One of the world’s leading collections, it can be consulted in the Research library.

A product of phonographic publishing, the “record” (the term currently used for all recording media) represents the majority of this collection. In addition to materials obtained under the legal deposit scheme, donations and acquisitions represent a significant proportion of the collection. 

The legal deposit scheme, introduced in 1938, covers all musical output as well as spoken material and recordings of natural sounds, sound effects, etc., that are distributed in France, whether or not produced in France. 

This output is representative of every editorial genre, period, and medium related to phonographic publishing: cylinders, mechanical piano rolls, 78 rpm records, LPs, audio cassettes, compact discs, digital files, etc.

One of the world’s most extensive collections of record label catalogs, cataloging the commercial references of sound recordings published by record companies such as Pathé, Columbia, Gramophone, etc., and dating back to the early 20th century, provides an essential tool for identifying record details.

This collection constitutes both a memory and a unique reflection of phonographic publishing: it can be used as a source for the history of editorial policy, the history of techniques, the history of tastes and the welcome given to recordings, etc. All these histories are just waiting to be written... Examples are recordings of political speeches by the “Piatiletka” and “La voix des nôtres” labels, which were closely associated with left-wing parties in the 1930s, and female writers whose works were recorded by Editions des Femmes in the 1980s.

In particular, in the area of music, special collections arising from donations and acquisitions are of relevance to research in specific fields: the Charles Delaunay collection for jazz; the Ferrant collection; the Godovitch, Dumazert, and Ruiz-Pipo collections for classical music and opera; the Motskine collection for the restoration of Baroque music between the 1960s and the 1980s; and a donation by the Brazilian embassy illustrating the diversity of repertoires from not only Brazil but the whole of South America. French song is amply represented in the Caron collection. Some donations cover the personal record libraries of composers and performers such as Reynaldo Hahn, Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, Nadia Boulanger, etc.

Les Urnes de l'Opéra

If there is one collection that is both unexpected and exceptional, it would have to be the “Les Urnes de l’Opéra” collection. Buried in the basement of the Opéra Garnier in 1907 and then in 1912, at the initiative of the French branch of Gramophone and in the presence of representatives from the Ministry of Education (Ministère de l’Instruction Publique), forty-eight 78 rpm discs and a gramophone were hermetically sealed inside five lead urns. These urns were intended to be opened a century later. They were entrusted to the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1989 and opened in 2008. They include recordings of great lyrical voices from the period: Tamagno, Caruso, Emma Calvé, etc.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Where to consult the documents ?

Audiovisual department

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