My friends Stephen Hough and Robert White have been mentioned (favorably, of course) here before, more than once. Now they are together in an interesting and typically insightful post on Stephen’s London Telegraph blog. (And I note that he is now Americanized enough to call the wireless a radio!)

UPDATE: Hear Stephen in a fascinating, if short, BBC feature on mathematics and music.

Robert White sent this to Stephen Hough, who immediately put it up on his Telegraph blog; then he kindly retailed it to me, and I post it for the refreshment of readers here. I am also told:

A fine young soprano who lives in Moscow just wrote me back saying that she’s heard that the young singer is driving a taxi these days!

(This is not technically music for this time of year, since it deals with the appearance of Gabriel to the Virgin nine months earlier — the Annunciation, which is March 25 in the Western calendar. But it is in every sense fitting preparation for Christmas.)


So pronounced has been the response (in clicks and private e-mails; my readers seem to be shy about public comments) to the wax-cylinder recording of Robert White, that I thought I should correct any possible misimpression that his father’s repertory is the whole of his work as a performer — or even necessarily central to it.

How’s this for variety?

Hayden Wood: “A Brown Bird Singing,” with Stephen Hough, pianist

G.F. Handel: “While Kedron’s Brook,” with Ivor Bolton and the London Baroque Soloists

Irving Berlin: “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” with Dick Hyman, piano

Irving Berlin: “Cheek to Cheek,” with Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano and Dick Hyman, piano

Francis Poulenc: “Fancy,” with Samuel Sanders, piano

And, just to show why he was a child star, here he is with Fred Allen and Shirley Booth on live radio, in 1948:
Thomas P. Westendorf: “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen”

Not that he ever leaves behind his basic vocal orientation. After all, John McCormick had already sufficiently demonstrated the usefulness and versatility of the Irish-tenor approach to performance. And the possible variety is certainly manifest in this small sampling of Robert White’s vast discography. Not represented here is, for example, his work with the pioneering Noah Greenberg in medieval drama, or his recent recordings with Joan Morris and William Bolcom.

Old Medium, New Message

October 27, 2009


The enormous discography of the tenor Robert White has gone out into the world (starting when he was the child star Little Bobby White) in 78 rpm, 45 rpm, LP 33 1/3 rpm, cassette, CD, and mp3. Last month, the singer had the extraordinary opportunity to record on the wax of a 1909 Edison cylinder recorder. In that early process, the sound is captured, with no electricity at all, by purely mechanical means. The recorder’s motor is powered by a wind-up spring mechanism, just as when Mr. White’s father, who preceded him in radio and recording stardom as “The Silver-Masked Tenor,” made his first recordings in 1915. Even though the electrical microphone changed the process of sound recording quite drastically in 1924, this audio file makes it clear that the old method was remarkably effective, too:

Since George W. Meyer’s song “Brown Eyes, Why Are You Blue?” was written just as electrical recording was being introduced, this may be its first outing on wax. The new performance was recorded with Vince Giordano and his orchestra (“The Night Hawks”) before a live audience direct to the cylinder. The engineer, Peter Dilg of the Baldwin Antique Center, is a specialist in historic recording devices. Thus, in Robert White (whose birthday is today), the Juilliard faculty now can boast an Amberol Cylinder Recording Artist.

%d bloggers like this: