EMI CLASSICS COMPANY HISTORY
In the USA, Edison first recorded sound in 1877 on a cylinder with a machine called the phonograph, and in 1887 Emile Berliner patented a method of recording sound on a flat disc playable on a machine he called the gramophone. In 1897, Berliner sent a representative to London to start selling his machines and records, and this was the birth of The Gramophone Company. In the same year, a company called Columbia, exploiting cylinders using Edison’s invention, also started trading in Europe.
In 1899 The Gramophone Company bought a painting from the artist Francis Barraud called His Master’s Voice, a picture of a dog listening to a gramophone. Emile Berliner took a copy back to the USA and patented it there in 1900 as a record label and trademark, and these rights passed to the newly-established Victor Company, which started using the dog and trumpet as a record label immediately in North and South America where they are still owned to this day by SONY, the successor of the (BMG) (RCA) Victor Company.
Meanwhile, The Gramophone Company quickly expanded throughout Europe and within a few years had opened branches in Germany, France, Russia, Italy and elsewhere. But The Gramophone Company used the drawing of an angel sitting on a disc as one of its first record trademarks and didn’t start using the dog and trumpet (HMV) mark on its labels until 1909. From its earliest days, The Gramophone Company actively recorded all over Europe and even went right across Asia into the Far East to Japan to make recordings of local performers, as well as the most popular and celebrated artists they could get in the major territories. Recording the imperial opera singers started in Russia in 1899, but sales were mainly confined to Russia. The really big breakthrough on the classical side came when The Gramophone Company (at that time called The Gramophone and Typewriter Company) recorded the young tenor Enrico Caruso in Milan in April 1902. These records sold all over the world and changed the perception of the gramophone from a toy to a serious means of reproducing good quality music. After Caruso, many other leading singers of the day clamoured to make records and eventually, after a great deal of persuasion, the biggest star of all − Nellie Melba − consented to make some recordings for The Gramophone Company.
The Gramophone Company lost its thriving Russian business in 1917 with the arrival of the Soviet regime after the Revolution and it also lost its original German company, Deutsche Grammophon, when it was confiscated by the German government as enemy property during the First World War. A new company, Electrola, had to be formed in Germany, and it took many years of litigation to wrest the HMV trademark back from DG.
As the 1930s progressed, the branches in the main European countries became major forces in their own right and produced large recording programmes of local artists, as well as exploiting the best recordings of international performers made by The Gramophone Company’s ‘Head Office’, and some from the other branches. These local companies included Pathé Marconi inFrance, Electrola inGermanyand VCM (La Voce del Padrone–Columbia–Marconiphone) inItalyas well as the company’s English branch, which was quite separate from Head Office.
In 1901 and 1904 The Gramophone Company made trading agreements with the American Victor Company about not competing with each other in their home territories, and in 1907 a new and comprehensive agreement was made that lasted for some 50 years, whereby Victor took the Western Hemisphere (North and South America, Japan and the far East) as its exclusive trading areas and The Gramophone Company took the Eastern Hemisphere, which included the UK, Europe, South Africa, India and Australasia. They released each other’s recordings under licence and sometimes shared artists with each other under a single contract. But sometimes, by mutual agreement, the costs were passed back to the other company. A similar arrangement also existed up until the start of the 1950s between theBritish Columbiacompany and the American one, and theColumbiatrademark was also split across the world between the two separate companies.
When the great depression hit in 1929, the record business collapsed and the two great European rivals, the Columbia Graphophone Company and The Gramophone Company were forced to merge in 1931 to avoid bankruptcy. Although this was officially a merger, it was more like the absorption of Columbia into The Gramophone Company. It was The Gramophone Company’s newly-opened Abbey Road Studios that were kept while Columbia’s studios were closed, as were most of the Columbia factories and its offices, not only in the UK but in most other countries as well.
The newly-formed EMI decided to keep the Columbia catalogue alive and continued to release recordings in its territories on both HMV and Columbia, which still appeared to the world to be two separate companies. HMV issued under licence the RCA Victor recordings and British Columbia issued the CRI material, while in the other direction RCA Victor released European HMV recordings and CRI released the European Columbia catalogue. EMI also kept alive the Parlophone label, which by the time of the merger was owned by theBritish Columbiacompany.
EMI managed to keep its classical business alive during the 1930s in the aftermath of the depression by initiating a subscription scheme whereby customers paid in advance to buy records before they were actually made. These were called Society Editions and the first one, an album of Hugo Wolf Songs by Elena Gerhardt on HMV was a limited edition of 500 copies. The scheme was a success and throughout the 1930s many more Society Editions, sold on subscription, followed on HMV, Columbia and even Parlophone, the most ambitious of which was the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas by Artur Schnabel and the previously unrecorded Mozart Da Ponte operas made at Glyndebourne under Fritz Busch and Die Zauberflöte made in Berlin under Beecham, all on HMV.
THE MEN WHO MADE EMI’S CLASSICAL BUSINESS
Fred Gaisberg was sent to London by Emil Berliner in 1898 to start making new recordings for the British Gramophone Company. He and his brother Will (who died in the influenza pandemic in 1918) were expert recording engineers and initially they concentrated on the technicalities of cutting the waxes and getting the sound into the grooves. It was not long before they were travelling all over the world making recordings, and Fred began to hone his skills as a ‘producer’ as well as just an engineer. When the first International Artistes Department (IAD) was formed by The Gramophone Company in 1918, its manager was Major Sydney Dixon, and Fred Gaisberg’s title was Chief Engineer and Impresario until 1920, when he was made Artistic Director, a title he retained until his retirement in 1939. When electrical recording arrived in 1925, Gaisberg gave up being a recording engineer and concentrated on his work as an entrepreneur and producer, and invented the job that we know today as an A&R Manager, a role he fulfilled with spectacular success.
In 1927, James David Bicknell, became Fred Gaisberg’s assistant: a job at the very heart of the company. That same year another young man called Walter Legge who, like Bicknell, was not a trained musician but loved music, also joined The Gramophone Company, but unlike Bicknell, he began on the very lowest rung of the ladder. He started to work for the HMV shop in Oxford Street, presenting the new releases to the public, then moved to the English branch of HMV (The Gramophone Company) in what he described as a newly-formed literary department where his job was to write sleeve notes for classical recordings and also to edit the company’s trade paper called The Voice. In this latter capacity he had free access to recording sessions to interview artists and write about what they were recording. He impressed Gaisberg with his enthusiasm and understanding of music and he was soon assisting on recording sessions and even producing them on his own. As the 1930s progressed, Legge produced more and more recordings, some of them overseas; he began writing concert and opera reviews for the Manchester Guardian; he was putting on concerts for the London Lieder Club; and by 1938 Sir Thomas Beecham was using him to help organise his seasons of opera at Covent Garden. But up to the outbreak of war, Legge remained a member of the local UK branch, despite his activities as a producer for the IAD. Bicknell’s most important recordings in the 1930s were the three Mozart Da Ponte operas recorded at Glyndebourne between 1934 and 1936, all of which he produced, and Legge’s position in the literary department of the UK company at that time is confirmed by the fact that he wrote the analytical notes for all the booklets of the Mozart Opera Society. But Legge topped Bicknell’s achievement when he took Beecham to Berlin at the end of 1937 to make the first recording of Die Zauberflöte.
When war began, most of the EMI staff went into the armed forces, but Legge was exempt because of his poor eyesight, so he remained behind to make whatever recordings could be set up during that difficult time, often going to Manchester or Birmingham to use the local orchestras because it was too dangerous during the bombing to assemble an orchestra for recording sessions in London. Legge also worked for ENSA during the war organising concerts. When hostilities ended, Legge fulfilled one of his dreams by establishing a top class symphony orchestra, which he called the Philharmonia, using the orchestral players who were being de-mobbed, and the Philharmonia became in effect EMI’s house orchestra, although the company also used the other London-based symphony orchestras as well.
RESTRUCTURING AFTER WORLD WAR TWO
At the end of the war, the company was re-structured. In 1946 Bicknell returned to the International Artistes Department and was put in charge of classical recording for the HMV label. Legge was given the Columbia label and accepted into the International Artistes Department. As part of the re-structuring Brenchley Mittell, a talented engineer who had been involved in the introduction of electrical recording in 1925, was made General Manager of the International Artistes Department and he was also in charge of all recording and record production covering the Abbey Road Studios and the Hayes factory.
In 1946, Legge went to Vienna via Switzerland, a neutral country where EMI had a company called Turicaphone, where, as an employee of a Swiss company, Legge was able to avoid the complex political maze that existed while Vienna was still a city divided among the major allies. In Vienna he re-signed Walter Gieseking and found Herbert von Karajan, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dinu Lipatti and many other major artists, as well as signing up the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. A few years later he signed Otto Klemperer and Maria Callas, so the Columbia catalogue soon became a treasure house of great performances by great artists, recorded either in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic, in London with his own Philharmonia, or at La Scala, Milan, with Maria Callas.
Bicknell went mainly toRome, where in 1946 he re-signed Beniamino Gigli and found Victor de Sabata, Guido Cantelli, and Tito Gobbi among others, and in 1948 he also signedVictoriadelos Angeles. But Bicknell didn’t need such a rich haul of artists at that time because the HMV catalogue was still receiving many strong recordings from RCA including material by Toscanini, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Stokowski, Munch and Reiner, plus operas with Jussi Björling and Zinka Milanov, and there were still a few major artists left on HMV from before the war including Yehudi Menuhin and Sir Thomas Beecham.
The Chairman of EMI from 1945 until 1954 was Sir Alexander Aikman, and the General Manager from 1945 to 1951 was Sir Ernest Fisk, who was the architect of the post-war re-structuring of the company. But Fisk’s policy of dividing the company into a number of separate and competing divisions did not work and produced financial problems that were not solved until Sir Joseph Lockwood became Chairman and CEO in 1954. Also, it was Fisk’s decision at the start of the 1950s that EMI would stick with 78s and not adopt the new technology of the 33 1/3 rpm LP (which American Columbia was backing) or that of the 45rpm disc which RCA-Victor preferred. Lockwood remained CEO until 1970 and chairman until 1974 and oversaw EMI’s great pop boom in the 1960s, with the Beatles as its crowning glory.
In the UK, the local operating company, known as HMV but still officially a branch of The Gramophone Company, was transformed into EMI Records Ltd in 1957 with the then current head of theUKcompany, C.H. Thomas, as its Managing Director. The Columbia Graphophone Company was wound up that same year but The Gramophone Company continued to exist until 1973.
EMI STARTS TO OPERATE GLOBALLY
Another major problem that arose after the war was that EMI’s two long-standing American licensees CRI (Columbia Records Inc) and RCA Victor both had ambitions to start operating globally, and this was backed up by pressure from the US Justice Department to end the licensing agreements with EMI, which it saw as monopolistic. Both the classical and the pop catalogues of EMI were heavily dependent on the licensed American material, and when the CRI agreement ended in 1952 it left the pop side seriously depleted, although Walter Legge’s efforts since 1946 had already built up a sizeable and strong classical catalogue on Columbia. Bicknell’s HMV catalogue was even more seriously depleted when all the RCA recordings went in 1957, but by then the company had taken on two additional recording producers from Decca (Victor Olof and Peter Andry) whose job it was to revitalise the HMV catalogue to replace the RCA component. In 1957 Mittell left, and Bicknell was promoted to General Manager of the IAD, a position he held until 1969 when Peter Andry took over.
Back to 1952, and more serious for EMI than the loss of incoming classical recordings from CRI, was the fact that the entire British Columbia classical catalogue, including many fine recordings by Karajan, Schwarzkopf, Lipatti, Gieseking, the Vienna Philharmonic, etc, now had no outlet in the very important US market. So in 1952 EMI set up a company called EMI (US) to exploit its Columbia classical catalogue in North America. There was virtually no EMI pop catalogue on British Columbia at that time because it was all Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine from CRI. The new American company was run by two people with good experience of the US classical business, Dario and Dorle Soria, and because EMI itself had no access to the Columbia trademark in America, it was decided to revive the company’s oldest mark, the Recording Angel, which was available to EMI worldwide. The image was revamped and the new label launched in the US on 15 November 1953 as presenting the crème of European recordings. The sleeves were designed in Paris to a high artistic standard, the LPs were pressed at Hayes (in those days the quality of a Hayes pressing was far superior to anything pressed in the USA) and the Sorias marketed the line as a top class, luxury product. No new recordings were actually made ‘by Angel’ but of course everything Legge now recorded for British Columbia was planned with an eye on the very important US market, and he received constant advice from the Sorias on what repertoire and artists they wanted for the Angel catalogue. In particular, the sales of operas in the US were phenomenal, and as the Sorias needed a catalogue of the standard Italian repertoire as quickly as possible with top class artists, Legge saw how well his plans for Callas at La Scala, supported by singers like Giuseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi, would fill the bill.
After the RCA termination, there was some doubt as to what should happen to the exploitation of the HMV catalogue in America. A few titles found their way on to Capitol but in the end Angel became EMI’s only classical label in the USA, with a lower-price reissue line on Seraphim. Lockwood was keen that EMI’s main classical operation internationally should be also confined to just one label and, after Legge left EMI in 1964, all the remaining Columbia classical records on the European catalogues were eventually transferred to HMV until the end of the LP era in the early 1980s. Lockwood would like to have established an actual ‘EMI’ label for the worldwide exploitation of the company’s whole catalogue, but this was never popular with most of the main branches, some of whom hung on tenaciously to HMV while the company was still producing gramophones, radios and radiograms and white goods like refrigerators and later TVs under the HMV trademark; and it would certainly have been impossible to persuade Capitol to change to EMI as its record label in the USA.
In anticipation of the break with RCA, EMI had bought Capitol Records in 1955 as its new North American outlet. EMI (US) was merged into Capitol in 1957, at which time the Sorias left because they did not wish to be constrained by being part of a large company. Angel became a division of Capitol and effectively continues to this day as the name of EMI Classics’ classical operation in North and South America.
THE STORY IN MODERN TIMES
The International Artistes Department (IAD) always operated as a separate Head Office function. It confined itself to making new classical recordings with its own recording budget, financed only by a standard pressing fee royalty income, until Peter Andry became head of the division in 1969. Andry changed the structure of EMI’s classical operation so that the marketing and A&R activities of the local operating companies came under the control of the centre in a new division called the International Classical Division (ICD), but the pressing fee royalty system remained in place, and credit for all turnover and profit from the sale of the classical product remained with the local companies.
In 1979 EMI and Thorn merged; then they demerged in 1996, but neither of these events had any significant effect on EMI’s classical record operation. But when in 1992 EMI acquired the Virgin Music Group from Richard Branson, it took on board a thriving classical label: Virgin Classics. Some years earlier, Branson had engaged Simon Foster to create Virgin Classics. Foster was a talented administrator who had previously run EMI’s Classics for Pleasure and Eminence labels as well as the classical department of EMI Records UK, and over a period of several years he had built up a formidable catalogue of outstanding new recordings. It was decided by EMI when Virgin Classics became part of the company, that it should operate as an independent label alongside EMI Classics, which it continues to do to this day. It is now run from Paris by EMI’s top classical executive, Alain Lanceron.
EMI started recording digitally in 1979 but the recordings were at first released only on analogue LPs. In 1983, the company launched its first international compact discs using the Angel trademark, for which it owned world rights, so that for the first time the same physical product could be centrally manufactured and distributed all over the world with a single catalogue number. The first international classical CD was CDC 7 47001 2 containing Debussy’s Images for Orchestra performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under André Previn, released in December 1983.
In 1989 Peter Andry left the company and his successor was Richard Lyttleton, who had previously been Managing Director of EMI’s businesses in Canada, South Africa and Finland. Lyttelton restructured the classical operation once again so that for the first time, all sales and profits from the group’s classical operation worldwide were consolidated into one set of accounts in a newly named division: EMI Classics. In 1991 the now familiar red logo of EMI Classics was introduced to further strengthen the global brand around the world.
Today, EMI Classics continues the century-long tradition of recording the greatest musicians of our time. Sir Simon Rattle, Ian Bostridge, Alison Balsom, Philippe Jaroussky, The John Wilson Orchestra, Sir Antonio Pappano, Joyce DiDonato and Martha Argerich are just a few of the performers whose recordings of works from Purcell to Saariaho represent not only wide-ranging repertoire but distinctive performance styles and interpretations.
With this exciting new website, EMI Classics offers music lovers more options and more information than ever before. Sample music clips and watch videos, follow the latest news and read indepth biographies, test your knowledge and try your luck in the competitions. It’s all part of EMI Classics’ commitment to music lovers to be right at in the cutting edge of art and technology.
© 2012 Tony Locantro/EMI Classics
18 JUN 2013
|ANDSNES, LEIF OVE |
USA - Chicago, IL, Symphony Center
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
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18 JUN 2013
|BOSTRIDGE, IAN |
UK - Snape, Aldeburgh Festival
Britten Pears masterclasses
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18 JUN 2013
|ANDERSZEWSKI, PIOTR |
AT - Schwarzenberg, Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal
Bach, Janacek, Schumann
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18 JUN 2013
|HAIM, EMMANUELLE |
FR - Paris, Palais Garnier
Handel: Giulio Cesare
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