Thursday, 8 August 2013

Voices from the Past

In the midst of a recent Orwell kick (I've been reading his novels, not translating fear of totalitarianism as anti social progress) I was reminded of the bizarre fact that we have no sound recordings of George Orwell. This despite his lengthy work at the BBC, both on his own shows and on panels. You'd think someone somewhere had a copy of one of them, but apparently not - a situation not helped by the fact he apparently ordered copies destroyed as he felt his upper class voice didn't fit his works message. So his soft spoken voice, which returned even after being shot in the Spanish Civil War, can only be conjured up in our imagination.

There are other figures like that. Ones it is rather more accepted we never heard. We'll never be able to compare Robert De Niro's voice in The Godfather to Leonardo Da Vinci. Or hear Dickens performing his own work, an event which would surely, as they say, win the internet. And our opinion of William Shakespeare shall never be sullied by how much of an Avon accent he had. All interpretations are thus valid.

Its not an  unique situation to Orwell though, in terms of folk who lived within our families lifetimes. Thomas Hardy is the same.

So I began to think of people who we DO have recordings of. Even faint, barely audible ones, where we can get the intonations but not the words.

I first became aware we might have these spectral links to the past when my English tutor at university brought out an mp3 of Tennyson speaking.

(PS Please ignore the terrifying animation.)

That recording is from 1891, the year before Tennyson died. As one of the world's great poets, it is incredible to hear a chap whose life work was inspired by the death of a university friend during the reign of William IV.

His main rival to the throne of Best Victorian poet (if you'll allow that Wordsworth chap to be considered mostly Georgian) was that chap who wrote My Last Duchess, Robert Browning.

Recorded in 1889 (so just in the nick of time, really) I find the aging Browning unable to recall his own lines both amusing and a glimpse into the real person behind all those lines we had to study in school.

Into the political sphere, and one of the giants of British politics was the man they called the Grand Old Man (or Gods Only Mistake, if you were Queen Victoria), William Gladstone:

And speaking of politics:

And speaking of Germany:

The audio on these isn't so great, but to be fair, they are over 120 years old!

The public announcement of von Moltke's recording being discovered in 2012 was the first example of a voice recording from someone born as early as 1800! The recordings also, as I say, add human layers to historical figures. Take, for example, the fact that Von Bismarck is heard reciting the French national anthem!

Von Moltke (in 1889) says: 

"This newest invention of Mister Edison is indeed astonishing. The telephone makes it possible for a man who has already lain long in the grave once again to raise his voice and greet the present."

You're telling me!

Translations for those who can't speak German (or hear very well) are here.

Some other notables:

Some great ones here.

James Maxton, one of the leaders of the Red Clydeside Labour group.

And finally:

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