Thursday, November 03, 2011

The First Piece Of Music Ever Broadcast

There are long periods of time during the workday when I have a mask over my face and earmuffs clamped on my head. It lends itself to a sort of underwater effect.

I have an MP3 player hooked up to some old computer speakers in my workshop. The little harddrive holds a lot of music, but I don't bother much with it. With all the racket I rarely hear much of it, so the same things can cycle around quite a bit without getting boring.

Sometimes, during a quiet interregnum, the music will synch itself with the slant of the light through the window, and the lull in the fighting, and the effect can be quite profound. Like the shade of a tree on a hot day. Which brings us to Ombra mai fu, from Handel's opera Xerxes. It's an aria about the shade of a tree, after all.

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never bother your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.
A shade there never was,
of any plant,
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Ombra mai fu was probably the first piece of music ever broadcast on the radio.
On the evening of December 24, 1906 (Christmas Eve), Fessenden used the alternator-transmitter to send out a short program from Brant Rock. It included a phonograph record of Ombra mai fu (Largo) by George Frideric Handel, followed by Fessenden himself playing the song O Holy Night on the violin. Finishing with reading a passage from the Bible: 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will' (Gospel of Luke 2:14). He petitioned his listeners to write in about the quality of the broadcast as well as their location when they heard it. Surprisingly, his broadcast was heard several hundred miles away, however accompanying the broadcast was a disturbing noise. This noise was due to irregularities in the spark gap transmitter he used. (Wikipedia)

Hmm. A beautiful piece of music, during a time of quiet and reflection, interrupted by a disturbing noise. Handel had me pegged.

(The whole opera on DVD at Amazon:  Handel - Serse / Rasmussen, Piau, Bayrakdarian, Bardon, Hallenberg, Peirone, Lippi, Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques, Dresden Opera)


Sixty Grit said...

Cecelia Bartoli has always been one of my favorite singers - thanks for posting this stunningly beautiful video.

Ten Mile Island said...

This was my Senior Recital piece at the U. The Director of Choirs said that I picked "too easy a piece." Then sat back as my vocal teacher laid into him.

The department Chair--who was at my father and mother's wedding--agreed with my voice coach.

Still brings a smile to my face.

Jonathan Cook said...

Ombra mai fu?

Sounds like an obscure martial art - not sure it isn't.

Anonymous said...

Here's a suggestion if you can be bothered. I sometimes use hearing protection and discovered that a set of earbuds inside the earmuffs work well, and they don't even have to be properly inserted in my ears...

Anonymous said...

I heard a lot of classical music when I was growing up, but never heard this until I was in my mid-forties. This is one of those songs that seriously make me wish I could sing.
Daniel K Day