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The Record of Singing

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The Record of Singing

The Record of Singing is a compilation of classical-music singing from the first half of the 20th century, the era of the 78-rpm record.

It was issued on LP (with accompanying books) by EMI, successor to the British company His Master's Voice (better known as HMV) — perhaps the leading organization in the early history of audio recording.

The project was accompanied initially by two illustrated books, containing singers' biographies and appraisals, which were published in London, by Duckworth, in the late 1970s. It covers the period running from circa 1900, when the earliest recordings were made, through until the early 1950s, when the last 78-rpm records were produced. Singers are divided into groups arranged according to national 'schools' and fach or voice type. In practice, this means that there are separate Italian, German, French, Anglo-American and East European classifications.

Rather than concentrating on famous singers whose recordings are widely available elsewhere, The Record of Singing includes a large number of lesser-known artists in order to give a broad picture of the contemporary operatic world. Vocal artists of such lasting renown as Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba, Titta Ruffo, Feodor Chaliapin, Kirsten Flagstad, Rosa Ponselle and Maria Callas are thus represented but by only a few recordings in each case. Nonetheless, no such compilation can ever be exhaustive in scope, and the project has been criticised from time to time since its initial release for overlooking a few important singers who, while largely forgotten today, were highly talented performers who once enjoyed substantial careers and made records of enduring artistic merit.



The original idea for the series came from the collector Vivian Liff, who chose the recordings used in the first two volumes, almost all of which came from the Stuart-Liff Collection, as well as the photographs of the singers which were published in the books that accompanied volumes 1 and 2 of the project. Michael Scott was asked to write these two books. They contained brief singers' biographies, too and featured a critical (sometimes controversial) commentary (see below) about their accomplishments, are gleaned from certain discs they had made. Bryan Crimp of EMI was responsible for the transfers of the original recorded material on to LP. Keith Hardwick, however, was responsible for the transfers, etc., on the final two volumes of the survey (which were not accompanied by books).

Publication on LPs

EMI first released the collection on vinyl long playing records (LPs).

Volume 1 first appeared in 1977, with a second edition in 1982 including corrections to the pitch of many of the recordings. The supplement also appeared around 1982. Volume 2 was published in 1979. Volume 3 and Volume 4 were released around 1984 and 1989 respectively.

The complete set was on 47 discs. Volumes 1, 2 and 3 each occupied 13, with Volume 4 having 8 discs. The original intention was apparently to produce 12 LPs per volume; but the selection of singers included in Volume 1 proved controversial, and an extra record (entitled a 'Supplement') was added to partly correct oversights. Volumes 2 and 3 were then assigned 13 records each.

Compact discs

Volume 4 was republished on seven compact discs (CD) by EMI Classics under the title The Record of Singing Volume Four in 1991. This was not apparently a commercial success and the firm did not proceed to reissue the first three volumes in the same format.

Volume 3, however, was subsequently republished in 1999 on 10 CDs by Testament under the title The EMI Record of Singing Volume Three: 1926-1939. This was still available through retail outlets (as of 2010).

Two related sets, each containing 10 CDs, were issued by EMI Classics in 2009. The Record of Singing, 1899-1952: The Very Best of Vols. 1-4 consists of selections previously released in the original four volumes of LPs. The Record of Singing, Vol. 5: 1953–2007 - From the LP to the Digital Era is a new compilation which brings the series up to the present day. It has been criticised, however, for not being properly representative of non-EMI artists.

MP3 download

Volume 2 is available as MP3 download on several internet platforms. The original LPs are now spread over 13 parts. Each part comes with an individual cover, resembling the original cover picture, but varying in color.


The collection was published with extensive documentation, including the numbers of the original recordings and full biographies of the singers.

The first two volumes were accompanied by books by Michael Scott:

  • The Record of Singing to 1914, London, Duckworth, 1977 ISBN 978-0-7156-1030-5
  • The Record of Singing Volume Two: 1914-1925, London, Duckworth, 1979

They were republished in paperback by Northeastern University Press in 1993, ISBN 978-1-55553-163-8

(The books are still widely available from second hand book sellers.)

The Record of Singing Volume 1 (1899-1919)

English-speaking singers

The French

The Emergence of Verismo

Wagner and the German Style

Singers of Imperial Russia


The Record of Singing Volume 2 (1914-1925)

Revolution and Russian Songs

The French Tradition in Decline

The Heyday of Verismo

Singers from the English-Speaking World

The German Style in Evolution

The Record of Singing Volume 3 (1926-1939)

The German School

The Italian School

The French School

The Anglo-American School

The East European/Slavic School

The Record of Singing Volume 4 (1939 to the end of the 78 era, circa 1955)

The Anglo-American School

The French School

The German School

The Scandinavian School

The Russian and Slavonic Schools

The Italian School

The Record of Singing Volume 5 (From the LP to the digital era 1953-2007)

Wagner singers of the 1950s and early 1960s

Sopranos and mezzo-sopranos: 1953–1968

Tenors: 1953–1968

Baritones and basses: 1955–1967

Sopranos: 1969–1988

Mezzo-sopranos: 1969–1984

Tenors: 1969–1988

Baritones and basses: 1966–1986

Sopranos: 1989–2004

Mezzo-sopranos: 1988–2001

Tenors: 1989–2001

Baritones and basses: 1991–1995

Singers of Baroque and early music and early music 1953–2005

Singers of the new millennium: 2000–2007

Personal communication from Vivian Liff

I have become resigned to the compilation of "The Record of Singing" being ascribed to Michael Scott or to Keith Hardwick. Only Volume 2 in its LP issue gives a correct acknowledgement of the fact that the enterprise was my original concept and that the choice of records for the first two volumes was mine. It should also be mentioned that virtually all the recordings used in those volumes came from the Stuart-Liff collection, as did the photographs used in the books accompanying them. I was asked to write these books but the effort of compilation, pitching and taping for Michael Scott (whom I suggested should be asked to write the books) and Bryan Crimp, E.M.I's transfer maestro, occupied every moment of my available free time.

A few critics writing of the initial 2 volumes did give me credit. There was a long article with photos in the August 1978 issue of the American magazine Opera News on the Stuart–Liff collections with special reference to the Record of Singing. Dale Harris writing about all four volumes in the same magazine, a decade or so later, also set the record straight and was highly complimentary of my work. However, unknown and unacknowledged by all, were those innumerable tapes I had to make exclusively for the purpose of giving Michael some experience of the singers he was writing about - many of whom he had never previously heard. His often highly critical views on many favourite singers did not go down well with some reviewers but Michael's controversial writing certainly made readers want to return to the recordings, if only to disagree with his judgements.

The appearance of volume 1 occasioned real sadness when it was discovered that many selections had been transferred at the wrong speed. Unknown, either to Michael or to me, was the fact that Bryan Crimp was seriously unwell at the time. We were not given the promised pre-issue run-through during which we could have corrected many grievous errors. In fact, the first volume should have been withdrawn and money refunded to purchasers. Unfortunately this was not done, but a corrected edition was issued a year or two later, still on LP, using a slightly changed name. This was probably to overcome the difficulties caused by the fact that the original issue was a limited one.

Not long after the appearance of the second volume, we moved from England to the Isle of Man and the Stuart-Liff collection was sold. Keith Hardwick took over the project for the final volumes, in which I had no say. Although personally my relationship with Keith remained friendly until his death, he had such a strong antipathy to Michael Scott that he felt unable to collaborate with any of his friends. Unfortunately, to this day, the first two volumes still await transfer to CD.

Vivian Liff. 2 March 2006


  • Albright, William (1990) 'The Record of Singing: A Brief Overview of a Monumental Project' in The Opera Quarterly 1990 7(1):31-42, Oxford University Press


  • , Volume 3 (1926-1939)The EMI Record of Singing (Testament Records) alt
  • (From 1899 to the end of the 78 era: 1899-1952The Record of Singing – The Very Best of Volumes 1-4 (EMI Records) alt
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