25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 3

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 3

Enrico Caruso – “Cantique de Noël (Holy Night)” [Victrola 88561, 12” one sided 78 rpm, 1916.]

Caruso Cantique de Noel

Caruso label

One of the most pleasurable aspects of this Christmas music project I’ve embarked upon is rediscovering parts of my record collection that I haven’t explored in quite some time. There’s also the bonus of learning all kinds of interesting new things about these records along the way. The reason it took me until late in the evening yesterday to make the Day 2 post was that I first had to find the copy of “White Christmas” that I wanted to feature. My collection includes approximately 150 78 rpm records, most of which are in blank paper sleeves and only a dozen or so have actual picture covers. None of them have spine labels. And since I have yet to alphabetize them, it makes finding a specific record a bit of a hunt. Of course, the “White Christmas” record was near the end of the stack I was searching in yesterday, but that’s all part of the fun. (I did find five more Christmas records amidst all those 78s!)

All of which led me to this wonderful old recording by the great Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso that I rediscovered while searching the stacks. And I mean old. It’s from 1916, folks. I learned a lot about this record and the era it came from while doing research for this post, so I hope you don’t mind some brief historical tangents. Apparently, this is the only Christmas song that Caruso ever recorded, and he had a long career as one of the first great recording artists, making hundreds of records, mostly for Victor, from 1902 until his last session in 1920. Thanks to the Library of Congress National Jukebox project, we can actually listen to this recording right here:

Enrico Caruso sings “Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night)” (NOTE: The audio player linked here will not work on a mobile device.)

If you’re on a mobile device, follow this link: Caruso sings “Cantique de Noël” 

Because my turntable doesn’t play 78s, I had not actually heard this until I came across this audio player while looking up info about the record. It’s beautiful, and I can hear why he was so beloved by so many. Caruso really did have a powerfully clear voice and he sings this well-known Christmas carol with verve. (“O Holy Night” was written in French by Adolphe Adam in 1847. Caruso is singing it in French on this recording.) Hey, Caruso was such a big star in his time that he even graced the stage of Tulsa’s historic Brady Theater in 1920!

As far as I know, this is the oldest recording I have in my collection. This is another estate sale treasure and when I bought it there was no sleeve on it or anything; it has some big scratches across the face and shows some wear and tear from years of mishandling. I had found information at the Discography of American Historical Recordings website, produced by the U.C. Santa Barbara Library, stating that it was recorded for Victor on February 23, 1916. But I wasn’t sure if the record was also released commercially at that time. After a little more digging on the internet, I was pleasantly surprised to find this newspaper advertisement from the Deseret Evening News in Salt Lake City in their Saturday, October 28, 1916 final edition:

Caruso Victor Ad 1916

Caruso Victor Ad close up

How cool is that?! There we have confirmation of the actual release date for this record from 98 years ago! (I’m a former librarian, so I really find all this fascinating…) Sadly, you can also browse the headlines of that same newspaper and read all about the terrible battles raging across Europe during the Great War, before the United States entered the fray.

Another interesting thing about this record is that it is single sided: there’s a recording on one side but the other side is blank – there are no grooves:

Caruso Record Blank Side

I’m not sure why these early records were only one-sided; maybe it was a technical issue? But even after double-sided records became the norm for most recordings starting in 1908, Victor continued to produce all their Red Seal classical records with only one side until 1923, apparently to reap more profits from their classical customers, according to 78 collector Tim Grayck on his website Tim’s Phonographs and Old Records.

But, yes, I digress. This all just goes to show that Christmas records have been around for a long time, and appear to be as popular as ever. I wonder how many of our ancestors might have picked up a copy of Caruso’s “Cantique de Noël” for the 1916 holiday season? Happy listening today…

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