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A Remarkable Cache of Björling Recordings Retrieved from the Library of Congress 

by Sue Flaster


 

The Library of Congress [LC] collects every book published in the United States. They also collect, when possible, copies of radio and television programs which have been somehow preserved, either on disc or tape. Could their archives contain anything interesting for the Björling recorded legacy?

Early in 2000, Cantor Don Goldberg made two trips to the LC to research Jussi Björling radio broadcasts from the 1930s to 1950s that might be archived there. His report of those excursions was published in Issue 11 of this Journal (Fall 2000). Don had found that indeed the LC is holding a number of radio broadcast tapes and acetate disks containing work by Jussi. In some cases, this material has not been heard since it was first aired nearly 60 years ago; in other cases, broadcast material which has been commercially available in crude sound, existed at the LC in excellent – and occasionally pristine – sound.

Late last summer, Harald Henrysson began the work required to get authorization for the LC to copy and release these programs to the Björling Museum. Although a large number of these programs were of interest, time and available money limited how many Harald would be able to get copied in summer 2002. While waiting times for the LC’s transcription services might have been very long, due to backlogs created by the security issues arising from the terrorism of 9/11/01, Harald argued that he needed the recordings in time for the October JBS Conference in Manhattan. Thanks to friendly interest by the LC staff (the key contact person, Jerry H., was himself a tenor!), the LC would expedite Harald’s requests, provided he could get releases from the legal departments of the NBC and ABC Radio Networks.

Harald patiently wrote many letters and made many phonecalls from Sweden, before finally finding the right network lawyers to ask permission to have copies made of their radio programs. The process was frustrating, since while the lawyers guarding the networks’ “intellectual property rights” seemed willing enough to help us, once we finally found them, it was simply very hard to find these people! By the end of September, the various approvals had been made, a check for $700 had been sent to the LC, and by mid-October the completed CDs were on their way to Andrew Farkas at the Library of the University of North Florida.

The CDs with this material were sampled for members of the JBS Conference in Manhattan on Saturday morning, October 26, 2002. These recordings also have been shared with the Swedish National Archive of Sounds and Pictures. Now we hope to contact the NBC and ABC legal experts again and attempt to arrange some slightly broader release of this material to interested members of the chapters of the Jussi Björling Societies in the UK, USA and Scandinavia, so they may have the chance to own these recordings.

Some whimsy suggested by Harald: As you may be aware, there was a “Che gelida manina” CD produced for JBS-USA by Toby Hekler and her accomplices (see Newsletter #3) with 15 performances of that aria by Jussi. Since there now are eight Voice of Firestone programs in our hands, Harald has suggested that we might produce for Society members a CD of all eight versions of Idabelle Firestone’s introductory anthem “If I could tell you” combined with the recessional “And now each flow’r.” For filler, we might present all of Jussi’s versions of the “Neapolitan love song” from Victor Herbert’s Princess Pat. (You can get a more information on Mrs. Firestone’s songs if you go to www.classicthemes.com/50sTVThemes/themePages/voiceOfFirestone.html  or
www.newenglandconservatory.edu/libraries/aboutlibraries.html .)

The Library of Congress broadcast programs are listed below
(numbers refer to H. Henrysson’s “A Jussi Björling Phonography”):

4504, Voice of Firestone: 19 November 1945
b. Who is Sylvia (Schubert) – c. Le rêve – d. Jeanie – e. M’appari

b has been commercially released, it’s in English and a bit odd.
c, d, e appear not to have been released; c in particular is spectacular, and the sound is fantastic overall.

4602, Voice of Firestone: 21 January 1946
b. Will you remember (Romberg) – c. For you alone – d. Miserere
(with Eleanor Steber in b, d)

b and d have been released; c has not, but has a bad scratch running through it, to the end of the broadcast (easily repaired with modern transcription methods).

4603, Voice of Firestone: 25 March 1946
b. Jeg elsker dig – c. Concealed in this retreat – d. Because –
e. Neapolitan love song

Nothing here seems to have been commercially released. The sound is really excellent, and (e) is one of the best Nls versions.

4605, Ford Sunday Evening Hour: 12 May 1946
a. Salut, demeure – b. Jungfrun under lind – c. Land du välsignade –
d. Mother o’ mine

(a) does not appear to have been released, although the other items have been. In fact this is a truly splendid “Salut, demeure” with fantastic pppp’s. The sound is terrific throughout.

4801, Bell Telephone Hour: 15 March 1948
a. Mattinata – b. Lilacs – c. Clorinda – d. Ah, fuyez, douce image

All items have previously been released, but perhaps not in such excellent sound – despite a small scratch in “Mattinata.”
The versions of “Lilacs” and “Mattinata” may be the best yet.

4901, Bell Telephone Hour: 4 April 1949
a. Ständchen – b. Neapolitan love song – c. Addio all madre

These are really fine, and b is the best version of all of Nls’s.

5006. Bell Telephone Hour: 23 October 1950
a. O, paradiso – b. In the silence of night – c. Zueignung –
d. Come un bel dì di maggio

All items previously released. The sound here is excellent, with “Silence of night” extraordinary for phrasing and astounding legato.

A72. We, the People: 16 February 1951
a. Interview together with Dorothy Caruso – b. Vesti la giubba

Previously unreleased, indeed its very existence in doubt. The interview is amusing but not very informative, in which both read from cue cards. Jussi talks very fast. The “Vesti” seemed to me a little dry. He may have been nervous. Superb sound.

5102. Bell Telephone Hour: 12 March 1951
a. Vesti la giubba – b. Rose of Tralee – c. Celeste Aïda

All items previously released. The sound is good overall, with some scratches. THIS “Vesti la giubba” is tremendous! I think this is the best “Celeste Aïda” sung by Jussi, and therefore the best one sung by anyone.

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