As the record gained popular appeal, labels such as Columbia, Edison and Victor sought artists in order to grow their ever expanding catalog of musical offerings. Records produced here in the US included numerous zither selections by musicians with roots in German-speaking countries. In this article, we explore these early zither recordings.
In 1877, Thomas Edison brought together the components of the first practical recording device. The beginning of the record industry was ushered in innocently with a recital of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” recorded on a tinfoil-wrapped cylinder.
At first, Edison's phonograph was a novelty whose commercial potential was not immediately fulfilled. After his initial experiments, several years passed until he once again focused on improving his invention. With time, the phonograph began to gain popular appeal as its practical applications were realized. Now, folks could enjoy hearing recorded music in their home, whenever they wished. Edison's early catalog of music offered selections by Kitty Berger, the renowned zitherist from Austria, as well as a number of zither solos performed by David Wormser, a long-time resident of New York, who had moved to the United States from Landau, Germany, in 1874.
David Wormser zither solo recording, 1903.
Courtesy of University of California,
Santa Barbara Library.
As Edison's phonograph gained success, competing businesses and technologies naturally entered the marketplace. Two prominent competitors of Edison's, that also featured zither artists, were the Victor Talking Machine Company and the Columbia Phonograph Company. Whereas Edison focused his early efforts on the cylinder, these labels offered selections on disc records, a competing product to Edison's cylinder. The catalog for each included a multitude of zither soloists, ensembles and groups. Zither artists who had previously recorded with Edison could also be found on these labels.
Like other early recording artists of ethnic music, zitherist Constantine Wunderle had emigrated from Germany. Born in Munich, he came to the US to provide entertainment for an audience with strong ties to German-speaking countries, or those with a curiosity for Alpine culture. As a member of Fiechtl's Yodlers, he toured and could be heard on their recordings of “Im Zillerthal” and “Die Gamserl'n.”
With this new medium, zither clubs also found an opportunity to preserve their performances. Under the “Radiofunken” label of New York, the Brooklyn Zither Club “Harmonie,” created a number of early 78RPM records. With Hans Durst as conductor, their selections included several German favorites of the period, such as A. Stelzl's "Blumen aus Florenz," G. Freundorfer's "Das Veilchen Vom Kochelsee" and G. Lechner's "Auf Ins Chiemgau."
Over time, sales of disc records began to overtake the cylinder. Edison was not unaware of this trend and had created a competing disc product, which was marketed as the Edison Diamond Disc Record. Recording technology continued to evolve however and in the end, Edison Records folded in 1929. Other record companies went through a predictable series of mergers and acquisitions. What remains is a wealth of early recorded zither music.
Thanks to the preservation work of others, many of the zither artists mentioned in this article can now be heard online. The Library of Congress's National Jukebox (www.loc.gov/jukebox) provides many early zither recordings once offered by the Victor Talking Machine Company. In addition, the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project of the University of California, Santa Barbara (cylinders.library.ucsb.edu), provides a multitude of early cylinder recordings for our enjoyment.
The following table presents a listing of early zither recordings produced in the US.
|Label||Artist||Title||Catalog Number / Notes|
|Edison||The Alpine Mountaineers||Steyrer Laendler||51853-L|
|Edison||The Alpine Mountaineers||Marine Flashes March||51853-R|
|Edison||August Eckert||'O sole mio||4958, 9676 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Victor||Bayr. Hochland Zither Trio||Wildschützen-Marsch||69644-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||Bavaria Highland Zither Trio||Weidmanns Heil||73078-A|
|Victor||Bavaria Highland Zither Trio||Meines Herzens Freude||73078-B|
|Victor||Carl Schlegel and Paul Nelva. Zither accompaniment by Henry Marchetti||Die Elternliebe (The Parents' Love)||73503-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||Carl Schlegel and William Robyn. Zither accompaniment by Henry Marchetti||Am Elterngrab (My Parents' Grave)||73503-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Lakes of Heavenly Blue||17363-B / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Spring Song (Au Printemps)||17861-A|
|Victor||D. Wormser||The Dew is Sparkling (Es blinkt der Tau)||17861-B / Courtesy of Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Die Lorelei / In einem kühlen Grunde||17860-A|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland / Von meinen Bergen muss ich scheiden||17860-B / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Deutsche Volkslieder - Potpourri||17862-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Es hat nicht sollen sein||17862-B / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Sounds from Tyrol||17350-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||D. Wormser||Forsaken||17350-B / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Columbia Phonograph Co.||Prof. D. Wormser||Afterward||23910 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Edison||Prof. D. Wormser||Heimweh||8303 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Edison||Prof. D. Wormser||Sounds from Tyrol||7386 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Edison||Oberammergauer Zither Trio||Josephine Polka||2679, 3922 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Victor||Fiechtl's Yodlers with Jost and Wunderle||Im Zillerthal||V-56001-A|
|Victor||Fiechtl's Yodlers with Jost and Wunderle||Die Gamserl'n||V-56001-B|
|Radiofunken||Zitherclub-Harmonie||American Eagle||R5009 A|
|Radiofunken||Zitherclub-Harmonie||Blumen Aus Florenz||R5009 B|
|Edison||Gottsmann's Zither Trio||Farewell to the Alps||52482-L|
|Edison||Gottsmann's Zither Trio||The Two Larks||50694-R|
|Radiofunken||Zitherclub-Harmonie||Klaenge Auf Ins Chiemgau||R5013 A|
|Radiofunken||Zitherclub-Harmonie||Das Veilchen Vom Kochelsee||R5013 B|
|Radiofunken||Zitherclub-Harmonie||Klaenge Aus Alt-Wien||R5014 A|
|Radiofunken||Zitherclub-Harmonie||Klaenge Aus Alt-Wien||R5014 B|
|Victor||Henry Marchetti and John Axinger||Traum der Sennerin / Aelpler-Zither-Duett||73727-A|
|Victor||Henry Marchetti and John Axinger||Weinschuetz-Ländler / Aelpler-Zither-Duett||73727-B|
|Victor||Jakob Jost||Herzig's liab's Schatzerl||69503-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.||Victor||Jakob Jost||Mei Glück is a Hütterl||69503-B / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Columbia||J. Jost und C. Wunderle||Von Meinem Bergli||E4692|
|Columbia||J. Jost und C. Wunderle||Liedermarsch||E4692|
|Columbia||Jost, Wunderle und Marchetti||Und's Deandl Hat G'Sagt||E7521|
|Columbia||Jost, Wunderle und Marchetti||Zwei Sternderln am Himmel||E7521|
|Columbia||J. Jost und C. Wunderle||Edelweiss - Teil 1||E4628|
|Columbia||J. Jost und C. Wunderle||Edelweiss - Teil 2||E4628|
|Victor||John Reichl||The Shepherd Boy||69414-B|
|Victor||Mme. Kitty Berger||Melody from "La Belle Helene"||17287-B / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||Mme. Kitty Berger||The Fisher Boy||17178-A / Library of Congress National Jukebox.|
|Victor||Mme. Kitty Berger||Heather Bells||17178-B|
|Edison||Kitty Berger||The Ring and the Rose||50694-R|
|Edison||Kitty Berger||Believe me if all those endearing young charms||2342 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Edison||Kitty Berger||The ring and the rose||4286, 7214 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Edison||Kitty Berger||Romance from L'éclair||2433 / Courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara Library.|
|Columbia||New York Zither Trio||Bei Unz Zu Haus, Walzer||5097-F|
|Victor||Olbrig's Zithertrio||Holzhacker Buab'n Marsch||5-81439-A|
|Victor||Olbrig's Zithertrio||Tenbusch Marsch||5-81439-B|
|Victor||Olbrig's Zithertrio||Unter Dem Doppeladler - Marsch||V-6016-A|
|Victor||Olbrig's Zithertrio||Wien Bleibt Wien||V-6016-B|
|Victor||Olbrig's Zithertrio||Bienenhaus Marsch||V-6008-A|
|Victor||Olbrig's Zithertrio||O Susanna||V-6008-B|
|Musica||Zither Solo with Orchestra)||Zither-Walzer||M 9025 A|
|Musica||Zither Solo with Orchestra||Zither-Spiel||M 9025 B|
|Musica||Zither Solo with Orchestra||Zither-Polka||M 9031 A|
|Musica||Zither Solo and Orchestra||Tyrolean Waltz||M 9031 B|