A Newsletter of Opinion on Current Australian Christianity


Robert Harkness – 5


So, on Monday, the 20th February 1905, Robert Harkness, Charles Alexander and a few members of the London choir made their way to the recording studios.  Only one recording made on that day survives.  It can be found at the following link.  You may have to cut and paste this link then consider the points below if you play it and listen to the brilliant accompaniment preferably with headphones:

Charles Alexander.

harkness recording 1

Several points should be made:


1.         Harkness’ playing style.  Singers and musicians all had to perform close to the recording funnel.  They were also told to play or sing loudly.  The pianist would have been instructed to use a staccato style so that a balance between singer and accompanist could be achieved.  Harkness in this recording demonstrates a brilliant form of accompaniment never before heard in Christian music.

2.         As a result of this, Alexander the soloist who had to project his voice sometimes to upwards of 10,000 listeners in a mission, may sound wooden and stentorian, but is common for the time.  His use of extreme rubato was very much a favourite with him and his audiences.

3.         This was recorded several years before electrical amplification became available and is one of the only records made by Alexander and his famous accompanist.  Several other recordings were recorded a few months later, but there doesn’t seem to be any later attempt.

4.         The probable studio accommodation would be that all the singers would gather around the piano sound board with the recording funnel pointing to a mid-point between them all.

5.         No practise recordings could be made because a record could not be immediately played back and the discs were very expensive.


In April 1905 the artists visited the studio for the second time, probably to make some improvements to the earlier version.   You will notice some differences in this recording:

1.         Harkness’ accompaniment is not as staccato nor as flowery as the earlier one.  The reason for this may be that the sound engineer or producer may not have regarded the earlier style as suitable for a Christian song.

2.         The alto singer(s) have been accentuated.  Whatever the reasons this recording has a different and cleaner sound, but not as interesting to me.


NEXT ISSUE:  Round the world again.


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