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 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 LPsEdit

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

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 discsEdit

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 downloadEdit

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, OCLC 6765624

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)Edit

English-speaking singersEdit

The FrenchEdit

The Emergence of VerismoEdit

Wagner and the German StyleEdit

Singers of Imperial RussiaEdit


The Record of Singing Volume 2 (1914–1925)Edit

Revolution and Russian SongsEdit

The French Tradition in DeclineEdit

The Heyday of VerismoEdit

Singers from the English-Speaking WorldEdit

The German Style in EvolutionEdit

The Record of Singing Volume 3 (1926–1939)Edit

The German SchoolEdit

The Italian SchoolEdit

The French SchoolEdit

The Anglo-American SchoolEdit

The East European/Slavic SchoolEdit

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

The Anglo-American SchoolEdit

The French SchoolEdit

The German SchoolEdit

The Scandinavian SchoolEdit

The Russian and Slavonic SchoolsEdit

The Italian SchoolEdit

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

Wagner singers of the 1950s and early 1960sEdit

Sopranos and mezzo-sopranos: 1953–1968Edit

Tenors: 1953–1968Edit

Baritones and basses: 1955–1967Edit

Sopranos: 1969–1988Edit

Mezzo-sopranos: 1969–1984Edit

Tenors: 1969–1988Edit

Baritones and basses: 1966–1986Edit

Sopranos: 1989–2004Edit

Mezzo-sopranos: 1988–2001Edit

Tenors: 1989–2001Edit

Baritones and basses: 1991–1995Edit

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

Singers of the new millennium: 2000–2007Edit


  • 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