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For the Record

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.

Heimweh
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
Radiofunken Zitherclub-Harmonie Gebirgs-Melodien R5010 A
Radiofunken Zitherclub-Harmonie Gebirgs-Melodien R5010 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 Heimweh 69414-A
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