Between 1911 and 1913, Odeon records, in Berlin, produced and made available for sale five complete, four-movement symphonies, the first complete symphonies ever recorded. They were Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (August and November–December 1911), and then Haydn’s Symphony no. 94 (“Surprise”) and Mozart’s Symphonies nos. 40 and 39 (in that order, March and April 1913). Each was performed by members of the Odeon company’s orchestra, billed as the “Großes Odeon-Streich-Orchester.” While no conductor is identified on the labels, it was surely Eduard Künneke, Odeon’s house conductor at that time. (Arthur Nikisch’s Beethoven’s Fifth with the Berlin Philharmonic would follow, from Grammophon records, in November 1913.) Odeon’s decisions to record these five symphonies took place within two larger corporate contexts, 1907–13: first, that of what was becoming increasingly possible within the enabling yet constraining affordances of the era’s music-recording industry; second, that of how those affordances were giving rise to the more innovative plans and economic gambles of recording extended classical works—longer stretches of operetta and opera, high-prestige orchestral music, and, eventually, symphonies. Much of this history can be traced in reports, reviews, and advertisements in the contemporaneous German trade journal the Phonographische Zeitschrift. The whole is framed here within the contexts of recent media theory and varying views of the impact of sound recordings on twentieth- and twenty-first-century listening practices. As Antoine Hennion put it, “The disc has been powerful enough to introduce modern listeners to musical repertoires conceived with a different relationship in mind.”

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