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31 October 2008

(The following article is reprinted in its entirety from the October 26, 2008 Anniston Star)

Former JSU Professor Plays Role in Resurrecting Old Music

By Bill Edwards

Voices and music from the distant past might make a great Christmas gift for the armchair historian, and thanks in part to the work of a former Jacksonville State University music professor, John Maltese, and his son, John A. Maltese, you should be able to buy them on CD sometime next month.

According to the elder Maltese, now of Birmingham, he and his son were researching sources for a biography of violinist Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987). Their trek led them to Russia and to friends and relatives of Heifetz and subsequently, around five years ago, to about 200 wax cylinders.

These cylinders were what the earliest aural reproduction devices, as created by Thomas Edison, employed to record sounds before the flat black disk was invented. The cylinders, stored in a nondescript building in St. Petersburg, were known to have existed before World War II, but it was not thought they had survived the conflict.

Each disc contains an average of only three minutes of sound. Great pianists and other musicians of the closing years of the 19th century can be heard on them, as well as the voice of novelist Leo Tolstoy.

"It's like discovering the voice of Abraham Lincoln," the elder Maltese said.

Because the Malteses could not be given permission to take the cylinders out of Russia, they secured the rights to record them onto audio tape and, subsequently, three discs. The collection is called The Dawn of Recording: The Julius Block Cylinders and includes a booklet of notes on what's being heard, including translation of what Tolstoy was saying.

According to Maltese, the original recordings were made with an intentional ear for history. A European man named Julius Block was visiting Thomas Edison in the early 1890s and received a cylinder recording device from the inventor as a gift. Block took it back to the continent with the mission of recording famous music and voices of the day.

The CDs should be available to the public by the end of November. An extensive article about the recovery of these recordings, and the Malteses' role in it, appears in the arts section of today's New York Times.

Copyright 2008 The Anniston Star, Anniston, Ala.


Editor's Note: For an additional New York Times article about the cylinder project, click here.

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