The Toscanini Bruckner Symphony Acetate Discs

There is little doubt that the rarest recording of a Bruckner symphony is the performance of the Symphony No. 7 with Arturo Toscanini conducting the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York on January 27, 1935. The recording was made during a live broadcast from Carnegie Hall. Since only one acetate recording machine was used, sections of the symphony are missing since the two discs had to be changed or turned over during the transmission.

There is only one copy of the recording and it remains as one of the prized possessions of the New York Public Library where it is maintained at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Record Sound at the library's branch at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. They were given to the library by the Toscanini Family along with other recordings and papers belonging to the legendary conductor.

The discs are carefully preserved in the archive's basement storage facility. When a visitor asks to listen to the recording, they are directed to a listening booth in the Archive's third floor listening room. The listener hears the recording via headphones and what they listen to is a taped transcription of the original discs. The acetate discs are not handled or played during this audition process.

During an extended visit to New York in January of 2017 to hear Daniel Barenboim's Carnegie Hall Bruckner cycle, I visited the research facilities at the library's archives to look through some Bruckner Society of America scrapbooks that they hold.

While there, I made the unusual request to see the actual Toscanini Bruckner acetates. While the librarian at the desk was initially confused by the request ("Don't you really want to hear them instead?") the request was relayed downstairs. To my surprise and delight, Ms. Jessica Wood, the Assistant Curator for Music at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive came up to see me and soon afterwards came back with the actual acetate discs!!

She allowed me to take some pictures and was kind enough to later send me photos that were taken using the library's photographic equipment. Due to the reflective nature of the discs, it is difficult to see the writing which is literally hand-etched onto the center of the two discs.

The discs are 16 inches in diameter and play at 33 1/3 rpm. You will notice the center spindle hole. The three holes surrounding the center hole allowed for posts on the turntable platter to prevent the disc from slipping during the cutting process.

Despite their age, the two discs are well preserved and are stored away in specially prepared protective sleeves.

For information about the mysterious release of the Toscanini Bruckner Seventh, click here.

My sincere thanks go to Ms. Jessica L. Wood at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound for this opportunity to see these discs and for permission to share these photos.

Please click on each image to enlarge them.

Side 1: First Movement (Photo: NYPL)
Side 2: The beginning of the Second Movement. (Photo: NYPL)
Side 3: The conclusion of the Second Movement, the Scherzo and the beginning of the Finale. (Photo: NYPL)
Side 4: Conclusion of the Finale & Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome (Photo: NYPL)
Full view (Photo: NYPL)
Full view - Resting on protective cover (Photo: John Berky)
Close-up of side 1 - showing hand-etched writing. (Photo: John Berky)
Close-up of side 2 - showing hand-etched writing (Photo: John Berky)