November 22, 2017

Historically important music collection at Stanford selected for a Recordings at Risk grant by the Council on Library and Information Resources

Standard Hour. 18 April 1950, Stanford Libraries

Stanford, CA—The rich sounds of early symphonic music will soon be available for investigation and discovery at Stanford Libraries.  The Standard Hour collection, which includes 608 lacquer discs and 76 tapes of the weekly radio broadcast program, was selected by the Council on Library and Information Resources as a recipient of their Recordings at Risk grant program.

Although the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic are orchestras of international stature, there is little direct evidence available of their sound from the 1930s-50s, when many refugee musicians from Europe joined the orchestras and raised performance standards.  The Standard Hour recordings document the orchestras’ development into ensembles of equal stature to the great orchestras of Europe. They employed internationally renowned conductors Monteux, Stokowski, and Stravinsky, and performers Menuhin, Tebaldi, and Casadesus. The Standard Hour was awarded the George Peabody Medal for exceptional contributions to music in America, having a reach across the western United States including Hawaii and Alaska. 

Radio provided many in the United States living outside major cities the opportunity to hear major orchestras for the first time. “Almost everything that is known about the Standard Hour comes from verbal accounts: reviews, memoirs and concert programs,” said Jerry McBride, Head of the Music Library at Stanford. “These are no substitute for hearing recordings of live performances; this collection allows us to listen to how the orchestras actually played, which is an even greater indication of the performance level of the orchestras’ musicians and conductors than studio recordings.”

Performers who were rarely heard on commercial records, such as San Francisco Opera conductor Gaetano Merola, will soon be given a new audience once the Standard Hour collection is digitized and preserved by Stanford Libraries.

The Standard Hour flourished in the Golden Age of Radio dominated by popular programs of music, comedy, and drama. Researchers can use the recordings to study the impact of cultural programming on radio, contributing to a deeper understanding of the development of audiences and orchestras of the time. The orchestras’ concert repertory comprising many lesser-known works will bring this period and the concerts to life for the listener.

“Students will gain a much greater appreciation of the role that radio played in the lives of people and in the dissemination of symphonic music from listening to the recordings in conjunction with written accounts,” said McBride.

The Standard Hour project kicks off December 1 and is expected to take just under a year to complete.  Stanford Libraries’ Media Preservation Lab will be overseeing the reformatting of the material.  Once complete, the Standard Hour collections will consist of over 450 radio programs of symphony orchestras preserved as 24-bit / 96 kHz Broadcast WAV (BWF) files, and 300 DPI TIFF image files (Adobe RGB) of the original discs and tapes, which will be deposited in Stanford’s Digital Repository.

Because of copyright considerations, access to the items for use and research will be mediated by staff in the Libraries’ Archive of Recorded Sound and made available by streaming with protected password access for limited periods of time upon request.

###