COLUMBIA 'M' SERIES

This project was by no means an easy task. Four years in research, it traces Columbia’s chronological release of the 78 rpm albums sets released by Columbia between the late 1920′s and early 1950′s.

During the meticulous compiling of this discography, there came a point in my research when I had to decide what to include and what to exclude. In some cases, making the right decision was critical to the integrity of the document. Take for example, Set 29 (and Set 83). In essence, I could have written a book devoted to these two sets alone.

When is some matrix information too much?

Take the example of Set 29

Set 29 is an acoustical recording released by Columbia US in 1927. It was recorded and rerecorded various times both acoustically and electrically over a period between 1923 and 1926. During the period of its release, records from the set were occasionally substituted for newly recorded takes without notice or change to the record number.

For the most part, collectors are not always interested in such complicated details.

As I got further into the project, I discovered that many recordings were missing from reference guides. It seems that Columbia did not always release a recording even though they advertised its imminent release. M-62 is a case at hand. Also, Columbia sometimes released a set in different formats with different record numbers. Some sets were initially released under the ‘M’ series and then became part of the ‘X’ series. Often sets were released briefly and then withdrawn just as quickly. This makes it hard for researchers to track down playable copies of a recording in question. [M-23 is an example at hand.]

It should also be noted early in this discography that the use of the ‘M’, ‘X’ and ‘OP’ prefixes to Columbia 78 rpm sets was not a common practice until fairly late in the issuing sequence of sets.

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US Columbia only used the “M” prefix after CBS bought the company around 1938. It is generally understood that the first actual “M” prefix began around the set number M-295. And to make things more difficult for researchers, I’ve noted that some very early record reviews (mainly around the early 1930′s) labelled the Columbia Modern Music Album Sets as “MM” – which was later used for the ‘drop type’ automatic record changer sequence of records – for example – MM-900.

Confused yet?

Technically, to use the ‘M’ prefix for any set issued before approximately M-295 is an error, except for a reissue/repressing of an early set. To keep with this prefixing anomaly, I have not used the ‘M’ prefix until M-295. Some sources state that the ‘M’ prefix was introduced at set M-365.

For each entry, I have tried; if known; to add as much detail about that recording as possible- including composition(s), composer(s), performer(s), various record sequence numbers, matrix numbers, recording dates, international record numbers and topical excerpts from contemporary reviews.

I recently participated in a somewhat heated discussion as to the quality of the Columbia US legacy. My opponent in this discussion was adamant that on average, Columbia’s US recording output was poorly recorded. I refuted this claim on the basis that his opinions were naive. His perception of what sounds good today compared with yesteryear is biased. It’s easy to listen in judgement now to a recording made; in some cases; over seventy years ago and say it sounds poor. Everything recorded that long ago sounds poor to modern-day listeners.

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My approach to this discussion was to quote excerpts from contemporary reviewers on Columbia recordings at the time they were released. I argued that this was a fairer and more credible research practice. Unfortunately, I was hounded down with my argument.

Despite losing this discussion, I firmly believe that it is only possible to look at these recordings through the eyes of contemporary reviewers and have therefore included copious reviews (both positive and negative) from a variety of contemporary music magazine sources including The Musical Times, Billboard Magazine, Gramophone Supplement and Gramophone Magazine to name a few.

Even though this discography features Columbia US Masterwork releases, I’ve endeavored to list as many international releases of each recording. In many cases, the matrixes of a recording were shared across countries. In particular, I have listed, when known and if released, record number equivalents for the United Kingdom, France, Argentina, Australia, Germany and Switzerland.

You will note a draft listing of matrix numbers for the Col. Masterworks ‘M’, ‘X’, ‘OP’ and ‘S’ series here. The current matrix index covers approximately 800 sets.

Because this discography features classical music, my initial plan to cover the M series had to be expanded to include X, OP and the Add-A-Part – S series. The ‘S’ series was an interesting idea developed as a learning and teaching aid for students and teachers of music. Most of the performances were recorded in Europe by highly respected musicians – and are musically excellent and highly collectable. As a general rule though, these sets are very rare – and rarely appear on auction lists. I also took the decision to expand this discography to include the Canadian D and J series (which were the American M and X equivalents) at the bequest of a friend.

I have also included a draft list of the first eight Columbia Modern Music album sets which I hope to expand when more information comes to hand…

If you are able to assist with details of any missing details, you may wish to consider joining my discography group online at: http://www.78rpmcommunity.com/group/2


© S.Hopper 2010-2015 - Webspace kindly provided and funded by the 78rpm Collectors' Community - The recordings used on this educational site are for illustrative purposes.