Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Spoken Word Performances on Archive.org (Shakespeare, Shaw, Tolkien)

I used to wander into the University of BC's record collection (pause for definition: records are 12-inch vinyl disks that each hold a sound recording of some kind). Sometimes I'd listen to something funny, such as The Goon Show; sometimes, something musical, such as sea chanteys by the X-Seamen's Institute; sometimes, something spoken, such as Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan.

The biggest name in spoken-word recordings, there and elsewhere, then and now, was Caedmon Records (now Caedmon Audio). Since 1952 it has been recruiting the top authors and actors to perform poems and plays. Check out the list of their first hundred records on this page to see what type of talent it attracted.

My unsolicited praise of Caedmon was occasioned by a visit I made to the Internet Archive site yesterday. On the off-chance that I'd find something interesting, I clicked "Audio" on the front page and then typed "Caedmon" in the Search Box. Much to my surprise, here is what I found: Caedmon recordings of several Shakepeare plays (Othello, Coriolanus, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II, Pericles Prince of Tyre, The Merry Wives of Windsor) and a Shakepeare poem, "Troilus and Cressida." Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, Jack Prelutsky's Nightmares to 
Trouble Your Sleep, Kipling's Just So Stories, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit round out the collection.

Listening to the last item, I was very impressed with how the voice actor, Nicol Williamson, altered his voice and accent to the various characters. Bilbo Baggins, as a hobbit, got a "West Country" accent, as he should, but the dwarves were northerners by the sound of them, perhaps Yorkshiremen.

Here is a link to the page my search turned up. Give a listen to one of the recordings, or just marvel at the list of actors in them. For example, the recording of The Tempest has Michael Redgrave, Anna Massey, Vanessa Redgrave, Hugh Griffith, and John Hurt. Coriolanus stars Richard Burton.

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