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The Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound of The New York Public Library is one of the richest resources of recorded sound in the world. The aural landscape that helps define a community, a country, or a cultural era can be studied through the Archives' extraordinary holdings, which cover virtually every aspect of recorded sound—from Mozart to Maria Callas to Motown, from symphonic works to presidential speeches, from radio dramas to television specials. A vital research facility for performers, musicians, scholars, critics, and the recording industry, the collection also plays a leadership role in developing technology that allows for the transfer of sound from obsolete to accessible formats. Through special recording projects—often pursued cooperatively with other archives and record companies—the Archives' collection and preservation efforts ensure that the spoken and musical sounds of the century will resonate for current and future generations.
The scope of the collection draws users from many disciplines: critics comparing multiple recordings of a musical selection, opera singers preparing unfamiliar roles, instrumentalists studying a new piece before first rehearsal, actors preparing for auditions by studying dialect tapes or musical theatre recordings, filmmakers in search of topical songs for soundtracks, and performing groups in search of new repertory. Rare items such as pre-Glasnost underground videos of Russian rock groups, Fiorello La Guardia's Talks to the People radio broadcasts, and recordings of famed black vaudevillian Bert Williams draw researchers and historians from many fields.
The Archives contains approximately 700,000 recordings and more than 100,000 printed items. Resources—available for study free of charge—include:
Virtually every format developed to record sound—wax cylinders, acetate and aluminum discs, magnetic wire recordings, 78rpm recordings, audiocassettes, compact discs, digital audiotape—can be found in the Archives. Rarities include the Mapleson Cylinders, recorded at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1901-3 with such legendary singers as the De Reszke brothers, Milka Ternina, and Lillian Nordica; Irving Berlin singing his own songs; and thousands of limited-edition and private-issue recordings ranging from Kirsten Flagstad's Metropolitan Opera debut to world premieres of major operas and symphonic works.
Recorded Literature and Speech
Readings by major poets, novelists, and essayists and pronouncements by world leaders bring to life the power, poetry, and nuance of the spoken word. Recordings range from the speeches of John F. Kennedy to private recordings of Tennessee Williams reading from his own works.
Materials that complement those of the other research divisions—dance, music, and theatre—of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts can be found in the Archives' collection of videotapes and videodiscs. Representative items include opera and music performances, rock videos, master classes, and public television broadcasts.
Printed materials cover the entire field of sound recording—artistic, technological, and economic—from the 1890s to the present. Included are discographies, record company catalogs, album liner notes, and periodicals. Industry trade publications document the rapid evolution of recording technology and equipment.