Music at Home

Gramophones and vinyl records brought music into our living rooms, opening up the world of music – be it classical, jazz, rock or pop – to everyone.

Phonograph (c. 1909)Deutsche Grammophon

How music entered our living rooms 

For a long time, the human desire to record sound seemed an impossible dream, one that became the subject of fiction and philosophical theses. Then in 1877, Thomas Alva Edison succeeded in capturing sound and playing it back on a phonograph. Building on this invention, Emile Berliner (1851–1929) of Hannover developed the gramophone in 1887. His idea was that records would make music accessible for a wider audience. With his brothers Joseph and Jacob, he founded the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Hannover in 1898. From there, the spinning disc of sound went on to conquer the world.

Berliner's gramophone (1889)Deutsche Grammophon

1887 marked a milestone in the development of a sound recording technique that had been dreamed of for centuries. That was the year in which Emile Berliner registered a patent for the gramophone. Unlike Edison, right from the start Berliner saw his invention as a device for reproducing music, rather than as a “talking machine” for recording dictated speech.

American Culture by Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

Music is such an important emotional trigger. Whether you’re listening to an organ chorale in a church, an overture in an opera house or a rock band in an arena, music gets under your skin. It can evoke everything from tranquillity to exhilaration.

Polynesian Culture Center Hawaii by Leonard MccombeLIFE Photo Collection

People have been making music for thousands of years, and every culture has its own tradition. According to the Bible, Jubal was the inventor of the first musical instruments. Music associated with religion was later followed by different genres – secular classical music, folk music, light music, military music and so on…

Affordable music playing for the householdDeutsche Grammophon

Since the invention of sound recording it has been possible to enjoy any piece of music in the comfort of your own home, not just in concert halls. For many years the vinyl disc was regarded as the best way of recording sound, and the format is still finding new enthusiasts today.

Prom with gramophone device (1967)Deutsche Grammophon

Titta Ruffo with Orchestra: Charles Gounod - Faust - Avant de quitter ces lieux (sung in Italian translation). (1907)

The first gramophones and records were unaffordable for people on an average income, but as production methods improved, prices gradually came down.

An advertisement of Deutsche Grammophon (1904)Deutsche Grammophon

Targeted advertising campaigns also caused sales to increase by leaps and bounds. From the mid-1920s, the gramophone became an established feature of many private homes. A well-organised specialist retail trade sold records and gramophones.

Shellac breakageDeutsche Grammophon

Otto Reutter with Orchestra: Wie reizend sind die Frauen (1927)

From 1925 onwards, acoustic-mechanical sound recording and reproduction were largely replaced worldwide by electro-acoustic techniques. This innovation meant that the entire repertoire had to be re-recorded. The public were impressed by the improved sound quality and the record business boomed.

Claudio Abbado - Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in D minor (2014)Deutsche Grammophon

Production of shellac discs ceased at the end of the 1950s. From 1958, long-playing stereo discs made of vinyl brought unprecedented listening enjoyment – it was just like being at a live performance.

Vienna Philharmonic (2010) by © Richard SchusterDeutsche Grammophon

The social impact of records is worth highlighting. As the 20th century went on, and ownership of records and record players became widespread, listening to music lost its exclusivity. Even just 100 years ago, only a few privileged people could enjoy listening to high-quality musical performances in concert halls or opera houses, or at open-air venues.

By Hans WildLIFE Photo Collection

It was the record, with its good sound quality and affordable price, that opened up the world of music to everyone.

Credits: Story

Texts by Gabriela Kilian

Based on the exhibition 78, 45, 33 – vom sanften Ton zum starken Sound at Museum Energiegeschichte(n)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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