'An apology is due to the public for inflicting upon it another review, but I should not be doing so unless I were persuaded that many of the numerous possessors of gramophones will welcome an organ of candid opinion.' When editor Compton Mackenzie wrote these words at the top of the front page of the first issue of Gramophone in April 1923, could he have imagined that this 'review' would continue to be the world's leading authority on recorded classical music in 2012?
Apparently not, as further down the page he wrote: 'I do not want to waste time in announcing what we are going to do in future numbers, because I do not know yet if there is any real need for this review at all.'
When Mackenzie penned his opening Gramophone editorial the world was a very different place. A place difficult for us to imagine today. But now, with the launch of the new Gramophone Digital Archive, that place is brought back to vibrant life. Every page of every issue is now available to read and explore in high resolution. And as you start your journey through the archive (tracing performance practices of Bach through the 20th century, perhaps, or the exciting flowering of jazz through the 1920s and '30s, or even the progress of the Second World War through the letters pages in the 1940s – read 'Gramophone at War' for a more detailed account of the war period) it becomes clear that this is far more than just an archive of a classical music magazine, it's also an enthralling historical document. I think of Mackenzie's pointed jibes aimed at the home secretary in the 1930s, how he would use his editorial to vent his anger at the treatment of King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis, and some truly revealing interviews with virtually all of the great musicians and composers of the last century, including Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Karajan, Casals, Solti, Barbirolli, Abbado, Argerich, Menuhin, Pavarotti, the list goes on and on.
Later in his opening editorial from 1923, Mackenzie set out his aim for Gramophone, 'If I find that the sales warrant me in supposing that gramophone enthusiasts want the kind of review Gramophone will set out to be, I can promise them that I will do my best to ensure their obtaining the finest opinions procurable.' And it's an aim that the magazine has kept to throughout its history, from Mackenzie himself, to Herman Klein, Philip Hope-Wallace, John Steane and Richard Osborne (to name just a handful) – reading the archive is to read the thoughts of many of the finest writers on music of the last 90 years.
We've made a video introducing the archive (below) because there is nothing better than seeing it in action for yourself. And if you'll permit me the liberty of borrowing Mackenzie's sign-off from April 1923: Andiam! Incominciate!