Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 039

"The Phonograph Wins a Victory," Scientific American, June 22, 1878, p. 384.

The phonograph has been distinguishing itself lately in this city by its remarkably accurate reproductions of the cornet solos of Mr. Levy, the famous performer on that instrument.  Mr. Levy possesses the phenomenal ability of getting notes out of the cornet which, he says, "are not there," or in other words, he plays airs in notes an octave lower than any one else has succeeded in producing on the cornet, and thus he has extended the range of his instrument over four full octaves.  The phonograph, however, not only follows Levy, but surpasses him, by reproducing cornet notes in entirely new octaves of its own origination, proving itself to have a compass of extraordinary range, if not especial tonefulness and brilliancy.

At a very pleasant reception given to Mr. Edison recently, in this city, a most interesting conflict between Levy and the phonograph occurred.  Messrs. Edison and Johnson ably seconded the phonograph, and of course none but Levy could scientifically manipulate the cornet.  Fresh tin foil being adjusted on the cylinder, the bell of the cornet was placed near the mouth piece, and Yankee Doodle, first plain, and then garnished with variations of the most decorative character, assumed the form of dots on the foil.  Without the loss of a note, the phonograph repeated it, and not only this, but even the peculiar expression imparted by the player, and the triumphant kind of a flourish which brought the tune to a conclusion, were reproduced with wonderful accuracy.   After several other popular airs had been similarly replayed, Mr. Edison showed the effect of turning the cylinder at different degrees of speed, and then the phonograph proceeded utterly to rout Levy by playing his tunes in pitches and octaves of astonishing variety.  It was interesting to observe the total indifference of the phonograph to the pitch of the note with which it was to end.  Gravely singing the tune correctly for half a dozen notes, it would suddenly soar into regions too painfully high for the cornet even by chance to follow it.  Then it delivered the variations on Yankee Doodle with a celerity that no human fingering of the cornet could rival, interspersing new notes, which it seemed probable were neither in the cornet nor on any other instrument--fortunately.  Finally the phonograph recited "Bingen on the Rhine" after its inventor, then repeated the poem with a whistling accompaniment, then in conjunction with two songs and a speech, all this on one tin foil, though by this time the remarks began to get mixed.  Just here Levy returned to the charge, and played his cornet fiercely upon the much indented strip.  But the phonograph was equal to any attempts to take unfair advantage of it, and it repeated its songs, and whistles, and speeches, with the cornet music heard so clearly over all, that its victory was unanimously conceded, and amid hilarious crowing from the triumphant cylinder the cornet was ignominiously shut up in its box.

The occasion of Mr. Edison's reception was the exhibition of a fine organ made by Mr. Hilborne L. Roosevelt, of this city, for the Episcopal church in Rome, Italy.  Some one, a reckless partisan of the phonograph, who was affected with enthusiasm over the victory of the instrument, and also by the fumes of the carbonic acid from a vinous beverage of French extraction, suggested that the phonograph be pitted against the grand organ.  It was with difficulty that Mr. Edison, who, during the evening, had repeatedly manifested a desire to do this, could be persuaded into confining himself to the simple assertion that it would be successfully done some time, and the phonograph was thus saved the strain of a second struggle, with a more formidable competitor.