The phonograph was invented in 1877. While the first versions of the technology had low fidelity and short playback time by modern standards, these limitations gradually lessened, and eventually recordings of classical music pieces were made and sold.

Occasionally, composers would be recorded performing or conducting their own work. Who were the first composers to use phonographic technology to have their own performances of their own work recorded? I'm interested both in examples where the composer performs the piece themselves, and where the composer conducts a large ensemble. I'm aware of Edward Elgar's recordings (as early as 1914), and there's a quote out there that says that Elgar was the first composer to take the phonograph seriously; but I'm curious to know whether there were any earlier examples.

I would also be interested to know about any examples along the lines of Debussy's "recordings" from 1913 on a reproducing piano system. My main question is about phonographic technology, though.

  • Apologies if this is off-topic for this StackExchange, but I figured I'd give it a shot and see if it got flagged. Aug 21, 2017 at 16:27
  • I would include a composer recording on a piano roll. Even though you lose dynamics, you still get the tempo and note lengths. Aug 22, 2017 at 12:27
  • This is what you're asking for– and it's flippin' fantastic... amazon.com/Creators-Composers-Playing-Their-Works/dp/B0046CC5W4
    – Brian
    Feb 21, 2018 at 8:07
  • I'm unsure, whether you ask for the performer to record himself/herself. With exception of piano roll, recording was a full time job on its own: the device had to be supervised, recording drums swapped every two minutes.
    – guidot
    Feb 21, 2018 at 9:46
  • @guidot: No, someone could make the recording. I'll edit the question a bit to clarify. Feb 22, 2018 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


This recording of Brahms' voice and playing dates from 1889.

  • Not fake news. Well before Youtube, circa 2005 my own ears heard this from WILL-FM in central Illinois on their morning classical broadcast. Nov 13, 2019 at 4:12

Gustav Mahler beat Debussy by eight years.

Listen on Youtube.

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