The Earliest Recordings of The Owl and the Pussy-cat

Edward Lear’s most famous Nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussy-cat, was among the first pieces of music to be recorded.

Label for 1904 Haydn Quartet Owl and Pussycat

I have been able to find three different recordings of the same arrangement for four voices, here they are:

  1. 1902 by the Columbia Quartet (later Peerless Quartet), Columbia A398 (751)
  2. 1904 by the Haydn Quartet, VictorTalking Machine 87
  3. early 1920s by the Big City Four, Pathé 20793

An online directory of the oldest recordings states that the music is by George Ingraham (The Owl and the Pussycat. New York: G. Schirmer, 1886) but, though the score on the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection is for piano and voice and I am no expert, these sound very different to me. However Ingraham is also listed as the composer of The Jumblies (Schirmer’s Octavo Choruses for Men’s Voices; 1st Ser. New York: G. Schirmer, 1891) for four male voices, so he might have written a chorus arrangement for the Owl and Pussycat too.

I suspect this is the version Boggs the Optimist is singing in the first panel of a December 29, 1901 comic strip in the Chicago Tribune comic supplement. The strip is from a site I am still working on, Nonsense in the Early Comics, so this is a preview. Thanks to Holmes of Barnacle Press for bringing this to my attention.

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