The Earliest Recording of The Owl and the Pussy-cat

The Library of Congress has just launched a new site, National Jukebox, which makes historical recordings available. Among the many jewels is also the Haydn Quartet version of “The Owl and the Pussy-cat.”

In a previous post, I had dated this version to 1904, later than a 1902 recording by the Columbia (Peerless) Quartet. If the data on the National Jukebox site is correct, and it sure is the most reliable source I have, this recording was made on 14 September 1901 and so is the earliest.

The site also features a second version, or a new edition of the previous recording, dated 1908, and states that the music was composed by Reginald de Koven, who has several other songs listed.

An interesting note also tells us something ‘regarding the composer of this selection. In 1901 a certain H.W. Cardew copyrighted music for the poem by Edward Lear, but the music on this record is the melody of “The tailors’ chorus” from de Koven’s “Robin Hood,”‘ so the music was not expressly composed for the poem, but rather the poem was adapted to the music. You can listen to a section of tracks from Robin Hood here, but “The Tailors’ Chorus” is not included.

The song must have been quite popular, and the new dating makes it almost certain that this is what Boggs the Optimist sings in the first panel of the 29 December 1901 strip by “Brad” Bradford (click to see the whole strip):

Cardew’s two volumes of Edward Lear arrangements, no performance of which is available as far as I know, are listed in the Musical Scores page. More Archie & Boggs strips are available at Barnacle Press.

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