As I prepare for a follow-up visit to my cardiologist tomorrow, I find in my mailbox this message from a reader:
Cheer up! There’s an obituary in today’s Los Angeles Times for a woman who died of congestive heart failure–at the age of 115!
Born on September 13, 1890 in Mississippi; married for 72 (!) years
(1922-1994); never hospitalized in her life until she was 106
(gallstones); could still read the newspaper and sign her name at 114;
survived by her 96-year-old son.
Let’s see: Hilary Hahn will be 27 this year. So, if you live to be 115,
you could review a concert of hers in 2071–when she’s 91!
(Of course, there’s several “ifs” included in that last sentence.)
Er, there sure are. And of course I’m anxious to hear what the doctor says–how could I not be? Nevertheless, I’m feeling pretty optimistic, not least because I’ve now lost thirty-one pounds since congestive heart failure sent me to the hospital a little more than two months ago, and have also changed my life in countless other beneficial ways.
All of which reminds me that I never cease to be amazed by the long list of important people born well over a century ago who lived long enough to have their voices recorded for posterity. (Yes, I know where I’m going with this–wait for it.) A few of these recordings have been released on CD in recent years, and these are three of the best collections currently in print:
– About a Hundred Years: A History of Sound Recording (Symposium) contains spoken-word and musical recordings by Sarah Bernhardt, Johannes Brahms, Winston Churchill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, Joseph Joachim, Scott Joplin, Lenin, John Philip Sousa, and Leo Tolstoy, plus a battlefield recording of a World War I gas bombardment made in 1918.
– Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work from Tennyson to Plath (Sourcebooks, three CDs and an accompanying book) contains recordings by forty-two poets, including Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, and W.B. Yeats.
– In Their Own Voices: The U.S. Presidential Elections of 1908 and 1912 (Marston Records, two CDs) contains recordings by William Jennings Bryan, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.
Alas, precious few record companies have thought it worth their while to transfer historic spoken-word recordings to CD–which is where the Web comes in. The BBC, for instance, has a page on its Web site containing links to interviews from its vast archives to which anyone can listen via streaming audio. The selection is spotty, even erratic, but it does include a handful of celebrated figures of the relatively distant past, including Yeats, Gandhi, Le Corbusier, No