The Music of the Cottage
Laura was interviewed by a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat in 1978 and in it she provided us with a tantalizing list of the sounds she chose to fill her cottage with. The list is short but the stories that fill the spaces between the words convey much about her thoughts and the changing world around her. The Democrat reporter Hettie Cobb wrote,
“A Brussels lace doily is placed on top of an old Victrola where Miss Jepsen plays records of John Barrymore reciting Hamlet, T. S. Eliot and Robert Frost reading their own poems, E. H. Sothern doing Julius Caesar, and Caruso singing Aida. She also has recordings of frog songs and birds singing.”
The first thing one notices in the list above is the phonograph Laura used in her home. The Victrola was manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Corporation and production ceased on these units by 1929, almost 50 years before Ms. Cobb sat in the cottage to interview Laura. The recordings mentioned are as old or older themselves. John Barrymore recorded Hamlet for the Victrola in 1928, Sothern’s recording took place in January, 1921 and the last release of Caruso’s performance of Aida took place in 1932. The Verdi opera performance by Caruso tells the story of an Egyptian warrior longing for the love of a captured Nubian slave, and is considered one of the most romantic operas ever written. Here is a translation of the recording,
If only I were that warrior!
If only my dream might come true!
An army of brave men with me as their leader
And victory and the applause of all Memphis!
And to you, my sweet Aida,
To return crowned with laurels,
To tell you: for you I have fought,
For you I have conquered!
Heavenly Aida, divine form,
Mystical garland of light and flowers,
You are queen of my thoughts,
You are the splendour of my life.
I want to give you back your beautiful sky,
The sweet breezes of your native land,
To place a royal garland on your hair,
To raise you a throne next to the sun.
Many of these recordings date from the time of Laura’s teenage years and quite possibly represent music she grew up listening to on the farm of her youth.
The last sentence of the excerpt from the article is especially telling. When the space around the Lichgate oak was first purchased in 1956, the surrounding property was lowlands filled with the sounds of frogs and birds. Many of those interviewed who visited Laura remember the volume of nature sounds that filled the evenings and in her book Lichgate on High Road she mentions the various wildlife visitors that graced her cottage. By the late 1970’s, many of these sounds were missing as development took the woods and fields of High Road. One can picture Laura missing the sounds from the early days spent in her home and playing the recordings of the frogs and birds she loved.
For those who wish to listen to the sounds Laura shared during the interview, just follow the links below
Enrico Caruso, picture from 1911 performance of Verdi's opera Aida
Celeste Aida by Enrico Caruso, direct 78 transfer (33 mins mp3 link)
Celeste Aida by Enrico Caruso, remastered (5 min mp3 link)
John Barrymore, 1922 London performance of Hamlet
Barrymore's 1922 Hamlet (8 sec mp3 link)
Barrymore soliloquy, Hamlet, 1922 (12 sec mp3 link)