The dance from "Dybbuk" – violin solo performed by Shmuel Weinberg, music manager in the Jewish department of the "Syrena Record" company
– this is how Mietek's father was depicted on a gramophone record with the catalogue number 5120. However, the documents confirming his employment in the iconic Warsaw record label have not survived.
The "Syrena Record" company, founded in Warsaw in 1904, instantly became a huge success, driving out foreign competition and becoming a tycoon in the Russian Empire market. Just before World War I, it produced 2.5 million records annually. Since 1912, the company's headquarters were located in a tenement house at 66 Chmielna Street, with a factory built in its courtyard. Initially, the Jewish repertoire records were not an important part of the "Syrena" output. This field of the company's activity developed in the interwar period.
During the First World War, the company's resources were significantly damaged, but its owner – Juliusz Feigenbaum – managed not only to rebuild the company but also to survive the great financial crisis of the 1920s. The difficulties were overcome around 1925. Since then, more and more recordings were made by the "Syrena Record". Famous artists from the world of classical music, as well as stars of entertainment music and cabaret, were invited by the label.
During World War II, the factory was classified as "Jewish property" – production was closed, and the machines were exported. The factory buildings survived the war, with only the front building destroyed. However, they were dismantled to make room for the Palace of Culture and Science. Today, the south-western pavilion of the Palace (Museum of Technology) stands there.
According to Mieczysław Fogg, the fast pace of work in the factory resembled the baking of rolls in a bakery – the management focused on novelties, songs, and skits. Either whole programmes or the best numbers from the most famous Polish and Jewish theatres were recorded. Members of the audience could buy an album right at the play’s premiere.
Artists had to be able to record under the pressure of time.
The owner of […] the record label handed me ten to fifteen songs at a time. […] Next, I went to see the conductor, and we quickly prepared the songs for recording (six "pieces" in a few hours). Soon, the recording itself followed. Henryk Gold or another violinist stood over me, playing a given tune.
– says Mieczysław Fogg in his autobiography “Od palanta do belcanta” [From Bum to Belcanto].
What was it like for a violinist to work at the "Syrena" recording studio?
The studio on Chmielna Street was small. There was a tube that went through a partition – one end was used for recordings, and the other end was fitted with a membrane and a needle, placed on a wax record. The tempo was adjusted by heavy metal pulleys, which were added or subtracted; It resembled a lever. – Did the apparatus capture all instruments? – No, and that's the thing. For example, the violin had to be fitted with a membrane and a tube on the side, connecting them to the bridge.
– These are the words of Zygmunt Karasiński, a jazz pioneer in Poland, who recorded on Chmielna in 1924 and recalled the above story in the "Jazz" magazine in 1966 (no. 7/8).
Mieczysław Weinberg's father started working at the "Syrena Records" label in the mid-1920s. At that time, he desperately needed commissions, as he was struggling with financial problems and unemployment.
Judging by the preserved black discs, Shmuel Weinberg specialised in Jewish theatrical and vaudeville repertoire, as well as cantorial music. This juxtaposition may be surprising, but the cantors, endowed with great voices, were treated like stars. Many of them were known not only for prayers in synagogues but also for their recitals of opera arias and performances of traditional songs. Their recordings were greatly popular and from the point of view of a record label, they were worth investing in.
A complete catalogue of records from the Jewish section of the "Syrena" label doesn’t exist – the lists of these records are being recreated from various collections in Poland and abroad.
The list presented in Tomasz Lerski’s monumental book on the history of the "Syrena Record" company shows that the earliest known album with Shmuel’s recording is the "Dance" from Dybbuk.
The dance from the extremely popular play by Ansky allows us to hear Mieczysław's father as a solo violinist. He was self-taught and learned to play at the age of seven. One day, when he was playing by the open window, a wandering Romany musician heard him. Spellbound by the boy's talent, he offered him lessons, but they never came to fruition.
Probably thanks to Shmuel Weinberg's artistic contacts, the label's catalogue included pieces from the repertoire of the "Scala" theatre, e.g. Giza Heiden's couplets, with the accompaniment of an orchestra conducted by Shmuel. He also led orchestras during the recordings of other entertainers known for their performances in Poland and abroad: David Lederman, Leon Fuchs, Izaak Feld, and Betty Kenig. As an accompanist, Weinberg played, among others, with Leon Fuchs and Anna Jakubowicz.
Records with theatrical couplets and recordings by a cantor Jacob Koussevitzky, highly appreciated by the contemporary audience, were released at a time when the label changed its name to "Syrena Electro". In the late 1920s, "Syrena's" management decided to invest in modern technologies. The company started producing discs with the use of an electrical method and capturing sound for films. At that time, a new "Syrena Records" studio was set up in Mokotów, Warsaw.