Frédéric d’Erlanger: an aristocrat and recording pioneer

This elegant gentleman here is Frédéric d’Erlanger, a banker and aristocrat who, together with several members of his family, became a shareholder of Italian label Fonotipia in 1904, shortly after the label’s foundation. Fonotipia, which also acted as an agency of Odéon for Italy, is well-known among record collectors for its releases of legendary opera singers, including María Barrientos, Elvira de Hidalgo, Francisco Vignas, Giovanni Zenatello, Léon Éscalais and many others.

D’Erlanger himself had an artistic temperament, and in 1909 he wrote the opera Tess (based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the Dubervilles), of which a few arias were recorded by Fonotipia.

D’Erlanger is not the only aristocrat among recording pioneers: in my research on Spain, the names of the Marquis of Alta-Villa and the Marquis of Tovar crop up frequently. It’s also interesting to see how recording labels were typically very keen to associate themselves with royalty as a marketing technique, with Fonotipia itself becoming official purveyor to Italy’s queen mother Margherita di Savoia.