Anna Livia Plurabelle
James Joyce reads from Ulysses (1929)
by Sylvia Beach
In 1924, 1 went to the office of His Master’s Voice in Paris to ask them if they would record a reading by James Joyce from Ulysses. I was sent to Piero Coppola, who was in charge of musical records, but His Master’s Voice would agree to record the Joyce reading only if it were done at my expense. The record would not have their label on it, nor would it be listed in their catalogue.
Some recordings of writers had been done in England and in France as far back as 1913. Guillaume Apollinaire had made some recordings which are preserved in the archives of the Musée de la Parole. But in 1924, as Coppola said, there was no demand for anything but music. I accepted the terms of His Master’s Voice: thirty copies of the recording to be paid for on delivery. And that was the long and the, short of it.
Joyce himself was anxious to have this record made, but the day I took him in a taxi to the factory in Billancourt, quite a distance from town, he was suffering with his eyes and very nervous. Luckily, he and Coppola were soon quite at home with each other, bursting into Italian to discuss music. But the recording was an ordeal for Joyce, and the first attempt was a failure. We went back and began again, and I think the Ulysses record is a wonderful performance. I never hear it without being deeply moved.