Yep, only three known copies of this Edison wax cylinder from 1888 exist, which would certainly make this one of the most historically prized recordings ever. But it's also a good listen.
The "song" heard here is an excerpt from classical composer Handel's "Israel In Egypt" sung by, to quote a note on the cylinder: "A chorus of 4000 voices recorded with phonograph over 100 yards away." Conducted by August Manns; recorded by Col. George Gouraud, foreign sales agent for Thomas Edison at the Crystal Palace, London, England, June 29, 1888.
A hundred yards away?! At first I thought: 'a hundred feet away', the length of a football field, but no, it says 'yards.' Dang, that's far. So what does it sound like? Pretty avant-garde, actually - the white-noise of the cylinder whirring around melded with the huge distant choir is a strange and haunting sound, indeed. Not too far removed from something you might hear on a Zoviet France or Nurse With Wound album. Knowing that these are actual voices from the 1800s adds a ghostly mystery to the experience.
Handel festival: "Israel In Egypt" - excerpt
(Courtesy of archive.org.)