The USSR recording industry was a state monopoly from 1919 until the late 1980s. The Melodiya label was introduced in 1964, but brought no change in the numbering sequence. As pre-1964 LPs usually appear as "Melodiya" in dealers' lists, the same custom has been followed in this discography, and also for the few 78s. Some lists describe pre-1964 discs as "pre-Melodiya" or "USSR"; the BIRS discography uses "USSR" for all Soviet produced discs.
An illustrated history of the Russian gramophone record is provided by Vitaly Brousnikin.
In 1933 the various manufacturing operations in the USSR were united and a common numbering system adopted for 78rpm standard groove records. Each side of the record bears a unique number, preceded by the digit 0 for 30cm (12") records. Numbers follow a chronological sequence, without regard to the presence of a leading zero. The two sides of a record normally carry consecutive numbers; exceptionally they may be further apart in the case of recouplings, in which case each side preserves its original number. The former rockdisco site gives the number sequences for each year. New 78s continued to be produced long after the introduction of LPs. The last standard groove 78 master was 48206, issued in 1969, and the pressing of them was phased out in 1970.
LPs were introduced in 1951. They follow a similar numbering system to 78s, starting from 1 and preceded by the Cyrillic letter D (for dolgo-igrayuschy, "long-playing"). Each side is numbered separately, as with 78s. A number with no prefix indicates a 25cm (10") record, one zero indicates 30cm (12"), two zeros 20cm (8") and three zeros 17.5cm (7"). Melodiya: a Soviet Russian L.P. discography by John R Bennett gives starting points in the number sequence for each year from 1951 to 1979. A table for the period 1961 to 1991 was published in the Soviet magazine Nauka i Zhizn (Science and Life) and is reproduced by PNP Records. The two lists are not identical, but from 1964 onwards most of the differences are small. The table in the former rockdisco site covers the whole period. It agrees with Bennett's table up to 1963 and with PNP's from 1964 onwards.
A fresh number sequence was started for stereo recordings in 1961. These are prefixed by the letter C (for CTEPEO in the Cyrillic alphabet) or CM for stereo-mono compatible. Numbers run in a single sequence regardless of whether they are prefixed by C or CM, or by any zeros. Bennett gives starting points for each year up to 1979 and PNP Records and rockdisco up to 1991. As "C" is pronounced S some Western authors confuse the two letters, and Melodiya are also guilty of this in their literature in English. Thus CM 02129/30 may be listed elsewhere as SM 02129/30. Because of the inconvenience of the dual-sided numbering system, some lists dispense with the second number, quoting CM 02129 or SM 02129; and from about 1983 only the first number is shown on the record sleeve. It is also commonplace for dealers to omit leading zeros.
As in the west, mono versions of stereo recordings continued to be produced well into the 1970s. As both sequences are chronological, the catalogue numbers in the C and D series are different, e.g. the Nikolaeva/Svetlanov concerto no.3 was issued as C 0229/30 and D 09321/2. Live recordings were not generally issued in stereo until the mid-1970s, and some studio recordings continued to be produced in mono only.
The number sometimes appears on the record with the D or C prefixed by 33, to distinguish it from 45rpm and 78rpm microgroove records. A Cyrillic H (= N for novy, "new") immediately before a D indicates a reprocessed record; however the original number is retained.
In July 1975 the use of zeros was abandoned and replaced with a code Cxx-yyyyy for stereo and Mxx-yyyyy for mono, where xx refers to the type of music and record size and yyyyy is the side number. The numerical sequences continue where the previous system left off, thus the "xx" can be ignored for dating purposes. Almost all Medtner recordings are prefixed C10 or M10, meaning classical music, 30cm, stereo or mono respectively. Even though redundant, leading zeros appear to have been retained in 4 digit stereo codes; thus Arkhipova's LP appears as C10-08229. In later releases the catalogue number is followed by a three digit number in the range 001-009. The meaning of this code is shrouded in mystery; it does not vary with the factory or the pressing and is unrelated to the type of music.
Post-1975 reissues of earlier recordings, usually mono, were renumbered in accordance with the new system. This represents a departure from the strictly chronological numbering system used hitherto.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Melodiya company was split into its component parts, only the headquarters building keeping the Melodiya trademark. The Moscow processing plant was by then pressing only CDs, but other plants continued to produce LPs under different labels including Russian Disc.
Some recordings were released for the international market by Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga ("International Book"), a Soviet export company. Discs have an MK label but use the Melodiya numbers. Occasionally one sees the catalogue number confused with other numbers that appear on the label.
The Akkord label dates from the early 1960s and is believed to have been used exclusively by the Leningrad factory. It was phased out after the creation of Melodiya in 1964.
From the 1960s onwards Melodiya (and Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga) licensed western record companies to distribute their recordings. The main companies involved were EMI (HMV and Angel labels), RCA, Ariola (Eurodisc), and Monitor Records. Their releases include a handful of historic Medtner recordings. A raft of new international distribution arrangements with small record companies followed the divorcing of the Melodiya and Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga companies in 1989, before Melodiya granted exclusive rights to BMG in 1994.
For stereo studio recordings, the year of release can be deduced from the catalogue number. This is not necessarily the year of recording, but usually the dates are not far apart. For mono recordings, the D number is a less reliable guide because of the practice of transferring recordings from 78s. Also, live performances may be issued many years after their broadcast date. The M10 numbers are even less useful as they also include many reissues of recordings from the D series.
Record covers also carry the year of production on the cover, which in the case of a reissue will correspond to the reissue date, not the original release date. Export issues, with labels in English, also tend to be released after the domestic ones and may carry the suffix a (= angliskii "English") after the record number; the discs themselves are no different from the domestic issues. The date of recording is sometimes given on the cover, but it may not be obvious and is frequently absent. This accounts for some of the mistakes made in dating recordings.
The approximate year of pressing can be determined from the record label. PNP Records provides a guide to dating pressings between 1961 and 1994. There were two earlier manufacturing standards: GOST 5289-50 from 1950 and 5289-56 from 1956. Pre-1964 labels show a great diversity of style, impressively surveyed at collectable-records.ru.
A new number sequence SUCD xx-yyyyy was started for Melodiya CDs in 1990, where xx is taken from the code for 30cm LPs (10 for classical CDs). They were produced mainly for export, and include both new recordings and transfers from LP. By 1993 the Melodiya plant had fallen to the "Moscow Mafia" and become a pirate operation. Production was restarted in Austria, which led to the joint venture with Bertelsmann Music Group in 1994. The Melodiya label was replaced by BMG/Melodiya.
Melodiya's contract with BMG expired in 2003. The company re-opened under new management and in 2006 started re-releasing recordings under its own label, using the previous numbers but substituting MELCD for SUCD. Thus the CD transfer of Gilels's recording of the Op 22 sonata was originally issued as SUCD 10-00252 and later as MELCD 10-00252. Recent reissues have used different numbers, e.g. SUCD 10-00175/6 has become MELCD 10-01927.
Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga distributed CDs in the 1990s from the Melodiya recordings they held in addition to new recordings. They applied their own numbers with the prefix MK.
When Melodiya was broken up in 1991, the Moscow recording studio took the trademark "Russian Disc". Jeff Joneikis and Constantine Orbelian acquired the rights to distribute Russian Disc recordings in the USA. Between 1993 and 1996 the American operation released a series of old and new recordings on CD, including several of Medtner works, before a lawsuit by Rostropovich drove the company into bankruptcy. A few Russian Disc CDs are still obtainable new through Amazon, but most can only be found secondhand.
I am indebted to Bob Lim for explaining to me the intricacies of the LP numbering system and directing me to Bennett's book.