Music blog

Music news and views


We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

08 August 2018

2 Cats 1 Piano

Today is International Cat Day, a special day created in 2002 on the initiative of the International Fund for Animal Welfare to encourage both cat owners and feline enthusiasts to celebrate and take care of them.

Today is then a most excellent occasion to honour some great felines from our music collections!

ABerthold, G. Duetto for [two cats] with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte. London : Ewer & Johanning, 1825. British Library Shelfmark G.806.j.(14.) 

In 1825 London firm Ewer & Johanning published the above ‘Duetto for two cats’. The curious piece is signed by a ‘G. Berthold’, however this is but a pseudonym. It was initially attributed to the great Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, who had just been in London and whose music is quoted in the duet.

Remarkably, the piece is still very much part of the repertoire, often under the later title of ‘Duo Buffo di due gatti’. The duet lends itself to be performed by any combination of voices and it’s been recorded by renowned singers like Christa Ludwig and Walter Berry, among others.

DBerthold, G. Duetto for [two cats] with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte. London : Ewer & Johanning, 1825. G.806.j.(14.)

There is speculation that the mysterious G. Berthold was in fact Robert Lucas Pearsall, a British composer who was a founder of the Bristol Madrigal Society.

Edgar Hunt writes that when Pearsall moved from Germany to Switzerland, the manuscript of a certain ‘Cat Duet’ was included in a list of manuscripts he took along with him. Another clue is found on Pearsall’s unpublished ballet ‘Die Nacht eines Schwarmers’, which contains a duet between two dancers dressed as cats whose music resembles the mysterious Berthold’s cat duet above. Was this a jibe on Rossini’s style?

Whoever the composer may be, the arrangement combines two duets from the second act of Rossini’s ‘Otello’ and the ‘Katte-Cavatine’ by Danish composer Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse.

C-vertAbove: Berthold, G. Duetto for [two cats] with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte. London : Ewer & Johanning, 1825. BL: G.806.j.(14.)
Below: Weyse, C.E.F. Katte-Cavatine. Copenhagen : C. C. Lose & Delbanco, 1852, 60. BL: G.630.

Cats have of course being represented and evoked throughout the history of music. If we go back to 1790, Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in sol minore K. 30 (L. 499) was published in London, along with thirty other pieces by the Italian composer. The sonata achieved posthumous fame with the name ‘Fuga del Gatto’ (Cat’s Fugue). According to legend Scarlatti had a cat named Pulcinella who, as cats have always done, walked over his keyboard "unintentionally" playing the musical motif of the Sonata. Scarlatti immediately wrote it down and developed the whole piece from these random notes.

Sca1-horzScarlatti, Domenico. Essercizi per Gravicembalo. London 1739. BL: K.5.c.8. 

Also from 1790 dates the Singspiel ‘Der Stein der Weisen’. The libretto was penned by Emanuel Schikaneder, who also wrote the libretto for the Magic Flute the following year. The music was a collaboration between Franz Xaver Gerl, Johann Baptist Henneberg, Benedikt Schack and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The extent of each composer’s involvement in the music is contested, however Mozart is often attributed to have written the comic duet ‘Nun liebes Weibchen’ which takes place at the end of Act II.

Characters Lubano and Lubanara realise that the latter has been cursed and can only meow like a cat. Lubano is at first not aware of the enchantment and he angrily reproaches Lubanara for her infidelities. He eventually recognises she is under a spell and together they meow a way out of their situation.

Mozart a-vertMozart, W. A. Nun liebes Weibchen Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1881. BL: H.698./6 

This short cat purrade has unfortunately run out of time. Even though we have had to exclude a few other musical kitties, we couldn’t leave this one out...

31 July 2018

More music materials on our manuscripts website

The summer holidays are upon us, but we are as always hard at work. We have a few more Music Manuscripts from our collection which have been digitised by The British Library's Imaging Studio so we could upload them to our website and make them accessible to all. 


Egerton MS 2795 - Ludwig van Beethoven, Portion of a musical sketch-book (c 1825)
This is a small pocket sketchbook of the kind that Beethoven carried around on his sorties into the countryside and taverns around Vienna. Egerton dates from the summer of 1825 and transmits studies for the Quartet in B flat, Op 130.
    Digital Version:


 Add MS 38068 -  Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude and Fugue in G : no. 15 from "Das Wohltemperirte Clavier," part ii (c.1744)
    Digital Version: 

R.M.18.a.1 - Sir George Job Elvey, The Rolling Year (1850)
Birthday cantata for Queen Victoria for solo voices, chorus and full orchestra, in score. With a separate extra copy of the words on a leaflet.
    Digital Version:


Add MS 41866 - Johannes Brahms, Rhapsody in E♭ major op. 119, no. 4 (1893)
Written at Bad Ischl at the end of June 1893. This manuscript differs in a few places from the first published edition by Simrock also in 1893.
    Digital Version: 


Egerton MS 2335 - Joseph Haydn, Symphonies nos. 47 and 48 (c.1784)
    Digital Version: 


 Add MS 53777 - Sir Arthur Sullivan, Patience (1881)
After opening at the Opera Comique in April 1881, Patience moved in October to the brand-new Savoy Theater, just off the Strand, and inaugurated the first theater with electric lighting.
    Digital Version: 

Add MS 38069 - Miscellaneous
George Frideric Handel, Italian cantata,: 18th cent.
Joseph Haydn, 6 English Canzonettas, Hob.XXVIa:25-30 Title page signed 1791.
Charles-Simon Catel, "Quatuor énigmatique": 1811.
Ludwig van Beethoven, Canon: 1825
Wilhelm Richard Wagner,  1st violin part of overture "Polonia" 1833
George William Chard, Hymn: 19th cent. 
    Digital Version: 38069


 Add MS 41631 - Ludwig van Beethoven, Three Early Piano Sonatas, WoO 47 (1783)
   Beethoven's own copy of his three early pianoforte sonatas in Eb, F minor and D, with annotations by the young composer.
     Digital Version: 


21 July 2018

Tracing Mozart's London influences at the British Library

Ian Page, conductor and artistic director of Classical Opera and The Mozartists, recalls his exploration of dozens of scores in the British Library as part of his research for the recently released 2-CD recording, ‘Mozart in London’

Ian Page (c) Sheila Rock detailIan Page (Photo: Sheila Rock)

For a London-based company devoted to performing the music of Mozart and his contemporaries, it is a tidy and convenient coincidence that Mozart began his composing career in earnest here in the English capital.

In August 1764, four months after Mozart and his family had arrived in London, Wolfgang’s father Leopold had fallen ill and been advised to withdraw with his family to the purer air and rolling countryside of Chelsea (!). Leopold remained bed-ridden for a few weeks, and to facilitate his recovery both Wolfgang and his sister were forbidden from playing music or making any other noise. I like to think that it was as a direct result of this stipulation that the then eight-year-old Mozart sat down in silence to pen his first symphony.

Mozart composed a handful of works during his 15-month stay in London. Three symphonies and his first concert aria, “Va dal furor portata”, all feature on our new recording, and he also wrote a set of six sonatas dedicated to Queen Charlotte and a miniature motet, “God is our refuge”, which he presented as a gift to the British Museum following his visit there in July 1765.

3.Z GOD IS OUR REFUGEMozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.: ‘God is our Refuge’, K. 20; 1765 (detail). British Library Shelfmark K.10.a.17.(3) 

These works have all been recorded before, and are familiar to the more ardent and inquisitive of Mozart-lovers. Our ‘Mozart in London’ festival, however, which was one of the flagship projects in the first year of our ongoing MOZART 250 series, sought to explore the music that the young Mozart might have heard during his extended visit to London, and our 2-CD set features live recordings originally taken from the concerts which comprised this festival. All the information that I needed in order to put this programme together proved to be readily available at the British Library, and I was amazed that nobody had previously explored this wealth of forgotten music, much of which would have had a formative influence on the young Mozart. The recording includes over a dozen pieces that had never been recorded before.

We are lucky that people of the 18th century were such fastidious chroniclers, and we know exactly which operas were performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket (in Italian) and at the Theatres Royal at Covent Garden and Drury Lane (in English) during Mozart’s stay. Furthermore, although Johann Christian Bach’s Adriano in Siria (premièred at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket on 26 January 1765, the day before Mozart’s ninth birthday) is the only score to have survived complete, many of these operas had selections of ‘Favourite Airs’ published, and copies of these can be found in the British library collection.

BL_Scan_0002_1Bach, Johann Christian (1765). The Favourite Songs in the Opera Adriano in Siria. British Library Shelfmark R.M.13.c.19.(8.)

 I spent many hours ploughing through these volumes, and ended up with over 250 arias or duets to choose from. Less than half of these, perhaps, were deserving of resurrection, but I was astonished by how good much of this music was, and how clearly it paved the way for Mozart’s own musical language. On one level a figure of Mozart’s magnitude is best regarded as a unique and timeless genius, but he was also very much a product of his own age and experiences. Mozart’s father is frustratingly reticent in his letters about what music they heard in London – he is more concerned with complaining about the weather and the beer – but the deeper I delved the more apparent it felt that Mozart must have been familiar with a lot of this surviving music. During this process I discovered charming and beautiful music by composers I had previously not even heard of – the likes of Giovanni Pescetti, Davide Perez, George Rush and William Bates – and it only added to the excitement that much of this repertoire had not been performed since time of its composition. I have never been more grateful for my British Library Reader’s Card.

Mozart in London was released on Signum Classics on 4 May 2018, and has been selected as Recording of the Month and Editor’s Choice for Gramophone magazine, Record of the Month for Limelight magazine, Disc of the Week for Classic FM Holland and Editor’s Choice for Presto Classical.