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19 posts categorized "Acquisitions"

23 August 2016

Passionate music from a hot country: a musical visit to Iraq-Kurdistan

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The British Library's World and Traditional Music section supported ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, on a field trip to record music in Iraq-Kurdistan over June/July 2016. This is his report.

Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan Photo Rolf Killius
Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

It is hot. No, it is extremely hot. Today the temperature is 45° Celsius; the air is bone-dry, no trace of wind. I am in Sulaimani, the second urban centre in Iraq-Kurdistan. This part of Iraq belongs to the Kurds and is de-facto an independent state run by a Kurdish government.

Traditional singers and musicians have gathered in the Zardosht Café. Zardosht is the Kurdish term for Zoroastrianism, an age-old religion known in the wider region. Since the coming of the Islamic period, it has become a minority religion, often frowned upon. These days the Zardosht belief is making a kind of come-back. Here in Kurdistan the faith is essentially Kurdish and promotes traditional folk music.

Listen Zardosht Cafe Group


The group starts to play: The zarab (goblet drum) player provides rhythm while the Korg keyboardist adds harmonies and melodic phrases. Occasionally the saz (plucked lute) virtuoso contributes drone and melodic sounds. But the musical highlight is the charismatic lead-singer Ata Azizy; he alternates – or even competes – with the balaban player, Jowanro, in expressing intricate melodic lines. A balaban is a traditional single-reed wood instrument; it is very similar to the Armenian duduk. Its sound is soothing and exciting at the same time. Their way of singing and playing, including the guttural stops, is possibly what makes the music “typically” Kurdish.

The singer Ata Azizy Photo Rolf Killius
The singer Ata Azizy. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016
The balaban player Jowanro accompanied with zarab drum, keyboard and saz Photo Rolf Killius
The balaban player Jowanro accompanied with zarab drum, keyboard and saz. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

With the support of the British Library's World and Traditional Music section, I was able to visit Iraq-Kurdistan and record traditional music during live events and in pre-arranged recording sessions. I was curious: how does a new country treats its rich traditional music culture?

I stay for the ‘after-party’ at the Zorgasth Café. Here the singer, Rafat Germiany, and the same balaban player perform howrama. Though this musical genre is remotely connected to Zoroastrianism, it is known as a typical Kurdish vocal style. The voice and the wind-instrument alternate again.

 Listen Zardosht Cafe Howrama group

 The singer Rafat Germiany (second left) and the balaban player Jowanro (second right) Photo Rolf Killius

The singer Rafat Germiany (second left) and the balaban player Jowanro (second right). Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

For me the most remarkable thing is the large, mainly young crowd (only men). They watch the performance with increasing anticipation. It shows that the music is still meaningful to a younger audience and therefore has a future. One participant told me that this café was the only public space where a female singer was allowed to perform these days.

Everybody mentions the traditional vocal style called heiran from the Erbil region, Erbil being the country’s capital and the other urban centre. Mr Delzar, a friend, invites me to his home village far from Erbil, just below the Qarachokh mountain range. Today his ‘village’ consists of several farm-houses managed on a part-time basis and re-created only recently. The original Kurdish villages of this region were destroyed by Iraqi troops, the last time by Saddam Hussain in 1988. Only in the last few years – the region was only recently secured by the Peshmerga (Kurdish liberation army) – have some of the original villagers and their descendants come back to farm again.

A seasoned Kurd arrives at Mr Delzar’s farm-house and immediately starts singing. Mr Mahyadin Sherwani is a farmer and self-taught heiran singer. He explains to me that the songs of the heiran genre describe the rugged countryside of Kurdistan and its people.

I first experienced traditional Kurdish vocal music many years back in the Kurdish region of eastern Turkey. I listened to the always slightly over-amplified and highly reverberated recordings from cassettes played on the crackling PA-system of a local bus. There, listening to this music and viewing the hills flying past, I imagined how this music was born in the Kurdish countryside.  I have the same feeling today, listening to this talented singer in this Iraq-Kurdistan village.

The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani Photo Parwez Zabihi
The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani. Photo Parwez Zabihi, 2016

Listen The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani

 

I have already mentioned the saz. During my last week in Iraq-Kurdistan I was invited to a performance in the heart of Erbil of the saz player and musical instrument shop owner, Bakr Sazvan. He has his shop just below the ancient citadel set on a mound towering over the city. He played a number of electrifying pieces, setting his business aside for a full hour.

The saz is a pear-shaped plucked instrument, with five or six strings organised in three courses. For the Kurds the saz is an essentially Kurdish instrument though it is also used by Turkish and Iranian musicians.

Especially intriguing is how Bakr Sazvan plays, combining melodic phrases played on the higher pitched strings, and striking the lower pitched strings in order to create the accompanying drone sound.

The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop Photo Rolf Killius
The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

Listen The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop

 

As I pack my bags for the return journey to London I ponder about Kurdish traditional music: in comparison with many other regions of the world I’ve visited, the music of the Kurds is still alive and kicking! As these people are very keen to demonstrate traditional music and to preserve their culture, they invited me to come again for a much longer stay. I happily accepted.

Rolf Killius (rolfkillius@yahoo.com and www.rolfkillius.com) 09/08/2016 

(with thanks to the musicians, interpreters, fixers and friends who assisted on the trip)

The recordings made during this project will be added to the Rolf Killius Collection (C815). Some of Rolf's recordings from rural India are online on BL Sounds.

Find out more about the work of the British Library's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.

 
 



07 July 2015

Thea Musgrave - a new performance and a PhD opportunity

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A few years ago the British Library acquired the archive of Thea Musgrave. We are now collaborating with the University of Glasgow to offer a PhD studentship on "The music of Thea Musgrave: an analysis based on the archival sources". Now in her 80s, Thea Musgrave remains very active as a composer, and her latest work Voices of our Ancestors will be premiered on Thursday 9 July at the City of London Festival by the Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge.

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Photo: Christian Steiner

The studentship will be offered under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme in conjunction with the British Library, London. This exciting opportunity will require the researcher to divide his or her time between the University of Glasgow and the British Library. The student will be expected to assist with the cataloguing and interpretation of the archive, and will be invited to participate in other aspects of the British Library’s activities. A supervisory team from both institutions will oversee this work and full research training (including archival research skills) will be offered. The team will include Dr Martin Parker Dixon (Music) and Dr Simon Murray (Theatre Studies) from Glasgow University, and Richard Chesser, Head of Music at the British Library.

The studentship is funded for three years to commence in October 2015 and covers tuition fees at the Home/EU rate, due to funding. Home students and EU students who have lived in the UK for 3 years prior to the award will also receive a maintenance bursary (stipend) of £14,057 (2015/16 RCUK rate). In addition, the student is eligible to receive up to £1,000 a year from the British Library to support travel directly related to the doctoral research, and will be given use of a desk and computer in the Music department of the Library and access to staff catering facilities. All AHRC Collaborative PhD students automatically become part of the UK-wide Collaborative Doctoral Partnership development scheme which will provide training in a range of skills needed for research within museums, archives, galleries and heritage organisations.

Informal enquiries are welcome. Please write to Dr Martin Parker Dixon (martin.dixon@glasgow.ac.uk) in the first instance.

Voices of our Ancestors
A page of sketches for Thea Musgrave's new work, Voices of our Ancestors

We see four interconnected questions as providing the stimulus for developing and integrating original research into Musgrave’s oeuvre:

  • Thea Musgrave follows a fairly typical pattern of British composing of the period in that she is concerned to synthesise new continental techniques of serialism and aleatoricism with more traditional academic preoccupations of long-term tonal planning and modal harmony. With this, for example, she follows the same trajectory as the composers of the more heavily researched Manchester School. A comparative analysis of Musgrave’s technical via media – for which a study of the sketches would be indispensable – would provide an intimate portrait of the cultural and intellectual tolerances and ambitions of post-War Britain.
  • Another significant parallel with the Manchester School is Musgrave’s impulse towards drama and theatre, both in terms of writing for the stage, but also working with movement and spacialisation to affect ‘dramatic-abstract’ scenarios in her instrumental works. It would be important to contextualise her theatricalisation of musical form, and her concept of the dramatic against theatre practices and theories of the day. Musgrave has been described as essentially an operatic composer and it is important to substantiate this insight by discerning the representational, theatrical or narrative elements of her musical language. We stress that the concept of ‘theatre’ must not be treated naively or ahistorically, and this is why the investigation of this key aspect of Musgrave’s oeuvre needs to be carried out in collaboration with Theatre Studies.
  • A broader approach to her technique would attempt to discover the origins of her notion of compositional professionalism and work ethic, and her tactfulness and practicality towards the technical limitations of musical performers. These are principles that she has generally wanted to impress upon her students. Musgrave has very successfully managed the ‘business’ of compositional production at a time when commissions for new music were not easy to come by. Because she settled in the USA in the early 1970s, her life affords the opportunity to consider the different working conditions, expectations and cultural positions of the American and the European composer as they attempted to build a career within the economy of new music during the latter half of the 20th Century.
  • A further question relates to how her compositional career-building in the post-War context was shaped, hampered, or indeed boosted by gender and national identity. Early in her career, Musgrave seems to have benefitted enormously by being identified as Scottish at a time when Scottish musical institutions needed to champion homegrown talent. This identification does not sit easily with her more modernist and international positioning. And while a good proportion of her music has Scottish themes, there is no overt nationalist sentiment in her work. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that she is very much treated as a woman composer, even though she would rather be considered a ‘composer’. Susan McClary notes that Musgrave is one of many successful female musicians who is quick to rebuff any association with feminism. This tension must be explored.

In all of these areas of enquiry we anticipate that close study of the manuscript materials will underpin the research findings. It may then be appropriate for a catalogue description of the archive, taking account of the compositional processes as revealed in the source materials, to form an appendix to the thesis. By this means the student’s contribution to the Library’s catalogue can form part of the overall evaluation of the PhD.

For further details of how to apply for the studentship, please see http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_408759_en.pdf

Applications should be submitted by Friday 17th July 2015, and interviews will take place in early August.

08 September 2014

Archiving WOMAD 2014

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The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) is nearly as long as the festival's existence, recording performances for archival purposes since 1985. The first recording in the WOMAD Collection, C203/1, was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country. It was made on Ampex 456 ‘Grand Master’ tape at half-track stereo and in the recordists' notes, strong winds were reported as interfering with the quality of the recording.

1985 flyer from Steve Sherman s_sherman@sky.com

Since 1985 and each year, with the exception of three, a small team of staff from the British Library record as many of the performances as possible, including workshops and interviews. This summer, between 24 and 27 July, six members of staff attended the festival equipped with portable digital recorders and recorded ninety-one performances, covering 95% of the festival. These recordings have recently been catalogued and processed and are searchable on our catalogue. They can be listened to free of charge through our listening service on-site at the British Library in King's Cross in London and in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. 

The British Library holds a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since performing at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal, first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991, Thomas Mapfumo, first recorded in 1990 and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, first recorded in 1985, to cite only a few. In total we hold around 2,100 hours of audio (you would need close to 3 months of non-stop listening to listen to it all!) of performances at WOMAD, held on different physical formats such as open reel tape, DAT, CD-R and digital audio files; all are stored in our basements and backed up digitally for preservation and access.

Womad advert

The British Library holds five million recordings on over one million items dating back to the 1890s and possibly earlier. The sound collections have their origin in 1906, when the British Museum began collecting metal masters from the Gramophone Company. Recording performances at WOMAD is one example of the many ways in which the British Library actively develops its sound collections although the majority of material is acquired through donations, purchases or loans.

Steven Dryden, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist, was a member of the WOMAD team this year. In this paragraph he relays his highlight of the festival: experiencing the live sound of DakhaBrakha, made possible thanks to Dash Arts, the creative agency which brought the group to the United Kingdom.

My highlight of WOMAD 2014 has to be ‘Ethno Chaos’ founders DakhaBrakha - brooding, shamanic ‘noisescapes’ from Ukraine. The Siam Tent filled to capacity throughout the four piece set, the atmosphere building and building with each song. The sound is eclectic, in the truest sense of the word; there is a traditional folk element but also, dance, hip-hop and tribal rhythms. The songs often build to terrifyingly claustrophobic dins, but remain rhythmic and chant like - just as the ‘Ethno Chaos’ tag might suggest, there is a lot of beauty in this chaos. One couldn’t help but reflect on everything that has happened in the Ukraine in the last year. Perhaps DakhaBrakha are capturing the zeitgeist of a generation of Ukrainians? The performance is swamped with pride, Ukrainian flags are featured on stage and amongst the audience. But there is something more here, the sound of the four piece is defiant and confident, totally uncompromising between the past and the future sounds of the Ukraine. This band sucks you in to their world of noise and forces you to contemplate, all while moving your feet.

Listen to an excerpt from DakhaBrakha's performance

Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music, attended WOMAD festival for the first time.

Bernie Krause's talk at the Society of Sound Stage was an inspiring complement to the numerous musical performances I recorded at WOMAD: The Good Ones, Monsieur Doumani, Aar Maanta, Siyaya, Amjad Ali Khan, Mulatu Astatke, Kobo Town, Magnolia Sisters, amongst others. In his talk, the bio-acoustician and founder of Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to recording and archiving natural soundscapes, invited the audience to reflect on the origins of music by suggesting structural relationships between what he identifies as the three layers of the soundscape - the geophony ('non-biological sound that occurs in the natural world'), biophony ('all of the sounds that animals create collectively in a natural wild environment') and the anthrophony ('all the human noise we create'). Using spectograms and audio recordings from his personal archive and recordings of the BayAka Pigmies made by Louis Sarno, his points were made audible.

Listen to an excerpt from Bernie Krause's talk

Andy Linehan, Curator of Pop Music, attended the first WOMAD festival in 1985.

As ever, it is difficult to pick out the highlights of WOMAD – there is so much to see, hear, taste and enjoy even though we are working - but Manu Dibango has long been a personal favourite on record so it was great to see him live and Richard Thompson’s late-night set reminded me what a great guitarist and songwriter he is. Ibibio Sound Machine played a storming set on Saturday afternoon and Youssou N’Dour was as classy as ever that evening. Sunday brought my favourite band of the weekend – Les Ambassadeurs, the reformed band led by Salif Keita who revisited their 1970s blend of afrobeat, funk, jazz and soul in an all-too short 75 minutes of aural pleasure.  And in a contrast of style the final performance of the weekend was a blistering set by Public Service Broadcasting (probably the first band to have played both the British Library Entrance Hall and Womad) who enthralled a packed Siam tent and drew proceedings to a close. It didn’t rain either.

Listen to an excerpt from Public Service Broadcasting's performance

Get in touch to listen to performances from WOMAD on-site at the British Library and listen online to sounds from World & Traditional Music and Pop Music online! See you next year for WOMAD 2015!

02 September 2014

Syriac Liturgical Music - From the Mountains of the Servants of God

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The British Library has recently acquired field recordings made in two Syriac Orthodox monasteries in south-eastern Turkey by film-maker Nathaniel Daudrich and ethnographer George Richards. These recordings of Syriac Liturgical chant, searchable on our catalogue under collection number C1658 and available on Sounds, were made in 2011 and document one of the oldest existing forms of song, similar to the Western tradition of plainsong. In this guest blog post, we hear from the recordists themselves about the importance of these recordings and the process of making them.

Very few recordings of the liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church (a branch of Christianity established at Antioch, in modern Turkey, and which split from Rome and Constantinople in AD 451) have been made in situ in the remote monasteries of southern Turkey. These recordings may prove to be rarer still, in that they capture the essence of the Syriac language (a branch of the Semitic family of languages that also includes Arabic and Hebrew), the speakers of which were once in abundance across the Middle East, but who have now dwindled to a near-forgotten minority. The part of Turkey where these recordings were made is still called Tur Abdin - the Mountains of the Servants of God - but the two monasteries, Deyrulzafaran and Mor Gabriel, are among the very last islands of the Syriac people in Turkey.

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A chapel at the Monastery of Deyruzafaran. Photo credit: Nathaniel Daudrich

In 2011, we travelled from Istanbul to Diyarbakir, a large Kurdish city in south-eastern Turkey. The Arab Spring was spreading through the countries to the south, and the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish separatists was rumbling on. From Diyarbakir, we drove at night-time with a Kurdish farmer to Deyrulzafaran, the Saffron Monastery, in the mountains behind Mardin. There, we were welcomed by a monk, wrapped in a black cloak, and taken by moonlight through the courtyards to a small dormitory room.

We were woken the next morning by the bell for prayer. The sun had cast a warm glow over the yellow stone of the monastery, from which it takes its name, and we were led sleepily by a young orphan boy to the chapel. Inside, the walls were whitewashed, with a few embroidered drapes, and sunlight pouring in through a window behind our heads. Clouds of incense tickled our noses. We took a pew among some old men, tanned and flat-capped. The orphan-boy joined another in an alcove on one side of the chapel, while a tall farmer and a priest, wearing black robes, a long black beard and a white-and-black skull-cap, stood in the alcove on other side.  

Then, the boys began to sing. They stopped, the two men replied with deeper voices, and then passed the song back to the boys, and so on, back and forth. As they sang on, into the chapel flowed a trickle of orphans, wiping sleep from their eyes, and farmers, brushing straw from their shoulders, and businessmen on their way to work, leaving briefcases at the chapel door. The boys and the younger men, or those with higher voices, joined the orphans; the older and bigger men joined the priest and the farmer. Soon, the alcoves were overflowing. As the service went on, the singers’ voices grew stronger - then, at the very peak, as we stood, half-asleep, hungry, and squinting through the sunlight and the incense, the chapel seemed filled with song.

Listen to an excerpt from Deyrulzafaran

These recordings represent an early step in the development of choral music from monophonic chanting, a single voice making one note at a time, to polyphonic, where different voices sing different notes in harmony. They demonstrate the call-and-response technique, a device that grew out of the structure of human speech, and which spurred on the development of more complex choral music.

It is intriguing to encounter, in these recordings, so early a step in the development of choral music preserved through time, like a living fossil. This is almost certainly the effect of the religious context of this musical tradition: the sanctity of the liturgy has inhibited any change. Without this preservatory effect, Syriac Orthodox chant would have evolved centuries ago and what we hear on the recordings would have been lost in time, cast aside like a snake sloughing its old skin.                      

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Belfries in the Monastery of Mor Gabriel. Photo credit: Nathaniel Daudrich

As significant as these recordings are in understanding the development of choral music, they are also an important reflection of the cultural and historical context in which they have been preserved. Traditions hold that the Syriac people - speakers of the Syriac language - are descended from the ancient Assyrian empire. Acknowledging the influence of early Jewish sacral music, the Hellenistic music, and, later, neighbouring Arabic song, Syriac Orthodox chant is descended, in spirit at least, from the song-poems of the ancient Assyrians.  

Listen to an excerpt from Mor Gabriel

These recordings thus contend to be one of the oldest forms of music in the world: and in them we hear, perhaps, the strains of an ancient bard, singing to the glory of the court of Puzur-Ashur, King of Assyria, two thousand years before Christ.

You can listen to the full recordings on Sounds and read more about the expedition undertaken by George Richards and Nathaniel Daudrich. Follow George Richards on Twitter to receive updates on the project.

31 July 2014

Recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai music festival, Lithuania

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The British Library has recently acquired  a collection of field recordings made at the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. The recordings were made by field recordist and composer Yiorgis Sakellariou with support from World & Traditional Music at the British Library and the generous guidance of Dr. Austė Nakienė at the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature in Vilnius. The following text, written by Yiorgis Sakellariou himself, details his experience at the festival and features audio excerpts from the collection:   

The Skamba Skamba Kankliai recording project is more so the documentation of an intense listening experience rather than the result of thorough ethnomusicological research. When I arrived in Vilnius I was mainly motivated by the curiosity to see how traditional Lithuanian music is presented and staged at a large-scale festival. My previous knowledge on the subject was fragmentary. I had recently lived in Lithuania for about a year and during that time I became interested in the country's folk music, however I never developed an organized method of collecting or documenting it. Nonetheless, it was easy to discover that there is a big variety of songs and dances and, furthermore, a long history of recording and archiving Lithuanian music.

Since 1973, Skamba Skamba Kankliai has been held annually in Vilnius, Lithuania and currrently it is organized by the Vilnius Ethnic Culture Centre. Every year the festival welcomes a large number of folk ensembles that present a wide and diverse range of traditional music. The festival also hosts international ensembles. In 2014, ensembles from Azerbaijan, Italy, Iran and Georgia assisted and performed folk music from their countries.

Skamba Skamba

The concerts took place in several locations of the old town of Vilnius and many times they overlapped which made it impossible to record every single one. I tried to record music that was as diverse and representative as possible, documenting material on the basis of style, place of origin, instrumentation or age and gender of singers. Often the decision was purely practical (distance between stages, exhaustion, weather conditions etc.). The recordings attempt to capture not only the performed music but also the sonic atmosphere of the festival. The concerts took place in squares, parks, streets, alleys, theatres and churches and on several occasions the purely musical sounds are mixed with street and crowd noise or simply the recording location’s ambiance.

This collection can only document a small sample of Lithuania’s long musical tradition but hopefully the recordings will stimulate curiosity of listeners who are interested in world and traditional music. I do not consider the recorded material as a relic of a past that desperately tries to catch up with the present and secure a place in the future. These songs, which mostly originated in late 19th century’s rural life, are filtered through the new ideas and experiences of the people that currently perform them and afterwards through me, an observer/recordist of the performances. The recordings themselves act as another filter, substituting the physical experience of actually being present at the performance. Yet, despite the multiple layers of filters, the core of the music remains intact. My impression, or perhaps even wish, is that its truthfulness can still deeply affect the listener of the 21st century. 

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Here are a few highlights from the festival selected and commented by Yiorgis Sakellariou.

Sasutalas folk ensemble performs Kas tar teka par dvarelį 

Listen here

The most significant form of Lithuanian singing is the polyphonic sutartinės (from the word sutarti meaning 'to be in agreement'). Each song includes short melodic patterns with few notes, which are sung independently following the polyphonic vocal music rules of heterophony, canon and counterpoint. On 1 June, the last day of the festival, Sasutalas folk ensemble performed a set of sutartinės at Adomas Mickevičius yard. A few children were playing games around the yard shortly before it started to rain.  

Toma Grašytė, Adelė Vaiginytė and Ieva Kisieliūtė perform Lioj saudailio, vokaro (sutartinė) 

Listen here

This sutartinė was performed by three singers at the opening of Nakties muzika (Night Music), a concert that was set in the atmospheric Lėlė theatre late on the evening of 30 May. A mesmerized audience of around forty people was in attendance.

Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė perform Vaikščiojo motulė po dvarų

Listen here

Earlier that day at the Lėlė theatre, Čiulba Čiulbutis (Little Bird Warbles), an event focusing on solos, duets and trios, took place. Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė is a member of the ensemble Vaicenavičių šeima (Vaicenavičius family). She sings a song about a mother who wakes her sweetest young daughter up and encourages her to go to the garden and look after their male guests.

Tatato folk ensemble performs Ar aušta rytas, ar diena?

Listen here

Tatato is the ensemble of the studio of the Ethnomusicology Department of Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy. The ensemble director, Daiva Vyčinienė, has been devoted to the spreading and teaching of Lithuanian folk music for the past twenty years. 

You can listen to more recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Recording Project in British Library Reading Rooms by searching for C1661 on our catalogue. The British Library also has several CD publications documenting Lithuanian songs and music from 1908-1941 which were kindly donated by the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature. In addition, Yiorgis Sakellariou has also deposited environmental field recordings made in Lithuania at the British Library which you can find on our catalogue under collection number WA 2014/019.

Listen online to more collections from World & Traditional music!

06 June 2014

Iso Elinson (1907-1964) - 50th anniversary of Russian-British pianist

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Fifty years ago, Iso Elinson died at the age of fifty-six during the interval of a charity concert at King’s College, London.

Born in Mogilev, Russia, Elinson was the youngest of ten children.  After studying the piano with his mother (herself a pupil of Anton Rubinstein) at the age of four Elinson enrolled at the St Petersburg Conservatory where he continued with Felix Blumenfeld (the teacher of Vladimir Horowitz) and took composition classes under Alexander Glazunov.  In 1922 the famous Russian composer wrote a glowing report when Elinson left:

‘This is to certify that Mr Isaac Elinson entered the Conservatory in 1911, having displayed a musical gift of genius. Under my tutorship in the years 1917–1919 he thoroughly studied all the musical literature. He graduated brilliantly in composition in 1920. He possesses both a remarkable and skilful technique in piano playing and a genius for artistic musicality. In the might of his talent and performance he is truly a follower of Franz Lizst.  Therefore I consider his musical education to be complete.'

In 1927 at the age of only twenty, Elinson performed all thirty-two of Beethoven’s piano sonatas in Leningrad, Moscow and Kazan to celebrate the centenary of the composer’s death and in 1929 played the complete Wohltemperierte Klavier in Berlin.  It was in that city that he befriended Albert Einstein who in March 1930 provided a testimonial to serve Elinson as a passport, in which he referred to ‘his God-given artistic gifts and his pure child-like face’.

After his London debut at the Wigmore Hall in 1933 Elinson appeared regularly in Britian often appearing with Henry Wood, John Barbirolli and Thomas Beecham.  He took British citizenship in the mid-1930s and in 1938 made his debut in New York.   

Elinson performed regularly in Britain, often two or three concertos with orchestra in one concert, and in the 1950s and early 1960s gave Chopin recitals at the Royal Festival Hall.  It was at this time that he made a number of LPs for Pye records of Chopin's Etudes and Preludes.  A disc of Beethoven Sonatas was issued posthumously as was one of the Handel and Paganini Variations by Brahms.

It is a little known fact that Elinson made two 78rpm discs during his visit to Berlin in 1929-1930 for German Columbia.  Only issued in Germany at the time, I was delighted to be offered one of these extremely rare discs for the British Library by Elinson's grandson Matthew Brotherton.  The only problem was that the disc was broken in half.  However, with state of the art restoration techniques here at the British Library Conservation Centre, engineer Tom Ruane was able to digitise and preserve the disc.

One side of the disc, Chopin's Mazurka in G sharp minor Op. 33 No. 1 and Etude Op. 25 No.6 can be heard here:

Disc-S2-Mazurka in Gis Moll-Final

  Mazurka and Etude

03 April 2014

Keeping Tracks - a one day symposium on music and archives in the digital age

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Since October 2013 the British Library has been engaged in a six-month project investigating ways in which we can work with the fast-moving digital music supply chain, improve its relationship with the music industry and to help develop a Library-wide transition to acquisition of digital materials as part of its long-term Content Strategy. As part of this work a one-day symposium took place.

Keeping Tracks Poster

Keeping Tracks was devised as an opportunity for the British Library to talk about its collections and how we collect, preserve, conserve and give access to them, be they a 100-year-old wax cylinder or a newly minted digital file. It was also a great chance to gather different sectors of the industry – tech, labels, metadata, and archives – in one room to talk about an area that usually gets overlooked in traditional music industry conferences.

In the early spring sunshine of Friday 21 March delegates gathered from all corners of the globe and descended into the Conference Centre auditorium to be greeted by Curator of Popular Music, Andy Linehan. Andy set the scene and offered some historical context about where the British Library’s archives of recorded material had come from and handed over to colleagues Adam Tovell and Alex Wilson to talk about where they are going.

Andy Linehan - Introduction

 

AV scoping analyst Adam Tovell proceeded to discuss the study he has been engaged with for the last 12 months. Tovell and his team have been counting, quantifying and assessing the collections, analysing international standards and devising schedules to define best practice in the long-term audio-visual preservation of the Library’s 1.5 million recordings – before it’s too late.  The recording of his fascinating address can be found below

Adam Tovell - On shelves and clouds

 

Alex Wilson - Download into the BL

 

From the preservation of acetate and shellac, CDR and cassette to the collecting of digital sound and music Alex Wilson, Curator of Digital Music Recordings soon took to the lectern amidst a riot of noise and national anthems. This cacophonic audio clip was designed to illustrate the uphill challenge the British Library faces in 2014. Online sound and music is everywhere. It is the Library’s job as guardians of the nation’s audio memory to make sense of this. Wilson proceeded to show the first stages of a new collaboration that will improve the way we collect born-digital music and highlight other projects being investigated. The Q&A included some interesting questions surrounding Legal Deposit for recorded music and concerns of metadata ownership. Views from the floor regretted that this valuable material was without the benefits of statutory archiving and preservation that other material enjoyed.

 

Beggars Group

Keeping Tracks then opened its doors to the working music industry during a perceptive Q&A with Lesley Bleakley of the Beggars Group and Rory Gibb of music magazine, The Quietus. With over twenty years of experience in the music industry and representing a record label that is regarded as a leading light in digital delivery and archiving, Lesley Bleakley was perfectly placed to offer a fascinating insight. Moreover, she touched on the burgeoning relationship between Beggars and British Library Sound and Vision itself; the last year for instance has witnessed a mutual sharing of advice and guidance and music culminating in the delivery of the entire Beggars digital back catalogue in early 2014.

Lesley Bleakley and Rory Gibb - Beggars Archive

 

Post-lunch the discussion became truly international in scope as we invited representatives from peer organisation the National Library of Norway to take the stage. Whilst Norway shares many of the same archiving principles with British Library Sound and Vision it is differentiated in one crucial respect. Norway’s legalisation declares that all music recordings must be legally deposited at its National Library. Lars Gaustad and Trond Valberg discussed this and showed the auditorium their innovative new donation portal allowing users to deposit recordings online.

Trond Valberg and Lars Gaustad - Norway

 

Keeping Tracks then hosted a dynamic presentation from another peer institution. Creative Director at BBC Future Media, Sacha Sedriks shared his understanding of the guiding principles around music and metadata, the semantic web and the ecosystem that underlies their nascent BBC Playlister service. Through absorbing statistics and images Sedriks shone light on a pioneering new platform that only hints at how the truly immersive and interactive BBC Radio and Television offering of tomorrow will look like. 

Sacha Sedriks - BBC Playlister



Metadata underpins much of what we do here at British Library Sound and Vision and was a recurrent theme across the Keeping Tracks day. Hence it seemed only right to ask a leading music metadata supplier to the stand. Decibel Music Systems served up a talk in three parts: metadata from a market, data and technical perspective. Metadata is the glue that binds many systems together across the industry. As a result the Decibel presentation was followed by a lively and passionate Q&A which showed how important data is to making things (and people) click.

Decibel Music Systems - Dataphile

 

Whilst refreshments were guzzled, the auditorium was being tuned to a trans-Atlantic frequency. For the most ambitious strand of the Keeping Tracks we had invited UK based Music Tech Fest to share their keynote panel live via Skype from Microsoft Research Labs in Cambridge, MA, USA. The subject: developers, APIs and the music archive. Watched through the Skype-fuzz an energetic session ensued, moderated by Music Tech Fest head Andrew Dubber in the States and former Soundcloud man Dave Haynes here in the UK. Particular note should go to Microsoft researcher Jonathan Sterne who delivered an impassioned reflection on the nature of archiving and the internet which drew a round of applause in the London space.

Posterity Hacking

Music Tech Fest - Posterity Hacking

 

Lost Records

The end was nearly upon us. The final official session of Keeping Tracks was a panel chaired by Jennifer Lucy Allan of the WIRE magazine, stimulating discussion amongst a trio of label owners who specialise in lost music, records and reissues. Jonny Trunk (Trunk Records), Roger Armstrong (Ace Records) and Spencer Hickman (Death Waltz Recordings) proceeded to entertain the delegates with an informal, humorous, inspiring and sobering account in the wonderful art of releasing beautiful old music. Anecdotes, asides, controversies and reflections filled the hour and one suspects we could have talked well into the night.

Panel Discussion - Archives and music

Before the close of the day we invited respected author, journalist and Goldsmiths lecturer Mark Fisher to deliver his own personal take on what had gone before. Whilst it may have polarised some of the audience, Fisher’s lucid account of the 2014 digital space, music, memory, innovation and consumption sounded a stark clarion call to ring us toward the close.

Mark Fisher - Closing Words

 

The British Library would like to thank all those who presented, spoke, attended and asked questions at this inaugural Keeping Tracks symposium. We have been delighted with the feedback so far and would welcome any further suggestions, recommendations and donations for the future. If nothing else Keeping Tracks felt like a genuinely unique event (up) lifting the lid on a usually ignored, diverse set of issues and investigations about music and archiving in the 21st century. Long may these discussions continue...

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All full presentations streaming here

All presentation slides displayed here

A follow up interview by Digital Music Trends is here

28 June 2013

Library acquires George Lloyd's music manuscripts

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The British composer George Lloyd was born one hundred years ago today.  On his centenary - and at a time when his music is experiencing something of a renaissance - we’re very pleased to announce that the British Library has just acquired all of George Lloyd’s autograph music manuscripts.

George Lloyd in the 1990s
George Lloyd in the 1990s. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)

Lloyd studied at Trinity College of Music in London, and before the outbreak of World War II had already composed three symphonies and two operas, Iernin and The Serf. During the war Lloyd served as a bandsman in the Royal Marines.

George Lloyd in uniform
George Lloyd in uniform. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)


George Lloyd and fellow band members
George Lloyd and fellow band members. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)


On the notoriously dangerous Arctic convoys, Lloyd’s ship HMS Trinidad was struck by one of its own torpedoes, which had veered off course and returned to strike the ship.  Lloyd was one of just a handful of survivors.

George Lloyd composed his Fourth Symphony in 1946 as he struggled to come to terms with his experience, describing it on the title-page as “A world of darkness, storms, strange colours and a far-away peacefulness”.  You can now see the autograph manuscript of this symphony on display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. 

Title page of George Lloyd's Fourth Symphony
Title page of George Lloyd's Fourth Symphony. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)

Despite the physical and mental scars, Lloyd went on to complete 12 symphonies, 7 concertos, three operas and many other vocal and instrumental works.  Although for some years his music was little played - it was considered too tuneful by some - the last 20 years of Lloyd's life saw a revival of interest in his music, and this has continued in the years since his death in 1998.  This week, he has been featured as BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week, and there are two performances of his music at the BBC Proms: his Requiem and, on the Last Night of the Proms, the orchestral version of his HMS Trinidad March, which only turned up while the collection was being sorted prior to its arrival at the British Library.

The George Lloyd Collection, now available for researchers and musicians to consult at the British Library, includes early sketches and drafts of many of Lloyd's compositions, as well as the autograph ‘final versions’. For researchers, such sketches and drafts are invaluable, as they shed light on a composer’s approach to writing and creative processes. Even what appear to be the final versions of a work are not always that: like many other composers, Lloyd sometimes made changes to his works after they had been copied by a professional copyist in preparation for performances of the music, or even during rehearsals.  Copyists' scores with autograph annotations can therefore contain important information on the composer's afterthoughts.  A number of copyists' scores with Lloyd's annotations are included in the collection.  Many of the scores were used by George Lloyd when conducting concerts or recordings of his music, and they frequently contain markings that provide valuable information on the performance.

You can find out more about George Lloyd and his music on the webpages of the George Lloyd Society and Lloyd Music Ltd.