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78 posts categorized "Classical music"

28 July 2017

Digitised Music Manuscripts Summer 2017

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Since our post last spring summarising digitised materials from our music manuscripts collection, we’ve been busy adding to this content.

From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.

At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 335 music manuscripts on the site. Additional content is added regularly.

Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Lansdowne MS 763. Dating from the fifteenth century and written on vellum, this is a collection of music treatises by various authors.

Lansdowne MS 763

For a full list of what is currently available, please see this file: Download PDF of BL digitised music manuscripts summer 2017.

This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download spreadsheet of BL digitised music manuscripts summer 2017.

 

27 May 2017

Musgrave at 89

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Today (27 May 2017) is the eighty-ninth birthday of the Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave, born in Barnton, Midlothian, but, since the mid-1970s, resident in the USA. Following a major purchase in 2009, with assistance from the Eccles Centre for American Studies, the British Library has the world’s largest institutional collection of Musgrave archival papers, which include music manuscripts, programmes, correspondence, and photographs.

Musgrave studied at the University of Edinburgh, enrolling initially as a medical student, before switching to study music, under Hans Gál and Mary Grierson. An important influence during that time was the legacy of one of Edinburgh’s former Reid Professors of Music, Donald Francis Tovey: Musgrave says she “read absolutely every word of Donald Francis Tovey”. After graduating from Edinburgh in 1950, having won its Tovey Memorial Prize, Musgrave moved to Paris to study with the celebrated pedagogue Nadia Boulanger.

It is from these Paris years (1950–1954) that the earliest material in the collection originates: the manuscript for a set of five songs to poetry by Ezra Pound and Louis Macneice, premièred at the Cercle de l’Union Interallié in Paris, on 16 May 1951, with Musgrave herself as the pianist and Doda Conrad as the baritone. Although Musgrave does not use opus-numbers (with the exception of her Divertimento for string orchestra, op.15), she refers to this set informally as her opus one.

01_paris1Front cover of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l’Union Interallié on 16 May 1951

02_paris2Inside of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l'Union Interallié on 16 May 1951. The Musgrave songs are listed as the sixth item (the items are demarcated by Roman numerals). In this programme, the make of the pianoforte (in this case, a Pleyel) is specified.

03_5-songs_contents-pContents-page of the autograph manuscript for the set of five songs to poems by Pound and Macneice (misspelt as "Macniece"). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

The programme has some evident typographical errors, misspelling Macneice (as “Macniece”) and ‘An Immorality’ (as “An Immortality”). More interesting, however, is a discrepancy in the syntax: when compared with the manuscript, ‘An Immorality’ and ‘The return’ have been swapped. Meanwhile, the title of the concert, “jeunes compositeurs et vieux maîtres anglais”, characterises Musgrave as an English composer — this is probably an erroneous conflation of English and British, rather than a belief that Musgrave were English.

Among the other performers in the concert was the pianist Luise Vosgerchian, who, although not involved in performing Musgrave on this occasion, was the dedicatee of a subsequent Musgrave composition, the first pianoforte sonata, completed in January 1952. The British Library has the fair copy for this work, which is withdrawn.

04_withdrawn-sonataTitle and dedication from the fair copy of the first pianoforte sonata (withdrawn). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Musgrave also withdrew three of the five songs in the aforementioned set, resulting in a pair of songs, both settings of Ezra Pound.

05_2-songs_title-pTitle-page of the fair copy of the two songs, both to texts by Pound, not withdrawn from the set of five songs. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Whatever Musgrave’s reasons for this partial withdrawal, the manuscript is a fascinating record of an early case of Musgrave’s wont for collecting texts from more than one author in a single song-cycle — this approach of text-setting as anthology becomes more pronounced in several of her later vocal and choral works, the most recent of which is The Voices of Our Ancestors, which was premièred, in London, on 9 July 2015.

Following her studies with Boulanger, during which she was awarded the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize, Musgrave returned to the UK, where she was in demand not only as a composer, but also as a pianist, lecturer, and, in due course, conductor of her own work. From the late-1950s, Chester Music was her publisher, until she moved to Novello in the mid-1970s.

Yet, a number of her subsequent works remain unpublished. Of the unpublished works represented in the collection, a suitably festive example is her contribution to a set of variations on Happy Birthday.

06_walton-festschrift_title-pageTitle-page of the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

07_walton-festschrift_p1First page of music in the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Musgrave’s “variation in one minute” is third in the set, with the other composers being Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Arnold, Nicholas Maw, Robert Simpson, and Peter Maxwell Davies (the latter's contribution now housed in the British Library as Add MS 71323). The set was premièred by the London Symphony Orchestra on 28 March 1972, the day before William Walton’s seventieth birthday, in the Royal Festival Hall. A recording is available in the British Library’s Sound Archive, at shelfmark C1398/0775.

Although the Musgrave collection does not include the programme for this concert, there are hundreds of other programmes relating to Musgrave — some were collected by her, and many more were sent to her by performers, promoters, and friends. These document the significant influence and reach of Musgrave’s oeuvre in various continents, and not just in the English-speaking world.

For example, in 1988, Musgrave and her husband, Peter Mark, visited Jerusalem for a tour in which each of them conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Musgrave’s concert comprised four of her own compositions from various points in her career to date, cumulatively spanning a period of twenty-three years. Conveniently, the programme is bilingual:

08_jerusalem1A page, in Hebrew, from a programme for a concert of Musgrave orchestral works in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem on 27 March 1988, performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Musgrave.

09_jerusalem2The corresponding page in English from the same programme.

Not all programmes have a translation into English so readily available. In respect of the world première of Orfeo III, which took place in Moscow on 9 October 1993, Musgrave annotated the programme with a translation of the key information.

10_moscowProgramme for a concert in the Rachmaninoff Hall, Moscow State Conservatoire on 9 October 1993, featuring the world première of Musgrave's /Orfeo III/, performed by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Musgrave was not present at the concert, but has annotated the programme with an outline translation. Annotations copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

As the numeral suggests, Orfeo III, scored for flute and string quintet, is a transcription based on two earlier compositions. This transcription was written for Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Here, Musgrave is presented as an American composer, sharing the programme with Thomas Whitman, Gerald Levinson, and Richard Wernick. By 1993, Musgrave had been permanently resident in the USA for almost two decades.

This performance in Russia is by no means the only case of Musgrave’s compositions touring continental Europe. Indeed, some of her works have received greater attention on the continent than in the UK, her country of birth. Indeed, Musgrave’s opera Simón Bolívar, completed in 1992, received its European première in Regensburg on 7 April 1995, and has yet to be performed in full in the UK.

11_regensburgFront cover of programme for the first European production of Musgrave's opera Simón Bolívar, at the Städtische Bühnen Regensburg in April 1995.

 

Sasha Millwood, Doctoral Researcher (Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Partnership), Music Collections, British Library, and University of Glasgow 

24 May 2017

Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017

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From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of British Library music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

My Ladye Nevells Books MS Mus 1591

MS Mus. 1591, My Layde Nevells Booke (1591)

At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 323 music manuscripts on the site. For a full list of what is currently available in PDF format, please see this file: Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.

This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.

Additional content is added regularly. Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Additional MS 29996. Dating from the seventeenth century, this is a collection of motets, madrigals and fancies, by Thomas Tomkins and others, interspersed with political verses, satires, recipes.

Add MS 29996

Additional MS 29996: a recently-digitised music manuscript, including works by Thomas Tomkins 

If you are looking for something more specific, why not consult our blog posts on the material we’ve digitised relating to Handel, Mozart, Purcell and Wagner. For more general advice on using the site, we highly recommend this blog post.

We'll be posting updated versions of these lists quarterly, so be sure to check the blog again in a few months time for an updated edition. In the meantime, to get the latest news about our digitisation projects, acquisitions and events, please follow us on Twitter: @BL_Music_Colls

22 May 2017

Bringing a forgotten opera to life

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Following the revival of Handel’s music that took place in the mid-20th century, there are probably no more ‘authentic’ Handel operas to be rediscovered. This is not the case with his pasticcio operas, however.  In these ‘concoctions’ (or pasticcii), Handel put together a show by taking an existing libretto and recycling popular Italian arias written by other composers. English audiences of the time were no more proficient in Italian than today’s, but they enjoyed hearing a good tune and seeing a favourite diva perform.

Opera Settecento is a London-based company that brings to life forgotten 18th-century opera seria (that is, Italian operas on heroic or tragic subjects). Fittingly, the company takes its name from the Italian for “18th century”, “Settecento”. Recently, musical director Leo Duarte created a new performing edition of Handel’s pasticcio opera Ormisda drawing on several sources from the British Library’s extensive music collections.

Ormisda is the second of three pasticcii resurrected by the company, starting with Elpidia (1725) in 2016 and concluding with Venceslao (1731) in 2018. It is a tale of power, love and unhappy families. A wicked stepmother, Palmira, is determined to elevate her own son to the throne of Persia. She displaces his elder half-brother and disregards the feelings of the Queen of Armenia who is in love with the younger brother but destined to marry whoever becomes King of Persia.

Ormisda was first performed in 1730 at the King’s Theatre Haymarket under the direction of the composer himself. Although it has been assigned an HWV number, meaning it is officially part of the catalogue of Handel’s works, the piece contains hardly any of Handel’s original music. The busy and entrepreneurial composer wrote the work as a “quick win” to keep up his profile, whilst at the same time giving himself time to concentrate on two new operas, Partenope and Lotario.  Interestingly, neither had the box-office success of the crowd-pleasing Ormisda.

Inspired by musicologist Reinhard Strohm’s work on Handel’s pasticcio operas, Duarte came to the British Library to assess whether neglected pieces such as Ormisda were worth performing and had something to say to today’s audiences. At the centre of his research was Additional MS 31551, a manuscript score of Ormisda dating from the 18th century. He converted this into a digital form which he could use to create a performing score and orchestral parts.

Handel-Ormisda-BL-Add-MS-31551Handel’s Ormisda (18th century). British Library Additional MS 31551, folio 1 recto

Duarte also made use of the word-book (or libretto) dating from 1730 (11714.aa.20.(1)).

Word-book-Handel-Ormisda-title-pageWord-book for Handel’s Ormisda (1730). British Library 11714.aa.20.(1.), title-page

Digitised as part of the British Library’s partnership with Google Books, the word-book is likely to have been sold as a souvenir. Theatre lighting of the time would have made it unreadable in situ, and opera plots of the period are notoriously difficult to navigate. The extra help provided by the word-book suggests audiences then had attention spans – and linguistic skills – about the same as now. The Italian text was rendered into English by an uncredited translator; the translation is quite poetic, especially the arias, with rhymes and in metre.

The libretto is by the Venetian Apostolo Zeno (1669-1750) and the musical material has been identified as coming from Leonardo Leo, Orlandini, Hasse, Conti and others, with five arias as yet unidentified. “There is hardly a note of Handel’s in there – maybe the odd recit,” says Duarte. Handel’s contribution was to delete sections that were superfluous to requirements. He understood how to import Italian repertoire and make it attractive to London audiences.

Although it is a beautiful copy and easy to read,  the manuscript contains some crossings-out and sections that have been covered over.

Handel-Ormisda-BL-Add-MS-31551-f-23-versoHandel’s Ormisda, with passages covered over. British Library Additional MS 31551, folio 23 verso

The word-book provides clues as to why that might be, since it contains crossings-out that match the score. These are complemented by manuscript annotations in an unknown hand such as “in score”, “not in score, but instead is the additional song… [sung by] Siga Merighi (Co) [contralto]”.

Annotations-word-book-Handel-OrmisdaManuscript annotations in the word-book for Handel’s Ormisda. British Library 11714.aa.20.(1.), page 15

Having access to the British Library’s score and word-book side-by-side enabled Duarte to recreate a work that is not Handel’s, but has his stamp on it. This in turn provides a fascinating insight into Handel the showman and his understanding of what his audiences wanted.

 

Ruth Hansford

Grants Portfolio Manager, Endangered Archives Programme, British Library, and freelance opera surtitler

16 May 2017

The dog and the cakes

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Dogs are notorious for helping themselves to food. Be it a tasty turkey destined for a special Christmas dinner or a sandy sandwich snatched from your hand on the beach, the chances are you’ve experienced this in action.

To celebrate World Baking Day, we’ve unearthed two cake-related songs from our printed music collections that lament this particular canine characteristic.

Written by one Frederick Julian Croger (1854-1923) in 1889, 'The dog and the cakes' tells the tale of a lazy pup belonging to a little boy named Peter.

Dog-and-the-cakes-H-3450-7-musicFrederick Julian Croger, 'The dog and the cakes' (1889). British Library H.3450.(7.), page 2

“Selfish Pete” and his companion “greedy George” decide to buy themselves some cakes as a treat. But alas! When they went to fetch a drink:

Far away that dog did slink

And played a wicked caper:

Being such a greedy pup,

And thinking he would like to sup,

He took those cakes and ate them up

And only left the paper

Dedicated to “all who are not greedy”, the song is aimed at the “young folk”. The simple melody moves in steps, making it easy to memorise and sing.

Dog-and-the-cakes-H-3450-7-title-pageFrederick Julian Croger, 'The dog and the cakes' (1889). British Library H.3450.(7.), title-page

During his career, Croger described himself as a “Professor of Music”, composer and a music publisher. This song reflects this, since it bears the imprint “Published by Croger & Co., wholesale and export music publishers”.

Born in West Hackney in the East End of London, he was from a musical family. His father Thomas was an instrument maker and inventor who tragically took his own life following bankruptcy. His uncle Richard also made instruments and composed, and his brother Thomas Rodolphus was a conductor.

'The dog and the cakes' is one of a number of ditties he penned. Also on the same theme, in 1888 he  wrote 'Amy and the puppy'.

Amy-and-the-puppy-H-3450-2-music

Frederick Julian Croger, 'Amy and the puppy' (1888). British Library H.3450.(2.), page 2

Amy’s curly-locked dog "Tress" (or "Tressie"), plays a similar trick, helping himself to cake when her back is turned:

Amy - not suspecting “Tress” -

Ran upstairs to change her dress

And feeling full of happiness

Began to dance and caper

But while she’d gone, the greedy pup,

Who of such dainties liked to sup

With great delight did eat them up!

This song is dedicated to “Master Wilfrid & Miss Mabel Croger”, the composer’s children, and includes a charming illustration of Amy’s dismay on discovering her beloved Tress’ actions.

Amy-and-the-pupp-H-3450-2-illustration

Illustration from Frederick Julian Croger, 'Amy and the puppy' (1888). British Library H.3450.(2.), page 3

Amelie Roper

Curator, Digital Music

15 May 2017

Monteverdi 450

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This year sees the 450th anniversary of the birth of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. This milestone is currently being commemorated, among a wide range of celebrations, with a series of performances by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Although we do not know the exact date of Monteverdi’s birth, his baptism was recorded at the Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso in Cremona on this day (15 May) in 1567.

The British Library’s printed music collections contain extensive Monteverdi holdings, with many editions of the composer’s works which were published in his own lifetime: these include various parts of first or early editions of his madrigal books (B.252.a, Hirsch III.942, D.195.a, D.195.b), as well as an early edition of his opera Orfeo (R.M.15.c.6).

Perhaps the Library’s greatest Monteverdi treasure is a letter written by the composer in 1627 (MS Mus.1707). This was acquired from the private collection of the late Albi Rosenthal in 2009. Monteverdi wrote the letter to Ferrarese nobleman Enzo Bentivoglio, who was in the process of organising the celebrations for the wedding of Odoardo Farnese and Margherita de’ Medici, and had commissioned Monteverdi to write a set of five intermedi for the marital celebrations in Parma.

Ms_mus._1707_f001r_top

Ms_mus._1707_f002v_signatureMonteverdi letter, 1627: opening and signature (British Library MS Mus. 1707)

Sadly, the five intermedi are not known to have survived; however, the letter remains a useful indicator of the commission, as well as an interesting testament to Monteverdi’s characteristically adventurous musical practices. In the letter, he discusses possibilities for musical representations in the intermedi of the Greek goddess Discord. He suggests that Discord’s part should be recited in an inharmonious voice (‘recitar in voce et non in armonia’) and not be built on instrumental harmony (‘appoggiato sopra ad armonia alcuna di ustrimenti però’): these suggestions could variously be interpreted to mean that the voice be in some way tuneless and dissonant, not accompanied by instruments, or even performed in some sort of half-spoken manner.

Monteverdi was, of course, well-versed in the use of dissonance for dramatic or textually-symbolic purposes. After attracting criticism for supposedly improper use of dissonance, he famously began a defence of the composer’s right to harmonic discretion in his fifth book of madrigals. The text is preserved, among other places, in an extremely rare first edition of the Quinto Libro in the British Library's music collections (D.195.a.), dating from 1605.

D_195_a_frontispiece

D_195_a_Al_LettoreMonteverdi's Quinto Libro (Venice, 1605): frontispiece and Al Lettore (British Library D.195.a)

The British Library’s Monteverdi letter also has indications of a more personal discord in the composer’s own life; indeed, he mentions an accident or misfortune (‘acidente’) which had recently interrupted his compositional activity. Musicologist Denis Stevens interpreted this as a reference to the imprisonment of Monteverdi’s younger son, Massimiliano, who had been arrested by the Roman Inquisition for reading a forbidden book. While we don’t know which text got Massimiliano into trouble, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum lists what was forbidden at the time; Massimilano, who is known to have had interests in astrology, might well have been reading the particularly controversial books about helio-centrism by authors such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei, and he was clearly a source of grave concern for his father at this time.

James Ritzema. Collaborative PhD student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and British Library

10 May 2017

New light on Humphrey Searle

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1 – MS Mus. 1747-4 aHumphrey Searle, c. 1950. Photograph currently under British Library MS Mus. 1747/4

One of the current projects in the British Library Music Department involves a sizeable amount of material relating to the British composer Humphrey Searle (1915-1982), the 35th anniversary of whose death falls this Friday (12 May).  Although the British Library already holds an extensive collection of Searle’s manuscript scores and papers (now Add MS 71721-71862) which were acquired  shortly after his death, further deposits have since reached the Library from various sources.  These form a substantial supplement (MS Mus. 1747) to the existing material.

Searle made a name for himself in the 1940s and -50s as an avant-garde composer; indeed he has a serious claim to have been the first British writer of serialist music, jostling for this position with Elisabeth Lutyens.  Having studied with Anton Webern, and turning out to be the modernist patriarch’s only English pupil, Searle set his art on the mid-twentieth-century movement of atonalism.  He shared and pursued its ambitions to abandon, or transcend, the idea of key – the traditional foundation of melody and harmony – in favour of other techniques such as serialism, which took as its measure not the ear’s sense of consonance or dissonance but the individual, even mathematical values of the chromatic scale’s twelve notes. 

2 – MS Mus. 1747-4 b

During the Second World War Humphrey Searle served in the Special Operations Executive.
Photograph currently British Library MS Mus. 1747/4

This radical method of composition produced equally radical results.  However, Searle was keen to habilitate it and widen its appeal, understanding it not as a contradiction or abolition of tradition but as a logical development of the Western inheritance.  He composed in traditional forms – symphonies, suites and sonatas – and also wrote music for radio, television, films such as The Haunting (1963) and the stage, notably his opera Hamlet (1965).

Searle’s explorations of serialism’s possibilities, already well represented by the existing collection, are also illustrated by the material now being catalogued.  The supplementary material includes full autograph music scores of his first major orchestral work, ‘Night Music’, his second symphony, Op.33, ‘Five’, a solo guitar work written for Julian Bream, and numerous other works (MS Mus. 1747/1).  Elsewhere there is plenty more evidence of Searle’s spiky biro, including scores of incidental music for BBC plays and features.

3 - MS Mus. 1747-1-1  item 1 First page of autograph pencil score of ‘Night Music’, op. 2, 1943. British Library MS Mus. 1747/1/1, item 1

The majority of the new material, however, consists of Searle’s writings.  From the beginning of his career, he wrote pieces for music journals and magazines alongside his job as a music producer at the BBC; later he was a regular contributor on the airwaves themselves, especially on Radio 3.  Moreover, in his position as a pioneer, it fell to Searle to make the case for the new music which was changing the musical landscape so dramatically.  “Music is an aural art, not a visual design on manuscript paper”, contended the staunch tonalist Ruth Gipps; in 1960 she was not alone in considering serial music “often unpleasant, sometimes harmless, and…  invariably boring”. Against such charges Searle was willing to defend his approach by writing various talks in which he explained the thought and attitude behind the technique.  In one script, he seems to relish playing Liszt’s ‘Nuages Gris’ as an example of the disappearance of key and a melting into atonality.

4 - MS Mus. 1747-2-1-2  item 2
Explaining the roots of atonality in a talk prepared for Birmingham University. British Library MS Mus. 1747/2/1/2, item 2

Indeed, the life and music of Liszt was Searle’s specialist subject: he compiled a catalogue of his works and engineered the foundation of the Liszt Society.  The collection contains additional papers and correspondence related to this aspect of Searle’s work (MS Mus. 1747/3).

5 – MS Mus. 1747-2-5-1  item 1

 From ‘Quadrille with a Raven’, Searle’s memoirs. British Library MS Mus. 1747/2/5/1

Among the other material newly incorporated – correspondence, concert programmes, press reviews of his works – are typescripts of Searle’s memoirs, Quadrille with a Raven, which he completed only months before his death.  In these he recounts his service in the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War, offers anecdotes of Dylan Thomas, Constant Lambert and Alan Rawsthorne and relates how an overpriced Scotch egg brought about marriage.  There are also numerous photographs, which together span Searle’s whole life, along with juvenilia and papers relating to his childhood.

All this material is currently in the process of being described, catalogued and made available to readers.

6 – MS Mus. 1747-4 cHumphrey Searle with his first wife Lesley, to whose memory his second symphony is dedicated.  This photograph was taken in St. John’s Wood in north-west London, where Searle lived for the rest of his life. (1950s: photograph currently British Library MS Mus. 1747/4)

Dominic Newman, Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer

The British Library always attempts to identify copyright holders in order to give proper acknowledgement when reproducing their material. Please email music-collections@bl.uk if you believe you hold rights connected with any of the content included in this article.

28 April 2017

Nicola LeFanu at 70

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To celebrate her 70th birthday on 28 April 2017, we are taking a closer look at the career and influences of composer Nicola LeFanu, and highlighting two of her works held within the music manuscript collections at the British Library.

Nicola LeFanu ©MichaelLynch1

Photograph ©Michael Lynch

Nicola LeFanu was born in England in 1947 to librarian William LeFanu and composer Elizabeth Maconchy. She studied composition with Jeremy Dale Roberts, Alexander Goehr, Goffredo Petrassi, Humphrey Searle and Thea Musgrave. She has been most strongly influenced by her mother, her husband David Lumsdaine (also a composer), her first tutor Jeremy Dale Roberts and by Korean-American composer Earl Kim.

Her first large orchestral work, ‘The Hidden Landscape’, was commissioned by the BBC for the 1973 Proms. In an article for The Guardian, LeFanu describes the absorption required when composing for orchestra and the thrill of the first rehearsal when she heard the piece come to life exactly as she had imagined it in her head.

The British Library holds a dyeline copy of the composer’s manuscript score of this work, annotated by Norman Del Mar, who conducted the first performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 7 August 1973. With the score is a letter from LeFanu to Del Mar dated 10 December 1975 along with a list of her alterations. These were produced in preparation for a recording of the work in January 1976.

LeFanu Hidden Landscape page 31

Nicola LeFanu: ‘The Hidden Landscape’. British Library MS Mus. 1820

One of LeFanu’s particular strengths is in writing dramatically for voice. Among the many works she has written for soprano is the 1981 monodrama ‘The Old Woman of Beare’, which is among her personal favourites. The libretto is based on a 9th- or 10th-century Irish poem about a courtesan woman who has entered a convent in her old age. Here she reflects on her life, her sexuality and her aging body.

The work is notable for its passion, the integration of sea and sexuality, the wide range of the vocal part and the instrumentation, which is like an orchestra in miniature. LeFanu deepens the passion of the poem by mixing the singing with spoken passages and by integrating imagery of the sea.

LeFanu The Old Woman of Beare page 31 camera

Nicola LeFanu, ‘The Old Woman of Beare’ for soprano and thirteen players
© 1984 Novello & Co.
Reproduced by permission of Novello & Company Limited
British Library E.1500.r.(3.)

After studying at Oxford and the Royal College of Music, LeFanu won the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1972 and was a Harkness Fellow at Harvard from 1973 to 1974. She was then Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1975 to 1977, followed by almost twenty years teaching at King’s College London. LeFanu became Professor of Music at the University of York in 1994, a post she held until 2008.

Nicola LeFanu is featured as ‘Composer of the Week’ on Radio 3 from 24 to 28 April 2017. Information about her works and recordings can be found on her website. Many of her scores and recordings are available at the British Library and some of her works can be heard on SoundCloud.

Nicola LeFanu ©MichaelLynch

Photograph © Michael Lynch


Andra Patterson
Head of Content and Metadata Processing South (and former Curator of Music Manuscripts)