THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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Music news and views

Introduction

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

10 May 2017

New light on Humphrey Searle

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

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)

26 April 2017

Leoncavallo meets the queen

Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo’s biggest hit remains his opera Pagliacci. This was first performed in 1892 when the composer was 34.

Or was he?

Largely due to his own inconsistent accounts, it was long thought that Leoncavallo was born in 1858, and it is this date that appears in many of the standard reference resources. However, recent biographer Konrad Dryden suggests he may in fact have been born 160 years ago, on 23 April 1857.

Ruggiero_leoncavalloRuggero Leoncavallo

Just as Leoncavallo’s reputation rests largely on one piece, the British Library holds one substantial music manuscript by him. This treasure from the Stefan Zweig collection is an orchestral score of a short piece, Cortège di Pulcinella (Zweig MS 48). This was published as a piano piece at the time, and only later in the orchestral arrangement. Subtitled ‘marche humoristique’, it has a somewhat morbid sense of humour, distantly reminiscent of Charles Gounod’s famous Funeral March of a Marionette.


Zweig_ms_48_f002r 

Leoncavallo, Cortège di Pulcinella. British Library Zweig MS 48, folio 2 recto

Leoncavallo conducted Cortège in a concert at the Teatro Real in Madrid on 1 April 1906. The manuscript contains an inscription to ‘Angelo Berlinghi’ and copious annotations made with a coarse blue pencil. These markings suggest that it might have been the copy Leoncavallo used for performance. Another autograph manuscript is also extant, this time held at the Morgan Library in New York. This, too, contains markings that hint at its use for performance.

Rewind just over seven years to March 1899, and we find Leoncavallo in the company of none other than Queen Victoria. Shortly afterwards, Leoncavallo sent her beautifully-bound presentation copies of vocal scores for his operas Chatterton and La bohème (the latter first performed a year after Puccini’s more famous setting). These mementos include telling inscriptions to ‘La Reine Victoria’, and are now preserved in the British Library's Royal Music Library collection.

RM9d17 flyleaf  RM9d17_titlepage
Fly-leaf and title-page of Leoncavallo’s Chatterton. British Library R.M.9.d.17

Pagliacci was performed for the Queen at Windsor Castle in July that year. She apparently noted in her diary that, while “the music was beautiful [and] very descriptive”, she still preferred Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana

Chris Scobie
Curator, Music Manuscripts

13 April 2017

The man who found the straight banana

Did you know that bananas first went on sale in London in April 1633?

Inspired by this fact, we’ve been delving into our printed music collections, and have discovered that the humble fruit has inspired a surprisingly large number of songs.

These include the romantically-titled 'When the banana skins are falling, I’ll come sliding back to you' (1926), the evocative World War 2 song 'When can I have a banana again?', and the catchy 1920s number 'Yes, we have no bananas'.

When the banana skins are falling

Published 1926. British Library VOC/1926/FRAZZINI

In our quest for banana-inspired music, we also came across a song entitled 'I’ve never seen a straight banana'. This piqued our curiosity, particularly in light of recent press coverage surrounding Brexit.

Apparently, one voter was swayed to vote in favour of leaving the European Union on account of regulations relating to banana shape. As a BBC news article explains, according to European Commission Regulations:

Bananas must be "free from malformation or abnormal curvature". In the case of "Extra class" bananas, there is no wiggle room, but Class 1 bananas can have "slight defects of shape", and Class 2 bananas can have full-on "defects of shape”.

As our music collections reveal, though, concerns over banana shape, be they light-hearted or official, are not a new phenomenon. The comic song ‘I’ve never seen a straight banana’ dates from 1926 and was written by the elusive British music hall comedian Ted Waite. Our copy is an arrangement for banjo and ukulele – described as “banjulele” on the edition.

I've never seen a straight banana

Published 1926. British Library VOC/1926/WAITE

In 1927, it was made popular by American bandleader Fred Waring whose band, Waring's Pennsylvanians, recorded it.  The chorus runs:

I’ve seen bananas standing up,

And seen them lying down.

I’ve tried everywhere to find one,

Africa, Jamaica and Havana,

But I’ve never seen a straight banana.

Waite’s song was quickly “answered” by one Waff Walker. Setting words by Harry Arthur, he composed ‘I’m the man who found the straight banana’ in 1927. This went on sale the same year for the modest sum of sixpence.

I'm the man who found the straight banana

Published 1927. British Library VOC/1927/WALKER

Described as a “chorus song”, suggesting it could be sung by a group rather than as a solo, the final lines boldly declare:

I went and done a something

Millions of others couldn’t do

I’m the man who found the straight banana.

To explore these and other banana-related music items in our collections, visit our Explore catalogue and search for “banana music”.

11 April 2017

New folk-dance arrangements discovered

Imogen Holst, who was born on 12 April 1907, is well-known, among her many accomplishments, for her folk-song and folk-dance arrangements. Many of these published volumes, written for a variety of educational and recreational purposes, are available in the printed music collections here at the British Library.

 

 

Recently, however, we have come across a collection of Imogen Holst's folk-dance arrangements in her own hand which never made it into print. The manuscript, along with related correspondence, is contained within our recently-acquired Boosey & Hawkes archive, and gives further insight into Imogen Holst’s editorial approach to folk-song and dance, as well as her tireless commitment to the promotion of British music.

Imogen Holst folk dances

Newly-discovered Imogen Holst folk-dance arrangements in the British Library Boosey & Hawkes Archive. Reproduced with permission of the Holst Foundation

In June 1944, while she was busy running the music course at Dartington Hall, Imogen Holst received an invitation from the music publisher Boosey & Hawkes to edit and arrange two volumes of British folk-songs and dances for piano. She accepted with enthusiasm - ‘I cannot tell you what pleasure your suggestion gave me’ - and within 6 weeks had completed the manuscripts for both volumes.

The intention of Boosey & Hawkes was to promote the works internationally, capitalizing on pro-British sentiments in countries ‘where everything British will be much more appreciated after the war’. Imogen Holst replied that this was ‘a practical piece of internationalism that appeals to me very strongly’. Proofs for the first volume of folk-songs, complete with French and Spanish (but notably, not German) translations, were ready by January 1945, and publication followed in 1947.

However, the second volume of folk-dances remained in manuscript form. Languishing in the Boosey & Hawkes archive ever since, it contains piano arrangements for around 35 folk-dances from around the British Isles, along with handwritten introductions to both volumes. Imogen Holst had clear ideas about how folk-song and dance should be presented and was assertive about these in her correspondence with the company: ‘I feel very strongly indeed that most editions of traditional tunes are cluttered up with a lot of “expression” marks which might be all right in elaborate “composed” music of the 19th and 20th centuries but which are hopelessly out of place in simple tunes that sing themselves’.

Her keen stylistic sense, along with her understanding of traditional dance forms, also comes across in the introduction to the folk dances: ‘In the following piano arrangements the left hand has to supply the light, rhythmical accompaniment of the missing drum. Instead of providing solid harmonies it must let in the air between each rise and fall of the phrase, lifting the imaginary dancers off their feet’.

The related correspondence in the Boosey & Hawkes archive does not indicate why this second volume was never published. In 1951 Imogen Holst returned the volumes of folk-songs loaned to her by the publisher for the purposes of the project and a rather formal reply from Dr Rosen denied all knowledge of the current state of play regarding her work. By then Imogen Holst was set to leave Dartington and, after a period of travel in India, would soon become assistant to Benjamin Britten. Her subsequent dealings with Boosey & Hawkes were mostly concerned with this new creative partnership.

Emma Greenwood, Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer, British Library

 

Note

Imogen Holst, composer, conductor, writer, and administrator, was born on 12 April 1907 and died at Aldeburgh on 9 March 1984. Her archive is held at the Britten-Pears Library and has recently been catalogued as part of the Holst Archive Project. Please note that cataloguing of the Boosey & Hawkes archive at the British Library is ongoing and that access to the archive is limited until the project is complete.

 

 

28 March 2017

Beethoven's tuning fork

Recently, we've been working hard to digitise autograph manuscripts relating to major composers found in our extensive music collections. These include a number of manuscripts in the hand of Beethoven, who died 190 years this week (26 March 1827).

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler 1820Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Amongst our digitised Beethoven treasures are the sketchbook for the Pastoral symphony (Additional MS 31766), sketches for the third and fourth movements of the Sonata in A major for 'cello and piano, op. 69 (Zweig MS 6), and the score for 'Der Kuss', op. 128 (Zweig MS 10).

We also hold a number of more unusual Beethoven-related items. His laundry list (Zweig MS 210) is featured elsewhere on this blog, and is complemented by a set of kitchen accounts (Zweig MS 209).
 
Zweig_ms_209_beethoven_kitchen_accounts_f001rBeethoven's kitchen accounts (before 1827). British Library Zweig MS 209, folio 1 recto
 
In addition, we are the proud owners of Beethoven's tuning fork (Additional MS 71148 A). But how did we come to acquire this unusual item?
 
In 1802, the virtuoso violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860) travelled to Dresden. He gave concerts there on 24 July 1802 and 18 March 1803. These were so successful that, having obtained an extension of leave from his duties in England, he went to Vienna in April 1803.
 
In Vienna, Prince Lichnowsky, a Polish aristocrat and Beethoven's patron, introduced Bridgetower to the great composer. Beethoven  had already begun sketching the first two movements of what was to become the Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin in A opus 47, otherwise known as the 'Kreutzer' sonata. 
 
KreutzerlgeFirst edition of the Beethoven’s 'Kreutzer' sonata, opus 47. British Library Hirsch IV.287

The work received its first performance at a concert given by Bridgetower at the Augarten-Halle in Vienna on 24 May 1803, with Beethoven himself playing the piano part. Bridgetower's own memorandum of the event records an alteration he introduced in the violin part. This pleased Beethoven so much that he jumped up exclaiming "Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!" ("Once more, my dear fellow!"). He also presented Bridgetower with his tuning fork. 

Tuningforklge
Beethoven’s tuning fork. British Library Additional MS 71148 A 
 
Documentation acquired with the tuning fork allows us to trace its history in more detail. It seems it passed from Bridgetower to one Ulysses Bolton, then from Bolton to Paul Waddington and then from Waddington to John H. Balderstone. Balderstone went on to give the fork to the composer Gustav Holst in 1921. Holst then passed it to composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose widow, Ursula, went on to present it to the British Library in 1992.

The fork is preserved in a wooden box with walnut veneer. Tests have shown that it resonates at 455.4 Hertz, somewhat higher than today's standard of 440 Hertz. 

21 March 2017

An Amsterdam edition of Lully’s Persée

This week sees the 330th anniversary of the death of naturalised French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). Born Giovanni Battista Lulli to Tuscan parents, Lully moved to Paris in 1646, marking the beginning of a spectacular rise in his career and fortunes. His accession to the office of Surintendant de la Musique de le Chambre du Roi in 1661 heralded twenty-six years of dominance over music-making at Louis XIV’s court, ended only by his death from a famously self-inflicted wound sustained when conducting his own Te Deum.

This anniversary coincides nicely with a recent development in the British Library’s own Lully collection, relating to his tragédie (or opera) Persée. The premiere of this work in 1682 was promptly followed by two corresponding publications of the same year: the first was a particularly imposing score by Christophe Ballard in Paris, sole music printer to Louis XIV; the second was a curious set of string parts for the overture and airs of Persée, printed by Jean Philip Heus in Amsterdam.

Ballard Title PageTitle-page of Ballard’s score of Persée (Paris, 1682).  British Library Hirsch II.542, folio 1r

As well as holding three copies of Ballard’s score (Music Collections I.302, Hirsch II.542 and R.M.12.a.5), since 1924, the British Library has been in possession of an incomplete set of Heus’s string parts (K.7.c.2.). The only known surviving copy of Heus’s edition, this had lacked a Haute-contre de violon part since its acquisition some ninety-three years earlier. Remarkably, however, a copy of the missing part recently came to light and was acquired by the British Library.

Frontispiece new part Lully K-7-c-2Title-page of the newly-acquired Haute-contre part, British Library K.7.c.2.

The engraved frontispiece shows Persée, armed with the head of Mèduse, rescuing Andromède from the sea monster (Act IV)

In addition to being satisfying from a bibliographic perspective, the completion of this set facilitates comparison with the Ballard score published the same year. Ballard’s edition is the ‘authorised’ text in both senses: it was produced in cooperation with the composer, who provided an extensive letter of dedication to the King, while the title-page declares that it was printed ‘AVEC PRIVELEGE DE SA MAJESTIE’. Heus’s publication, on the other hand, demonstrates a printer freely plundering the tragédie for its instrumental highlights, clearly unperturbed by the ‘privilege’ given to Ballard as the sole printer of Lully’s works.

The two editions also demonstrate quite different practical and economic approaches to music printing. Ballard’s rather grand and lavish offering is unlikely to have been constructed for performance, and was probably aimed at libraries of wealthy individuals or institutions. By contrast, Heus’s publication is very much a performing edition, possibly aimed at a growing middle-class market. Unlike Ballard’s edition, which was printed with movable type, it was produced using the considerably more fashionable technique of engraving. The result is a more florid and seemingly handwritten style, which would have appealed to this customer base.

Ballard edition movable type

Heus edition engraved
Ballard’s large score, printed using movable type (folio 3r) (upper image), and Heus’s  smaller engraved edition (folio 2r) (lower image)

Heus’s edition of the overture and airs of Persée constitutes an interesting example of cultural transfer between France and the Netherlands. In this case, highly-formalised music from the heart of the French royal musical establishment has been translated into a more ‘popular’ and commercialised form for recreation among the Dutch middle classes. To a degree, these different musical and publishing outlooks might even be said to reflect the greater societal ideals and attitudes of the absolutist French state and the commerce-driven Dutch Republic.

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

17 March 2017

British Library Music Collections welcomes King's music students

A highlight of the work of British Library Music Collections this week has been hosting a visit of second and third year music students from King's College London studying sixteenth-century polyphony.

Display of C16 British Library music items

Display of printed items for the visit

Assisted by British Library music staff and her colleague Uri Smilansky, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow Elisabeth Giselbrecht gave a fascinating insight into a selection of items from the printed music collections. These included the Liber selectarum cantionum (Augsburg: Grimm and Wirsung, 1520), Motetti C (Venice: Petrucci, 1504) and the first edition of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Venice: Amadino, 1615).

King's music students with BL music books

Students and lecturer discussing early music printing

Students were also treated to a special introduction to some highlights from the collection of music manuscripts, including a set of partbooks belonging to Edward Paston (1550-1630) (Additional MS 29388-29392) and a choir book from the workshop of Petrus Alamire (Royal 8 G VII).

The choir book is available to browse in full online, and is also featured elsewhere on this blog. Dating from circa 1513 to 1544, it was probably produced for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. In colours and gold, it includes a miniature depicting the royal arms with dragon and greyhound supporters. Also present are the heraldic emblems of the Tudor rose and pomegranate (the latter being Catherine's emblem).

Royal_ms_8_g_vii_f002v

British Library Royal MS 8 G VII, folio 2 verso