THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

From classical and pop to world and traditional music

Introduction

We have over 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and about 2 million music recordings! This blog is written by our team of music curators and features news and information about the British Library's rich collections of music and sound recordings. Read more

14 March 2017

MGG Online

We're pleased to announce that a free trial to MGG Online is available in our St Pancras and Boston Spa reading rooms until 23 March 2017.

Screenshot of MGG Online

Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG) is a general encyclopedia of music. It offers in-depth articles on every aspect of music as well as many related areas such as literature, philosophy, and visual arts. 

Key benefits of the online version include:

  • Easy access to the complete second edition of Bärenreiter and J.B. Metzler’s Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (published 1994–2008)
  • Access to updated and newly-written articles found only in MGG Online
  • Powerful search and browse capabilities 
  • Option to translate content

To try MGG Online for yourself, go to http://www.mgg-online.com from any British Library reading room terminal. Please email any comments on the resource to music-collections@bl.uk. 

St Pancras reading room

 

10 March 2017

Music and poetry from the Zweig Collection (20 March, 7pm)

As regular readers of this blog will know, the Stefan Zweig Collection is one of the jewels in the crown of the British Library. Featuring works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner and Stravinsky, to name just a few of the principal composers, the collection offers a treasure trove of iconic musical masterpieces from the 18th to the 20th centuries. 

Beethoven  Der Kuss

Beethoven, Der Kuss, song with piano (words by Christian Felix Weisse), op. 128.  Autograph manuscript (Zweig MS 10.)

Zweig’s stated aim was to assemble a collection that represented the entirety of high European culture, literally bringing under his hands key works by what he considered to be a ‘magical circle of sublime figures’ – not only composers, but also literary and historical figures. Largely assembled between the two World Wars, the collection also gave tangible expression to Zweig’s hopes for European unity, an ideal dashed by the rise of Hitler and Zweig’s exile from the continent he loved. 

A handsomely illustrated catalogue of the music manuscripts in the collection, with detailed descriptions and commentaries by Arthur Searle, was published in 1999. A companion volume exploring the literary and historical manuscripts, issued to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Zweig’s death last month, brings to life the breadth of his interests and literary sympathies, from Goethe to Balzac to Byron.  To mark this publication, we are hosting several events at the Library in St Pancras: a free exhibition of selected items from the collection in the Treasures Gallery (‘Stefan Zweig: the Magic of Manuscripts’, until 11 June), a study day with invited speakers to explore the historical and cultural contexts for Zweig’s collecting (‘Stefan Zweig: European, Humanist, Collector’, 20 March); and a recital of music and poetry from the collection (‘Music and poetry from the Zweig Collection’, 20 March at 7pm).  

Schubert  An die Musik

Schubert, An die Musik, for voice and piano (words by Franz Schober), D. 547. Autograph manuscript (Zweig MS 81A.)

The recital will conjure up in words and music the culture that Zweig inhabited and the social and political climate that shaped his life. Featuring the actor Samuel West, with pianist Simon Callaghan, soprano Ilona Domnich and baritone Simon Wallfisch, the recital will include some of the most beautiful songs from the collection, ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss.  These will be interspersed with a narrative charting Zweig’s life and approach to collecting, with readings from works by Shelley, Keats, Verlaine and Wilde, among others.  Tickets for this event and the study day are available through the links above.

Wolf  Gesang Weylas

Hugo Wolf, Gesang Weylas, song with piano (words by Eduard Mörike). Autograph manuscript (Zweig MS 130.)

 

07 March 2017

Torvill and Dean meet British Library Music Collections

What do world-champion ice-skaters Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean have in common with British Library Music Collections?

The answer lies in the content of the Zweig Collection, a cornerstone of the British Library’s holdings of music manuscripts, and the subject of one of our current exhibitions, a study day and a performance later this month.

In 1984, Torvill and Dean shot to fame at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s for their performance. They skated to Ravel’s captivating Boléro (1928). 

Within the Zweig Collection, we are fortunate to hold a version of this work for piano four hands  (Zweig MS 74). This dates from around 1929 and is for the most part in Ravel's own hand. The French composer was born 142 years ago today, 7 March 1875, so it seems fitting to celebrate this well-loved work in this post.

Boléro takes its name from a Spanish popular dance or song, in which the dancers are called “boleros” or “boleras”. However, it quickly found favour beyond Spain, and was particularly popular in Paris. Ravel’s composition is characterised by obsessive repetitions of a single theme and a distinctive underlying rhythm. As the work progresses, the orchestration increases, and the work culminates with a dramatic climax.

Ravel-Bolero-Repeated-RhythmRepeated underlying rhythm in Ravel's Boléro

Initially conceived under the title Fandango, Boléro is one of Ravel’s late works. He described it as “a masterpiece…without any music in it” and also once declared that he wanted it performed in a factory.

At the top left of the first page, the words “Reduction pour Piano a 4 mains (original)” in pencil have been almost completely erased, but beneath them, “Maurice Ravel” is still easily legible. Over the erased portion, in what appears to be the same hand, is written in pencil “1 - Manuscrit Piano 4 m.”.

Ravel-Bolero-Zweig-MS-74-folio-1Ravel's Boléro (reduction for piano 4 hands). British Library Zweig MS 74, folio 1 recto

Although written largely in ink by Ravel himself, this manuscript includes annotations and corrections in pencil throughout. Some of these are in the composer’s hand, but, as with the inscription at the beginning, more still are the work of someone else. This could well have been an editor, their purpose being to bring the manuscript into line with the published score.

This manuscript can be browsed in full on the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Zweig_MS_74.

28 February 2017

Rossini in London

“Rossini, the composer, is at present the great object of curiosity and attraction in the fashionable circles.”

Morning Chronicle,  13 January 1824

Rossini in 1865Rossini in 1865. From Wikimedia Commons

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) – whose 225th birthday falls at the end of this month – made a particularly profitable visit to England between December 1823 and July 1824. As well as conducting and supervising performances of some of his existing operas at the King’s Theatre in London, he was commissioned to write a new work, performed for King George IV at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, and was generally in demand for appearances at the most fashionable and exclusive social events. His fee, it was widely and sensationally reported, was 50 guineas a night. What is more, as the music journal The Harmonicon acerbically put it:

This, it was thought, was not doing enough; some subscription concerts therefore were suggested, for the purpose of more adequately rewarding the gran maestro for the risque he encountered, and the inconvenience he endured, in crossing the abominable Straits of Dover. 

The Harmonicon,  11 June 1824

The commissioned opera, Ugo, re d’Italia, may or may not have been finished [i], but was certainly never performed. At least one piece was written and performed during his visit though – a lament on the death of Lord Byron, who had died in April 1824. This exists in a manuscript in the composer’s hand here at the British Library (Additional MS 30246). 

Rossini_Additional_MS_30246_f007rRossini, Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron. British Library Additional MS 30246, f. 7 recto

Originally described in our catalogue as a cantata for tenor solo called ‘Apollo’ (the manuscript gives no title for the piece, and that name appears next to the vocal line in the score), this is the work published and known as Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron – based in part on a chorus from Rossini’s 1820 opera Maometto II.

Rossini sang the solo tenor part himself in the second of two benefit concerts at Almack’s Assembly Rooms on 11 June 1824. Claws still out, The Harmonicon informs us that he “certainly did not spare his lungs on the occasion”.

The British Library's printed music collections also include a piano reduction of the work dating from 1824 and signed by none other than the composer himself. This seems to have been used as the basis for a further printed edition produced for the composer by publisher Thomas Boosey that same year (and whose archive features elsewhere in this blog).  

Rossini_Byron_H_400_41Printed score of Il pianto delle Muse in morte di Lord Byron. British Library, H.400.(41.)

The manuscript (Additional MS 30246) shows plenty of tangible evidence of links with printed editions, with various light pencil annotations contrasting with Rossini’s heavily-inked notation. It appears to have been ‘marked up’ for, or by, the engraver, for layout, and to point out ‘hazards’, such as where the vocal line needed to be moved from the tenor to the treble clef. It is particularly interesting to see how the markings for system and page breaks match up with the printed end result.

Three other complete pieces by Rossini are also included in Additional MS 30246, all for a combination of solo voices and piano: Dall’ oriente, for piano and four voices; In giorno si bello, titled ‘Noturno a tre voci’; and O giorno sereno. Each of these, along with the Byron-inspired piece, were separately published a few years later in Paris by Antonio Pacini . The handwritten plate numbers on these manuscripts suggests that they were used as the basis of those publications as well.

Rossini_In_giorno_si_bello_f014rRossini, In giorno si bello, Noturno a 3 voci. British Library, Additional MS 30246, folio 14 recto

Working out how and why a particular manuscript came to be in the British Library's collections can sometimes be a bit of puzzle. While we usually have some kind of record of who it was purchased from, the trail often runs cold before that. In this case, a very brief note in the acquisitions records states that the bundle of manuscripts (which were only bound together later) was purchased from a ‘Mdme. Paul Gayard’ in January 1877. It seems likely that this was Paule Gayrard-Pacini, who received several notices in The Times and the Morning Post of piano recitals in London that year. Neatly, she was also the granddaughter of Rossini’s French publisher, the aforementioned Antonio Pacini.

And the Pacini connection deepens. Additional MS 30246 also contains some short passages by Rossini intended for a pasticcio opera on Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which Pacini had compiled and adapted from Rossini’s existing operas (seemingly under the composer’s supervision). Ivanhoé was performed in Paris in 1826, and it is known that a few small sections of music were especially written for it - most notably an early version of the famous tune from William Tell, which appears as a brief fanfare between spoken dialogue. Additional MS 30246 includes some accompanied recitative and a short orchestral passage marked ‘sinfonia’, which was possibly originally intended to open the opera. However, in the end, the tried-and-tested overture for Semiramide was used instead.

Rossini_Ivanhoe_Additional_MS_30246_f026rMusic for Ivanhoé. Additional MS 30246, folio 26 recto

Chris Scobie
Rare Books & Music Reference Service

Continue reading "Rossini in London"

22 February 2017

Introducing British Library Music Collections

Earlier this month, British Library staff held a special open day aimed at doctoral music students

The programme included presentations on printed music, music manuscripts and sound recordings. There was also a chance to chat to curators and to see items from the British Library's collections.

Music Doctoral Open Day 2017 manuscripts show and tell

Attendees at the 2017 music open day browsing music manuscripts with Head of Music Collections, Richard Chesser

If you're a doctoral music student and missed the open day, or if you are new to music research at the British Library, help is still at hand. Our presentations on digital research support at the British Library and on digital musicology can be accessed below.

In addition, there's a wealth of information on the various music sources available at the British Library on our music subject page. You can also ask the music enquiries team or browse the library experts page for further advice.

 

13 February 2017

British Library Music Cataloguing Vacancy

A vacancy has arisen for a Music Cataloguer in the Content and Metadata Processing Team at the British Library, St Pancras.  Please visit www.bl.uk/careers for further information and to apply. The closing date is midnight on 26 February 2017.

The post holder will join a small team responsible for cataloguing printed and manuscript music materials. Tasks will include creating and deriving catalogue records for printed music using RDA and MARC21, supporting Legal Deposit claiming, and interpreting and implementing professional cataloguing standards.

The post holder will be an experienced cataloguer with excellent communication skills and an analytical and flexible approach to problem solving. You will have the ability to concentrate on abstract concepts and make sound and timely cataloguing decisions. You will be able to work successfully in a team environment.

The role gives scope for the post holder to help to strengthen C&MP South as a centre of excellence for cataloguing, to contribute to the formulation and development of British Library cataloguing policy, and to develop personal professional expertise and knowledge in relation to changes in bibliographic standards, in particular RDA development. You will work with the BL's important music collections, with the opportunity to contribute to the music outreach and events programme within your own specialism as required.

06 February 2017

30 January 2017

From the British Library Schubert archive: some collectors of Schubert's music

The 220th anniversary of the birth of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) at the end of January 2017 provides a welcome excuse for us to explore the rich Schubert holdings at the British Library. Drawing on materials assembled by several important collectors, these range from curiosities relating to the man himself to sources documenting practical engagement with his music.

Collectors collect all sorts of things. The same Frederick George Edwards who gathered a leaf from Mozart’s grave also collected one from Schubert’s. 'Grave-leaf collecting' is admittedly an unusual activity. In a more conventional manner, the writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) began to amass famous signatures in his teenage years by waiting at stage doors and sending unsolicited requests to literary and artistic luminaries.

Leaf from Schubert's graveLeaf collected from Schubert’s grave in 1890. British Library, Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 13

As the years passed, Zweig's desire to collect developed further, and he went on to assemble a wide-ranging assortment of manuscripts of musical, literary and historical significance. In later life, he bought, sold and traded scores by many famous composers, including Mozart, Bach and Wagner as well as Schubert. The collection formed at the time of his death (along with a few later additions) was generously donated to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.

Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)]

Zweig's manuscript of Schubert’s An die Musik has already been featured in this blog, and seems to have been particularly important to him. Other Schubert examples include the Misero pargoletto (D. 42) (Zweig MS 78); Four German dances for piano (D. 146/2; D.769/1; D.783/1-2) (Zweig MS 79); Dance in A flat for piano (D.365/2) (Zweig MS 80); Schlachtlied, for double male-voice choir (D.912) (Zweig MS 82) and Mirjams Siegesgesang, for soprano solo, choir and piano (D.942) (Zweig MS 83).

Schubert Dance in A flat D 365-2Schubert's Dance in A flat for piano (‘Deutscher’) (D.365/2). British Library, Zweig MS 80, folio 1 verso

Zweig talks about collecting only the most representative examples of a particular composer’s work, and in so doing trying to capture the essence of creation itself. His memoir, The World of Yesterday, also makes it clear that, for him, collecting wasn’t purely about ownership:

Of course I never considered myself the owner of these things, only their custodian for a certain time. I was not tempted by a sense of possession, of having them for myself, but I was intrigued by the idea of bringing them together, making a collection into a work of art. I was aware that in this collection I had created something that in itself was worthier to last than my own works.

Stefan Zweig (trans. Anthea Bell), The World of Yesterday (Pushkin Press, 2011),  p. 377

To a certain extent, collecting will always be a reflection of the individual undertaking it and the context of their time. This is evident in the activities of a slightly earlier collector, the pianist and composer Ernst Perabo (1845-1920). Perabo assembled a collection that included music in the hands of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and other familiar names. This treasure trove also contains a number of autograph Schubert manuscripts, including the Mass in B flat (D.324), several songs, and the G major “Fantasie” piano sonata (D.894) (the latter to be made available on the Digitised Manuscripts website later this year). Most of Perabo’s manuscript collection is thought to have been purchased from a sale in Leipzig in 1882, having originally been in the possession of the Austrian publisher Tobias Haslinger.

Schubert Piano Sonata D 894 Add MS 36738Schubert's Piano Sonata in G Major, D.894. British Library Add. MS 36738, folio 1 verso

For several decades after his death, Schubert’s piano sonatas were rarely performed. Perabo was among the earliest pianists to introduce them to the public. He noticed differences between the text of the manuscripts and published editions which he described in a journal article. He pasted a copy of the text at the end of one of his Schubert manuscripts, and presumably went on to incorporate his observations into subsequent performances.

Perabo article on Schubert Add MS 36738Perabo's article on Schubert, British Library Add. MS 36738, folio 18 recto

The details of another pianist’s interactions with Schubert are also preserved in the British Library, courtesy of the collection of scores belonging to Clifford Curzon (1907-1982). These include Curzon's own copies of standard printed editions, marked up with annotations. Among them is the B-flat major piano sonata, D.960 (Add. MS 65057). The delicate and well-worn pages give a fascinating insight into his meticulous preparations for performance.

Curzon’s collection also includes scores of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ fantasy (D.760). Such ‘re-composition’ of Schubert’s works occurred frequently. Examples include  the Viennese-operetta stylings of Franz von Suppé, the Berté/Romberg/Clutsam sensation Lilac Time (as it was known in its UK version – Richard Tauber played Schubert in the film version, Blossom Time), Anton Webern’s distilled modernist orchestrations, and the postmodern re-imaginings of Luciano Berio and Dieter Schnebel (the latter based on the same piano sonata represented in the Perabo collection) .

Another example can be found in a printed score of Schubert string quartets formerly owned by the composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). This, along with other items from Mahler’s library, had passed to the musicologist and publisher Donald Mitchell, who then deposited the materials at the British Library. In the 1890s, Mahler made an arrangement of Schubert's ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet, D.810, for string orchestra. Mahler's lightly annotated copy of the score includes a few, characteristically fastidious, pencil annotations, providing an insight into the small amendments that he made in his own arrangement.

Schubert string quartet annotated by MahlerScore of Schubert’s 'Death and the Maiden' string quartet, D.810, annotated by Gustav Mahler. British Library MS Mus. 101

 

Chris Scobie
Rare Books & Music Reference Service