THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

5 posts from March 2017

20 March 2017

Recording of the week: can you guess what it is yet?

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Capturing authentic dialect and slang presents a considerable challenge, but documenting nonce-words is almost impossible. We have all probably coined a nonce-word on the spur of the moment – either intentionally or accidentally – to describe an action, object or phenomenon for which no conventional term readily springs to mind. If sufficiently amusing or apposite, the term may subsequently be adopted within a family or among a group of close friends, but evidence of this linguistic creativity is hard to find and even harder to evaluate as nonce-words are by their nature restricted to private use and typically short-lived. But surely English would benefit from a word like chubble?

The meaning of Chubble

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This recording was just one of the words and phrases contributed to the Evolving English WordBank by visitors to the British Library’s Evolving English exhibition in 2010/11.  People were invited to submit a word or phrase they felt was somehow ‘special’ in their variety of English. Contributions to the WordBank include local, regional and vernacular forms and idiolectal expressions used within families or friendship groups, creating a snapshot of spoken English at the start of the 21st century. 

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13 March 2017

Recording of the week: a Welsh kibbutz?!

This week's selection comes from Dr Cai Parry-Jones, Curator of Oral History.

In this extract, Holocaust survivor, Judith Steinberg, talks about her husband who arrived in Britain in 1939 on the Kindertransport from Germany. Steinberg’s husband was one of 200 Jewish refugee children who spent their early war years living and working in Gwrych Castle, north Wales, one of several hachsharoat (agricultural training centres) established in wartime Britain by German-Jewish Zionist Youth Organisations such as Bachad and Youth Aliyah. Working on the land, the hachshara (singular of hachsharoat) at Gwrych sought to train its apprentices for kibbutz life in Eretz Israel. 

Jewish Holocaust Survivors_Judith Steinberg extract

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Gwrych Castle, Denbighshire; The Seat of Lloyd Hesketh (National Library of Wales)

Judith Steinberg's full interview is part of the Jewish Holocaust Survivors collection on British Library Sounds.

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10 March 2017

Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery: how to buy a Hockney for £40

Artists’ Lives: Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery is a free display at the Tate Britain in London. You can listen to artists, curators and John Kasmin himself telling the story of the groundbreaking gallery in New Bond Street which became known as ‘the most beautiful room in London’. The art on display, by artists shown at the Kasmin Gallery, includes works by Anthony Caro (1924-2013), Robyn Denny (1930-2014) and Richard Smith (1931-2016).

Artists'_Lives_Spotlight_01Photography © Tate, 2016; Photographer Joe Humphrys

Kasmin, who was born in 1934, established the Kasmin Gallery in 1963 and has been involved in London’s art scene for over fifty years. His life story interview was recorded between 2008 and 2016 by Monica Petzal and Cathy Courtney. Kasmin’s engaging recall of people, events and conversations is extraordinary – but his storytelling style is not the only unusual thing about his interview.

Most National Life Stories interviews are recorded in sessions over a period of a few months; a typical Artists’ Lives completed interview might be around 20 -30 hours long. At over 180 hours, Kasmin’s interview (C466/184) is by far the longest interview held by the British Library’s Oral History section. The full interview is not yet fully documented and available online but audio clips, photographs and exhibition catalogues have been used in the exhibition.

In one of the extracts, Kasmin remembers going to the Young Contemporaries show in 1961 and becoming fascinated by one painting in particular, even though he didn’t understand its points of reference. That painting was Doll Boy by a then unknown student named David Hockney (now in Tate’s collection)– and he had to have it.

Kasmin on Doll Boy

At that time Kasmin did not yet have his own gallery – he was working at Marlborough New London. Kasmin invited Hockney round for tea after work. He liked the shy young man with NHS glasses and a strong Yorkshire accent. He admired his work so much that he wanted to help him, even if it meant upsetting his boss, Marlborough Fine Art co-founder Harry Fischer.

Kasmin on Hockney

Soon life at Marlborough became intolerable for Kasmin, who was not allowed to follow his artistic interests. Frank Lloyd, Marlborough’s other co-founder, was disappointed when Kasmin handed in his notice because he could see the young man’s potential – and also because he took the gallery’s main collector, Sheridan Dufferin, with him. Hockney went on to become one of Kasmin’s most famous artists.

Artists'_Lives_Spotlight_16Photography © Tate, 2016; Photographer Joe Humphrys

The idea of life story interview methodology is to capture a person’s whole life in detail, including childhood, education, family, social and working life. One of the benefits of this method is that the interviewees have a chance to explain the connections between phases and aspects of their lives and how these fit together. Interviewees often explain how random coincidences – such as spotting a painting at a show and liking it - lead to whole careers and relationships. These junctures can be missed or misinterpreted by biographers but they are often crucial to the life trajectory.

National Life Stories collects oral histories by project – this approach allows cross-reference (and often disagreement!) between interviewees. For example within the Artists Lives collection on BL Sounds [http://sounds.bl.uk/Arts-literature-and-performance/Art], the British Library’s online sound resource, you can listen to three full life story interviews with artists whose work was exhibited at the Kasmin Gallery and is now on display at Tate Britain: Richard Smith (C466/308), John Latham (C466/69) and Robyn Denny (C466/347).

In this clip artist Robyn Denny explains that he was delighted to show his work with Kasmin, whom he considered the most important person on the art scene from the 1960s onwards. Denny reflects on Kasmin’s odd mixture of attributes and roles in life, from poet to dealer to collector to dealer: ‘he was kind of nuts, Kasmin, and he is, but he isn’t.’

Denny on Kasmin

In total, over 200 Artists’ Lives oral histories are now freely available on BL Sounds. To explore Artists’ Lives interviews not online please search the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Artists’ Lives is run by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with Tate. The Henry Moore Foundation and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990, and NLS also works closely with the Henry Moore Institute. National Life Stories is grateful to all its sponsors in relation to the exhibition Artists’ Lives: Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery, particularly the Gubenkian Foundation UK and the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

You can visit the free BP Spotlight exhibition Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery at Tate Britain until Autumn 2017.

07 March 2017

Michael Tippett: In the composer’s own voice

Guest blog by Thomas Schuttenhelm, current Edison Fellow and author of  The Selected Letters of Michael Tippett, (Faber) a contributing author for the Tippett Cambridge Companion and monograph, also for Cambridge University Press, on The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett: Creative Development and the Compositional Process. His book Vision and Revision: Michael Tippett’s Fifth String Quartet will be published by Ashgate-Routledge in 2017.

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Tippett at work (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Michael Tippett (1905-1998) was an English composer for whom the act of creating music was a constant obsession. His fierce commitment to composition resulted in works that were original in design and devastating in their expression. Each work by Tippett originated as a singular vision and resulted in a singular achievement and the consistency of his creative process allowed him to fashion artifacts of shocking originality. His oeuvre is comprised of works that are remarkably diverse especially when we consider that they were the product of just one composer. What is truly remarkable is that his compositional process remained so consistent throughout his many changeable creative phases.

Tippett was educated at the Royal College of Music and served as Director of Music at Morley College, London. In addition to his creative interests he was also active in broadcasting and television and his talks on music and musicians brought him widespread attention. Many of these have been preserved at the British Library Sound Archive and these will serve as a fascinating exploration into a hitherto unknown side of this dynamic creative artist. By referencing these remarks we are transported back into the historical moment and return to the most authentic source on Tippett’s music: the composer’s own voice.

Michael Tippett lived deep in the English countryside and his creative obsessions required him to live alone. This was both a choice and a necessity but this created a classic conflict between his social-emotional side and his creative side, and it left a deep ‘wound’ on his psyche as he told Dr. Antony Clare during a 1987 session In the Psychiatrists Chair.

1 Clare 23041987

In his interview with Dr. Antony Clare, Tippett continued: ‘The wound is something absolutely autonomous, something of its own …but the price, well, I was always willing to pay the price.’ Those most closely associated with the composer were well aware of his compulsion but some were unable to submit to the severity of his devotion to the creative act. Regarding his relationship with Francesca Allinson he remarked:

2 Clare 23041987

Allinson eventually committed suicide, and in the same interview Tippett admitted:  ‘Another man whom I loved and lived with at times also committed suicide [Karl Hawker]. I may, perhaps, attract people, I don’t know.’

Similar to the poetry of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, Tippett’s music was created from a self-constructed mythology. It is, at times, eccentric, but it is never without a guiding narrative or an internal logic. Tippett created characters of fantastical proportions to render these narratives through intricate operatic plotlines and in his concert music he invented such unique timbres for his themes that they required a realignment of the planes of musical abstraction. These attributes often confounded the public and he was occasionally the target of sharp criticisms, but his singular devotion to the creative impulse allowed him to persevere, and with each successive work his creative identity became stronger and his music became more strikingly original.

Tippett spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the details of his compositions and the essence of his originality lay in the conceptual dimensions that were so uniquely conceived for each individual work. Multiplicities abound in his music but they always remain in the service of a strong integrated vision for the particular composition.  

Tippett’s solitary existence allowed him the contemplative atmosphere in which to envision some radical music but he firmly declared that he needed, always, to maintain a strong contact with the world in which he was a part. His compositional process would transform his experiences into the materials he required for his music. Tippett’s imagination was luminous and it radiated outward, through the splendor of Augustinian windows, onto panoramic vistas that resounded with otherworldly music.  He explained to John Warrack on Musical Influences broadcast on 21 May 1969. 

3 Warrack 21051969

Inspiration for specific works often came from some outside source but his creative impulse was internal and his allegiance to it was unwavering. This process was often a mysterious one, even to the composer but he had an implicit trust in his powers of invention to guide his ear towards the sounds that gave the strongest resonance to his fertile imagination.

4 Amis 01071977

Tippet_Jane_Bown_100dpi

Tippett in later years by Jane Bown (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Throughout Tippett’s long life he witnessed many shifts in style but he was unaffected by these changes and remained committed to creating his own original music.  Here he talks to Natalie Wheen in one of his last broadcast interviews from 1995.

5 Wheen 021995

Tippett had an exceptional ability to capture the ethos of his time and he used this ability to create music where the hideous—‘mans inhumanity toward man’—and strongest visions of affirmation were placed into the strangest combinations. In the aura of its release, where chaos and brought into a convincing but temporary reconciliation, we are reminded how essential Tippett was to shaping the soundscape of contemporary music.

The Edison Fellowships are funded by the Saga Trust.  Three of the extracts come from recordings in the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) which was digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

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06 March 2017

Recording of the week: Toscanini conducts Elgar

This week's selection comes from Kevin Lemonnier, Preservation Audio Engineer.

This is the only known recording in existence of Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro Op. 47. The performance took place during the 1937 London Music Festival and was privately recorded off broadcast, onto a lacquer disc, by audio engineer Kenneth H. Leech (1892-1995).

Toscanini conducting Elgar's Introduction and Allegro Op. 47

Toscanini_Getty Museum

 Portrait of the composer Arturo Toscanini c.1926 (J. Paul Getty Museum)

The audio quality is rather poor due to wear and shrinkage of the cellulose nitrate but it still reveals a driving performance from the Italian master. 

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