THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

6 posts categorized "Americas"

09 May 2018

Lady Speyer - a forgotten violinist

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Lady_Speyer_by_John_Singer_SargentLady Speyer by John Singer Sargent

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Leonora von Stosch was born in Washington D.C. on the 7th November 1872. Her father had been born in Germany but immigrated to the United States as a young man where he married an English woman.  Leonora first studied music in Washington with Joseph Kaspar, and at the age of sixteen, she and her mother went to Brussels where Leonora studied under Cornelis at the Conservatory of Music.  Upon graduation two years later, she played for the great Joseph Joachim in Berlin and at nineteen continued her studies in Paris with Martin Pierre Marsick (1847-1924) whose pupils included Carl Flesch, Jacques Thibaud and George Enescu.  Leonora also studied under Arno Hilf in Leipzig.  At this time she performed the Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Arthur Nikisch.  She was already twenty-seven years of age when she first played in London in 1899. The Morning Post wrote of her performance, ‘Saint-Saëns’ Andante and Rondo Capriccioso for violin was played with much lightness and vivacity by Madame Leonora von Stosch, a remarkably clever performer, who ought to make her mark.’ 

Leonora had one daughter by her first marriage to American Louis Meredith Howland but the marriage failed and in 1902 she married wealthy banker Edgar Speyer.  She was thirty, he was forty.  After her second marriage, Leonora did not perform much in public and took up poetry, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for her book of poetry Fiddler’s Farewell.  However, the list of famous musicians who visited the Speyer’s new home in Grosvenor Street, where Edgar had converted two houses into one, was impressive.  The music room was graced by a portrait of Lady Speyer by the greatest portrait painter of the day, the American John Singer Sargent, and the visitors included Percy Grainger, Richard Strauss and Edward Elgar.  In 1906 Grieg visited England to receive an honorary degree from Oxford University and stayed for a few days with the Speyers at Grosvenor Street where the elderly Norwegian composer was greatly impressed by their home and hospitality. 

In January 1910 when Elgar dined at Grosvenor Street, Leonora and Elgar read through the slow movement of the new violin concerto he was writing.  She was the first to play it (albeit in private) and during May she and the composer rehearsed the first movement.  Robert Newman had founded the Queen’s Hall Orchestra and the Proms but by 1902 was getting into financial difficulties resulting in bankruptcy.  Edgar Speyer offered to underwrite the losses and by 1914 had invested £26,000 in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra Company Ltd.  Speyer also financed the premiere of Elgar’s Second Symphony and enticed Debussy to visit London in 1908 and 1909.  He invited Richard Strauss to London to conduct the first performance of his great tone poem Ein Heldenleben in 1902 and three years later Strauss dedicated his opera Salome to Speyer.

It was in 1909 that Leonora made some discs for HMV.  As far as I know, these have not turned up on LP or CD anthologies of violin playing, particularly The Recorded Violin (Pearl 1990) or The Great Violinists 1900-1913 (Testament). It is probable that her husband paid for the recordings as Leonora was by this time not performing much in public and the discs would not have sold well. Indeed, they are rare today and of the three published sides, the British Library holds only one.  Leonora had two sessions for HMV, at their pre-Hayes location, not far from the British Library in City Road probably playing one of the two famous violins owned at the time by the Speyers - either the 1699 Stradivarius, known as the ‘St. Vallier Sikorsky’ which the Speyers owned from 1903-1911, or the 1742 Guarneri, the ‘Lord Wilton’, which they owned from 1902-1921.  At the first session on 26th March 1909, of the five sides recorded, only one was issued – the Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor by Brahms arranged by Joseph Joachim. 

Brahms label

Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dance in G minor

The second session was on 18th May 1909 when she recorded four sides (three being repetitions from the previous session) and two of these were published.  The Brahms title was issued from this second session replacing the previously released one from the first.  The Library holds the recording of this work from the first session.  The other published side has been loaned to the Library for digitisation by Jolyon Hudson.  The repertoire here is curious:  the label has Capriccio all‘antica and Capriccio by Bohm. 

Bohm label

Carl Bohm (1844-1920) was a prolific German composer of unabashed restraint whose vast output runs to nearly 400 works with opus number and many more besides, some of which contain a large body of works – his Op. 326 contains 143 songs while Op. 327 comprises 78 pieces.

The first work on the recording is actually not by Bohm but the Capriccio all‘antica Op. 25 No. 2 by Italian composer and mountain climber Leone Sinigaglia (1868-1944).  The second piece is indeed by Bohm but has been hard to track down.  The only Capriccio by Bohm I could find in the Music Library is from Op. 314, subtitled Papillon and it is not this work.  It sounds very much like the popular violin showpiece L’Abeille (The Bee) by Francois Schubert (1808-1878, no relation to the famous Franz Schubert) - No. 9 of his 12 Morceaux detachés for violin and piano, Op. 13 - but the key is wrong (G minor instead of E minor) and although the beginning is very similar, it is evidently not the same work.  It turns out to be the fourth movement from Bohm’s Suite in G minor which is titled Capriccio, but is also subtitled The Bee, The Gnat or La Mouche and therefore looks like pure plagiarism of the Schubert piece.

Sinigaglia and Bohm

In 1914 Leonora gave three evenings of violin sonatas (presumably at her home) by Fauré and Richard Strauss.  In each case she was accompanied by the composer.  The Speyers were then caught up in the catastrophe of the First World War and moved to the United States with their four daughters.  Edgar, born in New York to German parents, had become a British citizen in 1892.  He was responsible for the expansion of the London Underground system in the early years of the twentieth century and donated large sums of money to many charitable causes.  Although he was created a baronet and member of the Privy Council, anti-German sentiment and political intrigue in Britain during the First World War meant that in 1921 an investigation decided he was to be struck off the Privy Council list and have his British Nationality revoked. 

The Grosvenor Street house was sold in 1923 and the family lived in Washington Square in New York.  Edgar died in Germany in 1932, where he was on a visit, at the age of 69.  Leonora died in 1956 at the age of 83 but their daughters returned to England to live.

A forgotten name in the history of violin playing, Lady Speyer was not a celebrated public virtuoso but preferred the role of hostess in London's musical circles and wife to her illustrious husband.  Nonetheless, it is fascinating to be able to hear someone whose life touched so many important musicians at the turn of the twentieth century, notwithstanding that of her unfortunate, more famous husband.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

23 March 2018

Linguistics at the Library – Episode 5

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PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell write:

This week is a bumper episode because Andrew and Rowan are joined by Rosy Hall, who completed her PhD placement at the British Library in 2017! We discuss island communities and why these are linguistically interesting, before hearing about Rosy’s own research on the island of Bermuda in the north Atlantic.


Follow Rosy on Twitter: @RosyHall

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

BBC Voices Recording in Knowle West, Bristol. BBC, UK, rec. 2005 [digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/07/02. Available: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/BBC-Voices/021M-C1190X0007XX-0201V0

Further reading:

Schreier, D. & K. Lavarello-Schreier. 2011. Tristan da Cunha and the Tristanians. Portland: Battlebridge Publications.

Wagner, S. (ed.). [forthcoming]. Varieties of English in the Atlantic: Small Islands Between the Local and the Global (Benjamins Varieties of English Around the World series)

Wolfram, W. & N. Schilling-Estes. 1997. Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks: The Story of the Okracoke Brogue. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hill. J. 1995. Mock Spanish: A Site For The Indexical Reproduction Of Racism In American English. [Online]. Available at:: http://language-culture.binghamton.edu/symposia/2/part1/

Linguistics at the Library Episode 5

12 March 2018

Recording of the week: A singing rat

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This week's selection comes from Richard Ranft, Head of Sound and Vision.

Even among wildlife sound recordists accustomed to capturing unusual sounds, it is a surprise to hear the sound of a rat, and one which literally sings, with a change in pitch and rhythm.

Amazon bamboo rats are a family of large tree rats found in the jungles of south America. While recording forests sounds on an expedition in south-east Peru in 1985, I often heard this sound at night, but didn’t believe locals who claimed it was made by a rat.

I had heard rare recordings in the British Library’s unique sound collections of high-pitched sounds made by the laboratory rat and the widely distributed Brown Rat. But this sound seemed, well, so unrat-like. It was also frustratingly hard for me to record, as whatever creature was making it only vocalised rarely, for a few seconds before going silent, at night in the pitch blackness of the tropical forests, from within dense clumps of bamboo near where I was encamped.

When I finally got this recording after many failed attempts, I was determined to identify the source. So I crept nearer and nearer over a period of about 15 minutes, expecting to see a large frog. Luckily it called again, and I was ready to switch on my torch. There in the light-beam, partly hidden by bamboo stems and leaves, was indeed a furry bamboo rat. Mystery solved! The call is used as a territorial signal to its own kind, much as a bird sings a song in its territory.

AmazonBambooRat

Drawing of an Amazon bamboo rat (illustration by Asohn19262 / CC-BY-SA)

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

11 December 2017

Recording of the week: Cyril Blake and his Jigs Club Band

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This week's selection comes from Andy Linehan, Curator of Popular Music Recordings.

Cyril Blake was a Trinidadian jazz trumpeter who moved to Europe and eventually settled in London in the 1930s. After playing with many well-known musicians in various house bands he became a bandleader and appeared regularly at the Afro-Caribbean Jigs Club, in Soho, London where this live performance was broadcast 76 years ago on December 12th 1941.

The Jigs Club Band’s line-up included Blake’s fellow-Trinidadian Lauderic Caton who is renowned as a pioneer of the electric guitar in the UK and who gave lessons to Nigerian bandleader Ambrose Campbell and a young Hank Marvin, later of The Shadows, amongst others.

Blake himself went on to form the backing band for many hugely popular recordings on the Parlophone label by calypso singer Lord Kitchener, and returned to Trinidad to lead a number of bands before his death in 1951.

Originally issued on Regal Zonophone MR 3597, this recording, Cyril's Blues, appears with two others from the same performance on the British Library compilation CD  Black British Swing, Topic TSCD781.

Cyril's Blues performed by Cyril Blake and his Jigs Club Band - excerpt

Cyril Blake_edit

Follow @BL_PopMusic and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

03 November 2016

Environments: Irv Teibel and the psychoacoustic record

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Earlier in the year the Irv Teibel Archive generously donated a complete set of the hugely influential environments LP series to the British Library. This collection of environmental field recordings, released over a 10 year period from 1969 - 1979, represents the work of Irv Teibel, the ambient and new age music pioneer whose record label Syntonic Research Inc brought the sounds of nature to a public that was becoming increasingly interested in the natural world. In this special post, Creative Director of Syntonic Research and the Irv Teibel Archive, Jonathan Een Newton, writes about the work and legacy of one of the leading figures from the environmental sound movement.

If you’ve ever drowned out your co-workers’ chatter with rainy sounds, or fallen asleep to a loop of the ocean, you owe your peace of mind, in large part, to field recordist Irv Teibel. His environments series, released on eleven albums from 1969 to 1979, helped introduce popular culture to the utility of natural sound.

Gentle Rain in a Pine Forest

Irv was born in 1938 in Buffalo, New York and studied art in New York and California before becoming a public information specialist for the US Army. While stationed in Germany in the early 1960s, he began experimenting with electronic music at a local radio station. After his service, he found his way to New York City where he photographed and designed layouts for magazines Popular Photographer and Car and Driver

His fascination with natural sound was piqued while on a field recording trip for Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant’s film Coming Attractions. Playing back his ocean recordings the next day, Irv became excited by their potential to mask noise and positively affect mood. He soon threw his creative energy into producing a record designed to be "useful.” In late 1969, he released environments 1, which he assembled with his friend Lou Gerstman, a Bell Labs neuropsychologist.

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Cover image of environments 1 (courtesy of the Irv Teibel Archive)

Over the next decade, the series found surprising mainstream success and was even licensed to Atlantic Records for distribution. The thought of a major label releasing a record with just a single 30 minute track per side and without the involvement of a known artist is unimaginable today. Irv eventually released most of the series on cassette and some on CD while he experimented with other projects like video environments, and continued to run a mail order business from his house until his death in 2010.

Environments has often been lumped together with the new age music genre it helped inspire, most likely because of the way it was marketed. But talk to almost any sound artist of a certain age and they’ll tell you that these recordings were hugely influential and helped pave the way for the flood of environmental releases that proliferated in the 1980s and 90s and continues today as Spotify playlists and white noise apps. Like me, many younger listeners have picked up an environments LP in a local record store bin precisely because of the colourful quotes and distinctive Bauhaus-inspired design. But in the end, it is the meticulously constructed soundscapes, which include everything from the classic “Psychologically Ultimate Seashore” to the porto-ambient “Tintinnabulation,” that keep us loyal fans of Irv’s work. 

Teibel-Photo 001

In the Syntonic Research office at the top of the Flatiron Building, Manhattan, NY (courtesy of the Irv Teibel Archive)

What continues to surprise me as I've worked on this project over the past two years is environments' diverse admirers. I’ve connected with musicians working in metal (Earth), noise (Prurient), and electronic music (Matmos) who all cite Irv Teibel and the environments series as an influence. Even pop musician Henry Gross told me he used environments to help write his hit single “Shannon.” There are also pages of comments I'm still sorting throughfrom students and teachers to army captains and correctional officers of every age—collected via the feedback cards inserted into each record sleeve.

Syntonic_logo_4

Snowman in the field, a self-portrait that Irv often included on stationary and feedback cards (courtesy of the Irv Teibel Archive) 

We’re excited to be working on a number of projects to showcase Irv's work including a recently-launched website featuring his writing, photography, and of course, recordings. We're also in the early stages of creating a mobile app to re-imagine environments for the twenty-first century.

Wind in the Trees

We’re thrilled that the British Library’s exceptional sound archive now has a full set of environments. I hope you’ll take some time to listen to this seminal series of creative field recordings and discover your own favourite (mine is "Dusk in the Okefenokee Swamp"). Thanks for caring and keep in touch.

Jonathan Een Newton

09 June 2016

Recording the past, representing the present: Indians of the Colombian Vaupés

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 In January 2016 The British Library supported anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Brian Moser to take back digital copies of his Tukano recordings - British Library collection C207 Brian Moser & Donald Tayler Colombia collection which were made on an initial recording trip in the 1960's supported by the British Institute of Recorded Sound - to the Tukano peoples in the Pirá-Paraná region of the Amazon. 

Brian was accompanied on the trip by his son, Titus Moser, and  anthropologists Professor Stephen and Dr Christine Hugh-Jones. With both Stephen and Christine being fluent in Tukano and most of the sub-group dialects, the team hoped to observe the impact of returning these recordings. In this guest blog from the team they discuss their findings in the context of wider representation of Amazonian Indian culture and  the indigenous perspective.

Piratrip2016_0013

 Indians at Piedra Ñi look at a projection of “War of the Gods” inside the maloca. 2016

2016 is a year to reflect on the culture and history of Northwest Amazonian Indians in the face of so-called "civilization". There are two reasons why we have a unique opportunity to question how we relate to Amazonian Indian culture through our all-pervasive media of photography and sound recording.

The first is the UK release (10th June) of The Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra's Oscar-nominated film about the history of Vaupés Indians. This feature-film, shot by a Colombian director in the Colombian tropical forest, complements several documentaries made by foreigners over the past six decades, the whole providing both a rich compendium of documented, interpreted and imagined historical events and a social history of film-making about Indian subjects. 

The second reason is that indigenous peoples now have access to these media themselves.

Piratrip2016_0006

Stephen, Titus and Oliverio pull the boat over the Thunder rapids on the Komenyá River, Pirá-Paraná 2016    

In January this year, with British Library support, Christine and Stephen Hugh-Jones accompanied 81 year-old documentary film-maker Brian Moser and his son Titus on a trip to return Brian's recorded material to the communities living along the Pirá-Paraná river and to make new sound recordings. Over ten days, we visited three different communities and, in each, people gathered in their traditional longhouse to watch Brian’s films starring famous shamans and chanters, no longer alive, and themselves as children. Each community was given a book of photos, a hard drive and an iPad with copies of Brian’s audiovisual records of their culture and, eventually, will have the film Titus made of our trip and their reactions.

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Ignacio, a now retired but still revered shaman and headman, looks at “Piraparaná”. 2016

Besides this, two Pirá-Paraná communities have recently acquired Internet posts. These are intended to facilitate day-to-day-communications about travel, health, education and air freight but, inevitably, this is a journey of no return into our global village with all its powerful, exciting potential and terrifying negative consequences.

Traditionally, the multi-lingual network of Vaupés Indian peoples lived in communal longhouses, cultivated manioc, and had a particularly rich intellectual heritage of extensive mythologies, ritual exchanges and male initiation with sacred flutes. They were already suffering the traumatic onslaughts of rubber gatherers and missionaries when the German explorer Theodore Koch-Grünberg visited them in 1903-5 and made his extraordinary collection of artefacts, early photographs and pioneering wax-cylinder recordings. 

By 1960, when Brian and Donald Tayler first visited, Pirá-Paraná society was a still traditional refuge area compared with the mission-dominated Indian villages beyond. In spite of modern equipment and outboard motors, the expedition ethos had not changed so very much from Koch-Grünberg’s day (see Moser and Tayler's travel book The Cocaine Eaters. London: Longmans 1965). They made a collection of artefacts for the British Museum, photographs, sound recordings (now in the British Library) and a film of Makuna Indian culture.

Tukano Pira_0467

Indian dancers perform the maraca dance to celebrate the manioc harvest festival. 1970   

Eight years later, we started anthropological fieldwork in isolated Pirá-Paraná longhouses. The first missionaries had just settled - Colombian Catholic Xaverians in the centre of the main river and various North American couples from Wycliffe Bible Translators on tributaries - all busy employing Indians to clear the short jungle air strips which would accelerate change in unforeseen ways. In 1970, we arranged for Brian to come back to make a film in Granada Television’s groundbreaking Disappearing World Series

In traditional "natural-history" documentaries, exotic indigenous customs would be explained by a scantily informed visitor from the western world, with every discordant sign of the White Man carefully edited out. By 1970, the anthropological methods of fieldwork and participant-observation contributed to the climate-change in which filmmakers reflected on cultural imperialism and the nature of documentary film. Brian’s 1970 War of the Gods was a very different beast to his 1960 effort. Close-up photography and subtitled speech in Indian languages drew viewers closer to Indians. Cuts between the Catholic Eucharist, Protestant hymn singing and indigenous ceremonies where hallucinogenic yagé (ayahuasca) transports Indian chanters into the mythical world of ancestors, show the tension between the equivalence of the rituals and the inequality of the brute socio-economic power and "civilizing" ideology of the two Christian missions.


Tukano Pira_0480

Cristo, an expert chanter-dancer and Bosco, a renowned shaman, chanting origin journey of their ancestors through the night under the influence of yajé (ayahuasca). 1970

Later, we returned to the Pirá-Paraná to find Indian communities trading traditional coca crops to isolated cocaine labs. The nearest lab had usurped the Catholic mission airstrip! To our amazement, in a basic jungle encampment with ill-assorted vessels, sacks of chemicals and drums of aeroplane fuel, the grown son of a Colombian fortune-seeker we had known from the past was minding the project for his father. The father’s CV included policeman, rubber gatherer and jaguar hunter but now he was a cocaine-producer with an obsession about chemical purity. Brian’s documentary instincts brought him back and, against all the odds, in 1980 he managed to shoot a remarkable and risky film of the backwoods cocaine trade called A Small Family Business.

Now, 35 years on, Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent seeks to turn the tables on box-office hits like Boorman's Emerald Forest, Herzog's Fitzcarraldo or Joffe's The Mission. Instead of indigenous Amazonians appearing through the distorting lens of Western cultural assumptions, the fatal impact of colonial forces is seen through the indigenous eyes of Karamakate, the shaman, played first as a young man by Nilbio Torres, a Cubeo Indian from the Vaupés, and then, as an old man, by Antonio Bolívar from further south. A hotchpotch of loosely historical themes twist through this beautifully shot, black and white film: the sympathetic characters of real-life explorers - Koch-Grünberg and Harvard ethno-botanist Richard Evans Schultes - contrast with the excessive brutality of missionaries and rubber traders and are woven into a story of jungle hardships, tragic cultural loss, and the cultural gap between Indians and White men. Resolution of a sort comes through hallucinogenic experience - the only sequence in colour. Meanwhile, we learn that Karamakate is the last survivor of his people who has forgotten his own culture - he stands for the fate of the indigenous peoples of the Vaupés, what Jordan Hoffman in his 17 Feb. 2016 Guardian review calls the"unstoppable current of history".

But Vaupés history has not turned out like Guerra’s vision. There are some 30,000 Indians living in different states of integration into pan-Colombian culture. In War of the Gods, we see the very same Indian shaman singing hymns in shirt and trousers and then chanting about the ancestral anaconda-canoe, high on yagé in paint and feather ornaments. This shaman stands for a more realistic and nuanced fate than Karamakate’s: one in which people integrate the new in ways we may find difficult to understand. 

Piratrip2016_0015

 Young panpipe players making music in the evening on the upper Pirá-Paraná. 1960

In 2010 UNESCO added the Traditional Shamanic Knowledge of the Jaguar Shamans of Yurupari, the cultural heritage of the Bará, Barasana, Tatuyo, Taiwano and Makuna peoples of the Pirá-Paraná river to its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This is a tribute to the intellectual power and persistence of traditional Vaupés culture. One certainty is that today’s Pirá-Paraná Indians are eager and grateful for past recordings of their culture. Having seen this so clearly in January, we shall do what we can to save our own sound recordings for the future by adding them to the British Library collection.

Christine and Stephen Hugh-Jones

The recordings made during the 2016 trip will be added soon to the original collection  -  C207 Brian Moser and Donald Tayler Colombia collection which can be browsed online. 

 

Embrace of the Serpent  opens in cinemas on June 10th 2016

A copy of the Disappearing World film - War of the Gods can be viewed on-site at the British Library 

 

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

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