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6 posts categorized "Edison Fellowships"

07 March 2017

Michael Tippett: In the composer’s own voice

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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.

Tippett_at_work

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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08 July 2016

'The future looks very good' - the early days of penicillin

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Alexis Bennett is an Edison Fellow at the British Library Sound Archive, and is currently completing his PhD in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is an Associate Lecturer. He is also a composer and performer.  Here he takes a diversion, and writes about two lacquer discs that he and his family donated to the Sound Archive, that provide a glimpse into a moment in medical history. 

Returning to the family home in South London for Christmas last year, I did the usual trawl through my parents’ collection of old vinyl. Among the Beatles and the Bob Dylan, the Bothy Band and the Brahms, I found two unusually heavy discs with pencilled handwriting on BBC labels. I had been an Edison Fellow at the British Library for a few months already, so I knew what I had stumbled across. These were lacquers, unique recordings made by the BBC for broadcast at a later date. Before the use of magnetic tape, recording was achieved by cutting direct to blank lacquer discs, but they were also used widely to archive radio broadcast material, so many lacquers that survive contain interviews or live music that was broadcast.

One of the discs, dated 26 September 1945, is labelled “ORIGIN: St. Mary’s - TITLE: Dr Dooley / Penicillin”.  The other reads, “TITLE: Irish Song – SUBTITLE: MacNamara’s Band – ARTISTS: St. Mary’s Hospital RC.” It was clear that these discs related to my late grandfather, Dr Denis Dooley (1913-2010) who at one time was given the rather curious title of ‘Her Majesty’s Inspector of Anatomy’.  He worked as a doctor and medical researcher in London during the Second World War, notably under Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Fleming had made his historic discovery in 1928, but continued developing it for many years, hiring assistants like my grandfather along the way.

The first recording contains a short interview (duration 00:01:43) with my grandfather on the subject of the development of penicillin, and in it he gives his thoughts on how he and his colleagues decide to whom it should be given, and on its future. The interview, recorded shortly after the end of the war, is a fascinating snapshot of the beginnings of the use of antibiotics in medicine.


DooleyLabel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MLO2924 Penicillin Dr Dooley

A transcript can be read below:

Interviewer: Only recently has it been possible for civilian cases to be treated in this country with penicillin. We’ve brought the microphone today to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where penicillin was first discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, in the laboratories here. And here beside me is Sir Alexander’s first assistant Dr Dooley, who is now the penicillin registrar of the hospital. Dr Dooley, is there enough penicillin to go round now?

Dooley: Well, frankly, there is not, really. There’s enough for the hospitals, for the really sick patients in hospitals, but if the general practitioner wants any for example, he’s got to come and ask for it. And he can’t just ask for it, he has to give us the particulars of the case, and then we consider whether it’s suitable for penicillin therapy.

Interviewer: Yes I see, so that there’s no wastage.

Dooley: That’s the main thing.

Interviewer: Of course penicillin is entirely government controlled isn’t it? How is it allocated to you?

Dooley: Well we get it direct from one of the ministries, the Ministry of Health I believe. And they also supply it to the other large hospitals, and we supply it to the small hospitals from here.

Interviewer: From here, I see. And what about the future?

Dooley: Well the future looks very good. The factories now producing it are producing a lot more, and there is a large hospital – a large factory in the north of England which is being –

Interviewer: Built…

Dooley: Built now…

Interviewer: Amongst the many others I suppose.

Dooley: Oh yes, there’s lots more going up and down the country.

Interviewer: And you think we’ll be alright?

Dooley: Oh, I’m sure we will.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

 

Denis Dooley

 

The second disc is a fairly ramshackle recording of a well-known Irish song, MacNamara’s Band, sung by a group of apparent non-musicians who were presumably St Mary’s personnel, including my grandfather. There might be more to their choice of song than its popularity. The historical MacNamara’s Band was formed by four brothers in the Parish of St Mary’s, Limerick, where some members of my family still live. My grandfather might have known the origin of the song, and – being the kind of person who was interested in making connections like this – might have enjoyed the fact that the eponymous band was formed in a place called St Mary’s.

MLO 1189 MacNamara's Band

 

05 May 2016

"Ils sont arrivés!" Francis Chagrin and Allied Propaganda at the BBC French Service 1939-45

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 Alexis Bennett is an Edison Fellow at the British Library Sound Archive, and is currently completing his PhD in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is an Associate Lecturer. He is also a composer and performer.  Here he writes about his research on the work of composer Francis Chagrin at the BBC French Service.

 

Chagrin edit

Francis Chagrin pursued several musical careers simultaneously. The Romanian-born composer, who eventually settled in Britain after formative years in France, was something of a musical chameleon. Much of his work is preserved in the British Library Sound Archive, alongside his papers and manuscripts held in the BL’s Music Collections. In a previous post I discussed the history of the fascinating archive of Chagrin discs that were donated to the Sound Archive in 2006, and explored the process of cross-referencing the audio archive with the manuscripts, especially in relation to the film music and concert works. In this post I take a look at some of the slogans he set to music for the BBC French Service.

 

 

During the Second World War, priorities changed in most sectors of British culture. Film production was halted in most studios, and the musical establishment found itself having to walk a tightrope between continuing the work of simply making great music on the one hand, and serving the interests of a nation at war on the other. So Chagrin, who had already started working in film alongside composing concert works, spent the years of the Second World War working for the French branch of the BBC Overseas Service, setting Allied propaganda slogans to his distinctively witty and colourful music.

The BBC French Service (also known as Radio Londres) broadcast to occupied France between 1940 and 1945. Following the Armistice of June 1940, which effectively began the occupation, the station was fighting a war of ideas with the official radio stations of the Vichy regime. The famous words “Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris est allemand” (“Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris is German”), a plea to the French not to listen to the Vichy-controlled station based in France, originated on the BBC’s French Service. Those who tuned in to the BBC in France and its flagship programme Les Français parlent aux Français  would have come to know Chagrin’s music extremely well, alongside the voices of certain presenters and singers, among them the journalist Pierre Bourdan and the actor and director Jacques Brunius. Another regular was Jean Oberlé, a painter and illustrator-turned radio personality, whose name is mentioned alongside that of other presenters in the Chagrin autograph manuscripts; the composer wanted to note in the scores which of the presenters were to speak or sing a given section.

One representative recording in the Sound Archive concerns the arrival of American troops in Britain. The music that opens the item contains a quote from ‘Yankee Doodle’, a clear nod to the subject. In an exchange typical of the French Service items, two male voices speak – or rather, declaim - to each other:

“Ils sont arrivés! Ils sont arrivés!”

“Qui ça?”

“Les Américains, les premiers soldats américains, viennent d’arrivés dans les iles Britanniques.”

There follows a description of the American troops’ arrival at St Nazaire in June 1917 (many listeners will have had vivid memories of that war), a short fanfare which is once more based on ‘Yankee Doodle’, and then a song about the current embarkation based on the well known chanson ‘À la Martinique’ (Cohan/Christiné).

Play the recording here:

Ils sont arrives

The archive contains discs that were held by Chagrin privately until their donation to the Sound Archive, which often feature two attempts to record the same slogan, with occasional discussion and other extraneous noise between takes.

Another typical song broadcast to France via the BBC French Service, is ‘La Chanson du Maquis’ (with words by Maurice van Moppès). It concerns the French resistance fighters, or maquisards. The autograph score of the song notes that it was recorded on 17th November, 1943. The lyrics describe the heroism of the young maquisards, who left their family and friends to fight in the wilderness of the mountains (their name derives from a word meaning ‘jungle’ or ‘scrubland’). As the fighters faced hunger and cold, the song calls out to rouse the listeners’ sympathy and to elicit help. It describes how the maquisards defy “slavery” and maintain hope, without losing courage:

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Ceux de la Résistance,

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Qui gardent l’espérance

Bravant le froid [,] bravant la faim

Défiant l’horrible esclavage

Bravant Laval, bravant ses chiens,

Sans jamais perdre courage,

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Ceux de la résistance

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Jeunesse du pays.

Elsewhere in the archive Chagrin arranges existing music to accompany slogans for broadcast, including the famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Indeed one of the strange paradoxes about British broadcasting during the war was that music from the Austro-German tradition was used widely and freely. As the historian John Morris has noted, Beethoven in particular remained a composer who represented liberty and common humanity. This was a far cry from the growing catalogue of forbidden entartete musik as compiled by the Nazi regime. The opening four-note motif from Beethoven’s Fifth was used as a musical sign for ‘Victory’ during many of the French Service’s slogans, usually played on the timpani. A powerful musical sign of fortitude amid great struggle, it also happens to be a musical rendering of the Morse code for the letter V (dot-dot-dot-dash). Chagrin was one of the radio practitioners who developed the extensive use of this motif, and wrote and recorded an extended adaptation of the opening of the symphony, which he named ‘Chanson de V’

 

FURTHER READING

CHADWICK, KAY. ‘Our Enemy’s Enemy: Selling Britain to Occupied France on the BBC French Service’, Media History, Vol. 21, No. 4. pp. 426-442

LAUNCHBURY, CLAIRE. Constructing French Cultural Soundscapes at the BBC during the Second World War (Bern: Peter Lang, 2012)

LUNEAU, AURÉLIE. Je vous écris de France: Lettres inédites à la BBC 1940-1944. (Paris: L’Iconoclaste, 2014)

LUNEAU, AURÉLIE, ‘Des anonymes dans la guerre des ondes’, Le Temps des médias  2005/1, No. 4  p. 78-89.

MORRIS, JOHN. Culture and Propaganda in World War II: Music, Film and the Battle for National Identity. (London & New York: I.B.Tauris, 2014)

04 February 2016

War, propaganda and Skye terriers - The Francis Chagrin collection of sound recordings

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Alexis Bennett is an Edison Fellow at the British Library Sound Archive, and is currently completing his PhD in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also Associate Lecturer. He is also a composer and performer.  Here he writes about his research on composer Francis Chagrin.

Each donation to the Sound Archive at the British Library carries with it a certain air of mystery, especially if the format on which it is recorded has made reproduction difficult without specialist help. This was certainly the case for the materials donated by the family of the composer Francis Chagrin (1905-1972). Nearly all of the 484 recordings contained in the collection are lacquer discs of session recordings conducted by Chagrin. There are also some BBC shellac discs from his days working for the BBC French Service.

Francis Chagrin was Romanian by birth, but settled in London via Paris. His recordings were discovered in a garage by his family and donated to the British Library in 2006. Many of these discs are from the war period, during which he worked in London for the BBC French Service, a branch of what is now the BBC World Service that broadcast to occupied France. It is a fascinating trove of propaganda announcements, jingles, and other items, all set to music by Chagrin. They have arresting titles, which in themselves might give a sense of the kind of items that were being broadcast to the French: ‘Ne va pas en Allemagne’ is a sombre chant set to a dark orchestral accompaniment, and ‘Ça ira’ adapts an old revolutionary song.

When the discs were donated to the Sound Archive, they were digitized by the specialist staff so that researchers like me can listen to them repeatedly without damaging the originals. I am currently undertaking the task of cataloguing these recordings and aligning them on the British Library cataloguing system with the manuscripts and other special materials on Chagrin (these include scores, letters, cue-sheets, etc).

Chagrin78Research into the Chagrin materials can shed light on some of the ways that the composer borrowed from his own back catalogue. Early in his career, and soon after he settled in London, he scored a documentary called Five Faces (Alexander Shaw, 1937). It examined different groups of people living on the Malay Peninsula. Trawling through the BBC discs, (some of which are made from shellac, not lacquer) I found a French Service jingle that reuses the opening musical material from that film. The score for the film, and by implication for the material used in this jingle, is also held at the British Library. To the left is an image of the shellac disc and you can hear it in the attached file.

Five Faces BBC French Service


There are some recordings that do not originate from Chagrin’s French Service work, notably a broadcast recording of his Prelude and Fugue for orchestra (1947), which was performed at the Proms (then still called the Promenade Concerts); and a good representative sample of some of his film music, much of it now somewhat obscure, like his score for the rare documentary The Bridge (J. D. Chambers, 1946), which examined postwar reconstruction in Bosnia. This is an interesting case in point, in view of my cataloguing work, since by cross-referencing the sound recording of this film score and the manuscript for his concert work Yougoslav Sketches, it can be ascertained that the latter is simply an adaptation of the former. I’m not the first to make this particular connection (the musicologist Philip Lane worked on a CD recording of some of this music in 2005), but it is exciting to be collecting together all these materials at the British Library and cataloguing them in such as way that general readers and listeners can understand these links between paper sources and sound recordings easily.

Other, possibly more well-known, music can be found among these recordings, like cues from Chagrin’s score for the Disney film Greyfriars Bobby (Don Chaffey, 1961), which dramatizes the tale of the eponymous Edinburgh dog, a Skye terrier who allegedly slept by the graveside of his favourite human, Jock. This music shows Chagrin’s light-hearted side, but his skill and craftsmanship shows through (he studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris).

You can read a detailed examination of the Chagrin archive in my forthcoming article for a special edition of Journal of Film Music, due Summer 2016:

https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/JFM

Edison Fellowships are awarded annually by the British Library and funded by the Saga Trust.

23 June 2015

Classical Music of the Jazz Age

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Current Edison Fellow Paul Bevan writes about the influence of jazz on classical composers working in the period between the Wars.

George Gershwin is perhaps the name that most often springs to mind when a fusion of classical music and jazz is mentioned. However, important as his music is, and despite its ground breaking nature at the time of composition, Gershwin is not one of the composers explored in my current research project as Edison Visiting Fellow at the British Library. Two other composers whose music might fall into the same category as Gershwin, i.e. music composed for the symphony orchestra by popular music composers, are Dana Suesse (once known as “Girl Gershwin”) and James P. Johnson.

James P Johnson

Johnson is often cited as having been the first performer to have recorded a piece for jazz piano in 1921 and he was to compose his Harlem Symphony, a work of real note, the following decade in 1932. These three composers are the major exponents of what might best be described as “symphonic jazz.” Symphonic jazz is not the focus of this project which has specifically set out to explore the music of classical composers, during the interwar years, who used elements of jazz in their compositions. These include some of the most famous names of early twentieth-century music: Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Martinů and Milhaud as well as some equally important but less well-known names, such as Erwin Schulhoff and George Antheil.

One of the major aims at the outset of the project was to use historical recordings to compare styles of playing from different periods and to explore regional variants by country. However, it was soon discovered that there was one serious obstacle to this – namely, that the sample of existing recordings for any one composition in this repertoire is far too small to make any meaningful comparison. The few notable exceptions to this, for example, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and his Violin Sonata no. 2, have proved to be rich sources of material, but due to the quantitative limitations described above, the research was forced to take a natural turn towards a broad exploration of repertoire.

The repertoire in question has often been shunned by jazz enthusiasts as being failed attempts by classical composers to write successfully in the jazz idiom and is also an area often ignored by those in the classical music world who have thought it to be in some way lightweight, unsophisticated or even corny. Neither of these views does justice to the rich and diverse repertoire that the use of jazz has spawned in classical music, a phenomenon that may best be compared to the way folk music has been used, not just in modern times in the music of Bartok and Kodaly, but also in previous centuries with, for example, the chamber music of Haydn and Beethoven.

The music of the American, George Antheil, self-styled “Bad Boy of Music”, and his use of jazz as a central compositional element in some of his works, notably his Jazz Symphony of 1925, is a good example of the type of music studied in this project. As with so many young composers of the time, Antheil was greatly influenced by Stravinsky. Stravinsky’s early contributions to this genre can be seen in his Ragtime for 11 Instruments and The Soldier’s Tale (both of 1918). These pieces were composed at the start of a period of worldwide dissemination of jazz following WWI. However, they were written at a time when Stravinsky had not even heard ragtime and were composed with reference only to sheet music. 1918 was also well before the term “The Jazz Age” was coined, with the publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story collection of that name in 1922. The “Jazz Age” is often said to have ended with the coming of the Great Depression although in reality it can be seen to have continued for much longer and was far more widespread than is often acknowledged. Indeed, in some parts of the world it was only at this time that jazz was becoming popular. This has led me to the devising of a new term, “The Universal Jazz Age,” a broad term covering trends in music, fashion, art, photography, architecture etc., that refers to a period which was both more widespread and longer lasting than the “Jazz Age” has often been seen to be. The reach of this popular cultural phenomenon in the 1930s and 1940s could be found as far afield as Shanghai, Bombay, Rio and Mexico City and important work in this area has been done by, amongst others, Naresh Fernandes in his Taj Mahal Foxtrot and Andrew F. Jones in Yellow Music.

Ragtime, the tango, the foxtrot and the waltz are perhaps the most frequently seen forms of dance music adopted in compositions by classical composers at the time in question. However, some of these are often not thought of as typical “jazz” genres at all, and the question might be asked why they were so prominent. The answer lies firmly in their inclusion as part of the repertoire of the dance halls, the type of venue where jazz was most frequently heard worldwide.

The composition of classical music inspired by jazz grew at much the same time as the worldwide spread of jazz itself following WWI. Scott Joplin’s ragtime piano rolls were not made until 1916, the first “jazz” recordings were recorded only the following year and J. P. Johnsons piano solo Carolina Shout was not recorded until 1921.

112px-Schulhoff_Mayerova_1931By this time, one of the central figures explored in this project, Erwin Schulhoff, had already composed his first piano pieces inspired by jazz, Fünf Pittoresken (1919), which were dedicated to his close friend, the artist George Grosz. Schulhoff used jazz in his compositions in a distorted and grotesque manner in much the same way as Grosz (a jazz fan himself) was doing in his artistic representations of Berlin nightlife; both doing so as part of the phenomenon of Berlin Dada. 

Composer Ervín Schulhoff (1894–1942) and dancer Milča Mayerová (1901-1977), ca 1931

“Classical Music of the Jazz Age,” fits into a wider project which follows the spread of jazz around the world, focussing on East Asia and the Universal Jazz Age. The project seeks to show how jazz, a music with its roots in America, following WWI, spread rapidly around the world, in each place taking on a life of its own. By the 1930s, as part of the Universal Jazz Age (a broad cultural phenomenon which included art, literature and fashion) jazz had become a many-faceted jewel reflected in the mirrors of numerous cultures worldwide. 

 

Dr Paul Bevan is a Research Associate in the Department of Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His book: A Modern Miscellany: Shanghai Cartoon Artists, Shao Xunmei’s Circle and the Travels of Jack Chen, 1926-1938 will be published by Brill later in 2015.

07 May 2015

Lord of the Rings recording engineer David Gleeson receives British Library Edison Fellowship

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Current Edison Fellow David Gleeson writes about his work for Decca in London and the major film studios of Hollywood.

Returning to the UK after nearly twenty years abroad, several life events drew me to the British Library’s Oral History of Recorded Sound, which in turn led to applying for an Edison Fellowship.

Straight out of London University in 1984, I went to work as a research assistant for Decca, Belsize Road, where a veteran team of analogue recording pioneers was trying to come to terms with a new generation of digital recording pioneers – just as mono engineers had had to come to terms with stereo engineers in the 1950s – and not without conflict. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was fortunate to be present amongst those who’d invented methods that have remained unchanged through all of the upheaval of the digital era. I then went to work at Abbey Road where the ‘Decca Tree’ and other orchestral recording techniques were an unquestioned given. In 1991, I moved to California and co-ran the scoring stage at Skywalker Sound, where Decca Trees were as much a natural part of the environment as the rolling hills of Lucas Valley Road.

By 2000, I’d set up a post-production facility with Ren Klyce and Malcolm Fife, in which David Fincher’s Fight Club was the first project. On our next Fincher film, Panic Room, I co-produced the score for Howard Shore. Howard subsequently invited me to join his Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson. It was a watershed moment in film scoring, just as multitrack digital tape recorders had reached their peak and digital audio workstations were taking over. Much of the preparation work for the extended Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers involved building a team and workflow which allowed orchestral multitrack recordings to be edited during the session, deploying technology that had yet to be tested in such a pressured environment. Needless to say, at the front end of all this new-fangled technology stood a Decca Tree.

LOR 1 Gleeson

Control Room, Studio One, Abbey Road – Peter Jackson and Howard Shore with Oscar statuette – Academy Award, Best Original Score, The Fellowship of the Ring (photo by David Gleeson 2002)

LOR 2 Gleeson

Watford Town Hall – Peter Jackson taking a break with the timps during LPO recordings for The Two Towers, Howard Shore standing by with a spare mallet (photo by David Gleeson 2002)

After two years of production work, I took a step back from the bustle which had involved spending much of the year away from home, 20-hour workdays, frequent all-nighters, and endless travel. A writing sabbatical ultimately led to recording work at The Banff Centre. It was there, high up in the Canadian Rockies, that I met up-and-coming recording engineers who wanted to learn all there was to know about Decca Trees and scoring sessions alike. Fortunately for them, John Dunkerely, former chief engineer at Decca, was there as visiting faculty to impart much wisdom on the subject. 

A point of discussion with John was that we’d recently lost many of the luminaries of what had become known as the Golden Age of Decca. Between 2004 and 2012, engineers, Kenneth Wilkinson, Roy Wallace, Cyril Windebank, Jimmy Lock, and Jack Law had all died, as well as producers, Erik Smith, Ray Minshull, Andrew Raeburn, Christopher Raeburn and Peter Andry.

Unlike conductors and a few of the more successful producers whose lives are pored over in great detail with resulting hagiographies, precious little had been documented on the lives of the engineers. Fortunately for posterity, and the rest of us, the OHRS had recorded interviews with Decca’s Tony Griffiths and Arthur Haddy. Since starting the Edison Fellowship, interviews have been conducted with Michael Gray, Jimmy Brown, and Tony Hawkins. 

The Edison Fellowships are designed to encourage scholarship devoted to the history of recordings of classical music and music in performance through creating the conditions for concentrated use of the Library's collections of recordings.