THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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56 posts categorized "Interviews"

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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31 January 2017

When politics meets science: Tam Dalyell, Labour MP (1932-2017)

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The many tributes to Tam Dalyell, who died last Thursday, paid little attention to his unswerving interest in scientific affairs throughout a 43-year career as an MP.

Tam

Tam Dalvell, Labour MP (1932-2017), courtesy of Douglas Robertson and the University of Edinburgh

Dalyell read history and economics at Cambridge in the 1950s, yet acknowledged in his 2012 interview for the History of Parliament oral history project “it’s important that there were particularly others from the sciences that I got to know very well”.

While at university he was friends with Ron Peierls, son of nuclear physicist Sir Rudolf Peierls, and attended lectures given by physicists Sir James Chadwick and Otto Frisch.

Dalyell on attending lectures given by Otto Frisch (British Library Reference: C1503/38)

Dalyell knew many world-famous scientists through his friendship with David Schoenberg, head of the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1964 he was the only MP on a high-level science/political delegation to the Soviet Union, witnessing how personal relationships within the international science community could transcend Cold War politics.

However it was through writing a weekly column for New Scientist for 37 years that Dalyell “provided a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa”.

Dalyell’s support for the public understanding of science demonstrates that parliamentarians who are actively involved in debates about science do not necessarily come to Westminster with a scientific background, as interviews with other former MPs confirm.

Patrick Jenkin (MP for Wanstead and Woodford, 1964-1987), who died in December 2016, spoke about having never been taught science at school, yet he became president of both the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He was chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during its 2000 inquiry into Science and Society.

David Price (MP for Eastleigh, 1955-92) read history at university but in Parliament became a vigorous campaigner for British industry and space research.

David Price on his involvement in space research (British Library Reference: C1503/19)

The interviews also reveal that MPs with a technical or scientific background were not always comfortable adopting a visible position on science. “I really didn’t feel sufficiently technically qualified in order to become, as it were, a technical guru in Parliament, so in the end I concentrated on foreign affairs,” said Ben Ford (MP for Bradford North, 1964-83), despite a thorough knowledge of aviation electronics and experience of lecturing on productivity at INSEAD and the University of Cambridge.

From accounts such as these, it seems that there was little correlation between these MPs’ scientific credentials and an inclination to be actively involved in Westminster’s consideration of science.

The interview clips featured in this blog are sourced from the ongoing  History of Parliament Oral History Project (deposited at the British Library). For further interviews in this collection, search 'C1503' in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. Further oral history interviews relating to Science and British Scientist can be found via the Sound and Moving Image, online via BL Sounds and the Voices of Science webpage, the website of the Oral History of British Science programme, led by National Life Stories in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund.

Emmeline Ledgerwood, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Leicester and The British Library

23 January 2017

Recording of the week: Exotic food? Exotic through whose perspective?

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This week's selection comes from Niamh Dillon, National Life Stories Project Interviewer.

Rosamund Grant was born in Guyana and moved to London as a young woman in the 1960s.  Here she discusses challenging European stereotypes of Caribbean food and how she defines herself through her cooking.

Rosamund Grant_Not just Caribbean Stew

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The recording is part of the Food: from Source to Salespoint collection which documents changes in the production, manufacture, retail and consumption of food in Britain in the twentieth and twenty first century. 

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

22 December 2016

Christmas and everyday making

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Michael Brennand Wood
‘Burst’, 2009 by Michael Brennand-Wood (Machine embroidered blooms, wire, toy soldiers, fabric and acrylic on wood base). Photograph by Peter Mennim.

National Life Stories’ long life history interviews all ask questions about the interviewee’s childhood, seeking to capture something of their family history, their early memories, and the interests, influences and accidents that led them to take up their chosen careers. In interviewing for Crafts Lives we ask particularly about family members who made things and a childhood interest in making. The 1940s and 50s, when most of our interviewees grew up, provide rich material. The interviews are full of grandfathers with workshops, fathers bodging up greenhouses and garden gates, go-cart making and sewing, knitting and cooking. It was an age of make do and mend when ingenuity was required even though the results were sometimes surprising. Here textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood recalls seeing his treasured green teddy bear return from being mended by his grandmother.

Michael Brennand-Wood

It is difficult, as the person being interviewed, to recall the detail of everyday life and the making that went into feeding, clothing and homemaking that was so habitual that it formed part of the unexamined texture of childhood. One way to help the interviewee is to ask questions about the details. In this clip textile artist Michele Walker initially says that no one in her family made anything but careful questioning reveals interesting nuggets of information about the jumpers that were always knitted as Christmas presents with wool from a yarn club and leads on to her talking about the things she made herself as a child.

Michele Walker 

Questions about Christmas in general are often fruitful as people tend to have clearer memories of the heightened atmosphere of high days and holidays. In addition it is a time when people particularly invest time in making: - in cooking special food, making presents and creating decorations. Here jeweller Andrew Logan describes the Christmas tree fairy made by his mother, which is still a prized family possession.

Andrew Logan

The making that characterised many interviewees’ childhoods in the 1940s and 50s was on an everyday, almost unconsidered, level. Much of it was borne of necessity but listening to the interviews also reveals the care, skill, creativity and talent for improvisation that went into everyday making. It was from this landscape of practical intelligence that the studio craftspeople and designer makers of the 1960s and 70s emerged to take craft in new and unexpected directions. Even if making is not as universal as it once was, Christmas is still the highpoint of the calendar.  Whether it’s Christmas cakes or cards with glue gun and glitter, happy making and Happy Christmas.

By Frances Cornford

NLS Project Interviewer

13 December 2016

Artists’ Lives Exhibition at Tate Britain

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From now until Autumn 2017, selected audio recordings from National Life Stories’ Artists’ Lives project (C466) will be on display at Tate Britain, London, as part of the free exhibition, ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY.

  172 kasmin on phone 118Kasmin in his gallery at 118 New Bond Street, c.1966. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Celebrating the history of the Kasmin Gallery, a Mayfair gallery that played a key role in the art scene of 1960s London, the exhibition brings together artwork originally shown in the gallery (subsequently acquired by Tate), including the works of Jules Olitski (1922-2007) and Robyn Denny (1930-2014), together with related audio extracts from Artists’ Lives (available via touch-screens in the exhibition’s seating area) that allow visitors to explore the history of the Kasmin Gallery and developing art market through the voices of those directly involved, including artists, curators and Kasmin himself.

To mark the launch of the exhibition, a conversation event was held at Tate Britain on Friday 9 December 2016, which saw gallerist Kasmin, Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, and biographer and cultural historian Fiona MacCarthy reflect on their own personal experiences of life story interviews, as well as the content of the exhibition itself. A one-day conference entitled The Voice of the Artist was also held at the Courtauld Institute of Art on Saturday 10 December 2016, which brought together artists, curators, art historians and oral history experts to explore the importance, relevance and complications of life story interviews in the context of art studies and art education. Novelist William Boyd gave the conference’s keynote lecture, which discussed his 1998 fictitious biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960 and the centrality and importance of life stories in his work.

 

74390004Kamsin gallery exteriorKasmin outside the Kasmin Gallery on New Bond Street, 1960s. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Over 200 Artists’ Lives life story recordings are now freely available on BL Sounds, the British Library’s online sound resource. 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, The Henry Moore Institute and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990. 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.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones

Curator, Oral History

30 November 2016

Beneath the calm exterior: A glimpse into the world of the Crown Court clerk

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 Michael McKenzie QC, Clerk of the Central Criminal Court 1979-84.

Crown Court clerks are pivotal to administering trials of the most serious criminal offences such as burglary, rape, murder and terrorism. In-depth life history interviews with former Crown Court clerks have revealed how they dealt with listening to harrowing stories day after day. Interviewees spoke about the effort involved in trying to appear expressionless and impartial, as their job demanded, particularly when they may have been feeling incensed by what they were hearing in court, or holding back tears, or trying not to laugh and to keep a straight face. They described taking a verdict in a murder trial, their hearts pounding, palms sweating, absorbing the tension in the courtroom, and feeling nervous about taking the verdict correctly under pressure. Interviewees discussed the emotive moment the foreman of the jury has just announced the defendant has been found, “Guilty”, and then the court clerk waits until the shouts and wails from the public gallery have abated before they carry on, seemingly unphased and unflappable, in their measured and controlled ‘court voice’. They spoke about seeing photographs of murders and injuries that were so disturbing that they made the conscious decision that they would never look at court photos again; the horror of dealing with child abuse cases especially; having nightmares when they first began clerking; and recounting in vivid detail the cases that they said came back to haunt them. In the following clip, clerk of the Central Criminal Court between 1979-84, Michael McKenzie QC reflected on putting the charges to the notorious serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshre Ripper.

Michael McKenzie reflects on putting the charges to the Yorkshire Ripper

The Crown Court clerk interviews were conducted by PhD student Dvora Liberman and will be publicly accessible towards the end of 2017. This collection was created as part of a collaborative research project between National Life Stories and the Legal Biography Project at the London School of Economics.

By Dvora Liberman

 

13 October 2016

Sir Neville Marriner – an interview

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Neville_Marriner

Photo by Werner Bethsold (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When Neville Marriner died on 2nd October at the age of 92, it made me think of the time that I visited his home with Norman Lebrecht to interview him for the British Library.

A wonderfully charming and unpretentious man of extraordinary modesty, he talked for two and a half hours about many aspects of his life including his experiences with Albert Sammons and Benjamin Britten.  He began his career as a violinist and formed the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 1958 in which he played violin and conducted.  Later, with encouragement from the great conductor Pierre Monteux, he left his violin and took to the podium as conductor.

Below is an excerpt where he talks about advice he received from Pierre Monteux - and one difficult journey to Maine where Monteux taught.

Marriner on Monteux

One of the most recorded conductors, Marriner made more than 600 recordings of over 2000 works from pre-baroque to contemporary music.  Most of these are held in the British Library’s Sound & Vision collections complimented by numerous broadcast recordings from his long career.

21 September 2016

‘It’s in the detail of a handrail… it’s in how the building is put together.’

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Last weekend, thousands of people visited London buildings as part of Open House 2016. In this blog, oral history project interviewer Niamh Dillon shares the stories of two architects who designed some of these iconic buildings. 

‘It’s in the detail of a handrail… it’s in how the building is put together.’

This was Denys Lasdun’s response in the late 1960s to criticism that his recently designed National Theatre on London’s south bank lacked detail and decoration.

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 National Theatre, photo by Bill Knight

Lasdun on the National Theatre

The National Theatre and south bank are part of Open House 2016.  The continued popularity of this event indicates the growing public interest in the often private spaces of public buildings.  Open House allows members of the public the opportunity to experience buildings first hand, and it is wonderful to hear from those living and working in these spaces.  We visited Stoneleigh Terrace, now part of the Whittington Estate, designed by Peter Tabori, then a young architect working in the architects department at Camden Council.  The owner delighted in the light and space, and the attention to detail which made living there such a pleasure.  Working alongside Peter Tabori at Camden Council was Neave Brown, and we are fortunate to have a recording with him as part of Architects’ Lives. This ongoing project features key architects working in Britain over the last century and many of the buildings featured in Open House this year are discussed in Architects Lives.   In his recording, Sir Jeremy Dixon describes working on Kings Place in the Kings Cross area of London when it was in transition from an underused part of the city to one featuring new and refurbished educational, office and residential buildings.  Jeremy Dixon explains how he wanted the façade of Kings Place to work with the surrounding area.

Jeremy Dixon on Kings Place

Kings Place Jeremy Dixon

Kings Place by Dixon Jones (photo by Niamh Dillon)

Unlike Denys Lasdun, Dixon Jones enjoyed acclaim rather then criticism for Kings Place, but these recordings explain the context and evolution of each building. Hear more at http://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Architects-Lives

Niamh Dillon