THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

68 posts categorized "Music"

12 October 2017

LISTEN: 140 Years of Recorded Sound

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Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound is the Library's new free exhibition in the Entrance Hall Gallery.

This exhibition also inaugurates the Library’s Season of Sound which, includes happy hour listening sessions, a series of talks, late-night shows and a ‘Super Sonic’ day of audio adventures.

What would you find?

  Gallery_blog

100 Sounds

In the exhibition space we present 100 sounds from the archive, amounting to nearly seven hours of playing time, dating from 1889 to 2017 and covering music, drama, oral history, wildlife, environmental sounds, accents and dialects, and radio.

Many of the selections are rare and unpublished and they can be accessed from any of the exhibition’s listening pods, which have been designed for a secluded and prolonged listening experience.

Hand-out_blog

 Some of my favourites…

  • Radio drama: a musical excerpt from an off-air recording of a radio play by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin - The People in the Park made in 1963. This is an example of a radio drama which was not saved by the BBC and which the British Library has preserved from an off-air recording. The chosen musical excerpt is representative of the humour and the strong feminist message of the piece.
  • Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan live at WOMAD recorded by the British Library in 1985. The Library has 2500 hours of recordings made at the WOMAD Festival by a team of volunteer staff from 1985 till the present.
  • Brendan Behan singing ‘The Old Triangle’ in 1954 from his play The Quare Fellow. This is a private recording donated by the Theatre Royal in Stratford East.
  • An excerpt from an oral history interview with chef Cyrus Todiwala, interviewed by Niamh Dillon in 2008, recalling his reaction to first encountering Indian restaurant menus when he arrived in the UK from India in the 1990s.
  • A wildlife recording of a Turkish soundscape at dusk made by biologist and field recordist Eloisa Matheu in 2010.
  • Hugh Davies performing his composition ‘Salad’ on a variety of egg and tomato slicers in 1978.

Also… the voice of Florence Nightingale; James Joyce reading from Ulysses; the voice of Brahms; Maya Angelou live in Lewisham; the earliest recording of British vernacular speech; bird mimicry; whale songs; …

‘Mystery tracks’

To put you in the zone we have installed five ‘mystery tracks’ at the very front of the exhibition space. If you are curious to know the ‘when’, ‘where’ and the ‘who’ of the mystery tracks, the details are revealed in a hand-out available elsewhere in the space.

Mystery tracks 1blog Timeline

For reference there is a timeline listing key developments in the history of recorded sound (including radio), and illustrating how the effect of recordings and recording technologies has changed our relationship to sound over the years.

Listen timeline_blog

Artefacts

The British Library has a collection of rarely seen audio players and other artefacts. For this exhibition we have taken a few out of storage. Players include an Edison home phonograph from 1900 and a Nagra SN miniature tape recorder from 1970. The artefacts include a colourful selection of picture discs and the original nickel-plated stamper used to press a disc version of Tennyson reciting 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in 1890.

Listen to Tennyson reciting 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'

Edison Diamond Disc phonograph_blogEdison Diamond Disc phonograph (c.1919)

Boy Wireless

To illustrate how archival sounds can inspire new works in the 21st century, composer and sound artist Aleks Kolkowski has created a unique sound installation.

Boy Wireless was inspired by a diary kept by a sixteen-year old radio enthusiast, Alfred Taylor, writing in 1922-23, at the dawn of broadcast radio. The original diary is also on display in the space.

BoyWireless_B Boy Wireless sound installation by Aleks Kolkowski

Aleks Kolkowski_blogAleks Kolkowski at the British Library cutting souvenir voice recordings on the exhibition’s opening night. You can have your own voice recorded too at our Super Sonic one-day event on Saturday 25th November

Save Our Sounds

The Library’s sound archive is one of the biggest on the planet. It contains six and half million audio recordings from all over the world in over forty different formats. The preservation of recorded sound is at the heart of our work. In 2016 the Library launched the Save Our Sounds Programme to digitise the most vulnerable items in our collection and in other collections across the UK. Donations to support the programme are welcome.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for more news.

03 October 2017

Zino Francescatti and Paganini

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Last year I wrote a blog about the discovery of a live recording of pianist Mark Hambourg and how it had restored his reputation as an artist.  The recording was made in 1955 by Frank Hardingham whose collection of tapes I acquired for the British Library from his son.  Since then, Mr Hardingham’s daughter Gill has sent some biographical information about her father which gives an insight into why these unique early tape recordings are of such good quality.

Just before his fourteenth birthday, Frank Hardingham (1903-1973) left school and went to work in a shipping office in London for several years, travelling up by train from his home town of Romford, Essex.  He used the journey to read magazines like 'Practical Wireless' and after further study obtained the Diploma in the Theory and Practice of Radio and Television Engineering in 1938, which made him a member of the Incorporated Institute of Radio Engineers.  Also at this time he built his own crystal radio set.

Then he and his friend Eric joined the business of Mr Silcocks, Eric’s father.  They set up a small workshop and sold home-built radios through the shop. They later expanded the business from selling and servicing radios to dealing in television and other electrical goods, furniture, and records, where Frank’s knowledge of classical music was much appreciated by customers.

A man of many talents and interests, Frank learnt German, and travelled widely in Europe before and after the war.  Before he married in 1932, he went mountain walking in Europe with his younger brother.  He was a radio ham, and made contacts worldwide. 

Frank was also a keen photographer, and developed and enlarged his own photos, using his artistic talent to hand colour some of them.

Frank had a lifelong love of classical music, and recorded from the radio.  Often he would go to a concert, leaving the recording all set up for his wife to press the record button.  Frank had a happy retirement, pursuing many of his interests.  He continued to travel; indeed, in 1971 he visited many countries in South America, and reached Everest base camp in 1972.  He enjoyed family life with his children and grandchildren, working with his wife in their large garden, and savouring a glass of excellent wine.

Another gem from the Hardingham collection is the Proms debut of the great French violinist Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) who was born in Marseilles.  His father, Fortunato Francescatti (1858-1923) was a pupil of Camillo Sivori who had been the only student of the great Nicolò Paganini.  At the age of ten he played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Marseilles and made his first records in the same city at the age of nineteen for French HMV.

Francescatti gave his professional debut in Paris at the Palais Garnier in 1925 playing the technically demanding Violin Concerto No. 1 by Paganini.  The same year he played in London with Harold Craxton accompanying, and the following year toured with Ravel, who accompanied him in his own Berceuse at Cheltenham Town Hall.  Known as a good but not great pianist, Ravel had George Reeves accompany Francescatti in his rather more demanding Tzigane.  From 1927 Francescatti taught at the Ecole Normale in Paris.

Francescatti made his US debut in 1939 playing the Paganini Concerto with the New York Philharmonic and John Barbirolli.  The Second World War interrupted his progress, but the late 1940s and 1950s were the peak of his career.  During this time he made a series of famous LP discs for Columbia with the greatest conductors of the time including Dmitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, Bruno Walter and Leonard Bernstein.  In 1947 American critic and composer Virgil Thomson wrote of him: ‘Everywhere there was beauty, dignity, repose and the authority of solid worth. If violin playing is in the way of becoming a noble art again . . . this artist is one of those responsible for the change.’  Ten years later Francescatti himself said: 'My philosophie is never to fight a piece. I only want to give the impression that music is poetic, beautiful and easy.'

In August 1951 Francescatti performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the Edinburgh Festival with Dmitri Mitropoulos and then made his first appearance at the Proms in September with his calling card, Paganini’s Violin Concerto conducted by Malcolm Sargent.  The sense of occasion and the excitement of the audience can be felt during the first movement after which they burst into spontaneous applause.  This live performance took place in the Albert Hall sixty-six years ago and, thanks to Mr Hardingham's expertly made recording, we can relive the wonderful experience.  Here is the demanding cadenza and close of the first movement.

Francescatti Paganini

The complete recording will be released by Testament Records.

For all the latest Classical news on Twitter follow @BL_Classical

01 September 2017

Alternate Nikolai Malko – an EMI Extended Range recording

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Label

In my last blog I described the experiments going on at EMI just after the Second World War with one of the earliest examples of a tape recording being transferred to shellac disc.

In 1947, Ukrainian conductor Nikolai Malko (1883-1961) was in London to conduct a concert at the Albert Hall on 25th March which introduced American violinist sensation Arnold Eidus (1922-2013) to London.  The previous day Malko recorded Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Studio No. 1, Abbey Road.  I recently acquired alternative takes of two of the sides from this recording session for the British Library.  The recording was made using the Extended Range high frequency method capable of capturing 20Hz-20kHz and marketed as ‘Transient True’.  Whereas the Gerald Moore test recording described in the previous blog was definitely recorded on tape and pressed on shellac in early April 1947, the Malko recording, from 24th March, was probably a direct cut recording.  However, the high quality of sound, only marred by the surface noise of the shellac, is remarkable.

Here is take one of the Danse Russe.  Take two was the published take.

Danse Russe

Thanks to Jolyon Hudson

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

28 August 2017

Recording of the week: bringing Batwa voices back to life in Uganda

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Dr Peter Cooke has been researching music in Uganda since the 1960s. In 1968 he was in the Kisoro area in western Uganda where he recorded a few songs performed by members of the Batwa community. The recordings now form part of his collection at the British Library (BL reference: C23) and can be listened to on the British Library Sounds website.

In 1991, the Batwa in Uganda were evicted from their historic homelands and their presence in the country was decimated. In 2006-7 Christopher Kidd, then an anthropology PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow who had been working amongst the Batwa communities, took the Cooke recordings back and played them to local colleagues at the offices of the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda. On hearing them, one of the staff members was able to identify his own grandfather, a man called Kiyovu, as the sole performer of these two songs. Furthermore, he reported that Kiyovu’s only surviving son, Jeremiah Bunjagare, was still living in the area although he had been relocated, as part of a development project, to Gitebe beside Echuya Forest.

Dr Kidd went to Gitebe and played the recordings to Jeremiah. He immediately picked out his father's voice and was visibly emotional at hearing his father after all these years. With much pride he explained that the man they were listening to was a man who sat beside kings [Kiyovu was indeed a performer for Mwami Rubugiri, the king of Rwanda]. Later he danced to show his thanks for bringing his father back into his life. Dr Kidd reported: "Listening to these recordings was a time when Jeremiah and other Batwa remembered not their powerlessness but a time in which they ‘sat beside kings’ and were respected as a people and a culture."

Urwasabahizi_Innanga zither song performed by Kiyovu

Jeremiah Bunjagare listening to recording of his father from 1968 - Photo Chris Kidd 2007Jeremiah Bunjagare listening to recording of his father from 1968 - Photo Chris Kidd 2007

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

09 August 2017

Frederick Grinke and the sound of English music

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Guest blog by Edison Fellow Fiona Richards, Senior Lecturer in Music at the Open University

Gloucester_Cathedral_exterior_front

Gloucester Cathedral (Saffron Blaze [CC BY-SA 3.0] )

Evocative little photographs of 1956 show the violinist Frederick Grinke (1911–1987) alongside Vaughan Williams, rehearsing for a performance of The Lark Ascending in the marvellous acoustic space of Gloucester Cathedral. Grinke had a close and enduring relationship with Vaughan Williams and his music. He recorded the Violin Sonata and the Concerto Accademico as well as The Lark Ascending, and, along with David Martin, gave a performance of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor at the composer’s funeral. Grinke’s association with Vaughan Williams was not his only contribution to English music. He commissioned and premiered works from Arnold Bax to Edmund Rubbra, and was a champion of many other British composers such as William Walton.  Here is a short extract from Bax's Legend with Joseph Weingarten at the piano.

Bax Legend extract

Here is another short extract of Bax's Violin Concerto (1938) with Adrian Boult and the BBC Orchestra from a live broadcast of March 1945.

Bax Concerto extract

A lifelong lover of English music, I’ve always been drawn to its advocates. My early work on John Ireland led me to Grinke, who worked closely with that composer and recorded much of his chamber music. As a current Edison Fellow of the British Library, I’m delighted to have access to numerous recordings of Grinke, both as a soloist and as an orchestra player, and to have the huge pleasure of spending time listening to and analysing them. In particular, I’m looking to find ways of capturing Grinke’s distinctive sound and performance style in words.

So what is it that makes Grinke such a special and much-loved violinist? Listening to the surviving recordings of him as soloist and orchestral leader reveals an extraordinarily distinctive and intense tone quality. Reviews of his time as a student at the RAM saw Grinke commended countless times, whether it was for his ‘sweet, pure tone’ or his ability to lead a string quartet ‘with rare spirit’. Grinke was also a regular concerto soloist at the RAM, a performance of Brahms’s Concerto eliciting the comment that he showed ‘remarkably good tone, flexible and warm yet free from sentiment’. This sweet pure tone is perhaps what most distinguishes Grinke as a violinist, heard for example in this recording of the finale of Mozart’s Concerto No.5.

Born in Winnipeg, in 1927 Grinke was awarded a scholarship to leave Canada to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was one of the winners of the prestigious annual violin bow competition. One of the RAM’s stars from the outset, Grinke devoted his subsequent career to working as a soloist and chamber musician, and, for ten years, as an orchestral leader. As an ensemble player, he founded his own Grinke Piano Trio, with cellist Florence Hooton and pianist Kendall Taylor.

Grinke Trio

Grinke Trio (photo courtesy Paul Grinke)

His first significant professional role saw him playing for six years with the Kutcher Quartet, and indeed his work with this ensemble dominated his early career.

The_Kutcher_String_Quartet_1930s_800

Photo courtesy Paul Grinke

Grinke was also the longest serving and most distinguished leader of the Boyd Neel Orchestra. He took over as concert master in 1937 and remained in that role for 10 years. From the outset, the inexperienced but dedicated conductor Boyd Neel described the venture as a ‘communal effort’ to bring to a listening public a vast repertoire of music for strings which was at that time virtually unknown in the concert hall. Peter Pears, in his own tribute to this extraordinarily prolific and successful band of string players, described Neel’s real genius as attracting and keeping the right people: ‘They were a very good lot – Freddy Grinke, David Martin, Max Gilbert – all first class musicians, and devoted to him. They followed him like an eagle’. With this orchestra Grinke recorded solo parts in numerous works, including Bach’s ‘Brandenburg’ concertos and Handel’s concerti grossi, and I’ve been able to listen to his leadership of this band during my time as an Edison Fellow. Undoubtedly he brought to it an intensity of sound, and under his leadership it became one of the most distinctive small orchestras of the period. Vivacity, commitment and an emphasis on melody characterise so many of the orchestra’s recordings, such as the Abel Symphony in E flat recorded in 1940.

Abel Symphony

Zest, boldness, richness of sound are all features of the BNO under Grinke, playing either on his instrument by J. B. Rogerius of 1686, or on a 1718 Stradivarius loaned to him by the RAM.

During the Second World War Grinke was a member of the RAF Symphony Orchestra, playing alongside the members of the Griller Quartet, the Blechs and the Brains. David Martin, now Sgt Martin and married to Florence Hooton, was also a member. The orchestra toured the UK and played in National Gallery concerts. Grinke is seen below leaning on the piano.

RAF SO

Photo courtesy Paul Grinke

In 1947 the Boyd Neel Orchestra travelled to Australia and New Zealand. This eighteen-week tour was quite an undertaking. In 1947 the journey to Sydney by plane took 9 days, flying via San Francisco with a number of changes: Dublin-Shannon-Gander, Newfoundland-New York-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Honolulu-Canton Island-Fiji-Sydney. Advertisements for their tour appeared in newspapers in the autumn of 1946 and into 1947. There were concerts in many cities and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a number of these, including the opening event. This took place in Sydney Town Hall. The great critic Neville Cardus was in the audience and wrote a long, highly appreciate article. Cardus was equally besotted with the subsequent concerts, very taken with the discipline, unity and vitality of the orchestra, and particularly drawn to Grinke, ‘who always plays like a man possessed’. Of the leader’s lively appearance as soloist in Bach’s E major concerto he wrote:  ‘even the passages of rapid figuration were made melodious…we were given a Bach of free and creative energy, abounding in ideas and emotions…Such playing as Mr. Grinke’s has seldom been heard here; and the orchestral texture into which the solo was consummately woven was without a flaw’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1947, p. 6).

After his departure from the BNO, Grinke continued to work as a soloist and teacher. He had joined the staff at the RAM in 1939, and after considerable service to that institution was appointed Fellow there. In the early 1960s he also taught at the newly-formed Menuhin School. He coached the violins of the National Youth Orchestra and acted as judge at international competitions. He appeared many times as soloist at the Proms and was created a CBE in 1979. Grinke was not only an inspirational player and teacher, but also a family man.

P1040199

Photo courtesy Fiona Richards

Next to his wife Dorothy, he is buried in the church of St Mary, Thornham Parva, Suffolk, not far from his little cottage, Frog’s Hall, in the tiny hamlet of Braiseworth.

P1040203

Photo courtesy Fiona Richards

I’m looking forward in my writing to trying to do justice to this remarkable and much-loved musician.

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

27 July 2017

HMV experimental recordings 1914 and 1947

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As Curator of Classical Music it is always fascinating to find unpublished recordings of renowned artists, but equally exciting is the discovery of discs that were made as experiments in the evolution of recorded sound.

In November of last year Diana Sparkes, the daughter of Hubert Foss, donated some discs of her mother, Dora Stevens.  These are HMV experimental discs dated 19th May 1914 and written into the wax is ‘Experimental HE 9’.  The discs were not for publication, and as Dora was still a student at the time it is likely that the Gramophone Company chose her as a talented musician, suitable for the job.  Without access to the historical paperwork it is impossible to tell what experiments were taking place – possibly horn placement or groove spacing.  She sings a song Loving is so sweet by English composer Robert Coningsby Clarke (1879-1934), and you can hear her clear her throat during the piano introduction in this acoustic recording.  Later in her career, as wife of Hubert Foss, she had works written for and dedicated to her by Gordon Jacob and William Walton.

Loving is so sweet

A few weeks ago I managed to acquire two more fascinating HMV (by now EMI) experimental discs via an auction.  These are particularly interesting as they document one of the very first attempts, in April 1947, at using tape to disc transfer rather than direct cut disc.  Indeed, it might be the company’s very first experiment as the typed label is quite explicit.  The tape machine was probably either a liberated AEG-Magnetophon from Germany or a prototype of EMI’s own BTR1 which was developed at the end of 1947.  According to Reg Willard, who was an assistant to the Advanced Development Division, by October 1948 experiments in stereo were being made using the AEG-Magnetophon tape transport and EMI BTR 1 developed circuitry.

In addition, these April 1947 recordings are experiments with the new extended range frequency recording - “ER” as it appears on the label.  The first demonstration of this recording method was in 1944 to the Electrical Engineers but at that time it was probably a system (like Decca’s ‘ffrr’) for some sort of war work. It was not announced to the press until November 1947, so a certain number of recordings ready to exploit the method would have been kept in reserve from earlier that year.

EMI produced its own machine early in 1948. However, there was a shortage of tape at the time and the BASF stock purloined from the Germans had been so often cut and spliced that it was chiefly used only for transfer work rather than actual recordings.  No doubt EMI were aware of what was happening in the US at Columbia Records, who announced their long playing record – a revolution in sound reliant on tape – in June 1948 and local competition at Decca had already recorded Ernest Ansermet in 1946 conducting Stravinsky’s Petroushka using their own extended full frequency range recording system - ‘ffrr’- which had been developed to detect the engine sounds of German submarines. 

Experiments were not just being made with the recording technology - the cutting of the disc was also a crucial part of the process.  The run out grooves of the two discs recently acquired show that experiments were also being made with different lathes and cutters when transferring from tape – each disc being cut on a different type of machine.  In an effort to ascertain which set up would suit the new extended range recordings best, the extended range Blumlein cutter was probably fixed to the current lathe design, whilst probably an RCA cutter was attached to a 1920s lathe, providing no spiral groove at the centre of the disc.

So this recording from April 1947, one of the first efforts at cutting a disc from tape at EMI, comes from a crucial point in the evolution and history of recorded sound where various things overlap – the end of the 78rpm disc era, the first use of tape, experiments with extending the frequency range and the introduction of the LP.

GeraldMoore

Gerald Moore plays part of Schumann’s Papillons Op. 2.  Even through the surface noise of the shellac, immediately noticeable is the clarity of the piano tone and wide range of dynamics captured on the tape recording.

Schumann Papillons

In a future blog I will talk about an alternate take of one of EMI’s first issued ER recordings of conductor Nikolai Malko.

Thanks to Jolyon Hudson

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

29 June 2017

Walter Legge and the Hugo Wolf Society’s recordings of the Spanisches Liederbuch

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Guest blog by Ammiel Bushakevitz, current Edison Fellow at the British Library and freelance pianist based in Berlin, Germany.

 Walter Legge, his wife Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Geoffrey Parsons (Getty Images)

Although the majority of his legacy was produced more than half a century ago, Walter Legge (1906–1979) left behind such a copious treasure of legendary recordings that his achievements in the field have yet to be surpassed.  During his tenure as chief classical record producer from 1932 to 1962 for EMI in London and for EMI’s subsidiary, Angel Records, Legge played a significant part in launching and documenting the careers of artists including Callas, Fischer-Dieskau, Gieseking, Flagstadt, Karajan, Klemperer, Lipatti, Ludwig and Schwarzkopf.  An indomitable autodidact, quotable though controversial, Walter Legge possessed a flair for spotting talent and an uncompromising ear for musical quality.  He was a music critic, lecturer, writer, editor, masterclass teacher and founder of the Philharmonia Orchestra; but it is in his capacity as a record producer that he contributed the most to posterity.  Alan Sanders, in his Walter Legge: A Discography (1984, Greenwood Press), commences the introduction to his extensive Legge discography as follows:

Walter Legge was the first record producer. Before him were “artistes’ department representatives” who saw to it that matters went smoothly at recording sessions [...]. His quest for perfection was untiring and it is thanks to his vision that a large proportion of the greatest recordings from the 1930s onwards came into being.

Included in the vast catalogue of recordings produced and supervised meticulously by Legge are such historically portentous examples as the Callas/Gobbi/di Stefano/de Sabado Tosca (1953), the Ludwig/Schwarzkopf/Karajan Der Rosenkavalier (1956), most of Callas’s records, numerous recordings of the Irish tenor John McCormack, Arthur Schnabel’s complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, and a collection of recordings of veteran conductors including Beecham, Boult and Toscanini.

Even though Legge was a man of many hats, there was one obsession that haunted him more than any other throughout his life - the lieder of Hugo Wolf.  Legge was an avid young Wagnerite when he borrowed Ernest Newman’s biography of Hugo Wolf from a London lending library, a day Legge describes as “probably the best day of my life”.  The lack of any recordings of Hugo Wolf's lieder in England prompted Legge to launch the Hugo Wolf Society in order to raise funds to record the lieder of Wolf.  The Hugo Wolf Society subscription recordings commenced in 1931, ending with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, and were reissued on LP in 1981 and again on CD in 1998 as a box set by EMI.

As an Edison Fellow of the British Library, I am fortunate to have direct access to the original 78 rpm shellac records of the original recordings made between 1931 and 1939. The originals are housed in the archives of the British Library and the two audio tracks on this blog are direct conversions of these original 78 rpm discs. The unfiltered audio is thus a reasonable indication of the sound that the original subscribers would have heard when listening to these records in the 1930s.

The formation and history of the Hugo Wolf Society is of special interest to me personally, since I often accompany the songs of Hugo Wolf as a pianist. Walter Legge was a colossal figure in the history of song recording and set a certain standard, often in collaboration with the great song pianist, Gerald Moore, and such illustrious lieder singers as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Victoria de los Angeles and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Elena_Gerhardt_(LOC)_(15223086654)

Elena Gerhardt (1883-1961), the great German mezzo-soprano who moved permanently to London in 1934, largely due to her political convictions, but in part also because of the success of the Hugo Wolf Society (Library of Congress)

Nun wandre Maria

Spanisches Liederbuch: No 3, “Nun wandre, Maria” by Hugo Wolf .  Elena Gerhardt (Mezzo Soprano) Coenraad Bos (Piano). Recorded 11th June 1931

A background to Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch

One of the defining traits of the German Romantic Age was their interest in the poetry of the world. In their eager quest of national and folk themes and subjects, the Romance languages and traditions were especially sought after.  As German artists had longed for the clear air and warm light of Italy, so German writers and poets and musicians found their own native art-forms irradiated by the light of the Southern Countries and especially, of Italy and Spain.  As Eric Sams mentions is his The Songs of Hugo Wolf (2011: Faber & Faber), the ideas of Spanish local colours and costumes, pride and passion, the guitar and the castanet made a particular appeal to the lighter lyric poets such as Emanuel Geibel (1815-84) and through them to the great song writers such as Schumann, whose Geibel setting Der Hidalgo of 1840 was among the very first to put Spain on the map of the Lied.  And in 1852 he collaborated with a younger poet, Paul Heyse, on a joint compilation, the Spanisches Liederbuch, dividing the poems into sacred and secular and drawing on famous writers such as Cervantes alongside anonymous sources and two obscure characters, “Don Manuel Rio” and “Don Luis el Chico”, who turn out to be none other than Geibel and Heyse themselves.  Wolf’s own collection of settings of the “Spanish Songbook” is the finest fruit of a long-lasting fascination with Spain that had begun in 1882 with an aborted opera set in Seville and culminated in the two operas of his final creative years, Der Corregidor and the unfinished fragment Manuel Venegas.

Hugo_Wolf_1902

Hugo Wolf in 1902

The motifs in the Spanisches Liederbuch

For Wolf, the expression of his musical language was intensely personal.  Wolf’s detailed knowledge of Wagner make the resemblances between the two composers very strong.  These resemblances are usually general and not specific - the affinity goes far deeper, down to the very roots that both music and language have in common.  It is the same relationship that Schubert shared with Mozart. These masters of music and of song learn from the masters of drama, the motive power of music and drama is converted into the lyrical mode. In this way, Wolf expressed himself in motifs which traverse his entire output of songs.

Examples of the motifs include worship, submission, smallness, weakness, mockery, criticism, unrest, manliness, freedom, release, longing and love. Perhaps his most intense motif is that of isolation, separation and loneliness.  This is a wonderful example of primary musical metaphor. The right hand of the piano part has repeated chords, from which the left-hand moves away and downwards.  It is difficult to define this sound yet the passages in which it occurred are clearly related in meaning.  Im Frühling, for example, is a great example of this.  It seems unlikely that in this song there is any particular thematic significance, but the motive of isolation is clear throughout. The associations, and there is no mistaking the meaning of the motif, that goes grieving through the piano part.

The themes of mystery and magic are also important in the Spanish Songbook.  This involves a progression in harmonies, usually based on the interval of the descending dominant seventh.  This occurs in slow time, involving a chromatic shift in which two unrelated tonalities are juxtaposed. This creates a mysterious sound reminiscent of Wagner, who may have influenced the connection in the younger composer’s mind between this motif and the theme of mystery and magic.

 Walter Legge and the Hugo Wolf Society

It was in 1931 that Walter Legge first came to prominence in the world of records when, as a young executive for His Master’s Voice he had a brilliant idea of making available important new recordings on a subscription basis so that the cost of making the recordings was guaranteed by advance payment.  This was indeed the time of the Depression and money and financing was hard to come by.  Walter Legge had a quest for perfection that was untiring, and it is thanks to his vision that a large proportion of the greatest recordings from the 1930s onwards came into being.  The 24-year-old Walter Legge suggested to EMI that he would find 500 subscribers who would pay in advance for the product and thus support its recording and release.  In a way, this is similar to the many online fundraising endeavours of today’s internet age.  Walter Legge received approval from his company and thus the Hugo Wolf Society was born.

Gerhard_Husch_in_Japan_1952_Scan10008

Gerhard Hüsch (1901-1984) in Japan, 1952

Auf dem grünen Balkon

Spanisches Liederbuch: No 15, “Auf dem grünen Balkon” by Hugo Wolf .  Gerhard Hüsch (Baritone), Hanns Udo Müller (Piano). Recorded 2nd May 1935

Legge, always having an eye for opportunity, wanted to share his youthful love for the still relatively unknown Hugo Wolf with other interested listeners.  The Wolf songs were relatively unknown in England so Legge had to create a society of interested patrons (subscribers) in order to fund the hiring of top-notch performers.  These artists included:

Elena Gerhardt, mezzo (1883-1961)

Karl Erb, tenor (1877-1958)

Marta Fuchs, soprano (1898-1974)

Ria Ginster, soprano (1989-1985)

Gerhard Hüsch, baritone (1901-1984)

Herbert Janssen, baritone (1892-1965)

Alexander Kipnis, bass (1891-1978)

Tiana Lemnitz, soprano (1897-1994)

John McCormack, tenor (1884-1945)

Elisabeth Rethberg, soprano (1894-1976)

Helge Roswaenge, baritone (1897-1972)

Friedrich Schorr, bass-baritone (1888-1953)

Alexandra Trianti, soprano (1901-1977)

Ludwig Weber, bass (1899-1974)

When the Second World War broke out, many of the senior EMI staff were called up for war duty. Due to he is very poor eyesight, Legge was considered unfit for service and after a period of uncertainty when he was often called upon to record lighter repertoire not to his taste, he assumed a dual role.  With the ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) organisation, he became responsible for supplying concerts of serious music to those on active service at home and abroad or working in war factories.  He also became responsible for all new EMI classical recordings.  The great majority of these recordings he oversaw to the last detail himself, and soon his energy and flair were at work in bringing to fruition some astonishing projects considering that the country was in a situation of war.  It was also at this time that his legendary temper began demonstrating itself. Yet his main ambition was to form a great orchestra, and at the end of the war, with the best musicians returning to normal life in London, he formed the Philharmonia Orchestra, an ensemble which soon became one of the finest orchestras in the world and which he controlled absolutely for the next 19 years.

Legge’s many further ventures led to the highest levels of performers and a collection of recordings, many of which are now legendary, spanning many decades.  Yet his affinity to the songs of Hugo Wolf never subsided and he would always return to Wolf.  Especially dear to Legge, a song from the Spanisches Liederbuch was Legge’s first recorded work on 5 November 1931 (for the Hugo Wolf Society) and he recorded another song from the same set at his last recording session on 2 January 1979, just weeks before his death.  The circle had been completed.

Further Reading

Cook, C. 2007. Walter Legge – The Tosca Sessions. Gramophone Magazine, June 2007.

Davis, P. 2002 [1982]. Preface. On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legge. Lebanon: University Press of New England.

Gelatt, R. 1965. The Fabulous Phonograph: From Edison to Stereo. Revised Edition. New York: Appleton.

Legge, W. 2002 [1982]. On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legge. Lebanon: University Press of New England.

Legge, W. 2012 [1966]. Preface. Hugo Wolf. Ernest Newman, Author. New York: Dover.

Mann, W. 2001. “Legge, Walter”, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Second edition. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.

Sanders, A. 1984. Walter Legge: A Discography. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Schwarzkopf, E. 2002 [1982]. On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legge. Lebanon: University Press of New England.

Walker, M. 1986. Legge’s Records. The Musical Times, Vol. 127, No. 1719 (June 1986).

08 June 2017

Franck's Prelude, Chorale & Fugue revisited

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Original disc label (BL shelf mark 9CL0043737-9CL0043738)

A previous blog on murdered Chicago pianist Marion Roberts garnered a considerable amount of attention.  One reader supplied information from a local Chicago paper stating that Roberts was a composer and also a pupil of none other than the great pianist Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938).  She performed his works, opening one recital in 1925 with Godowsky’s recently published transcription of Bach’s Cello Suite in C minor.

In order to put Roberts’ recording of the Prelude Chorale and Fugue by Cesar Franck into context I listened to contemporary recordings of the work.  I was familiar with those by Alfred Cortot, Blanche Selva and Marcel Maas but had not heard the one by Yvonne Lévy.  While musically not in the same class as the Roberts recording, Lévy’s is still of interest and makes for fascinating comparative listening.  However, the comparisons don’t end there – both were young women whose only solo piano recording was of the Franck work and it is possible that both were murdered, in Lévy’s case by the Nazis.  Extensive research has not been able to confirm this as there were a number of people with the same name born around the same time in France.

There is very little information on Lévy and she does not appear in the standard reference works.  Yvonne-Elisabeth Lévy was born in Paris on 24th July 1894.  From the age of fourteen she studied at the Paris Conservatoire in the preparatory class of Madame Chéné winning a troisième prix medal in 1908.  The following year she gained a premier prix.  Chéné, was a respected teacher of young students whose pupils include Blanche Selva, Marguerite Long and Jean Doyen.

Towards the end of 1911 Lévy was accepted into the piano class of one of the most famous professors at the Conservatoire, Isidor Philipp, gaining a deuxième prix in 1914 and a première prix the following year. 

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Résultais des concours de piano (femmes) Comoedia 28th June 1914

During the 1920s and 1930s she performed with violinist Edmond Bastide and the Bastide Quartet primarily programming modern French works.  At the Theatre Marigny in 1921 the Bastide Quartet performed the String Quartet by Ravel during the Festival de musique moderne française.  Later Lévy joined them in the Quintet in F minor by Franck and accompanied Bastide in the Violin Sonata by Lekeu leading a critic to describe her as an ‘excellente pianiste’.  In 1932 they broadcast the Franck Quintet but disappear from view around 1938.  An Yvonne Lévy died in Paris in 1977 and one hopes it is the same person.  If any reader has information on Lévy the pianist, please contact me jonathan.summers@bl.uk

The only other recording Lévy made, for the same label, was of the Piano Quartet in A major Op. 30 by Chausson with the Bastide Quartet. 

Nick Morgan, who had donated the Roberts recording to the British Library, also donated the Lévy recording which was published on the unusual Tri-Ergon label.  He supplies some information on the label here.

Shortly before the end of World War I, three German engineers invented a ‘sound on film’ system. Typically, early talkies used ‘sound on disc’ synchronised with the images. In the German system, sound waves were captured by an electrostatic ‘Kathodophon’, converted by a photoelectric transducer and written onto the film itself. Baptised ‘Tri-Ergon’ (‘Work of Three’), the system had a difficult birth amidst post-War inflation. The inventors found German and Swiss backers to launch the system in Europe, where it enjoyed some success. They also sold rights to an American entrepreneur, who waged prolonged commercial and courtroom campaigns against big US concerns such as Paramount and MGM – and lost.

Reportedly devised as a further money-spinner, ‘Tri-Ergon Photo-Electro-Records’ were made and sold in several European countries. Outwardly conventional, these 78s were mastered by transferring Tri-Ergon film strips onto wax at one hundredth speed, taking four hours per side. The quality was variable, but an ambitious catalogue was built up, mainly popular music plus a little folk, classical and speech. In France, Tri-Ergon’s talkie technology was unveiled in 1929, and adopted almost immediately by the great director René Clair. But the first locally recorded Tri-Ergon discs were apparently released only in 1932. Only two classical French Tri-Ergon sets are known, both with pianist Yvonne Lévy – a fascinating if flawed echo from an earlier age of technological innovation, competition and globalisation.

Lévy’s recording of the Franck Prelude, Chorale & Fugue can be heard here.

Yvonne Levy