THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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74 posts categorized "Music"

01 January 2018

Recording of the week: Ethiopian Michael Jackson?

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

This song was recorded in 1991 by ethnomusicologist Lesley Larkum at the Green Hotel, Mek'ele (Mekelle) in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. It represents one of those wonderful moments of ethnographic fieldwork when you come across something, not necessarily related to the focus of your work, but nevertheless captivating. It's times like those you are thankful for a sound recording device! Lesley was conducting research on Tigrinyan music during revolution. She had heard these two children singing in a bar a couple of nights beforehand and had asked them to return so she could record them. Sadly there's no photograph of them but as I listen, in my mind's eye I see a couple of youngsters with the voices, rhythm and exuberance of a young Michael Jackson.

Children singing at the Green Hotel (C600/15)

Green hotel 2nd

The Lesley Larkum collection of Ethiopian field recordings can be consulted at the British Library.

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

21 December 2017

Fabulous Flutes

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Aerophone

When a collector’s interest covers a very specific area of recording they often amass something valuable and comprehensive over a lifetime of acquisition.  One such collector is Christopher Steward whose collection of recordings on shellac discs of flute and piccolo recordings seems second to none.  I am delighted to have negotiated for this important and large collection to come to the British Library, even more so as Mr Steward generously decided to donate it.  It is a veritable history of the flute on record.

Christopher Steward studied at Trinity College completing his studies with William Bennett.  A former member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and BBC Northern Orchestra, he also taught at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

The treasures of the collection include many very early discs by artists born in the middle of the nineteenth century – Léon Fontbonne (1859-1940), Albert Fransella (1865-1935), Adolphe Hennebains (1862-1914) and Edward de Jong born in 1837 when Brahms was only four years old.  Not only are there representations of the great flautists of the past, but Mr Steward also collected recordings by uncredited flute and piccolo players, many from the first two decades of the twentieth century.

A small representation of discs from Mr Steward’s collection have been posted online here on Robert Bigio’s Flute Pages.  I have chosen to present some below that do not appear on these pages.

Because it is Christmas and we are gearing up for the holiday mood we start with Léon Jacquemont, a flautist with the Garde Républicaine.  This is a recording of him playing a delightful showpiece for piccolo, La Tourterelle (The Turtle Dove) Op. 119 by Eugène Damaré recorded around 1909 for the rarely seen Aérophone label.

Jacquemont Aérophone 1047

In the Menuet from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne suite No. 2, the harp accompaniment had to be played on the piano in order for it to register through the acoustic horn, but the Lamoureux Orchestra join in on this disc from 1st March 1910 to support their principal flautist Pierre Deschamps (1874-1922).

Deschamps 030540

Fontbonne

Léon Fontbonne (1859-1940) became first flautist and piccolo player with the Garde Républicaine, a position he held for twenty five years.  Here he is with a great virtuoso showpiece recorded 116 years ago in 1901, Carnaval de Venise Op. 2 by Matheus André Reichert, a work published in 1872.

Fontbonne 39151

HennebainsAdolphe Hennebains (Pierre Petit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Another fine French flautist, Adolphe Hennebains (1862-1914) can be heard in early recordings of chamber music on BL Sounds.  Here he plays a Chopin Nocturne arranged for flute by Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) – not the famous one in E flat Op. 9 No. 2 as one may suppose, but the beautiful F sharp major Nocturne Op. 15 No. 2.  The recording was made in the year of Taffanel’s death, 1908, and it is remarkable that even in this primitive acoustic recording with orchestral accompaniment Hennebains’ intake of breath can be heard during the opening phrases.

Hennebains 39200

A surprising disc from the collection appears on the Odeon label.  The flutist is George Ackroyd (1880-1960) who was principal flute with the Covent Garden Orchestra, but it was the violinist’s name that caught my eye – Albert Sammons (1886-1957), one of England’s greatest violinists, who went on to make the first recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto in October 1916 for Columbia.  Here they play an arrangement of Mendelssohn’s immortal Spring Song recorded around 1915 with W. Barker on harp.

Ackroyd Odeon 0788

BoehmTheobald Boehm (WikiCommons)

Edith Penville was an impressive player who died as recently as 1981, at the age of nearly one hundred.  This Homochord disc is a conflation of two works - part of the Variations sur un air Allemand Op. 22 by Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) preceded by part of a Faust Fantasie by Edward de Jong (1837-1920) who became the first flute with the original Hallé Orchestra in 1858.  Penville could have studied with him as she was born in the North of England and he worked in the Manchester and Derbyshire area.  De Jong himself recorded in 1907 and these recordings and more details about him can be found on this excellent blog. Penville’s impressive recording was made on 11th December 1923.

Penville H544

We end with an electrical recording.  Jacques van Lier (1881-1934) (not to be confused with the Dutch cellist of the same name) was principal flautist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1907 to his death in 1934.  He made two sides for HMV on 18th June 1931 in Czechoslovakia with accompanist Otto Schulhof who had accompanied many great soloists including Heifetz as a child prodigy, Pablo Casals, Fritz Kreisler, Bronislaw Huberman and Jan Kubelik.  Van Lier plays the flute solo from Gluck’s opera Alceste.

Van Lier AM3673

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20 December 2017

Two very small records

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God-save-the-king

At the Wembley Empire Exhibition of 1924, one exhibit that caught the public eye was a dolls’ house, specially created for Queen Mary, which contained a fully-working miniature gramophone complete with six tiny records made by His Master's Voice.

Around 35,000 miniature discs were produced for sale as souvenirs, at sixpence each. Despite this far-from-limited edition, copies are hard to come by now, perhaps because they could so easily be lost or mislaid. The souvenir discs featured a 22-second rendering of ‘God Save the King’ by the popular Australian singer Peter Dawson. At just 34 mm (1 and 5/16th of an inch) in diameter, this is the smallest 78 rpm disc ever made.

A copy is currently on display in the British Library's free Entrance Hall exhibition LISTEN: 140 Years of Recorded Sound.

This is not the world's smallest playable record however. A contender for this coveted title arrived at the Library just a few weeks ago, courtesy of Michael Ridge.

One-inch-lathe-cut-disc

This 1" diameter 33 rpm lathe-cut disc by GX Jupitter-Larsen and Zebra Mu (each contributes an 8-second piece) is cautiously described by issuing label Quagga Curious Sounds as 'likely to be one of the smallest lathe cut records ever released'! Sadly, the limited edition of 110 copies is already sold out.

05 December 2017

The first '3-D' picture disc

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Magical Love - label

The British Library has one of the largest sound archives in the world. Visitors to our free exhibition Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound can explore the sound archive via specially constructed listening booths, each containing a menu of 100 sounds designed to illustrate the the breadth and depth of the collection.

We have also included on display some of the more visually appealing sound carriers in the collection, among them a selection of historical and modern picture discs.   

Of course, there was not room for everything we wanted to include. We have on show what is thought to be the first 'modern' picture disc, from 1970, Curved Air's debut album 'Air Conditioning'. Sadly though, we couldn't quite find room for Saturnalia's 'Magical Love' LP, from 1973.

'Magical Love' distinguished itself visually by being not just a picture disc, but a picture disc with '3-D' holographic labels (see image above). Although the issuing label, Matrix Records, was based in London, the disc itself was manufactured by Metronome in Germany.

It featured vivid imagery drawn from the world of cosmology, with the band members each posing semi-naked behind a fiery crucible on one side, and 12 rather fierce-looking papier-mâché masks representing cosmological archetypes on the other. The pictures were all taken by Peter Hudson, with the exception of the picture of lead singer Aletta which was taken by Mark R. F. Hanau, who also designed the 3-D labels.

Magical Love - disc and booklet

Magical Love - side B

Spectacularly colourful and attractive as all this was, it didn't do the band's career a lot of good. Unfortunately, the picture disc technology of the time undermined the sound quality of the record, and it was not a commercial success. 

Magical Love - excerpt

[Images: Eva del Rey]

09 November 2017

The unlikely musical family of Parlophone records: George Martin’s early years

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Guest blogpost by Edison Fellow Myles Eastwood, a London-based producer and engineer who runs Eastwood Records, alongside co-founding FixTheMusic, an online platform for booking musicians.

When George Martin died in March 2016 aged 90, the headlines predominantly focused on his work as producer of The Beatles. The infamous “fifth Beatle” moniker was taken up by both The Guardian and The Telegraph, whilst The Economist celebrated “their humble servant”.[i] Martin’s input as musical and technical enabler for the so-called Fab Four is well documented, but his role also spread into pastoral and even paternal territory – Paul McCartney spoke of a “second father” figure – so it’s no wonder the band and their producer are treated as synonymous.[ii]

Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966

Beatles and George Martin in studio 1966 (Wikicommons)

Martin’s discography beyond The Beatles also received some attention, though perhaps not as much as it deserves. Many of his obituaries celebrated the comedy and children’s records Martin produced for Parlophone in the late 1950s and early 1960s, several of which still hold up to contemporary ears, but beyond that his early Parlophone releases have not made it into mainstream cultural memory. Chris King’s review of a six-CD box set release of Martin’s work epitomises this pattern of reception:

While the concept of paying tribute to one of music's most illustrious producers is commendable, the truth is that his mainstream output during the 1960s eclipses the rest of his work, thus rendering the other CDs all but redundant. Perhaps a box set concentrating solely on Martin's 1960s pop productions might have proved the better option.[iii]

It is these earlier, ‘eclipsed’ records on Parlophone that have been the focus of my Edison Fellowship at the British Library. They are many and varied in musical style, often twee and quaint by modern standards, but they also say a lot about Martin’s formative years as a producer, and more broadly the musical landscape of postwar Britain.

Martin joined the German-British record label Parlophone in 1950 under the tutelage of Oscar Preuss, whose recording Parlophone logocareer was typical of his generation. Joining the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company in 1904 aged 15, Preuss toured the world recording musicians from across Europe, as well as Brazil, Mexico and a number of Asian countries. Perceval Graves’ 1928 interview with him centres on his “log-book, [...] a complete chronicle of recording on Four Continents”, with Preuss recalling “long and tiring journeys, sometimes over miles of desert”, including one trip to Aleppo where wax disc shortages led to a two-week wait for the missing cases to reappear on camel-back.[iv]

Preuss’ attitude towards Arabic music is both uncomfortably colonial and endearing, with one Egyptian singer, a cotton magnate, thanking him for their sessions by gifting Preuss a rug that he hangs at home in South East London. Other projects are remarkably prescient of scenes from psychedelic recording sessions of the mid-1960s: “The amount of raw spirits, cocaine and other drugs absorbed by artistes and their entourage throughout sessions lasting from early evening till two and three o’clock in the morning [...] rather alarmed me until I got used to it!”[v] Yet Preuss’ description of musical devices, instrumentation and improvisation, alongside the pragmatic concerns of capturing the material on a limited medium (“their songs are customarily of an interminable length [...], a prompter is inevitable”), convey a sensitive listener who was, as Christopher Stone puts it, “a leisurely, rather cynically genial man, whom you recognise instantly as a master of his craft and a devil for work.”[vi]

Preuss retired in 1955, shortly before his death in 1958, and was succeeded by the 29-year-old Martin as head of Parlophone. The label was one of several EMI subsidiaries alongside HMV and Columbia. In his 1979 autobiography Martin bemoans Parlophone’s marginalised status in the organisation, held back by reluctant management staff and a limited budget. The label showcased a huge variety of music at this time including jazz, classical and various folk traditions, and when Martin began signing acts the label’s output diversified further still. Joy Nichols’ rendition of “Little Red Monkey” from 1953, sung alongside Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley, typifies Martin’s novelty output, a clip of which can be heard below.

1CS0075275 Little Red Monkey (excerpt)

More rare is the instrumental version performed by Frank Chacksfield, whose orchestras were middle-of-the-road powerhouses that churned out numerous light music releases during this period. This release features the composer himself, Jack Jordan, on the clavioline, an electronic keyboard instrument with a distinctly reedy sound.

9CS0010019 Little Red Monkey instrumental (excerpt)

Though Martin later claimed his ambition was to find an equivalent to Cliff Richard, an artist whose sales hugely bolstered EMI’s Columbia in the late 1950s, the route taken by the producer was somewhat circuitous. He tried his hand at “do it yourself” records in 1956, a proto-karaoke series of backing tracks performed by Ron Goodwin’s “Parlophone Pops Orchestra” and aimed at amateur singers,[vii] and when he began signing up comedians and variety acts such as Flanders and Swann it was difficult to predict which records would sell. “Mock Mozart”, for example, was a novelty release by actor Peter Ustinov, who sang the harmonies of a miniature opera parody by overdubbing his own voice and bouncing down takes between two tape machines. Martin spent hours coaxing him through the process, yet the record only sold a few hundred copies.[viii]

1CS0075217 Mock Mozart (excerpt)

Martin also supervised a number of classical sessions when he joined Parlophone. Artists included pianists such as Sidney Harrison and George Chavchavadze, as well as the London Baroque Ensemble, whose rendition of the last movement of Mozart’s Serenata notturna, K. 239 conducted by Karl Haas can be heard below.

1LP0164908 Mozart K239 (excerpt)

It would be tempting to paint Martin as the classically-schooled practitioner whose trained hand turned whatever pop he produced to gold. A cursory survey of his classical credentials throws up familiar biographical milestones. After serving in the Royal Navy, Martin won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, following which he played oboe in various orchestras and worked at the BBC Music Library. He brought his compositional experience to numerous Beatles records, arranging string parts for tracks like “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby”, to the extent that some commentators have portrayed Martin as the literate Beatle, the one who realised ideas for the band members who could not read music.

Yet this would be a disservice to Martin’s eclecticism. Sidney Harrison was actually his senior and had recommended Martin years earlier to the Guildhall following a bout of written correspondence. In one letter Harrison advised Martin, who had sent him his own Chopin-inspired compositions, to “know his marine band and start arranging for them.”[ix] The London Baroque Ensemble was never quite as grand as its title implied, and Martin delighted in recounting the unassuming nature of the affair: having met eighteenth-century music aficionado Peter Ustinov at a party, musicologist and conductor Karl Haas “decided to form the London Baroque Society and invited Peter to be the President. Karl was the conductor, I was the secretary – and that was the London Baroque society”.[x] When the narrative of lofty classical producer was bolstered by classist connotations in relation to The Beatles, Martin was most at pains to set the record straight: “I’ve been cast in the role of schoolmaster, the toff, the better-educated, and they’ve been the urchins that I’ve shaped [...] It’s a load of poppycock, really, because our backgrounds were very similar. [...] I wasn’t taught music and they weren’t, we taught ourselves.”[xi]

What, then, might a suitable lynchpin be for understanding Martin’s career? Another Parlophone artist gets us a little closer. “My Lady Greensleeves” sung by Luton Girls Choir in 1950 is part of the prolific recorded output of a choir that began at the most local level (“The girls must live within five miles of Luton’s Town Hall”) and grew to international fame with appearances in front of the Royal Family, gracing iconic venues like St Paul’s Cathedral. The choir was run for several decades by the enthusiastic Arthur E. Davies, who wanted to revive the “dying art” of choral singing, and its membership ranged from schoolgirls to the age cap of 23. “Greensleeves” is of course the quintessential English folk song, and under Davies’ direction and an orchestra led by Ivor Novello Award-winning film music composer Philip Green, the choir achieved a rousing rendition.

Luton

1CS0075002 Greensleeves (excerpt)

This was part of the soundworld Martin inherited when he joined Parlophone. It is surely telling that the next time he encountered the tune he was hastily writing an arrangement to close “All You Need Is Love” for the Our World television special. “Write absolutely anything you like, George,” The Beatles asked him: “The mixture I came up with was culled from the ‘Marseillaise’, a Bach two-part invention, ‘Greensleeves’, and the little lick from ‘In the Mood’.” The broadcast went out in June 1967 to an estimated half a billion people. If Mozart, Chopin and other accepted greats were central to Martin’s canon then so too were the British traditions of folk song, community choirs and parochial classical societies. He may not have had a signature sound like other leading producers of his generation, say John Culshaw or Quincy Jones, but his eclecticism was a trademark of sorts.

Here I am positing the Englishness of Martin’s records not as some nebulous nationalistic quality, but rather a specific phonographic heritage unique to postwar Britain. It is rooted in a DIY mentality of re-purposing technology and circumventing corporate regulations. It draws on the sound worlds of revue, music hall and brass bands, as well as various non-Western music traditions, though always filtered through a Eurocentric lense inherited from mentor Preuss. These elements pervade British popular music of the 1960s as much as the loudly celebrated American strands of rock ’n’ roll, R&B and Tin Pan Alley, yet they receive considerably less scholarly attention. Music historians should dig here before signing off on George Martin’s inestimable contribution to recorded music.

With thanks to Joanna Hughes and Sonita Cox at the EMI Archive Trust, Mark Lewisohn and Kenneth Womack

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

Images reproduced through Fair Use from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parlophone; http://www.infotextmanuscripts.org/webb/webb_luton_pageant.pdf; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966.JPG 

[i]    Cf. Sweeting, A. “Sir George Martin Obituary”, The Guardian, 9 March 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/mar/09/george-martin-obituary (accessed 21 August 2017); “Sir George Martin - Obituary”, The Telegraph, 18 March 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/03/18/sir-george-martin---obituary/ (accessed 21 August 2017); “Their Humble Servant”, The Economist, 19 March 2016; https://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21694967-jack-all-trades-behind-much-beatles-success-was-aged-90-obituary-george-martin (accessed 21 August 2017).

[ii]   McCartney, P. “Paul McCartney on George Martin”, 9 March 2016, Paul McCartney [website], https://www.paulmccartney.com/news-blogs/news/paul-mccartney-on-george-martin (all accessed 21 August 2017).

[iii]  King, C. “Produced By George Martin: 50 Years in Recording [review]”, Amazon [website], https://www.amazon.co.uk/Produced-George-Martin-YEARS-RECORDING/dp/B00005BCHH/ (accessed 10 August 2017).

[iv]  Preuss, O. C. “Round the Recording Studios / No. 1 - ‘Songs of Araby’”, The Gramophone, March 1928, 411-412.

[v]   Ibid., 412.

[vi]  Stone, C. “Our Masters and Mothers”, The Gramophone, December 1929, 293.

[vii] “Sing to these Records!”, New Musical Express, 12 October 1956, 6.

[viii] Martin, G. (1979) All You Need is Ears, London, 53-55.

[ix]  Lewisohn, M. “George Martin: A Sound Life”, Produced By George Martin: 50 Years in Recording [liner notes], May 2001, 4.

[x]   Martin, G. (1979) All You Need Is Ears, London, 39.

[xi]  Quoted in “George Martin obituary: The Beatles producer who made the Fab Four a worldwide success”, The Independent, 9 March 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sir-george-martin-obituary-the-beatles-record-producer-who-made-the-fab-four-a-worldwide-success-a6920546.html (accessed 15 August 2017).

[xii] “Luton Girls Choir”, Luton Coronation Pageant Book, Luton, 24, http://www.infotextmanuscripts.org/webb/webb_luton_pageant.pdf (accessed 10th August 2017).

[xiii] Martin, G. (1979) All You Need Is Ears, London, 192.

26 October 2017

Black History Month – Dean Dixon

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Dean_Dixon_(1941)

Dean Dixon photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1941 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For Black History Month this year I have chosen to highlight the work of African American conductor Dean Dixon who was a familiar figure in the London concert halls of the 1960s.

Born in Harlem, New York in 1915 to West Indian parents, Dixon studied at the Julliard School of Music and graduated from Columbia University.  His professional debut was in 1937 at Town Hall, New York and in 1941 he was the first African American to guest conduct the New York Philharmonic receiving further engagements with other first rank American orchestras.  He founded the American Youth Orchestra in 1944 and became responsible for various university courses in music education while later in his career he was responsible for organising children’s concerts.  However, the 1940s was a difficult time for African Americans to succeed in the United States and many musicians went to Europe in the search for fulfilling work.  Dixon first went to Paris in 1949 then worked in Israel and Scandinavia.  During the 1950s he was director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and from 1961 to 1974 director of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra during which time he was also director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  During the 1970s Dixon returned to the United States to guest conduct many of the well known orchestras.

Dixon first appeared in London in May 1955 conducting an all-Beethoven concert with Eileen Joyce as soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 4.  He was often a guest conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and when Rudolf Schwarz’s contract as director of the orchestra came to an end in 1962, Dixon was one of a team of conductors chosen to take his place in the forthcoming season.  He was in good company as some of the others included Colin Davis, Antal Dorati, Rudolf Kempe, Lorin Maazel, Jean Martinon and Igor Markevitch.  When Dixon conducted Mahler’s First Symphony in May 1963 the Times critic corrected his own ‘mental reservations’ when he wrote: ‘Mr Dixon is an American Negro conductor, and as such might be supposed to feel alien to the music by a Central European composer of the decadent “fin de siècle.” In the event, these mental reservations proved entirely unfounded, for Mr Dixon’s performance recaptured on the whole the spirit of the First Symphony most admirably.’

Dixon recorded for the Westminster label including an excellent disc of Liszt Symphonic Poems with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Schubert Symphonies, the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Antonio Janigro and MacDowell Piano Concertos with his first of his three wives, Vivian Rivkin.  Recently, German label Audite has issued radio broadcasts of Dixon accompanying the great Rumanian pianist Clara Haskil and a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 from 1962.  With the Prague Symphony orchestra he recorded a disc of Weber Symphonies for Supraphon.

Dixon championed American music making recordings for the Desto label, and the British Library holds a rare recording of excerpts from the American Music Festival of 1948 with Dixon conducting the premiere of the Viola Concerto by Quincy Porter with Paul Doktor as soloist. 

Porter Viola Concerto

Dixon also broadcast rare repertoire for the BBC including the Second Symphony by Humphrey Searle.  When he accompanied Greek pianist Gina Bachauer in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon one critic wrote, ‘…the highlight of Beethoven’s third piano concerto was the rapport between the soloist (Miss Gina Bachauer) and orchestra in the Largo.’  Here is the opening tutti of the concerto demonstrating Dixon’s attention to detail with crisp wind playing and fine moulding of phrases.

Beethoven Concerto No. 3

Dixon died in 1976 at the age of 61.

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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 until 11 May 2018.

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

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.

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.

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