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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Label

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.

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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.

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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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Label crop

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

29 May 2017

Recording of the week: Rock Island Line

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

‘Rock Island Line’ was the hit single that sparked the Skiffle craze amongst British youth in the late 1950s. Skiffle was a pared-down mixture of jazz, blues and folk influences played on a mixture of tea-chest bass, washboard, guitars and banjo. Its simplicity made it accessible and appealing to the new generation of British teenagers. Lonnie Donegan’s recording of ‘Rock Island line’, an American folk song popularised by Leadbelly, inspired a host of British musicians including Cliff Richard, Jimmy Page, John Lennon and Paul McCartney to form their own groups and laid the foundation for decades of successful British Rock and Pop music. 

Rock Island Line_Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group

Disc label  side A  Decca DRX 19299 1

The Skiffle phenomenon is the subject of the forthcoming book 'Roots, Radicals and Rockers: how Skiffle changed the world' by musician Billy Bragg.

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

26 May 2017

The first British ‘blues boom’ - and the reception of African American music and dance in 1920s Britain

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Blues trot003

British Library VOC/1923/GILBERT

Guest blog by Lawrence Davies, current Edison Fellow and PhD student at King’s College London. Lawrence has contributed a chapter on British Blues to a forthcoming volume of the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World and writes about the history of blues music at allthirteenkeys.com.

Mention ‘British blues’ to anyone interested in popular music, and they will likely think of the early 1960s and the music of bands like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, or the Animals. These bands’ interpretations of African American blues and R&B attest to the global popularity of blues music after the Second World War.

In fact the blues has a much longer and more complex international history. Britain had its first brush with the blues forty years earlier, in the autumn of 1923. As part of my Edison Fellowship, I have been examining the British Library’s extensive collections of commercial sound recordings, printed music, early record catalogues, and historical newspapers to better understand this early phase of blues appreciation and performance in Britain. I’m interested to know how much audiences understood about the blues’s origins and character; how it became part of the nation’s musical life; and what audiences’ encounters with the genre can tell us about the history and meaning of African American popular music outside the United States.

One fascinating item I’ve encountered during my research is a tune called ‘The Blues Trot Blues’. Written in 1923 by British songwriter Joseph George Gilbert, it was recorded in September of the same year by Jack Hylton’s Orchestra. Both sheet music and recording were produced to publicise the introduction of a new dance, the ‘blues trot’, to the British social dancing scene. The sheet music contains a detailed description of the dance by its creator, Morry M. Blake.

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HMV label image

‘The Blues Trot Blues’ recorded as ‘Blue Trot Blues’ September 19, 1923 (1CS0057220)

Blues Trot Blues

It’s quite hard to know what to make of this piece. It certainly doesn’t sound like the blues as we know it today. Many of the common stylistic traits appear to be absent: the song comprises a sixteen bar verse followed by a sixteen bar chorus, rather than a conventional twelve bar blues sequence. The Hylton Orchestra’s performance is clipped and straight-laced, lacking the earthy vitality that we associate with 1920s ‘classic’ blues singers like Bessie Smith or Ida Cox, or with rural blues singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton.

We might be tempted to discard a recording like this as a mere imitation of ‘authentic’ blues, at best a misunderstanding of the genre’s essential features, at worst an attempt to cash in on a new fad. At the same time, it’s worth trying to situate the piece in its historical context, relative to what listeners at the time thought the blues sounded like. The dance instructor Natalie Spencer, who had played the piano with the American Southern Syncopated Orchestra during its British tour in 1919, described in 1923 blues music having ‘gently but unmistakably syncopated’ melody, a ‘soft sobbing accompaniment’, and ‘sleepy, flattened-out’ triplets. Other contemporary writers highlighted the blues’s noticeably slower speed relative to other dance music styles, such as the foxtrot. These elements are clearly audible in Hylton’s recording.

Gilbert’s lyrics, although not included in Hylton’s recording, reveal an awareness of the many contemporary vocal blues that were becoming available in Britain, both on record and in print. Songs like ‘You’re Always Messin’ Round With My Man’, ‘Aggravatin’ Papa’, and ‘Down Hearted Blues’ encapsulate Spencer’s description of vocal blues as ‘wailing songs of a “Complainin’” order; usually with an underlying cynical humour.’ In ‘The Blues Trot Blues’, the female protagonist describes being captivated and cast adrift by the blues’s rhythmic and melodic allure, but by the end of the song it is apparent that she is equally captivated by her male dancing instructor, whom she needs to ‘come and drive away’ her blues!

But we get the best sense of how British audiences related the blues to contemporary African American expressive culture when we look at how the blues was adopted as a dance style. The genre’s slow tempo made foxtrot steps – the most widely used dance step at the time – unsuitable. Morry Blake’s choreography calls instead for a distinctive ‘rhythmic walk’ every two beats: ‘Stretch the foot well forward or backwards’, Blake instructs, ‘…before allowing the foot to take the ground, as if you were stepping from sleeper to sleeper of a railroad track.’ More popularly known as the ‘camel walk’, this dance step originated in African American ragtime and vaudeville routines.

Another element of the ‘blues trot’ was a sideways ‘blues step’. Blake instructs the dancers to ‘stretch the left foot well to the side…at the same time twisting on the ball of the right foot…[to] allow the body to sway slightly rearward’ to create what Blake described as ‘a gentle rippling motion’. Combining a sideways step with a rearward shift of balance was a marked departure from British ballroom conventions of the time; in his 1923 book Modern Ballroom Dancing, champion dancer Victor Silvester emphasised that dancers should always maintain their balance in line with their leading foot. This modified posture evoked a range of dance steps originating in African American expressive culture, such as the ‘black bottom’ of 1919 or the nineteenth century ‘cakewalk’.

Importantly, dancers’ appetite for ‘unbalanced’ posture and movements that went against the grain of European dance conventions illuminates the extent to which dances associated with African American expressive culture were viewed as exotic or alien. Press coverage of early blues dancing contained noticeable undercurrents of excess and moral panic: The Manchester Guardian likened the spread of blues dancing to a weed, observing that ‘those who spied on [the blues’s] introduction…[as] an evil growth can claim now that it has shown all the hardihood of vice.’ There were particular misgivings around the variations that some dancers were incorporating into the blues, which were deemed too risqué for the British ballroom. Warning against the addition of the ‘eagle rock’ (another dance step of African American origin), critic Philip Richardson declared that musical rhythm ‘transferred to the upper part of the body…appear[s] not only grotesque, but positively unpleasant.’

Although ‘The Blues Trot Blues’ is musically a far cry from our modern idea of the blues, it can tell us a great deal about the early reception and performance of the genre in Britain. It reveals how the British ‘blues boom’ of 1923 was a multimedia phenomenon. The blues arrived in Britain through recordings and printed music, but it was the resultant dance craze that appears to have brought the genre to popular attention. This ‘connected history’ of the blues has been largely overlooked in more recent histories that only approach the genre through the prism of recordings.

And while anxieties surrounding the blues bore all the hallmarks of prevailing attitudes to race, reading between the lines of these accounts can also reveal much about the popularity and visibility of African American expressive culture in Britain at this time. The nation’s first ‘blues boom’ paved the way for the many visiting African American performers and composers who would gain an increasing foothold in British entertainment throughout the 1920s, both on record and onstage. Conscious of their audiences’ attitudes to the blues, they would tread a fine line between their own creative aspirations and their need to fit prevailing stereotypes of black music and dance. But that would be the subject of another blog post…

Further Reading

‘The Blues: English Adapter Explains the Latest Dance’, The Manchester Guardian, July 31, 1923, 14.

Rye, Howard, ‘Southern Syncopated Orchestra: The Roster’, Black Music Research Journal 30/1 (Spring 2010), 19-70.

Silvester, Victor, Modern Ballroom Dancing (London: Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1927 [1923]).

Spencer, Natalie, ‘“Blues” From the Musical Standpoint’, The Dancing Times (October, 1923), 23.

Platt, Len, Tobias Becker, and David Linton (eds.), Popular Musical Theatre in London and Berlin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

19 May 2017

The Sound Recordings of Arnold Adriaan Bake at the British Library: A treasure trove of South Asian music

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This is the second blog from World and Traditional Music highlighting collections at the British Library  from India, as part of the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture

19th May 1899 is the birth date of Dutch ethnomusicologist Arnold Adriaan Bake [1899-1963].

Today the British Library is launching the first series of recordings from his collection of music from South Asia which has been a great resource for many academics across several disciplines. The British Library is actively engaged with a number of international academics and communities who are working with wax cylinder recordings from the Arnold Adriaan Bake archive to enhance the documentation for these recordings. They are being released in regional batches as research progresses.

The first batch includes recordings from Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bangladesh. These recordings have been the focus of PhD student Christian Poske's research, the author of this blog. 

Bake_1

Bauls at the Jaydev Kenduli festival, West Bengal, India, 15.1.1932.

(Still of film by Arnold Adriaan Bake, British Library, C52/FO/12)

 “Kees, Charley and I enjoyed the silence, and headed towards a small camp much closer to the way, where we had heard such nice flute playing. It was quite unreal. Some women and men, marvellous figures, sat in a circle, and a quite old man warmed a pair of long, thin hands above the small fire. Facing with his back to us, a man played on a bamboo flute, (…) completely detached from the outer world. It was splendid. We remained standing for quite some time and listened (…) The flute player stopped, and one of the others sang a song that was also very nice. To my great surprise, they agreed to come to the tent in the afternoon of the next day to record songs. I was very happy. It was the first really good thing that we had heard.” (Arnold A. Bake, Letter to his mother, 20.1.1932)

 

 C52_1757 Eman sādher bāgāne āmār

Listen: C52/1757, MP3 “Eman sādher bāgāne āmār” (engl. “In the garden of my desire”): Song performed by three Bauls, vocals with percussion accompaniment (Jaydev Kenduli, 15.1.1932, phonographic cylinder recording by Arnold Bake). This song belongs to the category of dehatattva (lit. ‘principles of the body’), the philosophy of the role and function of the human body, perceived as dwelling place of the divine, in attaining spiritual salvation. In its lyrics, aspects of human life are expressed through natural symbolism and personification: the six human sentiments of kāma (lust), krodha (anger), lābh (greed), mada (arrogance), moha (attachment), mātsarya (jealousy), known as ṣaḍṛpu (six enemies) in Indian philosophy, are described as six gardeners with corresponding character traits who influence human nature.

The Dutch ethnomusicologist Dr Arnold Adriaan Bake (1899-1963) was a pioneer in the study of South Asian music and dance. Initially trained in Western music, Bake was perhaps the first Western scholar to fully realise the wealth and diversity of South Asian music and dance traditions, which could be found not only in urban salons, theatres and concert-halls, but also in temples, monasteries, small towns and remote villages, across the sub-continent and at all levels of society. Taking advantage of the latest developments in audiovisual recording technology, and with the devoted help of his wife Corrie, he set about documenting this diversity - from Sri Lanka in the south to Nepal and Ladakh in the north - with unprecedented dedication and energy. The World and Traditional Music Collection of the British Library holds a unique anthology of material recorded by Bake. Its Bake collection spans not only many decades but also many formats of audio and visual material including wax cylinders, tefi-bands, open reel tapes and 16mm black and white and colour silent films, providing a complex and detailed document of music and ritual in South Asia from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

Bake_2
Arnold A. Bake recording women of the Mannan tribe, Kerala, 17.11.1933

(British Library, C52/FO/12)

            In the course of my AHRC-funded research at SOAS and the British Library Sound Archive, I am studying Bake’s fieldwork in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bangladesh. In the last few months, I have evaluated his audio recordings and silent film recordings from these regions with the support of World and Traditional Music curators, Janet Topp Fargion and Isobel Clouter. Bake’s overseas correspondence, which is stored in the India Office Records and Private Papers collection of the British Library, provides much information about his fieldwork. Through an evaluation of these letters, new information related to Bake’s fieldwork and recordings has emerged so that previously uncatalogued recordings could be identified.

Bake_3
Arnold A. Bake with tabla and tanpura, Santiniketan, around 1926-27

(Bake collection, SOAS Music Department, SNK 55)

Presumably, Arnold Bake's interest in Indian music was sparked by the visit of the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) to the Netherlands in 1920. Having studied Sanskrit and other Asian languages in Leiden and Utrecht, Bake decided to complete his doctoral thesis, a translation of two chapters of the Saṅgīta Darpaṇa, a seventeenth-century treatise on Indian musicology, at Visva-Bharati, Tagore’s university in Santiniketan in West Bengal. While completing his thesis at the university, Bake also learned to sing Indian classical music and Rabindrasangit, the songs of Tagore, from 1925 to 1929. After his return to Europe, Bake held lectures on Indian music in Europe, providing practical demonstrations by singing Indian songs. Bake also sang some of Tagore’s songs at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin in 1930.

C52 2022-2 Nāi nāi bhay

Listen: C52/2022 (song 2), MP3 “Nāi nāi bhay” (engl. “Don’t be afraid”): Rabindrasangit, performed by Arnold A. Bake (Berlin, early 1930, phonographic cylinder recording by Georg Schünemann). Tagore originally wrote this song during one of his European journeys in Munich in September 1926, inspired by the struggles of Jatin Das and other leading figures of the Indian independence movement. The song praises the strength of the human spirit in the face of difficulties. In 1935, Bake published a transcription of the song in his book Chansons de Rabindranath Tagore: Vingt-Six Chants Transcripts.[1]

During his second stay in India from 1931 to 1934, Bake was again based in Santiniketan. From there, he made several recording trips to festivals in the vicinity to record folk and devotional music such as Santal music and dance, Baul music and Vaiṣṇava kīrtan. To reach the recording locations in the morning, Bake and his wife often had to travel overnight on bullock carts:

We took our two mattresses with us so that we had camping beds (…) - first straw, then two mattresses, then our bedding. It got cold quickly, so we wrapped up in the blankets nicely. Nevertheless, the cold still got us and we got out again in the middle of the night. (…) Around 6 am we climbed down from the cart and ran ourselves warm. At 7 am, Ganapati made tea somewhere by the side of the way, and at 8 am we started again and walked in front. It was around 10 am when we arrived in Kenduli (…)

(Bake, 20.1.1932)

Bake’s third fieldwork trip in South Asia was prolonged by the outbreak of the Second World War and took place between 1937 to 1946. His last fieldwork in South Asia took place in 1955-6, centering on Nepal. Bake also found the time to revisit Santiniketan for a few days, where he recorded Indira Devi Chaudhurani (1873-1960), the niece of Rabindranath Tagore, who had helped to establish the music department of Visva-Bharati University. Recorded when she was 82, her rendition of Tagore’s song “Katabār bhebechinu” has a striking intensity.

C52_NEP71-1 Katabār bhebechinu


Listen: C52/NEP/71 (song 1), MP3 “
Katabār bhebechinu” (engl. “How many times have I thought”): Rabindrasangit performed by Indira Devi Chaudhurani (Santiniketan, 8.3.1956, reel-to-reel recording by Arnold Bake). Tagore originally wrote this song in 1885, modelling its melody after the English folk song “Drink to me only with thine eyes”. The Bengali lyrics speak of surrender to the beloved one and are a fine example of how Tagore merged expressions of human and spiritual love in his compositions, inspired by the concept of bhakti (devotion) of Hindu Vaiṣṇavism. In 1961, Bake published a comparative musical analysis of both songs in his article “Tagore and Western Music”.[2]

Bake’s cylinder recordings of his fieldwork in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bangladesh in 1931-34 are now available for listening online at British Library Sounds, where they can be listened to for enjoyment as well as for further exploration by ethnomusicologists. Many of Bake’s recordings from other South Asian regions still await further evaluation, and thus provide fertile ground for further research.

 

[1] Arnold A. Bake, ed., Chansons de Rabindranath Tagore: Vingt-Six Chants Transcripts, Bibliothèque musicale du Musée Guimet. (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1935).

[2] Arnold A. Bake, “Tagore and Western Music,” in A Centenary Volume: Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1961 (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1961), 88–95.

 

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15 May 2017

Recording of the Week: a musical family

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This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Jacob Collier has been creating a stir in the musical world recently, winning two Grammys in February at the age of twenty-two. His grandfather Derek made his first broadcasts for the BBC at the same age, in 1949. Here he is in a work by Handel arranged for solo violin by the great Hungarian violinist and teacher Jenő Hubay.

Handel Larghetto from Op. 1 arranged by Hubay

Collier b+w photo 

Derek Collier (courtesy of Suzie Collier)

Over 100 recordings from the Derek Collier collection can be found on British Library Sounds

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