THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

11 June 2018

Recording of the week: a Mute Swan's heart

This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

There are hundreds of thousands of recordings of birds in the sound archive, but not all are of the typical songs and calls we would expect. I have come across recordings of wingbeats (swans, pigeons, ravens and hummingbirds all make fantastic wing sounds), drumming/pecking (woodpeckers and nuthatches), and bill clattering (the somewhat bizarre display of albatrosses). However, there are a few special recordings of something truly intimate, a heartbeat!

Mute Swan heartbeat, recorded by Richard Ridgway on 8th December 1970 (BL ref 29109)

The Mute Swan’s heartbeat in this recording was captured by the late Richard Ridgway on Kilcolman Wildfowl Refuge in County Cork, Ireland. Richard owned and ran the refuge with his wife Margaret. This recording clearly captures Richard’s passion and care for the birds at Kilcolman as well as his interest in sound recording.

  Mute SwanMute Swan, taken from Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands, 1885-1897 (CC-BY, Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Mute swans are normally very defensive and can be incredibly aggressive when threatened. So it is no mean feat that Ridgway managed to tame this bird enough to be able to place a microphone on its chest and stroke its head. He even notes that the swan's heart rate increases when it is stroked. The swan also calls in this recording, and almost seems to respond to the recordist’s voice, which sounds unusual when recorded straight from the birds chest. It’s hard not to smile when imagining a man cuddling a swan while listening to its heart!

This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @gregegreen@BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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06 June 2018

Make yourself at home! The BBC in a multi-cultural world

David Hendy, Professor of Media and Cultural History at the University of Sussex writes about an upcoming event at the British Library, Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC.

The clue is in the name. The British Broadcasting Corporation. It’s a national broadcaster. When its motto proclaims that “Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation”, it doesn’t just mean different nations speaking to each other. It also means the nation – Britain - speaking to itself.

But who exactly gets to speak? When the BBC began in the 1920s, it all seemed straightforward – at least to that great Founding Father, John Reith. Christian, high-minded, infused with Victorian spirit of paternalism, Reith was adamant: only “the best” in thought or culture should be broadcast, “only those with a claim to be heard above their fellows” should talk at the microphone, only those with an “educated” southern English accent could be announcers, only programmes of devout Christianity could be aired on a Sunday.

Even at the time, this took little enough account of the richness of regional or working-class life. But after the Second World War - when Britain became home to thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean or Eastern Europe, and later from Kenya, Uganda, India and Pakistan – a dramatic change in attitude was surely inevitable. Like most who arrived at Tilbury on the Empire Windrush in 1948, many of the new immigrants were already British subjects: this was their Motherland. And there’d been a rich Black and immigrant presence here for centuries. Even so, for the BBC a new balancing act was required. Differences had to be acknowledged, yet new settlers needed to be integrated. Which was more important?

Una%20Marson%20in%201941%20hi000374838Una Marson during a BBC broadcast to the West Indies, 1941. Copyright: BBC.

The story of how the BBC navigated these tricky waters can be traced in vivid technicolour through the BBC’s own immensely rich archives, more and more of which are being opened-up to public view for the first time. They offer a lively gallery of programmes and pioneering individuals. Una Marson, pictured above, was born in Jamaica and joined the BBC’s staff during the Second World War. She was the first black producer on its payroll – and a pioneer in cultural programmes transmitted to the Caribbean.

Una Marson interviewing Ken "Snakehips" Johnson, 1940. Copyright: BBC.

That fragile recording of Marson interviewing the jazz band-leader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson in 1940, only a matter of months before he was killed in the London Blitz, is just one among many we’re making available online through a new project based at the University of Sussex, working in collaboration with the BBC.

At our workshop on 10 July, Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC we’ll be listening to, watching - and talking about – Una Marson, the programmes she made, and her dramatic departure from the BBC in 1946. Through newly-released oral history recordings and programmes not seen since their first broadcast, we’ll also be encountering many other fascinating individuals who helped – and in some cases hindered – the BBC’s slow embrace of a multi-cultural world: the people behind the first TV programmes for British Asians in the 1960s, Make Yourself at Home; the creators of Open Door, a bold 1970s experiment in ‘access TV’; the broadcasters who first brought Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists to the microphone.

The story these records tell isn’t straightforward: the BBC was brave in some areas, cautious in others. Nor is the story always reliable. There are gaps in the archive – including the testimonies of listeners and viewers themselves - and questions to be answered about who gets to tell the BBC’s own history now.

MikePH2Mike Phillips, former broadcaster, 2018. Copyright: Connected Histories of the BBC.

So, we’ll also be joined live on 10 July by a special guest – and a brand-new contributor to our ‘unofficial’ oral history of the BBC: the former journalist and crime-writer Mike Phillips, pictured above, who in 1998 wrote the ground-breaking book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. We hope you can join us.

05 June 2018

London dialect in pop music

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Spoken English writes:

The mixed reception among my children and their peers to Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, is, I suspect, the equivalent of my Kid A moment. I’m probably not qualified to contribute to the debate on the album’s artistic merit, but the continued evolution in Alex Turner’s singing style struck me as linguistically significant in that he now reveals much less of his Sheffield identity.

As noted in a previous blog post it is pretty rare in mainstream pop music to detect a regional accent, but Turner was at one time a notable exception. However, in a British context, perhaps not surprisingly, London has arguably featured more prominently than elsewhere in British popular music culture from music hall (Gus Elen singing oh it really is a wery pretty garden in ‘If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses in Between’ [1931]), through musical theatre (Stanley Holloway singing wiv a little bit of bloomin' luck in ‘My Fair Lady’ [1964]) to contemporary pop, rock and hip hop.

Like most British acts the vast majority of London artists tend to adopt a more conventional ‘transatlantic’ pop voice when singing (listen to David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ [1981] or Adele’s ‘All I Ask’ [2015] and you’ll hear dance and ask sung with a short vowel, which contrasts with the long vowel they and other Londoners use when speaking spontaneously). Unlike most British dialects, though, there is a substantial back catalogue of pop music performed in an instantly recognisable London accent and a quick glance at one example per decade since the 1960s offers glimpses of typical elements of London pronunciation and insight into change over time.

1960s: ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ by the Small Faces [1968]: contains echoes of music hall Cockney; notable features include my pronounced like ‘me’, TH-fronting (with pronounced as ‘wiv’) and the vowel quality in nice (‘noyce’) in the opening line oh wouldn’t it be nice to get on with my neighbours

1970s: ‘Cool for Cats’ by Squeeze [1979] is crammed full of London cultural references; notable features include H-dropping and TH-fronting (Heathrow pronounced as ‘Eafrow’) and frequent T-glottaling (the substitution of a glottal stop for the <t> in ninety, got, get and at) in the line the Sweeney's doing ninety cause they've got the word to go they get a gang of villains in a shed up at Heathrow

1980s: ‘Rabbit’ by Chas & Dave [1981] combines music-hall humour and pub sing-along conventions in a style affectionately dubbed ‘rockney’; notable features include H-dropping (heart pronounced as ‘art’), yod-dropping (knew pronounced as ‘noo’) and an older dialectal pronunciation of off (rhyming with ‘morph’) in the line now you was just the kind of girl to break my heart in two I knew right off when I first clapped my eyes on you

1990s: ‘Parklife’ by Blur [1994] is a portrayal of contemporary London life in which Damon Albarn adopts a more markedly London accent in his singing style, unfairly dismissed by some commentators as ‘mockney’; notable features include my pronounced like ‘me’, a glottalised <p> sound in cup of tea, H-dropping and the distinctive vowel sound in house (‘aahse’) in the line, delivered by actor Phil Daniels, I put my trousers on have a cup of tea and I think about leaving the house

2000s: ‘Defeat You’ by N-Dubz [2006] is one of many 21st century songs that captures Multicultural London English (MLE), a distinctive blend of established London forms and features from British Asian, British Caribbean and non-native speaker varieties; ‘traditional’ Cockney features include T-glottaling and L-vocalisation (the substitution of an ‘oo’-like vowel for the <l> sound so that royalty sounds something like ‘roy-oo’y’) in the line you ain’t gonna see no royalty cheques; Caribbean English features are apparent in pronoun exchange (I for ‘me’) and word final consonant cluster reduction (vex for ‘vexed’) in the line you don’t wanna see I vex; while the invariant tag innit in the opening line listen to I innit is thought to have originated in British Asian speech communities.

2010s: The latest singer to excite my dialectologist’s ears is Croydon-born Whitgift and Brit School old boy, Loyle Carner. The single ‘No CD’ from his Mercury Award nominated debut album, Yesterday’s Gone [2017], is lyrically a fascinating mix of well-established Cockney, imported vernacular and extremely current slang that neatly reflects London’s vibrant cultural mix, delivered in an extremely authentic, contemporary accent that is relatively classless, socially and ethnically ambiguous and yet – geographically – unmistakeably London as is immediately apparent in the opening lines:

DD00006998 Loyle Carner NO CD

Loyle Carner Yesterday's Goneay ay oh please we ain't got no P's because we spent all our money on some old CDs

it's like oh please we ain't got no P's because we spent all our money on some old CDs

we saying oh please we ain't got no P's because we spent all our money on some old CDs

we got some old Jay Zs couple ODBs place ‘em up in perfect order

cause my OCD won't let me keep it I never speak it and keep it a secret

it be peak if any geezer would hear it and then repeat it

so we keep it keeping out of reach from all the eejits

if you need it best believe it you won't seek it

locked up in my room deep cocoon like you're digging in crates

already done with your digging so your digging is bait

Carner, L & R. Kleff. 2017. No CD. Loyle Carner ft. Rebel Kleff. Yesterday’s Gone. [LP]. UK: Universal, AMF 0007. BL Shelfmark: DD00006998

Loyle Carner Field DayNotable lexical items: geezer [= ‘chap/fellow’] is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from 1885, but is, I suspect, nowadays most closely associated with speakers from London, while eejit [= ‘fool/idiot’], listed from 1853, is categorised as ‘Anglo-Irish dialect’; this celebration of established vernacular forms blends seamlessly with current urban slang forms like P [= ‘penny/pound’ i.e. ‘money’], peak [= ‘unpleasant’] and bait [= ‘obvious’], none of which has yet made it into the OED, but all three are recorded in Green’s Dictionary of Slang as 21st century British coinages and included in Wikipedia’s London slang glossary.

Notable grammatical constructions: alongside lexical markers, Carner uses non-standard grammatical forms such as ain’t [= ‘have PRESENT NEGATIVE’] which he combines with no to form a double negative (we ain’t got no P’s). Although the use of ain’t as an invariant negative for both ‘be’ and ‘have’, and indeed multiple negation, exist in numerous varieties of English around the world, they are both clearly productive markers of present-day London dialect as confirmed by the analogous construction (you ain’t never seen no royalty cheques) in ‘Defeat You’ noted above. Carner also adopts a narrative device, quotative be like (it's like oh please we ain't got no P's), that is extremely common among young English speakers worldwide as a means of introducing reported speech and a phenomenon that has received considerable attention among academic linguists.

Notable pronunciation features: in common with many of the singers included here, Carner exhibits L-vocalisation (old pronounced like ‘oh-ood’ and couple pronounced like ‘cupp-oo’) and consistently uses T-glottaling in word final position (ain’t, spent, got, keep it, speak it, secret, hear it, repeat it, need it, believe it, seek it, bait).

While none of these features individually is unique to London English, the combination is typical of many young Londoners and shows how the British Library’s sound archives – spoken voice and music alike – are a wonderful linguistic resource. Our Unlocking our Sound Heritage project and investment in new technology in collaboration with the music industry to enable us to receive music in digital formats means even more London music will be available to linguists and other researchers now and in the future. Let’s hope, like Loyle Carner fans last weekend, they end up having a field day.

04 June 2018

Recording of the week: the orchestral power of embroidery machines

This week's selection comes from Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Serious/Speakout was a UK promotion company to which artists submitted their demo tapes when seeking performance opportunities during the 1990s.

This particular recording features an excerpt of Concerto for Percussion and Embroidery Machine. It world premiered at Warwick Festival in 1991 and was composed and performed by musician Matthew Griffiths, the now CEO of Youth Music.

Matthew Griffiths

Fascinated by the idea of making art out of daily life objects (especially the traditionally gender specific ones), I contacted Matthew and asked him to tell me more about it.

So here’s the story: Matthew graduated as a solo percussionist in 1989. The then Artistic Director of the Warwick Festival, Richard Phillips, introduced him to Robert Hornby, the Director of Bryant & Tucker. This was an embroidery company in Leamington Spa that produced badges for companies using, at the time, state of the art computerised embroidery machines which were very loud and very rhythmic. After the enthralling visit to the factory, Robert Hornby commissioned the percussionist to compose a new work for the Warwick Festival and Matthew suggested creating a composition utilising the sounds of the machines.

The theme of the 1991 Festival was Prokofiev, so the Bryant & Tucker machines were programmed to create a unique badge portraying ‘Peter and the Wolf ‘ as a memento for the audience to take away after the performance. To do this, the machines had to run for about thirty minutes creating a variety of cross rhythms, juddering sounds and ‘white noise’ as they created the badge. The sounds were notated and the musician and the programmer worked together to focus on the sounds that were musically most interesting. These were then incorporated into the computer programme for the badge production. This became the orchestral accompaniment with Matthew playing live percussion over the top as the concerto soloist. The multi-percussion set up included a marimba, vibraphone, timbales, cymbals and bells and it was played in front of the one massive embroidery machine in the factory before a sold out audience.

Excerpt of Concerto for Percussion and embroidery machine (C728/684)

The performance only happened once.

The idea subsequently won an award from ABSA (Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts) for the most innovative sponsorship by a small business.

This recording is part of the Serious Speakout Demo Tapes collection (C728) which has been digitally preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @lcavorsi, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news. Many thanks to Matthew Griffiths for his assistance with this piece.

01 June 2018

The voice of Jack Johnson - heavyweight boxing champion of the world

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

360px-Jack_Johnson_boxer_c1908Jack Johnson c.1908

The legendary Jack Johnson (1878-1946) is remembered as the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, a title he held from 1908 to 1915.  At a time when race relations were extremely volatile in the United States, Johnson caused a sensation not only by beating all white challengers in the ring, but by consorting with white women and marrying three of them.

Johnson was arrested in 1912 for violating the Mann Act, a 1910 Federal law criminalizing the transport of any girl or woman across the state line for ‘immoral purposes’.  He was convicted a year later by an all-white jury, sentenced to a year in prison, but fled the country for seven years before returning to serve his time in 1920. For some years, Mike Tyson and John McCain campaigned to get him pardoned and recognised as one of the United States greatest sports legends, but it was not until last week that President Donald Trump gave Johnson a posthumous pardon.

Burns-Johnson_boxing_contest _December_26th_1908_photographed_by_Charles_KerryFight with Tommy Burns 26th December 1908, Sydney, Australia

For those of us who have a fascination with the earliest recordings, Johnson’s heyday fortunately coincided with the invention and development of film and sound recording.  Because he was a superstar and his fights were so popular they were filmed as early as 1908 (albeit silent) to be shown at a later date to fee paying audiences in theatres.  Indeed, the fight that took place on Boxing Day 1908 in Sydney Australia where he gained the title is extant.  His status meant that record companies requested his services for discs of him speaking on training, his views on physical culture, and descriptions of his most famous fights.  The discs are rare today.  Indeed, only two of three parts of the recording he made for Columbia in the United States in 1910, My own story of the big fight, have turned up.

When Johnson visited England in October 1911 for a fight at Earl’s Court he also toured the music halls where crowds flocked to see him.  A film, preserved by the BFI, was taken of him visiting the Manchester docks and leaving the Regent Theatre in Salford.

Edison Bell Peckham-page-001Jack Johnson and wife Lucille at the Edison Bell Studio in Peckham (Sound Wave August 1914, BL collections)

Johnson defeated Frank Moran on 27th June 1914 at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris then traveled to England to record for Edison Bell’s popular Winner label on the 30th June.  The two sides, titled Physical Culture, were recorded at their studio in Glengall Road, Peckham.  In his exemplary book Lost Sounds: Blacks and the birth of the recording industry 1890-1919, Tim Brooks devotes a chapter to Jackson and his handful of recordings and illustrates it with photos acquired from the British Library.  The main message of the lecture is that we should all drink more water – Johnson could hardly have imagined that a hundred years later nearly everyone could be seen with a plastic bottle of water in their hand or bag.

Disc labels-page-001Disc loaned by Mr Gray

The Edison Bell recording is also an extremely rare disc, but in 1993 a Mr Gray brought his copy of it to what was then the National Sound Archive for a dubbing to be made.  Mr Gray had found it in a junk shop in Edinburgh in 1986.  I remembered seeing this on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and years ago discovered a photograph of the disc labels in a drawer at the Sound Archive’s previous premises in Exhibition Road.  Today, after a little searching, I have discovered that photo so the disc can be seen and heard again more than one hundred years after it was recorded.

 Physical Culture

Johnson’s career from the beginning of the twentieth century is documented for us in a way that is given to few from that period.  His was also an important chapter in social history, one still resonating today with the President’s pardon.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

28 May 2018

Recording of the week: Touch Radio 035 - THE FREQ_OUT ORCHESTRA

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Live recording of THE FREQ_OUT ORCHESTRA performing freq_out 7 as part of the Happy New Ears Festival celebrated in the city of Kortrijk, Belgium, 13 September 2008.

Kortrijk_Kortrijk. Photo by: Erf-goed.be on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Touch Radio 035 THE FREQ_OUT ORCHESTRA (C1428)

Participants: JG Thirlwell, Finnbogi Pétursson, Benny Jonas Nilsen, Jana Winderen, Brandon LaBelle, Petteri Nisunen, Tommi Grönlund, PerMagnus Lindborg, Maia Urstad, Jacob Kirkegaard, Mike Harding, Kent Tankred, Franz Pomassl, Carl Michael von Hausswolff.

‘freq_out’ is a series of sound installations featuring various artists curated by Michael von Hausswolff. They started in 2003 and have taken place at different venues around the world. Each artist works with a specific frequency range. The work is created on site and amplified to act as a single, generative sound space.

This recording was made by Finnbogi Petursson and mastered by BJ Nilsen. The crows were recorded separately by Pascal Wyse. It is also available on the Touch Radio website.

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

25 May 2018

GDPR day – changes to data protection law

Amanda House, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage reflects on how the new data protection regulation will impact the sharing of audio archives online.

Gdpr2018

GDPR is a new regulation designed to strengthen and combine the existing protection provided by the Data Protection Act (1998) for all individuals within the European Union, replacing the 1995 Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC on which the UK Data Protection Act 1998 was based.

The primary aim of GDPR is to protect EU citizens from privacy and data breaches in an increasingly data-driven world. The UK Parliament is currently in the process of passing a bill that will ensure this protection will remain when the UK leaves the EU next year.

Data Protection law is designed to safeguard the privacy of identifiable living individuals and to protect them from substantial damage or distress in the processing of their personal data and sensitive personal data. The updated regulation includes harsher fines for non-compliance and breaches, and gives people more say in how their data is used.

As part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, the British Library and 10 partner organisations are digitally preserving some of the most at risk audio recordings and sharing them with as many people as possible. Over the next few years we will be publishing 100,000 recordings online, some of these may contain the personal and sensitive personal information of identifiable living individuals. Since many of the recordings are unpublished or broadcast we need to be especially careful to review the material before putting it online.

Article 89 of GDPR allows for ‘archiving in the public interest’ and Article 6(1)(e) allows for processing that is ‘necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest’. This gives archives the permission to publish more material than a first reading of the new law might suggest.  Personal data in a recording is not, on its own, a reason to not share it online.  For the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project all the recordings will be assessed for data protection and sensitivity.  As long as the personal data is not likely to cause substantial damage or distress to a living individual we won’t redact or exclude the recording.  Of course, as well as complying with GDPR, we need make a number of other legal considerations  such as copyright and libel before making recordings available. However that is a topic for another blog!

For more information on how the British Library deals with personal information see the updated British Library Privacy Policy.

For all the latest Unlocking Our Sound Heritage news follow @BLSoundHeritage

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23 May 2018

Sounds from beyond the Iron Curtain: Soviet classical recordings at the British Library Sound Archive

SEOM 20002HMV SEOM 20 (BL Collections 1LP0144447)

Guest blog by British Library Edison Fellow Evgeniya Kondrashina

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear of ‘Soviet music’? Is it the Red Army Choir with their military band songs, or the enigmatic symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich? The British Library holds a large variety of Soviet and Russian music recordings, from different Western record labels as well as the official Soviet (now Russian) state record company, Melodiya.

My PhD research, supported by the Edison Fellowship at the British Library Sound Archive, explores Soviet and Russian classical music recordings in the West during the Cold War. I am investigating Soviet music recordings available in the UK from the 1950s to the 1980s.

From the 1950s, technological advancements in music recording led to a widespread practice of listening to and collecting records. Three key technical innovations triggered accelerated growth in the record industry after the Second World War: the development of magnetic tape recording, the invention of the vinyl long-playing disc and the introduction of stereo sound reproduction.

The LP remained the main format for classical music listening in the home between the 1950s and the early 1980s, when it was gradually overtaken in terms of sales volume by cassettes and then CDs. The establishment of the LP format also led to an important repertoire phenomenon: all major classical music repertoire in the back catalogue of the main record companies was very quickly re-recorded during the 1950s for the LP format. This meant that the record consumer now had access to a huge variety of interpretations of the same music. Hence, by the late 1950s the Western classical music market was saturated with recorded interpretations of works from the traditional Western canon and listeners were hungry for new performers and repertoire.

Finally, the introduction of stereo sound in 1958 dramatically improved the quality of the listening at home experience, which for classical music was a much more significant factor compared to other music genres. The market for high-quality LPs of classical music took off, with music lovers investing in high-quality listening equipment and paying a premium for stereo vinyl releases.

By the mid-1950s, the largest Western markets for records were the USA, UK, France and West Germany. In Europe, the two record companies that were in the best position after the war were EMI and Decca in Britain. At this time, after the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union changed its attitude towards the West. An active programme of cultural exchange was established with a crucial role given to Soviet musicians of showcasing the excellence of Soviet and Russian performing arts to the West during their tours. Musicians’ tours could only cover several major cities, while recordings sold in shops and played on the radio reached far and wide across geographical territories. The 1950s saw a medley of Western labels issuing miscellaneously licensed Soviet recordings. A selection has been digitised for British Library Sounds, on a variety of Western labels, all taking advantage of the thaw in Western-Soviet cultural relations and the interest in Soviet classical performers.

A recording of the pianists Emil Gilels and Yakov Zak playing the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos with the Moscow Radio Orchestra conducted by Kirill Kondrashin was issued by Period Records, a respectable US classical label, before going bust in 1957.  Here is an extract.

Mozart K365

Another US label, Concert Hall Records, released some recordings of the violinist David Oistrakh and conductor Alexander Gauk with the State Radio Orchestra of the USSR.  Here is an extract from the slow movement of Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

Beethoven Concerto Oistrakh

Monarch Records also released Oistrakh and the State Radio Orchestra of the USSR with Kondrashin in 1954.  Here is the opening of the last movement of Brahms' Violin Concerto.

Brahms Concerto Oistrakh

In the mid-1960s the Soviet Union decided to concentrate on one exclusive partner in each of the capitalist countries.  These were handled by Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga (MK), the book foreign trade organization of the USSR.  The chosen Western partners were Angel (a Capitol Records label, being a subsidiary of EMI Group) in the USA in 1966, HMV (an EMI Group label) in the UK and Australia in 1967, Ariola-Eurodisc in West Germany in 1965, Chant du Monde in France and Victor in Japan. The Soviets did not want to have one partner for the whole of the capitalist world as this would have been too restrictive.

My research on the Edison Fellowship focuses on the UK partnership agreement between EMI and the USSR from the late 1960s to early 1980s. This exclusive licensing agreement allowed EMI to release over 200 LPs in the UK.  These recordings comprised a vast and varied repertoire of Soviet and Russian music performed by the great Soviet artists of the day as well as some less well known musicians. Melodiya made the recordings in its studios in the USSR and then provided EMI with lists of the recorded master tapes, from which EMI chose the ones it wanted to release in the UK. The recordings from the Melodiya master tapes were then pressed on high-quality vinyl at EMI’s main production facility in Hayes, Middlesex. They were released on the Melodiya/HMV label especially created for this Russian series of music.

Below are photos from the dinner EMI held at ‘The Compleat Angler’ hotel at Marlow on the River Thames in August 1975 for Igor Preferansky of MK who was responsible for licensing Soviet gramophone recordings abroad.  The top picture is of Tony Locantro (EMI business manager responsible for Soviet licensing agreement within EMI) and Lev Ershov (representative of the Soviet Trade Delegation).  The picture below is (from left to right) of David Finch and Ken Butcher (both from the International Sales Division of EMI Records UK) and Igor Preferansky.

Russian Party Marlow005(Courtesy of Tony Locantro)

EMI chose the front cover image and back sleeve notes for the UK-distributed discs, which were different from those chosen by Melodiya, to accompany the same recordings for distribution in the USSR. For instance, many of the Shostakovich recordings were released by Melodiya for its domestic Soviet market with a simple photograph of the composer on the cover. EMI took a much more imaginative approach to its classical covers and interpreted the music of Shostakovich, especially his symphonies, with a variety of illustrations, providing visual cues about the music to the listener.One particular symphony is worthy of further discussion, his Symphony No. 13 or Babi Yar, which is based on the poems by the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko about anti-Semitism and the massacre of Jews during the Second World War in Russia. Shostakovich composed the work in the spring and summer of 1962, just six months after the poems were published. These works were read as condemnation of anti-Semitism that existed in the USSR at the time, thus receiving a divided reaction within the critical circles. Consequently, finding a soloist and conductor for the premier of the symphony was not a straightforward matter: both Shostakovich’s first choices, the bass singer Boris Gmirya and the famous conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who premiered many of the composer’s symphonies until then, refused to take on the roles possibly due to pressure from the authorities. The Ministry of Culture was displeased with the strong Jewish content of the texts but the first performance went ahead on 18 December 1962 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Kirill Kondrashin. After the premiere, the composer and poet were persuaded to change the text to reflect that not only Jews, but Russians and Ukranians died at Babi Yar. The new version was conducted by Kondrashin on 10th and 11th February 1963. Further performances of the work took place in cities across the USSR but it was actively discouraged from public performance until the early 1970s.

Melodiya recorded Symphony No. 13 in 1971 and issued it with a neutral photography of Shostakovich on the cover. There was no reference to any Jewish content in the music whatsoever. EMI, however, releasing the licensed recording in the UK in 1973, chose to make a very vivid and explicit reference to the Jewish content of the Symphony: the cover shows a forlorn field where someone has dug a huge hole with scattered stones and a large Star of David in the background. This produces a much stronger visual impression than the straightforward portrait of the composer, as in the Melodiya case.  Such a difference in approach to cover design is not surprising, if we remember that Melodiya was a state-supported company, while EMI was a private profit-oriented business with a strong marketing acumen.

Melodiya Shostakovich 13Melodiya CM 02905/6

ASD2893001HMV ASD 2893 (BL Collections 1LP0140861)

The Edison Fellowship has been instrumental in giving me access to materials and people who have helped conduct my research. In addition to studying a wide variety of books and periodicals, I have looked at the LPs in the Melodiya/HMV series that were released by EMI in the UK over the 15-year period of the agreement.  I have also studied the images and sleeve notes on those records in order to investigate the perception and presentation of Soviet music in the West. This crucial information helps us understand what kind of vision of Soviet and Russian music EMI, as the key distributor, was creating in the minds of British listeners during the Cold War. I was also able to listen to and compare the HMV/Melodiya recordings with Western recordings of the same repertoire, all held at the Sound Archive. The advice and explanations of the Classical Music Curator, Jonathan Summers, were instrumental in shaping my understanding of the broader classical music industry developments in the West at the time, of which Soviet and Russian recordings were a part. Jonathan also introduced me to important past employees of EMI, who provided information on the relationship with the USSR from the British point of view.

In parallel, I worked on materials of the Soviet Ministry of Culture held in Moscow, Russia, at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI) and Russian State Archive (GARF). Bringing the British and Russian sides of the story together allowed me to construct a multifaceted view of events and helped understand the motivation and decision-making process on both sides of the agreement.

The licensing agreement with the USSR was crucial in making EMI a key decision-maker on which Soviet and Russian classical music recordings to bring to the British listener, how to present them through the choice of sleeve image and cover notes, and where to sell them across the country. It presented new repertoire and performers to the British public and, to a large extent, influenced the perception of Russian and Soviet music in this country for at least a generation of listeners.

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