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

10 March 2017

Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery: how to buy a Hockney for £40

Artists’ Lives: Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery is a free display at the Tate Britain in London. You can listen to artists, curators and John Kasmin himself telling the story of the groundbreaking gallery in New Bond Street which became known as ‘the most beautiful room in London’. The art on display, by artists shown at the Kasmin Gallery, includes works by Anthony Caro (1924-2013), Robyn Denny (1930-2014) and Richard Smith (1931-2016).

Artists'_Lives_Spotlight_01Photography © Tate, 2016; Photographer Joe Humphrys

Kasmin, who was born in 1934, established the Kasmin Gallery in 1963 and has been involved in London’s art scene for over fifty years. His life story interview was recorded between 2008 and 2016 by Monica Petzal and Cathy Courtney. Kasmin’s engaging recall of people, events and conversations is extraordinary – but his storytelling style is not the only unusual thing about his interview.

Most National Life Stories interviews are recorded in sessions over a period of a few months; a typical Artists’ Lives completed interview might be around 20 -30 hours long. At over 180 hours, Kasmin’s interview (C466/184) is by far the longest interview held by the British Library’s Oral History section. The full interview is not yet fully documented and available online but audio clips, photographs and exhibition catalogues have been used in the exhibition.

In one of the extracts, Kasmin remembers going to the Young Contemporaries show in 1961 and becoming fascinated by one painting in particular, even though he didn’t understand its points of reference. That painting was Doll Boy by a then unknown student named David Hockney (now in Tate’s collection)– and he had to have it.

Kasmin on Doll Boy

At that time Kasmin did not yet have his own gallery – he was working at Marlborough New London. Kasmin invited Hockney round for tea after work. He liked the shy young man with NHS glasses and a strong Yorkshire accent. He admired his work so much that he wanted to help him, even if it meant upsetting his boss, Marlborough Fine Art co-founder Harry Fischer.

Kasmin on Hockney

Soon life at Marlborough became intolerable for Kasmin, who was not allowed to follow his artistic interests. Frank Lloyd, Marlborough’s other co-founder, was disappointed when Kasmin handed in his notice because he could see the young man’s potential – and also because he took the gallery’s main collector, Sheridan Dufferin, with him. Hockney went on to become one of Kasmin’s most famous artists.

Artists'_Lives_Spotlight_16Photography © Tate, 2016; Photographer Joe Humphrys

The idea of life story interview methodology is to capture a person’s whole life in detail, including childhood, education, family, social and working life. One of the benefits of this method is that the interviewees have a chance to explain the connections between phases and aspects of their lives and how these fit together. Interviewees often explain how random coincidences – such as spotting a painting at a show and liking it - lead to whole careers and relationships. These junctures can be missed or misinterpreted by biographers but they are often crucial to the life trajectory.

National Life Stories collects oral histories by project – this approach allows cross-reference (and often disagreement!) between interviewees. For example within the Artists Lives collection on BL Sounds [http://sounds.bl.uk/Arts-literature-and-performance/Art], the British Library’s online sound resource, you can listen to three full life story interviews with artists whose work was exhibited at the Kasmin Gallery and is now on display at Tate Britain: Richard Smith (C466/308), John Latham (C466/69) and Robyn Denny (C466/347).

In this clip artist Robyn Denny explains that he was delighted to show his work with Kasmin, whom he considered the most important person on the art scene from the 1960s onwards. Denny reflects on Kasmin’s odd mixture of attributes and roles in life, from poet to dealer to collector to dealer: ‘he was kind of nuts, Kasmin, and he is, but he isn’t.’

Denny on Kasmin

In total, over 200 Artists’ Lives oral histories are now freely available on BL Sounds. To explore Artists’ Lives interviews not online please search the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Artists’ Lives is run by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with Tate. The Henry Moore Foundation and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990, and NLS also works closely with the Henry Moore Institute. National Life Stories is grateful to all its sponsors in relation to the exhibition Artists’ Lives: Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery, particularly the Gubenkian Foundation UK and the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

You can visit the free BP Spotlight exhibition Speaking of the Kasmin Gallery at Tate Britain until Autumn 2017.

07 March 2017

Michael Tippett: In the composer’s own voice

Guest blog by Thomas Schuttenhelm, current Edison Fellow and author of  The Selected Letters of Michael Tippett, (Faber) a contributing author for the Tippett Cambridge Companion and monograph, also for Cambridge University Press, on The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett: Creative Development and the Compositional Process. His book Vision and Revision: Michael Tippett’s Fifth String Quartet will be published by Ashgate-Routledge in 2017.

Tippett_at_work

Tippett at work (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Michael Tippett (1905-1998) was an English composer for whom the act of creating music was a constant obsession. His fierce commitment to composition resulted in works that were original in design and devastating in their expression. Each work by Tippett originated as a singular vision and resulted in a singular achievement and the consistency of his creative process allowed him to fashion artifacts of shocking originality. His oeuvre is comprised of works that are remarkably diverse especially when we consider that they were the product of just one composer. What is truly remarkable is that his compositional process remained so consistent throughout his many changeable creative phases.

Tippett was educated at the Royal College of Music and served as Director of Music at Morley College, London. In addition to his creative interests he was also active in broadcasting and television and his talks on music and musicians brought him widespread attention. Many of these have been preserved at the British Library Sound Archive and these will serve as a fascinating exploration into a hitherto unknown side of this dynamic creative artist. By referencing these remarks we are transported back into the historical moment and return to the most authentic source on Tippett’s music: the composer’s own voice.

Michael Tippett lived deep in the English countryside and his creative obsessions required him to live alone. This was both a choice and a necessity but this created a classic conflict between his social-emotional side and his creative side, and it left a deep ‘wound’ on his psyche as he told Dr. Antony Clare during a 1987 session In the Psychiatrists Chair.

1 Clare 23041987

In his interview with Dr. Antony Clare, Tippett continued: ‘The wound is something absolutely autonomous, something of its own …but the price, well, I was always willing to pay the price.’ Those most closely associated with the composer were well aware of his compulsion but some were unable to submit to the severity of his devotion to the creative act. Regarding his relationship with Francesca Allinson he remarked:

2 Clare 23041987

Allinson eventually committed suicide, and in the same interview Tippett admitted:  ‘Another man whom I loved and lived with at times also committed suicide [Karl Hawker]. I may, perhaps, attract people, I don’t know.’

Similar to the poetry of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, Tippett’s music was created from a self-constructed mythology. It is, at times, eccentric, but it is never without a guiding narrative or an internal logic. Tippett created characters of fantastical proportions to render these narratives through intricate operatic plotlines and in his concert music he invented such unique timbres for his themes that they required a realignment of the planes of musical abstraction. These attributes often confounded the public and he was occasionally the target of sharp criticisms, but his singular devotion to the creative impulse allowed him to persevere, and with each successive work his creative identity became stronger and his music became more strikingly original.

Tippett spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the details of his compositions and the essence of his originality lay in the conceptual dimensions that were so uniquely conceived for each individual work. Multiplicities abound in his music but they always remain in the service of a strong integrated vision for the particular composition.  

Tippett’s solitary existence allowed him the contemplative atmosphere in which to envision some radical music but he firmly declared that he needed, always, to maintain a strong contact with the world in which he was a part. His compositional process would transform his experiences into the materials he required for his music. Tippett’s imagination was luminous and it radiated outward, through the splendor of Augustinian windows, onto panoramic vistas that resounded with otherworldly music.  He explained to John Warrack on Musical Influences broadcast on 21 May 1969. 

3 Warrack 21051969

Inspiration for specific works often came from some outside source but his creative impulse was internal and his allegiance to it was unwavering. This process was often a mysterious one, even to the composer but he had an implicit trust in his powers of invention to guide his ear towards the sounds that gave the strongest resonance to his fertile imagination.

4 Amis 01071977

Tippet_Jane_Bown_100dpi

Tippett in later years by Jane Bown (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Throughout Tippett’s long life he witnessed many shifts in style but he was unaffected by these changes and remained committed to creating his own original music.  Here he talks to Natalie Wheen in one of his last broadcast interviews from 1995.

5 Wheen 021995

Tippett had an exceptional ability to capture the ethos of his time and he used this ability to create music where the hideous—‘mans inhumanity toward man’—and strongest visions of affirmation were placed into the strangest combinations. In the aura of its release, where chaos and brought into a convincing but temporary reconciliation, we are reminded how essential Tippett was to shaping the soundscape of contemporary music.

The Edison Fellowships are funded by the Saga Trust.  Three of the extracts come from recordings in the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) which was digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

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06 March 2017

Recording of the week: Toscanini conducts Elgar

This week's selection comes from Kevin Lemonnier, Preservation Audio Engineer.

This is the only known recording in existence of Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro Op. 47. The performance took place during the 1937 London Music Festival and was privately recorded off broadcast, onto a lacquer disc, by audio engineer Kenneth H. Leech (1892-1995).

Toscanini conducting Elgar's Introduction and Allegro Op. 47

Toscanini_Getty Museum

 Portrait of the composer Arturo Toscanini c.1926 (J. Paul Getty Museum)

The audio quality is rather poor due to wear and shrinkage of the cellulose nitrate but it still reveals a driving performance from the Italian master. 

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

28 February 2017

Stanley Glasser: South African music recordings

Scan0007

Mr Rummutla's dipila [lamellaphone] researched and photographed by Stanley and Elizabeth Glasser in Limpopo province, South Africa, 1975

Stanley (‘Spike’) Glasser (b. 28 February 1926) is a South African-born composer and academic. He has been based primarily in London since the 1950s. One of his many major achievements, and one he is perhaps best known for, is his role as music director of the South African jazz musical, King Kong. With music primarily written by Todd Matshikiza – Stanley composed some of the songs – and played by the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi, the all-black cast and band first performed the show in South Africa in 1959. It was moved to the Prince’s Theatre in London’s West End, where it opened on the 23rd February 1961. Many of the cast never returned to South Africa after the run, starting an exodus of musicians who became instrumental in raising international awareness of the injustices of the apartheid system.

Stanley is also well known for his pioneering contributions to the development of the music department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he spent most of his working life having become head of department in 1969 and Dean of Humanities in the 1980s. During his time there he was responsible for the creation of the electronic studios (named after him and in collaboration with fellow composer, Hugh Davies).

His compositional and academic activities were underpinned by his life-long love and connection with South African indigenous music. Introduced to local Zulu music as a teenager by the family’s much-loved housekeeper, Shikelela, Stanley spent time as a young man working with Hugh Tracey at the African Music Society (started in 1948 and still in existence under the International Library of African Music). Hugh and his son Andrew (ILAM’s director from 1977 to 2005) guided Stanley to making an ethnomusicological field trip to what is now Limpopo province in the northern-most region of the country, to study the music of the Pedi people.

Stanley was particularly interested in a kind of lamellaphone the Pedi played called the dipila. He was right to be – the instrument was not much known outside the area. It had not been recorded or studied. The 18 reel to reel tapes he recorded on his first field trip in 1975, with the help of his wife, Elizabeth, remain some of the only recordings of this instrument in existence.

RAMMUTLA DIPILAFingering for Mr Rammutla's dipila. [Drawn by Elizabeth in a field notebook.]

Perhaps more intriguing than the dipila, however, was Stanley’s introduction to the haripa an autoharp played by a Mr Mohali Ramathlo. Mr Ramathlo’s 45-stringed, zither-like instrument had 25 carved wooden puppets attached to it with a piece of wire. “Standing, he sings a song and while playing the haripa he moves the instrument around thus making the puppets dance with disturbing realism”, wrote Stanley in a paper for the International Folk Music Council conference at Goldsmiths in 1976.

Scan0001Mr Mohali Ramathlo and his haripa with puppets

The pentatonic tunings of both the dipila and the haripa come from the lenaka pipes. These were made from bits of curtain rod or other industrial piping and were normally of 10 to 37cms in length. Each player played a single note together making up the melody. In Stanley’s recordings there were 9 pipe parts, doubled up, with 4 drums.

Scan0003Pedi lenaka pipe dancers at Tzaneen

Listen to Pedi lenaka pipe dancers from C1671 original tape 14

Stanley and Elizabeth’s second field trip took them to study Xhosa music in the Transkei, now in Eastern Cape Province, in 1981/2. There they recorded 8 reel to reel tapes with a variety of performances and instruments including Christian church hymns and young men’s circumcision rituals; indigenous instruments such as the uhadi and isitolotolo musical bows and indigenous music played on guitars and concertinas.

Scan0005Umphumo [circumcision] celebration at Qhaka village. Those covered in the blankets are emerging from days of isolation during the circumcision rites.

Scan0006

Kostini’ [concertina] player at Qhaka village for Umphumo celebration [circumcision]

 

Stanley’s collection of recordings, selected photos and notes are housed at the British Library with the reference C1671.

 

Find out more about the work of the British Library's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.

Moomins music

Readers of a certain age may recall from 1980s tea-time TV the children's series The Moomins, a stop-motion animation treatment of the stories of the Moomintrolls, the family of small woodland beings created by Finnish writer-illustrator Tove Jansson. The original stories and picture-books were written and published in Swedish, and spanned the period 1945-1970. 

Moomins-first-edition-cover

Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood) - the first Moomins book, from 1945.

The TV series shown in Britain was a Polish-Austrian-German production, made at the Se-ma-for studio in Łódź. For UK audiences, episodes were edited from their original longer format into five-minute chunks and given an English-language narration by veteran actor Richard Murdoch.

Another UK addition was a new theme tune and soundtrack, created by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill, who were, at the time, members of Impact Theatre Co-operative, a Leeds-based experimental theatre company whose influence on the contemporary performance scene is still felt today. Perhaps their best-known work is The Carrier Frequency from 1986, a collaboration with novelist Russell Hoban set in a post-nuclear world, and performed on a structure designed by Simon Vincenzi that rose from a two-foot deep pool of water. 

Moomins-music-products

The Moomins' music, a mixture of organic instruments and new electronic sounds, was issued this year in its most complete edition yet by Finders Keepers Records. Formats include cassette, CD and vinyl, plus two de luxe limited edition LPs. Examples of each have been acquired by the British Library for its sound archive (see image above).

Simon Sheridan, in his A-Z of Classic Children's Television, describes this music as 'some of the saddest ever to make its way onto kids' TV'.

In the same book Graeme Miller cites the mournful theme tune from The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the 1960s French import that was a staple of BBC children's programming for three decades) and the electronic sound of Kraftwerk as primary musical influences.

The Finders Keepers editions are beautifully presented, with the CD and LP editions featuring the bonus of a long and detailed essay by Andy Votel on the history of the series as broadcast, the creation of the music, and the 10-year effort to make the complete soundtrack available for the first time.

27 February 2017

Recording of the week: Sparkie Williams the talking budgerigar

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

Sparkie Williams was a prize-winning talking budgerigar, renowned for his impressive vocabulary of over 500 words, sayings and rhymes. In 1958 he was crowned top bird in the BBC's International Cage Word Contest which turned him into an overnight star. His success led him to be the face (or should that be beak?) of an ad campaign for leading bird seed producer Capern and so impressed Parlophone that they offered him a record deal.

His owner, Mrs Mattie Williams, employed an almost military approach to Sparkie's oral development, dedicating several hours a day to teaching her beloved budgie to speak. Her Geordie accent can clearly be heard in Sparkie's delivery of the rhyme at the end of this recording.

Excerpts from Philip Marsden introduces Sparkie Williams_Parlophone 1958

SarkiethebudgieSparkie Williams (courtesy of the Great North Museum: Hanock)

After his death in 1962, Sparkie was stuffed and donated to the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle where he is currently on display.

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

23 February 2017

Behind the candy-striped jackets – oral history uncovers the unspoken

David Kynaston is perhaps best-known for his prize-winning studies of Britain in the later twentieth century, most tellingly his Tales of a New Jerusalem series, including Austerity Britain, Family Britain, and Modernity Britain.  We can now hear David Kynaston reflect upon how he weaves personal memories through his studies of this dramatic period, as he gives the National Life Stories Lecture, ‘Uncovering the unspoken: memory and post-war Britain’, to be held in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library on 13 March 2017.

Austerity Britain book cover

Austerity Britain by David Kynaston

To inform the themes of his lecture Kynaston welcomed four eminent guests to the purpose-built recording studio in the Library: Clare Short (former British politician), David Warren (former British diplomat), Anne Sebba (writer, presenter and lecturer) and Sarah Dunant (novelist, journalist, broadcaster and critic). This wide-ranging and lengthy discussion – which will also be archived and made available at the British Library – covered the speakers’ reflections on some key themes including class, sexuality, education, gender, the influence of family background and the mechanics of how we remember.  If, like me, you are intrigued to know how Kynaston will intertwine these themes with his wider reflections on post-war Britain then book a ticket to attend the lecture.  Tickets are available via the British Library Box Office.

Of course, Kynaston is no stranger to oral history. National Life Stories is the oral history fieldwork charity based in the British Library Sound Archive that has been collecting and commissioning oral history interviews for the last thirty years.  David Kynaston deposited the interviews from two of his key works on the City of London, which are available for anyone to listen via the Listening and Viewing Service at the Library; one on the City investment group, Phillips & Drew (now incorporated into UBS Global Asset Management) and the second on LIFFE.  The Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews is a series of over 65 recordings with employees and former employees of LIFFE conducted in 1996 as part of the research for his book LIFFE: A Market and its Makers (Granta, 1997).

  Floor traders cropped
Floor traders © Power Stock Photo Library

When Kynaston conducted his interviews in 1996 LIFFE was at its zenith, as one of the largest futures, commodities and equity exchanges in Europe. The exchange floor was a hive of activity, noise and colour where each trader - kitted in a distinctive coloured blazer - would use a mix of hand-signals and shouts from ‘the pit’ to conduct the exchanges.  In this clip from the City Lives project, we hear about the events at the opening of LIFFE in 1982 and then a description how the exchange functioned in the mid 1990s. The first speaker is David Burton, Chairman 1988-1992 (this recording is from 1993), and the second is his successor Nick Durlacher (interviewed in 1995).

Burton & Durlacher (LIFFE)

David Burton interviewed by Cathy Courtney, 1992-1994, and Nicholas Durlacher interviewed by Cathy Courtney 1995. Both of these interviews from City Lives are available to listen online, British Library Sound Archive refs C409/077 and C409/127.

Within only four years of these interviews LIFFE changed beyond recognition. The last open outcry trading pits were closed in 2000 as trading shifted to electronic platforms.  Gone were the coloured jackets, the shouts and the practical jokes of the brokers.  Both City Lives and the Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews capture personal descriptions of these moments in the life of the City of London from the perspectives of those who worked there and experienced the intense life on the trading floor.

If you are not able to attend the lecture, we plan to film the event and make it available online. More news will follow on this in later March.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History

22 February 2017

They Walk Alone – A Benjamin Britten discovery

Britten by Berkeley

Benjamin Britten composing in Crantock, Cornwall 1936 [PH/1/30]

Photo Lennox Berkeley, by permission of the Lennox Berkeley Estate 

Rob Smith, metadata support officer on the Save our Sounds project, alerted me to the fact that he had discovered a hitherto unknown recording of an early work by Benjamin Britten.  Rob has been working on the Bishop Sound discs, which were made for theatrical productions, and has previously blogged about them here.

Britten1edit

As a young man, Britten wrote some incidental music for the play They Walk Alone by Max Catto (1907-1992) who was a Manchester playwright and novelist born Mark Finkell.  It was first performed at the ‘Q’ Theatre, Kew Bridge on the 21st November 1938.

Miss Beatrix Lehmann, who has not been seen on the London stage since her appearance in Mr Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy, Mourning becomes Elektra, will have the leading part in They Walk Alone, a new play by Mr Max Catto, which Mr Berthold Viertel is to produce at the “Q” Theatre to-day week.  (Times 14th November 1938)

Programme cover

PG/1939/0132/1 Image provided by the Britten-Pears Foundation

The play then moved to the Shaftesbury Theatre on the 19th January 1939 and was presented by Firth Shephard. Jack Bishop had a long standing working relationship with Shephard and had been involved with a number of productions with him by this point. From the 1st May 1939 to 3rd June 1939, the play was performed in the Comedy Theatre on Panton Street, where Bishop had some offices for a period of time.

Lehmann played Emmy, a girl who goes to a Lincolnshire farm to become a servant.  She is affected by organ music from a nearby chapel which is sometimes heard in the early hours of the morning.  Young men are found horribly murdered, a dog howls and the melodrama ends with Emmy being found out and caught as the murderess.

Programme synopsis

PG/1939/0132/8 Image provided by the Britten-Pears Foundation

The music was not mentioned in the Times review of the play which was published on Britten’s twenty-fifth birthday.  Special praise was given to Lehmann in the role of Emmy.

Here is melodramatic material played by an actress of rare imaginative power and played by her for its thrill.  She uses her face as a tragic mask sprung to life; she does not hesitate before the uses of the grotesque; she draws fear into her on her finger-tips; she employs, as first-rate acting in melodrama must employ, the forces of dramatic hypnosis.  Analysis of the play cannot make much of it, but under Miss Lehmann’s spell it has astonishing impact.  (Times 22nd November 1938)

Ten years later Catto used his play as the basis for the British film Daughter of Darkness (1948) where Siobhan McKenna played the role of Emmy, resulting in the offer of a Hollywood contract.  The role of the organ music as catalyst for her criminal tendencies was replaced by a travelling circus.

Britten wrote a few cues for dramatic moments but the only extended piece, titled Prelude to They Walk Alone, edited by Colin Matthews, was first published in 2004 by the Britten Estate.  The Trustees of the Britten Estate have kindly given me permission for the whole recording to be posted on this blog.  So here we have the first recording of the work, the unidentified organist playing from the manuscript.  There are two complete takes of the Prelude, the first with experiments in registration, the second, presented here, a more unified performance.  This is the disc that would have been played at performances of the play and you can hear it here.

Prelude to They Walk Alone

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