05 September 2016
In a composing career spanning more than five decades, Giuseppe Verdi considered more than 100 works, including novels and plays by French, Italian, Spanish and German writers, as sources for potential operatic projects. Among them were several plays by Shakespeare, one of his favourite writers. Although he did complete three operas based on Shakespeare plays, several others – Hamlet, Cymbeline, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet – were discussed at various times but never materialised. Of these unwritten operas, however, it was King Lear that held the greatest significance for Verdi and came closest to creation.
Verdi successively approached three potential librettists for Lear: in 1845 he first mentioned the play to Francesco Maria Piave, the librettist of his Ernani, I Due Foscari and Macbeth. It was, perhaps, Verdi’s dissatisfaction with the last of these (he enlisted another writer, Francesco Maffei, to revise parts of the text) that made him commission, in 1850, a Re Lear from Salvadore Cammarano, another regular collaborator of his.
After Cammarano’s untimely death in 1852, Verdi approached Antonio Somma. Recognising the difficulty of turning such a complex play into an opera, he kept advising Somma to reduce the number of scenes and principal characters (Gloucester and his sons were eventually removed). He also reiterated the need to avoid too many scene changes and to keep his text short. The extensive correspondence between the two men was first published in 1913 and, more recently, in a 2002 edition by the Istituto nazionale di studi verdiani which includes facsimiles of Somma’s manuscripts of his first and second drafts of the libretto (1853 and 1855), and of Verdi’s own transcription of the first version, with variants inserted in their proper place. The volume additionally includes a facsimile of Verdi’s letter of 28 February 1850 to Cammarano which contains a detailed outline of the plot. Transcriptions of all these facsimiles are also included.
The end of Antonio Somma’s second version of his libretto of Re Lear, showing Cordelia’s death. Reproduced in Giuseppe Verdi, Antonio Somma, Per il “Re Lear”. Edited by Gabriella Carrara Verdi (Parma, 2002). LC.31.b.1041
Verdi’s continuing reservations about the libretto meant that the project was abandoned and there is no evidence that music for the opera was ever composed. This is all the more regrettable as some of the most poignant scenes in Verdi’s operas are those between fathers and daughters - Luisa Miller, Rigoletto, Aida, and above all, Simon Boccanegra are the most notable examples - and, judging from the final scene of the libretto of Re Lear, the death of Cordelia (‘Delia’ in the libretto) would have been a notable addition to the canon.
The three Shakespeare operas Verdi did complete – Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff – are all great masterpieces.
Macbeth (1847), one of his greatest early works, typically full of Risorgimento connotations (the fall of a tyrant and the liberation of the country under his rule), was extensively revised for the Paris Opéra in 1865, and it is this version, which is usually performed today. As well as a magnificent banquet scene at the end of Act 2, the opera also has one of Verdi’s greatest final scenes (the death of Macbeth and triumph of Macduff), and Lady Macbeth’s haunting and eerie sleepwalking scene.
By the time he began composing Otello in the 1880s, Verdi had become the grand old man of Italian opera – a ‘national treasure’ in today’s parlance. The fact that he had not composed a new opera since Aida, over a decade earlier, added to the public anticipation for the new work. There was, consequently, extensive press coverage both before and after its premiere, including a special Otello issue of the popular weekly illustrated magazine L’Illustrazione italiana which discussed not only the subject of opera and scenes from its first production but also looked at Verdi’s life and works, including his collaboration with his librettist, Arrigo Boito.
Cover (above) and image of Otello's opening storm scene (below), from Verdi e Otello. Numero unico pubblicato dalla Illustrazione Italiana, e compilato da U. Pesci ed E. Ximenes (Milan, ) 1872.c.15.
A poet, critic and composer (his opera Mefistofele, for which he wrote the text and the music, is sometimes performed today), Boito first collaborated with Verdi on Inno delle nazioni, a cantata commisssioned to represent Italy at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, and, in 1881, on a revision of Simon Boccanegra.
Otello was Verdi’s and Boito’s first collaboration on a new opera and they were to work together again on Falstaff (drawn from The Merry Wives of Windsor, with insertions from Henry IV and Henry V). Premiered in 1893, when the composer was 80, and unusually for Verdi, a comedy, the opera was greeted with the same enthusiasm as Otello six years earlier, including another special issue of L’Illustrazione italiana. Falstaff was Verdi’s glorious and astonishing swansong, its final joyous fugue beginning with ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’ (‘Everything in the world is a jest’).
Chris Michaelides, Curator, Romance Collections
Re Lear e Ballo in maschera. Lettere di Giuseppe Verdi ad Antonio Somma, publicate da Alessandro Pascolato. (Città di Castello, 1913). X.439/1592.
Julian Budden, The Operas of Verdi (London, 1973-82) X.0431/75
Gary Schmidgall, ‘Verdi’s King Lear Project’, in 19th-Century Music, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Autumn 1985), pp. 83-101. P.431/268
Philip Gossett. ‘The Hot and the Cold: Verdi writes to Antonio Somma about Re Lear’, in Variations on the Canon: Essays on Music from Bach to Boulez in Honor of Charles Rosen on His Eightieth Birthday. (Rochester NY, 2008). YC.2009.a.6153.
Roberta Montemorra Marvin (ed.), The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia (Cambridge, 2013). YC.2014.a.2360.
Otello, complete 1976 live recording from La Scala, Milan, conducted by Carlos Kleiber, with Placido Domingo (Otello), Mirella Freni (Desdemona), and Piero Cappuccilli (Iago).
Falstaff, a complete 1965 live recording from the Opéra de Paris of Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Falstaff, with Tito Gobbi as Falstaff.
12 April 2016
Nikolai Gusev, Tolstoy’s personal secretary, stated in his memoirs that “for Tolstoy music was not an amusement but an important business in life” as Tolstoy was “a good musician and composer”. The professor of music at the Moscow conservatory, Aleksandr Goldenveizer, a regular visitor to Tolstoy’s home for some 15 years, noted that Tolstoy, as well as many members of his family, was musical by nature and that in his youth, when he occupied himself for hours on the piano, he even thought of becoming a musician. During this period Tolstoy composed a waltz for piano. Goldenveizer recorded in his memoirs, how he and the composer Taneev wrote down the waltz when Tolstoy played it for them at Iasnaia Poliana in 1906.
Aleksandr Goldenveizer and Sergei Taneyev in 1906. Photograph by Sophia Tolstaya, reproduced in Z.G. Paliukh & A.V. Prokhorova. Lev Tolstoi i muzyka : chronika, notografiia, bibliografiia. Moscow, 1977) X.989/75936
Tolstoy’s ‘Waltz in F’, his only known musical composition, was recorded several times, for example by Christopher Barnes and Imogen Cooper (both available in the British Library’s sound collections). Tolstoy remained a dilettante in music all his life, but was sensitive to it to a considerable extent.
Tolstoy was always deeply interested in the question of what music was and what the philosophical grounds of its inner existence were: What is music? What does it do? Why was it made? Why do sounds of different pitch and degrees of strength, separate or simultaneously sounding together, following one after another in time and combining in a kind of rhythmical construction, have such a powerful, infectious influence on man? Why does this sound combination appear on one occasion as a senseless assortment of sounds, and on another as the symphonies of Beethoven? No satisfactory answer can be given to these questions.
Tolstoy’s ideas on music were related to his ideas on nature (i.e. concrete objects portrayed): how in literature and the fine arts some kind of nature is always reproduced (whether taken from actual life or from the artist’s fantasies), and how in instrumental, chamber and symphonic music of (opera and programme music are excluded) there is the very absence of nature. His conclusion is that the contents of a musical work are clearly and forcefully conveyed by the musical work itself and do not need any kind of literal translations. In 1850s, Tolstoy defined music as “a means to arouse through sound familiar feelings or to convey them” later noted in his diary that “music is a stenograph of feelings”. Goldenveizer even recalled from his conversations how Tolstoy developed an analogy between music and dreams where there is a discrepancy between responses and their causes. This leads to the conclusion that “music does not cause states such as love, joy, sadness but summons them up in us”.
Tolstoy liked music with definitely expressed rhythm, melodically distinct, lively or full of passionate excitement. His favourite composer was Chopin. Listening to Chopin, Tolstoy experienced (in his own words) the feeling of “complete artistic satisfaction”. Tolstoy also liked Mozart, Haydn and Weber, particularly Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which was remarkable as he did not like opera as a genre in general and considered it a false kind of art. He seldom went to the opera and having seen Wagner’s Siegfried once, gave a destructive account of it in Chto takoe iskusstvo? (‘What is Art?’, 1897). Instrumental music made a stronger impression on Tolstoy than singing; he is quoted as saying about singing: “This union of the two arts has never had an effect on me. You always only listen to the music, but don’t pay attention to the words”. This is why the singing of Fyodor Shaliapin did not make a big impression on Tolstoy.
Tolstoy also showed an ambivalent attitude towards the music of Beethoven. When Tolstoy heard Beethoven he admired and was captivated by him, but when he spoke or wrote about Beethoven he often responded negatively considering that Beethoven began the decline of musical art. There are amazing descriptions of Beethoven’s sonatas in Tolstoy’s works, for example in The Kreutzer Sonata (1890) or Semeinoe schast’e (‘Family happiness’, 1859), where the mournful majestic sounds of the sonata‘Quasi una fantasia’ make the heroine confess “Beethoven lifts me to a radiant height”.
It is likely that Tolstoy’s wavering in his evaluation of Beethoven is down to the fact that Beethoven and Tolstoy were very similar in temperament: Tolstoy instinctively opposed all kinds of authority - Beethoven thrilled Tolstoy with his powerful individuality and this made him angry as he did not like to submit.
Tolstoy’s attitude towards folk music was always positive. He also liked gypsy singing, which can be found in works like Dva gusara (‘Two Hussars’, 1857). Tolstoy’s attitude to certain composers and types of music seemed to be influenced by the performances he witnessed or by the performers who visited him. Among musicians who visited Tolstoy and played for him were Anton Rubinshtein, Taneev, Skriabin, Rakhmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov, who had been extremely negative about the ideas contained in Tolstoy’s What is Art?, but held back from expressing this at the time.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, and Peter Hellyer, former curator Russian Collections
Lev Tolstoi i muzyka: vospominaniia , (Moscow, 1953). 7901.a.16.
Tolstoï et la musique, publié sous la direction de Michel Aucouturier. (Paris, 2009). Ac.8808.d/8[tome120]
I. N. Gnezdilova, Literatura i muzyka : A. Ostrovskiĭ, F. Dostoevskiĭ, I. Turgenev, L. Tolstoĭ, A. Chekhov. (Tiumenʹ, 2006.) YF.2008.a.19917
24 March 2016
Throughout Europe, the tradition of the Passion Play has a long history, reaching back to an age where it was a powerful means of bringing the dramatic events of the last week of Christ’s life before the eyes of those who could not read. Although the comparatively late Oberammergau Passionspiel is perhaps the best-known example, many others were performed in the Eastern as well as Western churches.
Bust of Nikos Kazantzakis in Heraklion (Image from Wikimedia Commons CC-BY.2.0)
It is one of these which the Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) describes in his novel Ho Christos xanastauronetai (1948). The British Library holds a numbered copy of the seventh edition signed by his widow Eleni Kazantzakis. It was translated into English in 1954 by Jonathan Griffin under the tile Christ Recrucified (12589.d.18), and ran into several subsequent editions.
Kazantzakis was born at a time when Crete was still part of the Ottoman Empire rather than the modern Greek state which had existed for just over 50 years, and the village of Lykovrissi (‘Wolf’s Spring’) in which he sets the action recalls his experience of growing up in a society where Greek and Turk, Christian and Muslim existed side by side in comparative harmony for the most part. What destabilizes the equilibrium of the community is not internal friction but the arrival of a group of refugees whose own village has been destroyed by the Turks. They reach Lykovrissi at a time when parts are being allocated for the next year’s Passion Play, performed every seven years, and these two events ignite the tumult which ultimately ends in bloodshed and self-sacrifice.
Throughout his life Kazantzakis was a spiritually questing and perpetually restless soul whose challenges to established religious dogma and practice caused him – like his hero Manolios – to face excommunication, though it was never actually pronounced. However, his later novel The Last Temptation of Christ (1955) caused such a furore that the Roman Catholic Church placed it on its index of forbidden books. Though controversial, his portrayal of Christ as a fully human being who understands and engages in the dilemmas of existence to the utmost is close to those of Kahlil Gibran and Dennis Potter, and provided the basis for Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name (1988). Christ Recrucified was also made into a film in 1957, Celui qui doit mourir, by Jules Dassin, with Melina Mercouri in the role of Katerina .
It was in another medium, though, that Christ Recrucified found additional dramatic expression. Throughout his life Kazantzakis had been a frequent traveller, and had lived in many countries, including the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. When the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů encountered his work, he immediately recognized its potential for an opera, and the two artists began a correspondence in French which is available in a Czech edition as Řecké pašije: osud jedné opery : korespondence Nikose Kazantzakise s Bohuslavem Martinů, edited by Růžena Dostálová and Aleš Březina (Prague, 2003; YF.2005.a.6912).
Bohuslav Martinů in 1942. Image from Bohuslav Martinu Centre in Policka, inventory number: PBM Fbm 115, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ)
Martinů composed the original version of his opera between 1954 and 1957, when memories were still fresh of the Slánský show trials and the worst excesses of political intolerance and corruption within a communist state where religion was actively suppressed. With no chance of staging it in Czechoslovakia, he offered it to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, but it was not until 1961 that a revised version received its premiere in Zürich, two years after the composer’s death. The Royal Opera House staged a production by David Pountney (in English) in 2004, conducted by Charles Mackerras, thus making amends for not producing it earlier as originally intended.
Kazantzakis himself, though disillusioned with Soviet communism and never a party member, had admired Lenin and the general principles which he believed communism represented, many of which find their way into his novel. As the year progresses, the villagers – Manolios, cast as Christ, Katerina, the widow and prostitute chosen as Mary Magdalene, and the various disciples, as well as Panayotaros, the Judas – gradually find themselves assuming the characteristics of the figures whom they portray, and embodying them in their actions towards one another and the starving refugees. The village priest Grigoris denies the fugitives shelter for fear of cholera, and sends them and their own priest Fotis to starve on the mountain of Sarakina. Manolios, regarded with suspicion by the village elders as a ‘Bolshevik’ and ‘Muscovite’, leads his neighbours to help them, and offers his life to save the village from the wrath of the local Agha following the murder of his boy favourite Yousouffaki, but it is Katerina who sacrifices hers, struck down by the Agha after claiming responsibility for a crime which she did not commit. As Manolios inspires others to leave their possessions and join him in a life of prayer and seclusion, the mob, headed by Panayotaros, kills Manolios on Christmas Eve as the refugees resume their flight, led by Father Fotis, who reflects, ‘When will You be born, my Christ, and not be crucified any more, but live among us for eternity?’
Though nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazantzakis never won the award. However, in this as in his other works, he proved himself to be not only a truly European but a universal figure, whose writings continue to raise existential issues of personal integrity and human responsibility – more timely than ever as a new stream of refugees pours into Greece in the weeks before another Easter.
Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement
25 December 2015
Few Christmas carols are better known and loved than ‘Stille Nacht’ / ‘Silent Night’, and probably none has such a familiar romantic tale attached to its origins. Most people know the story of how the church organ in the small town of Oberndorf near Salzburg was found to be broken on Christmas Eve 1818, and how the priest, Joseph Mohr, and organist, Franz Xaver Gruber, hastily wrote the words and melody of a song which could be performed to a guitar accompaniment instead.
Facsimile of a manuscript of ‘Stille Nacht’ made by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1836, from Alois Leeb, ‘Bibliographie des Weihnachtsliedes “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”.’ Oberösterreichische Heimatblätter, Jg, 23 (1969). British Library 2737.eg.3.
This is partly true. The song was indeed written by Mohr and Gruber and first performed, to a guitar accompaniment, at Christmas 1818, but Mohr had in fact written the words two years earlier and the story of the damaged organ is speculation (besides, presumably there were existing carols which could have been sung to a guitar…).
The first published version of ‘Stille Nacht’, in three-verse form, from Vier ächte Tyroler-Lieder ... Gesungen von den Geschwistern Strasser aus dem Zillerthale.(Dresden, [1832?]) Hirsch M.1291.(18.)
Although the song quickly gained local popularity around Oberndorf, it was taken to a wider audience by two families of singers, the Strassers and the Rainers, who both came from another part of Austria, the Tyrolean Zillertal. The Strassers were glove-makers who started singing as a group to attract custom to their stall at the Leipzig Christmas fair. They were subsequently invited to perform at Christmas services and concerts in the city, and for a few years in the early 1830s they devoted themselves to a singing career, travelling around Germany with ‘Stille Nacht’ as a popular part of their repertoire. They cut Mohr’s original six verses down to three, and this is the form of the song that is known today and was first published in a collection of ‘authentic Tyrolean melodies’ as performed by the Strassers.
Incidentally, the Strassers apparently first heard of ‘Stille Nacht’ from Carl Mauracher, an organ-builder who rebuilt the church organ at Oberndorf in 1825. Could his role in the transmission of the song have inspired the story of a broken organ forcing Mohr and Gruber to improvise?
The Rainers were a more professional and longer-lived group. They travelled beyond Germany, taking ‘Stille Nacht’ to international audiences, including America, where they toured from 1839 to 1843, and where the first English translation of the song appeared in 1849. Ten years later the most familiar English version was published by an American Episcopal priest, John Freeman Young.
Fascimile signatures of the Rainer Family Singers, from an edition of ‘Tyrolese melodies’ published in London (R.M.13.f.22.). The signatures guaranteed that this was an authentic and approved edition, evidence of the Rainers’ more professional and businesslike approach to their singing career.
Like the Strassers, the Rainers were advertised as singing traditional Tyrolean songs, and ‘Stille Nacht’ was not attributed to either Mohr or Gruber in its earliest publications. The melody was generally thought to be either a Tyrolean folk-tune or the work of Michael Haydn. In 1854 the Prussian Court Chapel in Berlin wrote to St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg asking for clarification; the letter found its way to Gruber who wrote an account of the song’s origins, identifying Mohr as author and himself as composer, although a printed score in the British Library (F.1171.mm.(22.)) attributes the tune to Michael Haydn as late as 1921.
A facsimile of Gruber’s report of 1854, explaining the origins of ‘Stille Nacht’, from Max Gehmacher, Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Das Weihnachtslied, wie es entstand, und wie es wirklich ist (Salzburg, 1937) 11858.c.95
Despite Gruber’s efforts, legends and misinformation continued to accumulate around the song. A completely untrue claim that Mohr translated the words from Latin dates from 1899 and was still being quoted nearly a century later. The story has been fictionalised several times and there have been film and theatre adaptations, all adding various romantic subplots and embellishments to the original tale, many of which can be found today presented as truth on the Internet and elsewhere.
But none of this mythology would have accumulated without the song’s genuine popularity and power to move. For British audiences in particular it has gained in emotional impact by becoming linked with the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce (another true story around which many legends have been built), when British and German soldiers sang it together across the lines. It has been translated into over 300 languages and dialects, and in countries all round the world Christmas would not be Christmas without it. No wonder we love the story of its rise from humble origins to worldwide fame.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
22 May 2015
With the Eurovision Song Contest celebrating its 60th anniversary, and still regularly attracting around 200 million viewers, this year presents a great opportunity to look beyond the glitz of modern Eurovision and consider the changes in European culture, society and politics which it reflects.
We must thank the Italian members of the European Broadcasting Union for the idea of the contest, originally conceived to help promote peace and harmony in a Europe still recovering from the Second World War. Since that first contest in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland between seven participating countries, it has expanded to include as many as 43 entries in the record year of 2008; now qualifying rounds are required before the grand finals.
Map of countries participating in the context and the years they first took part (picture from Wikimedia Commons)
How amazed those Italian broadcasters, whose stated mission was to “stimulate the output of original high- quality songs in the field of popular music by encouraging competition between authors and composers through the international comparison of their works,” would be to see the power of YouTube, enabling viewers to compare in seconds the first ever winner, Switzerland’s Lys Assia singing Refrain, with Conchita Wurst’s winning Rise like a Phoenix for Austria in 2014.
Above: 1956 Eurovision winner Lys Assia (image from Beeld en Geluidwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0). Below: 2014 winner Conchita Wurst (Photo: Albin Olsson, via Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA-3.0)
As a child of mixed heritage growing up in a small, monocultural English city, I loved the reporting of votes from the national juries even more than the songs – seeing the glamorous multilingual presenters, usually framed by an iconic national landmark first gave me a sense that I fitted in somewhere as a European and really inspired me to study foreign languages. Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of those national juries? Wonder no more! Via the EU Screen portal you can now see the terribly solemn 1976 Belgian jury deliberating at length over a nice cup of tea and contributing to one of the highest scores ever for a winning entry – the UK’s Brotherhood of Man’s inimitable Save Your Kisses for Me.
Everyone will have their favourite Eurovision moments and associations, but there is far more to this event than sequins, folk-costumes and cheesy songs. On one level, Eurovision can be viewed as consolidating nationalistic stereotypes, but by encouraging viewers to encounter Europe in their living rooms it can also be seen as contributing to a sense of a common European identity. It is family viewing for today’s European family in all its diversity – gay and straight, old and young – all sharing the same experience but bringing their own readings to it. This European identity is then projected further afield with many enthusiastic viewers around the world – the contest is so popular in Australia that in this anniversary year Australia’s Guy Sebastian will be a guest participant.
Winners of the 2015 second semi-final, with a range of national flags on stage and in the audience (photo from EUROVISION/EBU, © Andres Putting (EBU))
Through the prism of Eurovision we can also see the changing shape of Europe. In the 1990s there was a rapid expansion of participants from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The socialist countries had previously held separate song contests, with only Yugoslavia breaking the mould by joining Eurovision in 1961. Viewers behind the Iron Curtain watched the annual Sopot Music Festival from Poland or its short-lived offshoot, the Intervision Song Contest. The Sopot Festival was the brainchild of Władysław Szpilman, the Polish Jewish musician immortalised in Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist, bringing singers from around the world to perform, initially at the Gdańsk shipyards, then moving along the coast to Sopot. Intervision/Sopot also attracted huge audiences not least because guest artistes such as Boney M were invited to play in the intervals.
By the 1990s participating in Eurovision was often a way for the new entrants to assert sovereignty, contribute to nation-building and project a particular national image around the world. Take for example Ukraine’s 2004 winning entry Wild Dances, performed by Ruslana and featuring a version of the dances, costumes and rituals of the Hutsul people from western Ukraine, which then came to represent universal Ukrainian folk traditions for international viewers.
Eurovision also brings its viewers face to face with key political issues facing contemporary Europe. One can learn much about regional and cultural alliances by observing voting patterns, or about linguistic politics within Europe, such as the rapid rise of English as a lingua franca, demonstrated by the fact that so many entries are now sung in English in order to reach the widest possible audience.
But perhaps one of the key reasons for Eurovision’s enduring success is the way in which it has come to symbolise diversity and tolerance, far exceeding the original hopes of the EBU. It can be seen to represent a certain stability and unity in the face of an increasingly fragmented Europe. To quote Conchita Wurst, who was welcomed in November 2014 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as an ambassador for human rights, “The Eurovision Song Contest is about love and respect for different languages, cultures and people, who in the end have more in common than differences”
The British Library catalogue lists a huge range of resources relating to the Eurovision song contest – from books and academic articles, to audio and video recordings and archived websites. Some appear in unexpected places such as the article “ How does Europe Make Its Mind Up? Connections, cliques, and compatibility between countries in the Eurovision Song Contest” published in the scientific publisher Elsevier’s serial Physica A. (Vol. 360, No. 2, 2006, 576-598; British Library 6475.010000). However, not every author feels the love which Conchita Wurst refers to, as shown by S. Coleman’s article “ Why is the Eurovision Song Contest Ridiculous? Exploring a Spectacle of Embarrassment, Irony and Identity” in Popular communication (Vol 6, No. 3, 2008, 127-140; 6550.310000)
But whether they come to love or to mock, millions across the continent will be sitting down this Saturday evening to watch the contest once again.
Janet Zmroczek, Head of European and Americas Collections
Media, nationalism and European identities / edited by Miklós Sükösd, Karol Jakubowicz, (Budapest, 2011) YD.2011.a.8708
A song for Europe: popular music and politics in the Eurovision Song Contest / edited by Ivan Rakoff and Robert Deam Tobin (Aldershot, 2007) YC.2007.a.15111
John Kennedy O’Connor, The Eurovision Song Contest: the official history. (London, 2007) YK.2008.b.3530
Jan Feddersen, Merci, Jury: die Geschichte des Grand Prix Eurovision de la chanson. (Vienna, 2000) YA.2002.a.7182
K. Sieg , “Cosmopolitan empire: Central and Eastern Europeans at the Eurovision Song Contest” European journal of cultural studies. (Vol 16, No. 2, 2013), 244-226. ZC.9.a.5325
Eurovision Song Contest 60th Anniversary Conference – webcast http://www.eurovision.tv/page/webtv?program=129423
SQS 2/2007 : Queer Eurovision/ Guest Editors: Mikko Tuhkanen & Annamari Vänskä http://www.helsinki.fi/jarj/sqs/sqs2_07/sqs_contents2_07.html
24 April 2015
Type the word “Chernobyl” into our online catalogue, and a few thousand results will come for your attention. Unsurprisingly most of them will be scientific articles in academic journals and papers from international conferences as in the 29 years since the Chernobyl disaster a lot has been done by the world scientific community to assess the tragic event on 26 April 1986 and its consequences in all aspects. Articles and books have been published in many countries in various languages. At the moment 13 theses about Chernobyl from universities in the United Kingdom are listed in our catalogue.
In addition our Belarusian and Ukrainian Collections offer researchers ethnographical studies of the region of Polesia which was most severely affected by the catastrophe, as well as valuable albums of photographs by intrepid journalists who regularly visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In the Zone they take pictures of the rich wildlife there and of people who refused to leave their ancestral land and continued living in the contaminated places (they are called samosely).
For the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the catastrophe Ukrainian photographers published the album Imennia zori Chornobyl (‘The star is called Chornobyl’; Kyiv, 1996; YA.2001.b.4323) and five years later the bilingual album Chornobyl: chas podolannia = Chornobyl: time of overcoming (Kyiv, 2001; LB.31.a.9541). British independent photographer John Darwell travelled to the Exclusion Zone and produced a memorable album entitled Legacy. Photographs inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Stockport, 2001; LB.31.a.10507).
One of the most impressive albums was published in 2006 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the catastrophe by the well-known Belarusian photographer, ethnographer and publisher Dzianis Ramaniuk with the title and text in three languages: Charnobyl / Chernobyl / Tschernobyl (Minsk, 2006; LF.37.b.78) It contains outstanding colour and black-and-white photographs by Ihar Byshniou, Anatol Kliashchuk and Dzianis Ramaniuk. The album gives a comprehensive overview of the nature and history of the region and its inhabitants. The German photographer Rüdiger Lubricht took pictures of abandoned villages and of samosely and of people who were involved in dealing with the immediate results of the catastrophe (Verlorene Orte. Gebrochene Biografien (Dortmund, 2012) LF.31.a.4052). The most recent photographic album by German photographer Gerd Ludwig (he visited the Chernobyl area nine times in recent 20 years), The long shadow of Chernobyl/Der lange Schatten von Tschernobyl/L'Ombre de Tchernobyl (Baden, 2014 [Awaiting shelfmark]) with an essay by Mikhail Gorbachev has already been acquired for the British Library.
This great catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale inspired poets from various countries – from Belarus to Wales and Venezuela – to reflect about it and the future of the nuclear energy.
A poet from Venezuela, Lucila Velasquez (1928-2009), was one of the first to write a long poem El Arbol de Chernobyl = Tree of Chernobyl (Caracas, 1989; YA.1993.a.6858) based on her meditation about the catastrophe and the future of humankind. Poems by Belarusian authors were collected in the anthology Zorka Palyn (Minsk, 1993; YA.2000.a.14105). In Britain, poet and environmentalist Mario Petrucci published two poetry books: Half life: Poems for Chernobyl (Coventry, 2004; YK.2006.a.9836) dedicated to the prominent Belarusian writer and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich) and Heavy water: A poem for Chernobyl (London, 2004; YK.2005.a.16818). Some of these poems can be found here. Later two versions of a documentary film were made based on Petrucci’s poem: Heavy Water: A film for Chernobyl and a shorter version called Half Life: A journey to Chernobyl. They were shown at various festivals (one of reviews is available here).
The Ukrainian poet, translator and journalist Liubov Sirota, who is a native of Pripyat and witnessed the catastrophe with her own eyes, writes extensively on the subject. Some of her poems are accessible online. The title of my blog which just touches on our vast collection about Chernobyl derives from Sirota’s poem “To an Angel of Pripyat”. The poem is dedicated to the talented young pianist Olenka Chemezova, who died from cancer in the summer of 1995. It was published in a photo album of the same name. The poet imagines that the ghost city of Pripyat is returning to life through the magic touch of the young pianist:
The darkened eye sockets of dead buildings
will once again be filled with the heat of human beings…
The city will hold its breath for a moment
while you descend into your house…
And again a thousand voices from the street
will begin to sound the former daily happenings…
as though everyone were alive, and all had returned,
as though the city were still alive….
(Translated from the Russian by Liubov Sirota and Debra Romanick Baldwin)
Liubov Sirota worked together with Rolland Sergienko to create the film Porog (‘Threshhold’) about Chernobyl. The British Library does not hold many DVDs from Eastern Europe, but it has a DVD of the Belarusian film-maker Viktor Korzun’s, Verytsʹ tolʹki vetru: Charnobylʹ 20 hadoŭ paslia (Minsk, 2007; EF.2013.x.26)
Music is another powerful vehicle to express the human pain and horror caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. Some specimens of musical works about Chernobyl are available in our Sound collections: from Chernobyl by Blanck Mass and Chernobyl Rain by Hibbs (Gong) to orchestral music (Chernobyl by Nancy van de Vate, performed by the Polish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra). New musical works about Chernobyl are created every year. It is heart-warming to find out that on Sunday 26 April 2015 the London-based Ukrainian composer Alla Sirenko will present the premiere of her own work in London dedicated to the victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Olga Kerziouk, Curator Belarusian and Ukrainian studies
Aleksievich, Svetlana. Voices from Chernobyl: chronicle of the future. Normall, Il., 2005. m05/30342
Medvedev, Zhores A. The legacy of Chernobyl. Nottingham, 2011. YC.2012.a.15740
Mycio, Mary. Wormwood Forest: a natural history of Chernobyl. Washington, D.C., 2005. YC.2006.a.10733
Park, Chris C. Chernobyl. The Long Shadow. London, 1989. YC.1989.a.6423
Read, Piers Paul. Ablaze: the story of Chernobyl. London,1993. YK.1995.a.2707
Shcherbak, Iurii. Chernobyl: a documentary story (translated from the Ukrainian by Ian Press; foreword by David R. Morples). Basingstoke,1989. YC.1989.a.8562 and 89/12279.
16 March 2015
In 1914 the Russian theatre director Vlesovod Meyerhold set up a theatre magazine which he called Liubov’ k trem apel’sinam (The Love for Three Oranges). At this time Meyerhold was interested in the traditions of the Commedia dell'arte, rethinking them for contemporary theatrical reality. His theoretical concepts of the “conditional theatre” were elaborated in his book O teatre (On Theatre; shelfmark 11795.p.12) in 1913. The new magazine was named after Carlo Gozzi’s play Amore delle tre melarance (1761) which he created as a polemic against the then extremely popular Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. It started a tradition of Italian plays called fiabe – improvisations loosely based on a fairy-tale plot where the conflict between good and evil is shown by means of Commedia dell'arte. The publication Liubov’ k trem apel’sinam had the subtitle Zhurnal doktora Dapertutto (‘Dr Dapertutto’s magazine’).
Dr Dapertutto was Meyerhold’s pseudonym, suggested to him by the poet and composer Mikhail Kuzmin with whom Meyehold worked on one of the Komisarzhevskaia theatre productions in St Petersburg. Cover designs were made by the theatre designers and artists Iurii Bondi (see more of his works here) and Aleksandr Golovin.
Between 1914 and 1916 nine issues of the magazine were published. The print run was very small, between 300 and 500 copies and the first and prime subscribers were family members and friends. Aleksandr Blok, one of the most influential among Russian Symbolist poets, was responsible for the poetry section. In the articles published in the magazine, Meyerhold and his like-minded friends and colleagues discussed new approaches to the history and theory of theatre and promoted their new Theatre-Studio where Meyerhold taught his bio-mechanical system of acting. A full digital archive of this rare magazine is now freely available online.
In the first issue of the magazine Meyerhold published a theatre scenario Liubov’ k trem apel’sinam (‘The Love for Three Oranges’) based on Carlo Gozzi’s fiabe. Meyerhold’s co-authors were the poet Konstantin Vogak (1887-1938), who was at some point in correspondence with Blok, knew Anna Akhmatova and Nikolay Gumilev and later emigrated and died in Nice, and Vladimir Nikolaevich Solov’ev, one of the leading and most popular theatre directors in Leningrad in the 1920s, who died in 1941 during the siege of Leningrad.
When in April 1918 Sergey Prokofiev was commissioned to write an opera, he mentioned it to Meyerhold who immediately gave him the first issue of the magazine. In his diaries Prokofiev wrote: “Read The Love for Three Oranges. It is wonderful! Something could really be done with it, except that the plot would need to be completely rewritten. The music should be clear, lively, and as simple as it can be made” (Prokofiev, 2006. p. 273).
In the Prokofiev family archives there is a photograph taken in 1919 that shows Sergey Prokofiev, Boris Anisfeld who designed the sets for the first performance of the opera in Chicago, and Adolph Bolm, a Russian-born dancer and choreographer, a one-time member of Diaghilev’s company, who was helping Prokofiev while he was on his first trip to America. The photograph is reproduced in the edition of Prokofiev’s diaries published in Paris in 2002 (YF.2012.a.11414; p. 27)
To see this image and many more rare and fascinating items from the British Library collections on Russian music theatre and art, join us on 19th March at a private view at the British Library organised in cooperation with the London Jewish Cultural Centre.
Sergey Prokofiev, Diaries / translated and annotated by Anthony Phillips. (London; Ithaca, N.Y., 2006- ). YC.2007.a.1259 (vol. 1); YC.2009.a.11249 (vol. 2); YC.2013.a.14822 (vol. 3).
Meyerhold on theatre. Translated and edited with a critical commentary by Edward Braun. (London, 1969) X.900/4423
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead East European Curator (Russian)
17 December 2014
When in the 1690s the Académie Française was rocked by the so-called Querelle des anciens et des modernes between two factions headed by Nicolas Boileau and Charles Perrault respectively, history might have regarded it as a short-lived conflict unlikely to have much lasting influence on the development of French culture. However, in a society with a long tradition of respect for classical learning and its place within the educational system, it was never completely extinguished, and continued to flare up in the most unlikely places – such as the Paris comic opera stage.
By 1858, when the restriction limiting the number of performers in such productions to three was finally lifted, Jacques Offenbach (1819-1860) had already achieved considerable success in the small theatre which he had leased at his own expense, the Salle Choiseul, to accommodate his troupe, the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, when unable to make a breakthrough at the Opéra-Comique. His tastes, though, ran towards the lavish, and once free of the previous limitations he set about engaging a cast of 20 principals and making plans to stage his latest work, Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld).
It success exceeded all his dreams, but not, perhaps, for the reasons which he had anticipated. Most unlike Monteverdi’s Orfeo or Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, it presents the hero not as a noble tragic figure descending to the realm of Hades to rescue his beloved wife but as a lackadaisical violin teacher whose wife is driven distracted by his trills and arpeggios, so that her abduction by the sinister king of the underworld, disguised as a shepherd, comes as a relief to both. Indeed, it was so far removed from the marmoreal world of classical antiquity that it provoked a furious outcry in the pages of the Journal des débats and Le Figaro. No voice was louder than that of the critic Jules Janin, who accused Offenbach of making a mockery of the austere values of Roman mythology so revered by the great figures of the Revolution. Behind this, though, lay a more contemporary target for satire – no less than the figure of the Emperor Napoleon III and his court in the guise of Jupiter (familiarly tagged as ‘Jupin’, i.e. Joops) and his entourage. The notoriety, as much as the sparkling music and witty libretto by Hector Crémieux, did wonders for the box-office takings, and in April 1860 the emperor himself ordered a command performance – and presumably was not disappointed, as that year he made a personal grant of French citizenship to the Cologne-born Offenbach, followed in 1861 by the Légion d’honneur.
Inspired by this success, Offenbach proceeded to tackle another classical subject, the story of Helen of Troy, in La belle Hélène. The librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy showed no more respect for their theme than their predecessor Crémieux, and fell foul of the censor for their portrayal of the Grand Augur, Calchas, which was viewed as an attack on the clergy. Pompous and hypocritical, Calchas cheats outrageously while gambling, and was at one point intended to fall into the water until the censor insisted that this was taking irreverence too far. Nor do Agamemnon, Menelaus and the other heroes fare any better; they appear as a gang of ridiculous blockheads who are easily trounced by the debonair ‘shepherd’ Paris (‘l’homme à la pomme’) in a series of word-games designed to sharpen the dull wits of the Greeks.
Most startlingly of all, perhaps, Orestes makes his entrance as a precocious playboy, flanked by two good-time girls, Parthénis and Léoena, dancing in to the refrain ‘Tsing-la-la! Tsing-la-la! Oyé Kephalé, Kephalé oh-la-la!’ and intent on emptying his father’s coffers in the pursuit of pleasure. The role is sung by a soprano, and its creator, the all-too-aptly-named Léa Silly, proved a major headache to Offenbach. In a situation reminiscent of Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), a skit involving a hapless director and his two warring prima donnas which Offenbach had staged some years earlier, she antagonized the diva Hortense Schneider, a long-term star of the company who was cast as Helen, by upstaging and mimicking her, dancing a cancan behind her back as she sang a major aria, and so enraging Schneider that she threatened to quit not only the production but Paris altogether.
Yet despite these trials the first night went ahead on 17th December 1864 at the Théâtre des Variétés, delighting critics and public so much that it launched a run of 700 performances. Among its admirers was the famous chef Auguste Escoffier, who created a special dish in its honour – Poire Belle Hélène, a luscious confection of poached pears and vanilla ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and crystallized violets. Like the opera itself, it is a treat for the connoisseur – and certainly fit for an Emperor.
Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak
20 November 2014
During the summer I attended a cinema relay of a new production of Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace based on Tolstoy’s novel, broadcast live from the Mariinsky II Theatre, St Petersburg. Today's anniversary of Tolstoy's death (on 20 November 1910) seems an apt moment to reflect on this. The performance, conducted by Valery Gergiev, was directed by Graham Vick with set designs by Paul Brown. In Vick’s second production of War and Peace we are offered a postmodern version of the work with references to both early 19th century Russia and to a modern world of dissolution and drug-taking. The costumes range from 19th century military and court dress to modern designer label jackets and jeans.
Vick’s angle in this production is to show the penetration of elements of war into the “Peace” section of the opera and vice versa. Thus in the first part tanks move across the stage while the chorus are dancing in period costume with the addition of gas masks; and in the second part (entitled War) a board with the word “mir” (peace) is on the stage all the time (as if it were a goal to aim for). The treatment of war in the second part is generalised to include references not only to the Napoleonic wars but also to the First and Second World War s, the invading forces having elements of both German and French uniforms and helmets. The production also includes film clips of 20th century wars.
The treatment of the military leaders is interesting: while Napoleon changes from his imperial costume to modern dress, Kutuzov wears a similar period costume to the one worn in Vick’s earlier production in 1991 (he is also played by the same singer). Though, unlike the previous one, this Kutuzov goes out and fraternizes with the audience in a Brechtian fashion. Throughout there is a juxtaposition of the extremely colourful, conveying an intense feeling for life, and a more austere black and white, evoking a feeling of spiritual desolation. One striking use of colour is the yellow screen above a modern washroom. (You can see some images from the production here)
The relay also gave us an opportunity to experience the inside of the new Mariinsky II theatre with its splendid interior and acoustics. The vocal and orchestral performances of this performance under Gergiev were up to the Mariinsky’s usual high standard. I do hope this production will be released on DVD to complement Vick’s already highly valued earlier production. If you are interested in Tolstoy and music take a look at the British Library web pages written for the centenary of Tolstoy’s death in 2010. These include sections on Tolstoy’s attitude towards music and contemporary composers together with lists of musical adaptations of Tolstoy’s works (scores and recordings held by the British Library). They also include information on early and rare editions of Tolstoy’s works held by the British Library.
Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies
03 November 2014
The Friends of the British Library celebrate 25 years of support for the Library this year. To mark this special occasion, the British Library and British Museum Singers are holding a concert dedicated to the Friends of the British Library. The concert, on Thursday 13 November, will include excerpts from Brahms’ German Requiem in the composer’s own arrangement for piano duet, together with a selection of his Zigeunerlieder (‘Gypsy Songs’). This free lunchtime concert will take place in St Pancras Parish Church (opposite Euston Station) from 1.15 p.m. It will be conducted by Peter Hellyer and accompanied by Giles Ridley and Christopher Scobie.
The Friends are justly proud of their support for the British Library, and particularly for their contributions in the field of the Library’s music acquisitions. The acquisition in 2002 0f the archive of the Royal Philharmonic Society was significant, as the archive has been described as the single most important source for the history of music in England in the 19th century. The entire archive was digitised as part of the Nineteenth Century Collections Online database and can be viewed in the Library’s Reading Rooms.
The choice of Brahms’ German Requiem as the centrepiece for the concert is particularly apt since it was first performed in Great Britain by the Philharmonic Society in 1873. It is a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, and soloists, composed between 1865 and 1868. This sacred but non liturgical work has seven movements of which the Singers will perform the first five. Partial performances of the work also occurred during the course of its composition: the first three movements were performed in 1867 and six movements were performed in Bremen in 1868. Brahms added the fifth movement in May 1868 and the first performance of the complete work took place in Leipzig in 1869.
An alternative version of the work was also prepared by Brahms to be performed as a piano duet, four hands on one piano. This version also incorporates the vocal parts, suggesting that it was intended as a self-contained version probably for at-home use, but the vocal parts can also be omitted, making the duet version an acceptable substitute accompaniment for choir and soloists in circumstances where a full orchestra is unavailable. The first complete performance of the Requiem in London, in July 1871 at the home of Sir Henry Thompson and his wife, the pianist Kate Loder, utilized this piano-duet accompaniment.
The Zigeunerlieder with words translated into German from Hungarian folk-songs by Hugo Conrat were originally composed in 1887 set for a vocal quartet (or choir) and piano. In the summer of 1888 Brahms produced an abbreviated version for solo voice as well. The Singers will perform a selection combining the two types of arrangement. A manuscript score of the arrangement for four voices and piano is held by the British Library in the Zweig collection . It is written in black ink with additional annotations by the composer in pencil and blue crayon mostly intended for the copyist. The Zweig collection was a gift to the British Library from the Heirs of Stefan Zweig, its presentation being accompanied by a series of concerts supported by the Friends.
Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies and Ed King, Former Head of British Library Newspaper Collections
The first page of the Zigeunerlieder manuscript, British Library Zweig MS.20
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