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We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

27 May 2020

Lockdown piano: the pedagogical works of Muzio Clementi

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A piano-playing theme is emerging from the Coronavirus lockdown, with several famous names playing online, or mentioning that they are learning to play, including actor Anthony Hopkins, footballer Nathan Aké, and rugby union player Tom Curry. For anyone with time for a little extra practice, this seems a good time to visit the pedagogical works of the pianist and composer Muzio Clementi.

Clementi was born in Rome in 1752. Moving to England at the age of 14, he spent the rest of his life either in London or travelling extensively in France, Germany and Russia. A simple list of his professional activities does not convey the significance of his achievement in each area. As a publisher, he was the first to publish the works of Beethoven in England, including some first editions; as a teacher, he influenced many important pianists of the next generation; his piano manufacturing firm introduced technical innovations, and his compositions, although overshadowed by those of more famous composers, are still played and admired 200 years on.

Engraved portrait of Muzio Clementi holding a score
Muzio Clementi by Henry Richard Cook, after James Lonsdale stipple engraving, published 1833 NPG D9341 © National Portrait Gallery, London

As a composer, Clementi had most success with his keyboard music, writing sonatas, variations, suites, preludes and fugues and technical piano studies, and his best known publication Gradus ad Parnassum (1817, 1819, 1826) is a large compilation of these works.

His periods of travel were spent in promoting the Clementi firm’s pianos, making contacts with composers for his publishing business, and teaching. Both in England and abroad, he had professional pupils like J.B. Cramer, John Field, Ludwig Berger (later Mendelssohn’s teacher), Carl Zeuner and Frédéric Kalkbrenner (later briefly a teacher of Chopin). He also taught amateur players, and it was for this market that his educational works were written. In London he was in great demand as a piano teacher in the early 1790s, despite the lapse in his performing career caused by the great popularity of the music of the new arrival, Haydn.

His 1801 piano method, Introduction to the art of playing on the piano forte (British Library g.303.(3.), is one of the first instruction books specifically for the piano, which, as a relatively new instrument, was just beginning to supersede the harpsichord. It contains extracts from the works of other composers such as Handel, Corelli, Mozart and Beethoven, graded in difficulty, as well as instructional text. It begins with the basics (with a hint to the note-learning beginner to ignore the ‘short notes’ of the keyboard except as guides to the eye) and moves on to detailed information about theory, technique, style and expression for the more difficult pieces. The instructions are addressed directly to the pupil, with a serious and uncompromising assumption of a high level of understanding and application. For example, at the foot of one fingering study is the comment ‘Most of the passages fingered for the right hand, may, by the ingenuity and industry of the pupil, become models for the left.’ There is certainly no ‘dumbing down’ here!

Introduction to the art of playing on the piano forte quickly appeared in French and German translations. Publications aimed at intermediate and advanced students followed, and Clementi’s educational music became well known.

Among these pedagogical works are the easy Six progressive sonatinas op. 36, first published in 1797, which are still in use as teaching pieces, with a new edition appearing as recently as 2017.

TItle page of Clementi's Six progressive sonatinas op.36 for piano
Title page of Muzio Clementi’s Six Progressive Sonatinas op.36. Shelfmark: g.132.(4.)
Opening page of Clementi's Six progressive sonatinas op.36 for piano
Page 1 of Muzio Clementi’s Six Progressive Sonatinas op.36. Shelfmark: g.132.(4.)

The respectful attitude to the learner observable in the Introduction to the art of playing on the piano forte is also in evidence in the quality of the musical construction of these mini-sonatas; they are pieces which are not just possible but also satisfying for elementary pianists to play. Recommended for lockdown pianists everywhere!

Caroline Shaw

Printed & Manuscript Music Processing & Cataloguing Team Manager


Leon Plantinga: ‘Clementi, Muzio’. Grove Music Online., accessed 14 May 2020.

Margaret Cranmer and Peter Ward Jones: ‘Clementi’. Grove Music Online., accessed 14 May 2020

Clementi Society:, accessed 15 May 2020.

14 May 2020

Ernst Roth and the ‘Business of Music’

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Ernst Roth (1896–1971) might never have worked for Boosey & Hawkes, nor even have lived in Britain at all, had it not been for the foresight of Leslie Boosey and Ralph Hawkes amid the falling darkness of the late 1930s.  Papers in the Boosey & Hawkes archive (MS Mus. 1813) record the tale.

Roth had studied law, philosophy and music in his home city of Prague, and after earning his doctorate he moved to Vienna in 1922, joining the publishers Universal Edition.  Here, having found his vocation as a music publisher, he might have expected to spend his whole career.  But then came the Nazi Anschluss of 1938.  On March 12th that year, Austria was annexed and subjugated by Hitler’s regime.  With breathtaking speed a ‘commissar’ was appointed to ‘control’ Universal Edition: that is, to Nazify it. [1] Roth, along with his colleagues Alfred Kalmus and Erwin Stein, being Jewish, were immediate targets.  Not three weeks later, on March 31st, he was, in his own matter-of-fact words, ‘discharged on account of my non-arian origin’. [2]

Typescript extract from Dr. Ernst Roth’s Curriculum Vitae
Extract from Dr. Ernst Roth’s Curriculum Vitae, 1938. (Temporary reference MS Mus. 1813, box BA23, file 69.3.). © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

In London, Ralph Hawkes and Leslie Boosey were already swinging into action, planning a piece of shrewd businessmanship that also served as a bold rescue operation.  Boosey went to Vienna and, with the blessing of Jella Hertzka, the widow of the founder of Universal Edition, secured the services of Roth and Stein for Universal Edition's London branch (which Kalmus had already established in 1936).  Boosey also bought up all the shares in that subsidiary firm and obtained rights for most of Universal Edition’s catalogue.  Roth, Stein and Kalmus were given permission to take up residence in Britain, and in September started work in their new positions: Nazi Vienna’s loss was London’s gain.

Handwritten letter by Ernst Roth
‘It is urgent to get out from here!’ Letter of 13 August 1940 from Ernst Roth, interned in Prees Heath Camp, Shropshire, to Leslie Boosey. (MS Mus. 1813/2/1/279/1). © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

Even on British soil their troubles were not over, however.  In July 1941, in common with many other overseas nationals, the three men found themselves interned as ‘Enemy Aliens’, being separated from their families and sent to camps in Shropshire or on the Isle of Man.  Letters in the archive tell of the lengths to which the firm – Leslie Boosey in particular – had to go in order to have them released.  At one point Boosey even asked the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams for help in pleading Roth’s case with the Home Office. [3]  All three were eventually released after nearly six months’ internment.

Copy letter from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Vaughan Williams
Copy letter of 11 October 1940 from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams was heavily involved in efforts to release foreign musicians who had been interned as ‘Enemy Aliens’. (MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/6). © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

Once settled, though, Roth committed the rest of his career to Boosey & Hawkes, remaining in continuous service until his retirement in 1964.  Rising to the position of Managing Director, he took charge of correspondence with composers and members of the public, scanned the horizon for infringements of copyright, and superintended the Music Department’s various divisions with a hawk’s eye.  Helen Wallace, in her history of Boosey & Hawkes, describes a ‘ruthlessly commercial’ man with ‘a razor sharp mind and the old-world charm to bring the grandest composers to heel’. [4] With Rufina Ampenoff (originally his assistant and later head of the Symphonic and Operatic department) he formed a formidable double-act.

Photograph of Ernst Roth
Dr. Ernst Roth in the late 1950s or early 1960s. (Mus. Dep. 2017/19). ©Fayer

Without fear or favour he defended his company’s interests in the world of music. ‘I am afraid copyright is a matter which does not admit sentimental considerations’, he wrote to the organisers of the Edinburgh Festival in May 1960, informing them that the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra’s own instrumental parts, being unauthorised, could not be used during their forthcoming appearance in Britain: ‘Even Russian visitors owe obedience to the law in this country’. [5] He was keenly aware of the commercial value of music and its fickle fluctuations: in the 1960s Benjamin Lees was told that there was ‘very little that can be done’ with string quartets, regardless of their quality.  And within the company, too, Roth ran a tight ship: ‘In the last few months the general discipline has markedly declined’, reads an internal memorandum from September 1961; ‘[…] I like to believe that discipline among adults is a matter of self-respect and need not be enforced. However, I would have no alternative but to enforce it if this request […] remains without the expected response’. [6]

Typescript circular to the Music Department of Boosey & Hawkes
Circular to the Music Department of Boosey & Hawkes, 21 September 1961 (MS Mus. 1813/2/1/164/10.). ©Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

Outwardly, the man himself may have appeared no more inclined to ‘admit sentimental considerations’ than the principles of copyright.  But he was no philistine, and he knew his own mind when it came to musical judgement.  He placed Britten’s War Requiem ‘among the most outstanding works ever written at any time’, [7] and his memoirs, published after his retirement in 1964, reveal that his long years in ‘The Business of Music’ had not extinguished his love of music for its own sake, nor his belief in its value to humanity:  ‘Although I am at home in serious music I have a deep respect for music as a harbinger of joy. Let no one rob it of this precious gift!’ [8]

Dominic Newman

Manuscripts Cataloguer


[1] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/215/3.

[2] Business Affairs series (currently uncatalogued). Temporary reference MS Mus. 1813, box BA23, file 69.3.

[3] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/6.

[4] Wallace, Helen, Boosey & Hawkes: the publishing story (London: Boosey & Hawkes, 2007), p. 20.

[5] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/121/8.

[6] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/164/10.

[7] MS Mus. 1813/2/2/6/4.

[8] Roth, Ernst. The Business of Music (London: Cassel, 1969), p. 244.

29 April 2020

Welsh hymn festivals – ‘singing from the heart’

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From the last decade of the 19th century until the 1980s, the British Library steadily acquired, through a mixture of purchase, donation and legal deposit, a collection of about a hundred programmes relating to the cymanfa ganu (plural cymanfaoedd canu) or Welsh hymn singing festival. Due to lack of cataloguing resources through the years, information about these has never been publicly available. However, they have now been catalogued and will be made available for consultation.

The programmes are essentially collections of hymns, psalms and anthems, to be sung at annual festivals. They are ephemeral publications, designed to be used on a particular occasion; the next year’s gathering would have a new booklet with a new selection of hymns. They are chiefly in tonic sol-fa notation, or in a mixture of sol-fa and staff notation. On the front is printed the date, time and place of the gathering, its sponsoring body (generally a choral union of the religious denomination concerned), and details of the musical director, organist, adjudicators and secretary. There may also be instructions regarding times of rehearsals, attendance requirements and behaviour at rehearsals, a syllabus of topics on which children are to be examined, and statements of accounts relating to the previous year’s event.

So what was, or is, a cymanfa ganu? It is a gathering for the singing of hymns, traditional in Welsh Nonconformist churches, in which the whole congregation participates, singing in four-part harmony. Beginning in the mid-19th century with a desire to improve standards in congregational singing, the tradition continues to the present day in Wales and as a marker of Welsh identity in other countries where Welsh people have settled, notably the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina. The singing is directed by a conductor and is whole-hearted; the style is described variously by hearers as ‘devotional’, ‘majestic’, ‘grand’. Participants describe the gathering as being characterised by hwyl (emotional or religious fervour within the singing). If the communal mood demands, the end of a hymn will be repeated several times, heightening the emotional and spiritual intensity of the experience.

Singers at a cymanfa ganu.
Singers at a cymanfa ganu. Photo reproduced with permission by The Van Wert Independent.

Essentially the assembly is an act of worship. However, it has also always had a social aspect. In an oral history account, described by Helen Barlow[1], Gwen Davies (born 1896) remembers the cymanfa ganu of her childhood as a significant and exciting religious and social event, for which everyone made sure they had new clothes! Pre-First World War newspapers carry detailed reports on cymanfaoedd canu as social occurrences: for example, The Welshman reports on the 28th October 1910 that at the annual cymanfa ganu of Welsh Congregationalists of Carmarthen and district, the children’s and adult choirs numbered jointly 1000 voices; there was a string band, including trumpeters, and the children, after being catechised, ‘sat down to a sumptuous tea!’[2]

Images of a cymanfa ganu associated with the National Eisteddfod of 1963. The National Library of Wales.


The cymanfa ganu also in earlier times often included lectures on musical topics and examinations in music for children and adults.  It was therefore a gathering which combined social, educational and religious purposes.

Its origin can be traced in the work of itinerant singing teachers in the 18th century, who laid the foundations for Yr Ysgol Gân (the weekly singing school). In the early 19th century, precentors were appointed by churches keen to improve the quality of congregational singing. Godfrey Wyn Williams[1] gives the example of the Baptist chapel at Penycae, which appointed Owen y Cantwr its codwr canu or precentor in 1826. He introduced week-night practices so that the congregation which had previously sung in unison could learn to sing in parts. This involved the precentor in hours of note-copying (pricio), due to the prohibitive cost of printed music at that time. Not everyone was enthusiastic, however, about such advances. Some older Calvinistic Methodist chapel members were apparently annoyed by three- and four-part singing, believing that ‘such activity encouraged the young to become too frivolous and materialistic’ (Williams, p. 59).

An important figure in the development of church music was Ieuan Gwyllt (1822-1877), who published a collection of hymn tunes strongly influenced by German chorales, Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol, in 1859. Gwyllt believed that everyone should sing, and everyone should sing in harmony. This hymnal, and the assembly which he organised to mark its publication, aided the development of the four-part congregational singing which became a feature of the Welsh musical tradition.

The Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol by Ieuan Gwyllt (1859). The National Library of Wales.


Another vital contribution was the success of the Tonic Sol-fa system of music notation (created by John Curwen in about 1842). Liverpool-based musician Eleazar Roberts promoted the system in Wales in the 1860s and it quickly became an accepted teaching method in schools and chapels. The text-based notation was cheap to print, and its availability fostered widespread sight-singing ability and enthusiasm. Cymanfaoedd canu then became occasions for the examination of candidates for the certificate of the Tonic Sol-fa College.

Not all of this musical activity was so inclusive, and the noble aim of focus on worship was often not present. Inter-denominational choral competitions were fiercely contested, and deplored by some writers. From the 1870s, however, congregational singing, ‘singing from the heart’, grew in popularity under the influence of the religious revival campaign of American evangelists Moody and Sankey and the approachable melodies they introduced.

The cymanfa ganu remained popular up until the First World War, but its story after that is not so easy to trace. These British Library holdings are evidence of the continuation of the hymn festival phenomenon, its development, context and repertoire, throughout the 20th century.

Caroline Shaw

Printed & Manuscript Music Processing & Cataloguing Team Manager


[1] Williams, Godfrey Wyn (2011). Praise and performance. Congregational and choral music in the Nonconformist chapels of North-east Wales and Liverpool during the 19th century. PhD Thesis, Bangor University.

[1] Barlow, Helen (2019). ‘Praise the Lord! We are a musical nation’: the Welsh working classes and religious singing. Nineteenth-Century Music Review (In Press).

[2] ‘Cymanfa ganu at Carmarthen’. The Welshman, 28 October 1910. [accessed 7 April 2020], <>