Music blog

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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

05 July 2019

The Susan Bradshaw Papers: Archive of an Insightful Communicator

The archive of Susan Bradshaw (1931-2005) is now catalogued and available for consultation in the Library’s Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Proceeds from the British Library's purchase of the archive went towards the Royal Philharmonic Society's establishment of the Susan Bradshaw Composers’ Fund, as arranged by Brian Elias, composer and Bradshaw's close friend.

Susan Bradshaw at the piano_MS Mus.1755-6-1
Susan Bradshaw, London, September 1971. © Unknown photographer
(BL MS Mus. 1755/6/1, f. 30)

Susan Bradshaw pianist, teacher and writer on music, was born in Monmouth on 8 September 1931. After spending time in India and Egypt during her childhood, where her father’s work in the army had taken their family, Bradshaw embarked on learning piano and violin. She later studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Harold Craxton (piano) and Howard Ferguson (composition). Then, in 1957, Bradshaw seized the chance to expand her musical world, taking up a French Government Scholarship to study composition with modernist figurehead, Pierre Boulez, and Max Deutsch in Paris.

Bradshaw’s student ID card_MS Mus.1755-4-3
One of Susan Bradshaw’s student ID cards for her French Government Scholarship year
(BL MS Mus. 1755/4/3, f. 259)

That year in France proved a catalyst for melding musical partnerships and alliances. Bradshaw formed a piano duo with her close friend Richard Rodney Bennett, and the Mabillon Trio with Philip Jones (oboe) and William Bennett (flute). However, the year in France signalled the decline of her activity as a composer, and on her return to the UK, Bradshaw moved her energy to accompaniment and performance.

Bradshaw was an ardent advocate of new music. She helped contemporary composers by including them in ensemble programming, promoting new works with first performances and using broadcasts to share what she recognised as important and progressive about such music. Concert ephemera, cuttings from radio show advertisements and draft programme scripts in her papers record her efforts and enthusiasm.

Composers’ Guild of Great Britain award_MS Mus.1755-4-4
The Composers’ Guild of Great Britain presented Susan Bradshaw with a special award of Instrumentalist of the Year, for her services to the music of living British composers. (BL MS Mus. 1755/4/4, f. 209)

Inside Bradshaw’s Archive

Bradshaw’s archive reflects the breadth of her own musical experience and contains:

  • Draft scores of over thirty of Bradshaw’s compositions, largely from the period 1951-1958
  • Drafts of her writings on music, on individual composers/works/musical aesthetics
  • A collection of printed materials compiled by Bradshaw into composer information files
  • Scrapbooks and collected programmes, tracing Bradshaw’s musical career
  • Select correspondence from composers and friends
  • A box of 60th birthday tributes: musical compositions, letters and cards
  • Publicity photographs and documents relating to her wider musical involvements.
The Mabillon Trio by Milein Cosman_1755-4-3
The Mabillon Trio, drawn by Milein Cosman (Susan Bradshaw, piano; Philip Jones, oboe; William Bennet, flute). (BL MS Mus. 1755/4/3, f. 3: Mabillon Trio programme)

Related Resources at the British Library

Many items in the British Library Sound Archive complement and enhance the vibrant resource of Bradshaw’s paper archive. Examples include:

  • A recording of Bradshaw’s Eight Hungarian Folksongs, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1978. Catalogue reference: M7663.
  • Susan Bradshaw’s talk with recorded illustrations, In search of Pierre Boulez, given at the National Sound Archive in their Spring Lectures, 1985. Catalogue reference: B627/1.
  • A recording of an event dedicated to the music and literary work of Lord Berners, Lord Berners: an entertainment in words and music, 1972. Susan Bradshaw and John Betjeman both performed at this. Catalogue reference: T706, M5087.
  • William Bennett and Susan Bradshaw performing Boulez’s Sonatine for flute and piano. Catalogue reference: 2LP0048923; 1LP0073897.

Translating the ‘Shapes and Sounds’ of Composers’ Imaginings [1]

Bradshaw was well-positioned to act as a mediator between composers and audiences. She had a deep understanding of musical composition, performance and analysis, and used her knowledge of all three to interpret the works she encountered and to bring composers’ imaginings to life. Bradshaw believed that these three strands of musical endeavour were inter-related, and mutually nourishing. She appreciated that each was essential for advanced musical understanding, and furthermore, that the true product of this understanding was the communication of meaning. Whether that communication was musical (in performance), linguistic (for example, in academic writing), or pedagogical, Bradshaw saw the need to balance emotional experience with enquiry:

Passionate involvement precedes – must precede – cool appraisal; but when narcissistic pleasure starts to cancel out enquiry, when the sense of striving to understand and to reveal ceases to be the outcome of delight, when wonder becomes complacency, then great art becomes commonplace in the mind of the beholder and creation and recreation lapse into mere repetition. [2]

Bradshaw’s influence on the musical world can be seen in the archive. To trace it, one might begin with her scrapbook programmes (signalling, for example, her involvement with the Darmstadt International Summer Courses) and move to the exchange of ideas with fellow musicians in her correspondence, before visiting the vividly-expressed opinions in her writings.

New Ways of Hearing: “Untuning the Tempered Scale” [3]

The catastrophic destruction brought about by two world wars permeated all aspects of social existence; many composers felt that the old musical systems were inadequate for the development of the art. In a parallel to the destruction of societal structures through war, it was as if the hierarchies of the diatonic tonal system had to be broken down also. Composers looked to expand the resources available to them – the boundaries between music and noise blurred, and the number of notes in the conventional system increased with experiments in microtonality.

As musical modernism turned from the tradition of western diatonic tonality, it wrenched audiences from their familiar sound worlds. To the modernist composers, the rules and patterns of diatonic harmony represented predictability and constraint. Bradshaw’s broadcasting demonstrates her use of radio as a medium to promote modern music but also to challenge audiences to question the nature of listening: Why do we listen to music? What function does it have in our lives? She strove to help listeners navigate contemporary music, pointing out features and techniques, and highlighting composers’ search for truth in music.

As an individual whose influence and reach in the contemporary classical music scene was extensive, and well-evidenced in her archive, it is fitting for her papers to sit alongside those of many composers and musicians who so appreciated her support, here at the British Library.


Sarah Ellis, Archivist and Cataloguer of the Susan Bradshaw Papers (MS Mus. 1755)


[1] Susan Bradshaw, untitled (London, British Library, MS Mus. 1755/2/3, f. 152, undated).

[2] Susan Bradshaw, draft letter to the editor of Music Analysis journal (London, British Library, MS Mus 1755/2/3 ff. 45-46, undated).

[3] Susan Bradshaw, untitled (London, British Library, MS Mus. 1755/2/3, f. 152, undated).

26 June 2019

Scratch Music

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Scratch Music I Scratch Music II

This is music for a scratch orchestra - this is Scratch Music!

On Tuesday 9 July we are holding an event exploring some of the musical scores created for and by The Scratch Orchestra. We are very pleased indeed to welcome several of the founding members of the ensemble, Michael Parsons, Howard Skempton and Carole Finer. They will be sharing some of their insights, and personal experiences of composing and performing in the group with Late Junction’s Max Reinhardt. Before that, Dr Jane Alden will introduce examples of the scores, and help us understand them in the context of experimental music making in the 1960s and 70s. What's more, there will also be plenty of opportunity to hear the sounds they represent, as pieces are performed in the foyer of the Knowledge Centre by the Vocal Constructivisits before, during and after the event - you will even have a chance to try things out for yourself!

Scratch orchestra scores-full spread
Compositions and Scratch Music


It’s 50 years this year since the Scratch Orchestra was founded, initiated in part by a rather ostentatious ‘draft constitution’ published by Cornelius Cardew in the pages of The Musical Times (the June 1969 issue). In that he set out a vision for an ensemble that would pool the resources (not necessarily, or even primarily, musical) of a large number of enthusiasts: “assembling for action (music-making, performance, edification)”. It grew out of the experimental music class that Cardew taught at Morley College, and it aimed for a democratic approach to music making, where trained musicians and people from non-musical backgrounds could take part in performances on an equal footing. The idea certainly attracted people from a range of different backgrounds, including visual artists, dancers and writers. Indeed many of the scores are striking as visual art works in their own right; some even create musical pieces that don’t involve sound!


Finer Magic Carpet
Part of Carole Finer's 'Magic Carpet', 1971.


Much of this built on movements in experimental music at the time, especially the work of John Cage, Christian Wolff, Karlheinz Stockhausen (at least in part - his text score for Aus den Sieben Tagen, for example) and the cross-disciplinary, performance-art work of the Fluxus community. But it was perhaps the democratic, communal and slightly anarchic element in the Scratch that made it distinctive, especially in the context of Britain at the time. They appeared (thanks to Victor Schonfeld’s ‘Music Now’ concert series) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and even at the Proms in 1972, but they also visited village halls, arts centres and civic buildings up and down the country. They received a call from the police (and perhaps more significantly the local press) in Newcastle, who were reacting to and, presumably inadvertently, realising Greg Bright’s Sweet FA which instructed performers to “act as obscenely as you can until the authorities arrive” - this eventually grew into a Scratch Orchestra opera, also called Sweet FA, that told the story of those events.

Ultimately the Scratch Orchestra was relatively short-lived, but its influence and something of its ethos have lived on into the present day. Several of the scores and pieces are now iconic examples of their kind – not least Cardew’s own The Great Learning, but also Howard Skempton’s Drum No. 1 and John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. The list of names involved with the group at different times is equally impressive: from Cardew himself, to Howard Skempton, Michael Nyman, Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, John Tilbury, and Tom Phillips.  


Great Learning Ode Machine 2
Part of 'Ode Machine 2' from The Great Learning, by Cornelius Cardew


Knowledge of the Scratch Orchestra will live on in the form of the archive it leaves behind - albeit in a way that is missing the crucial lived experience of what it was like to be there and take part. Here at the British Library we have an extensive collection of material relating to Cornelius Cardew in particular, including:

  • 48 volumes of manuscript scores from all periods in his life (Add MS 70727-70774)
  • sketches for some of the ‘Ode Machines’ that formed part of The Great Learning (Add MS 59799)
  • five notebooks and some loose manuscript leaves (MS Mus. 1741)

We also have a substantial set of papers currently being catalogued as MS Mus. 1817 (an update on that to follow soon
). This includes correspondence from throughout Cardew’s life, but especially around the time of the Scratch Orchestra.

In addition to all that, the Sound & Vision collections here have a number of interviews with former members of the Scratch Orchestra, all full of fascinating insights into the realities of the group.

In the end questions about the nature of these scores - how they convey musical ideas, and how they are interpreted - also raise more, even more fundamental, considerations about what it means to compose music, what a musical work is, and what parameters can be ‘fixed’ and conveyed for others to interpret. The Scratch’s democratic approach to communicating ideas, and empowering everyone to explore sound, seems to get to the heart of this ideas.

So, come along on the 9th July to find out more!



23 May 2019

Music notetaking and composers' thematic catalogues in the 18th century

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The Library’s current exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark features a famous Music collection item in the sub-section on Notetakers in the People and Writing section: Mozart’s catalogue of his own works, listing works he composed between 1784 and 1791 ─ just weeks before his death (Zweig MS 63). The manuscript is titled: VerzeichnĂŒss aller meiner Werke vom Monath Febrario 1784 bis Monath 1
  (Catalogue of all my works from the month February 1784 until the month 1

The catalogue was used as a notebook by Mozart for recording his music compositions, which he even carried with him when he travelled. Apart from the dates and titles Mozart also recorded other information about the works he listed, such as the instrumentation, the movements they consisted of, performers they were written for or first performed by, dedicatees, dates of first performances and other details.

The entries for each work listed were written on two pages. On the left-hand page Mozart would list the year, month, and even day a work was completed, in addition to the title of the work and any associated information. On the right-hand page he would write the opening bars of music for the corresponding entry on the left-hand page. The music was noted in order to aid the identification of each work, as most works had generic titles such as aria, sonata, quartet etc. making it impossible to distinguish between them from their titles alone. Even today it remains standard practice for scholars compiling composers’ thematic catalogues retrospectively, to record the opening bars of each musical work wherever possible. In addition, composers’ thematic catalogues today also include a unique identifier for each musical work, which for Mozart’s works, whose thematic catalogue was compiled by Ludwig von Köchel (1800-1877), consists of the letter K. from Köchel’s surname plus a number.

Each page in Mozart’s catalogue usually listed five works. The music for each work was written on two staves. In manuscript music notation staves were drawn using a tool called rastrum (plural rastra), which was a five-nibbed pen that was used for centuries for drawing music staves on paper. There also existed multi-nibbed rastra for drawing multiple staves at once.

The image below shows the pages that are currently on display at the Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition, which list entries for works composed between 16 December 1785 and 10 March 1786, namely Mozart’s Piano Concerto, K.482; his comic opera Der Schauspieldirector, K.486; his Piano Concerto K.488; a duet for the revised version of his opera Idomeneo, K.489; and two vocal pieces also for the revised version of Idomeneo, K.490.

British Library Zweig MS 63, f. 6v-7r

Also shown here are entries made a few years later, between December 1788 and April 1789 for comparison (f. 20v-21r). Note the slight difference in ink colour for each entry which reflects the difference in time of writing, and also the less carefull or hastier appearance of Mozart’s handwriting. The entries here are for his 12 Minuets for Orchestra, K.568; the aria Ohne Zwang, aus eignem Triebe, K.569 (a lost work); The Piano Sonata K.570; the 6 German Dances, K.571, and the Variations for piano on a Minuet by the cellist Jean Pierre Duport, K.573. At the end of the page Mozart also made a note for the arrangement that he made of Handel’s Messiah, K.572.

British Library Zweig MS 63, f. 20v-21r

The manuscript has been digitised and is available to view online on the British Library Digitised Manuscripts: Further information about this manuscript is also available on the British Library Turning the pages:

Other important items in our collection from this time which complement the one on display are a notebook belonging to Beethoven (Zweig MS 14) and another thematic catalogue in the hand of the composer Luigi Boccherini (Zweig MS 18). Both collection items have been digitised and can also be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts at: and

Beethoven’s notebook was used by him to record his expenses during his trip from Bonn to Vienna in November 1792 where he travelled in order to study with Haydn, and where he was to remain the rest of his life. Beethoven’s handwriting is notoriously difficult to read, especially in his sketches and documents that he kept for his personal use, but scholars have been able to fully transcribe the contents of this impressive volume.

In this notebook the 22-year-old Beethoven listed detailed expenses for food, drinks, clothing and other expenditure incurred during his journey (some of these are written in a different hand) and also after his arrival in Vienna, including expenses for lessons taken with Haydn which can be seen in the image below:

British Library Zweig MS 14, f.5v

There are two further entries in the notebook that mention Haydn. In the image below the last two lines that are written in pencil list expenses for coffee, presumably during a music lesson: ‘Kaffee 6 x fĂŒr haidn und mich’ i.e. ‘Coffee 6 x [6 kreutzer] for Haydn and myself’. How extraordinary to have a record of Beethoven and Haydn discussing music over coffee!

British Library Zweig MS 14, f.10r

The final collection item shown here is another partial thematic catalogue of works written by the composer Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805).

British Library Zweig MS 18

In contrast to the previous two collection items which were created for personal use this is an official business document, stamped at the top and accompanied by a notarial certificate. The catalogue was prepared as part of Boccherini’s dealings with the publisher Ignace Pleyel (1757-1831) in 1796. Pleyel had demanded Boccherini draw up this legal document in order to secure himself as the rightful owner and publisher of the works listed in the catalogue which Boccherini had sold to him. This document was meant to secure his exclusive rights to publish Boccherini’s works, as piracy in music publishing was not uncommon in the 18th century.

Here too Boccherini lists the opening bars of each work, though as this is not a personal document it lacks further details about works as we find in Mozart’s thematic catalogue. Note that opera (plural opere) in Italian means work, so opera 44 in the first entry means work no.44.

These three collection items, which where created only years apart, are unique examples of records that composers made in the 18th century in order to manage their professional affairs, whether these were for personal or official use. Composers’ thematic catalogues in particular are also invaluable today for the identification and dating of composers’ works.

Loukia Drosopoulou, Curator, Music


Further reading:

Mozart’s Thematic Catalogue: a facsimile. Introduction and transcription by Albi Rosenthal & Alan Tyson (London: British Library, 1990).

Dagmar von Busch-Weise, ‘Beethoven’s Jugendtagebuch: mit Tafel’, in Studien zur Musikwissenschaft, 25 Bd., Festschrift fĂŒr Erich Schenk (1962), pp. 68-88.

Marco Mangani and Federica Rovelli, ‘Boccherini’s Thematic Catalogues: a reappraisal’, in Understanding Boccherini’s Manuscripts, ed. Rudolf Rasch (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), pp. 109-128.

Arthur Searle, The British Library Stefan Zweig Collection. Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts (London: British Library, 1999).