Music blog

Music news and views

Introduction

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

19 April 2021

Introducing the Internet of Musical Events: a project to capture the history of live performance

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The British Library is delighted to be part of an innovative new project that seeks to develop digital tools and methodologies to help capture the history of live performance.

The Internet of Musical Events: Digital Scholarship, Community, and the Archiving of Performances (InterMusE) is a two-year project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council UK as part of the UK-US New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions programme. Led by Professor Rachel Cowgill, from the University of York’s Department of Music, it brings together an interdisciplinary team of musicologists, archivists, computer scientists, and performance providers from the University of York, the Borthwick Institute for Archives, Computational Foundry at Swansea University, the British Library, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The project arises from longstanding recognition of the challenges associated with the documentation of, and access to, collections of performance ephemera, for which the British Library is a key repository in the UK. Live musical events play a vital role in community life across the globe, yet they often leave only faint traces on the historical record, even in modern times. Sources can be tantalisingly incomplete, confusingly inconsistent, and often scattered between different archives and collections, if preserved at all. While some ensembles, venues and music societies have documented their histories (the Proms Performance Archive being one notable example), the picture is fragmented with no common standards of description or connection between related online resources, or efforts to archive data.

InterMusE will make possible new ways of capturing and, crucially, linking different forms of data around musical events to form a dynamic, open-access digital archive. The research team will work with a diverse range of concert materials including programmes, posters and other ephemera held at the British Library, the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Linen Hall Library (Belfast), the Royal College of Music, and three former chapters of the British Music Society (BMS): Huddersfield Music Society, the British Music Society of York, and Belfast Music Society. The richness of the resulting data will offer unprecedented opportunities to collect, analyse, and visualise information about musical events and how they have shaped and been shaped by community life over the past century. The digitised data will be used to create a series of online, open-access portals that can be linked with existing collections, resulting in a widely accessible digital archive of musical events.

Huddersfield Music Club programme for concert given by the Amadeus String Quartet on 12 October 1953
Huddersfield Music Club: Programme for concert given by the Amadeus String Quartet on 12 October 1953.

Central to the project is the ambition to equip performing arts organisations and their communities with tools to help promote and enhance their own musical histories and traditions. This is particularly significant as communities begin to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the project’s Lead Researcher, Professor Rachel Cowgill states:

'The experience of living through a global pandemic has, for many, greatly increased the value of music at precisely the time the ‘live event’ has fallen victim to strictures on social distancing and lockdown. InterMusE addresses some of the key challenges emerging for the arts and humanities in post-Covid times, investigating the mutually sustaining relationships between live music and communities and harnessing the capacity of digital technologies to enable collaboration and engagement with members of the public.'

InterMusE will combine computational digital-archiving methods with more accessible, community-focussed approaches such as oral-history interviews, audience reminiscences, and citizen research. This will not only facilitate engagement between particular musical societies and their audiences, but also create a new layer of evidential material for studying the impact and community significance of performance events in the 20th and 21st centuries. As Hilary Norcliffe (Archivist of the Huddesfield Music Society) commented, “Concert attendees are often keen to express their views about what they have heard and experienced but currently there is no means of recording these thoughts. This project offers the means for members of the society to add personal comments, views, reminiscences and materials, whilst also following their own lines of inquiry, thus enriching the archive.”

For more information, see the project website: https://intermuse.datatodata.org/

AHRC logo       InterMusE logo

11 March 2021

Publishing Patriotism: the Napoleonic wars in musical print

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At the turn of the 19th century, British perceptions of revolutionary France and the Napoleonic wars were tied to myriad graphic, literary, and musical expressions. Between soldiers returning home, parading volunteer regiments, and theatrical renditions of war, the multiplicity of these imaginings were transformed and transported through print at a remarkable speed. After appearing in the London gazette, official news from the continent would go on a multimedia journey: passing through detailed (though often inaccurate) accounts in national and provincial newspapers; enduring the scrutiny of pamphlets and journals; being subjected to judgement in sermons; and set in public memory through the mockery of satirical cartoons.

Printed music was better placed than other media to incorporate military images because the large format of music publications meant that there was ample space on the title page for additional decoration. Taking advantage of the fashion for all things military, music publishers rushed to produce commemorative editions of battle music. In the months following The Battle of Camperdown (11 October 1797) Music publishers Joseph Dale, Longman & Broderip, and Corri, Dussek & Co. produced commemorative works celebrating the victory. They used the textual and graphic elements of the score to shape them into military souvenirs.

The cheaper editions (selling for between 1s 6d and 2s 6d), such as Joseph Dale’s, featured a standard unadorned title page. As was the practice with most editions of battle music, Dale fashioned the score into a commemorative object by including a date on the title page. This set these editions apart from other printed music of the period as publication dates were usually omitted to prevent later reprints seeming old or out of fashion. This shows that publishers considered the publication date to be part of the commercial appeal of these editions, so they were not concerned by the ephemerality this imposed on the printed object.

Unadorned title page of Joseph Dale’s publication commemorating The Battle of Camperdown
British Library g.138.(11.)

Longman & Broderip’s edition of Britannia by Daniel Steibelt (1765 - 1823) dresses the title in British imperial iconography, with a laurel wreath crossed with flags of the British empire. The naval scene at the foot of the title page captures the moment when the British flagship Venerable inflicts the final blow on the Dutch flagship Vryhied. Camperdown saw Duncan celebrated for his bravery and leadership, having taken his flagship into the heart of the action and in difficult waters. By using this moment at the battle’s climax, the score immortalises Duncan’s bravery and Britain’s naval dominance.

Title page of Longman & Broderip's edition of Daniel Steibelt's Britannia depicting a naval scene inspired by the Battle of Camperdown
British Library g.138.(3.)

The celebration of Duncan was not only due to his perceived courage but also the sheer extent of his victory. Within three hours of the start of the battle, Duncan was not only able to report a British victory but also the capture of eleven Dutch ships. Music publishers Corri, Dussek & Co. chose to show this side of the battle in their commemoration, avoiding the engagement itself and focusing on the outcome. Their chosen image emphasised the ‘Total Defeat’ of the Dutch fleet by showing their captured ships in tatters, being towed back to Britain, the punctured sails and post victory setting reminiscent of Thomas Whitcombe’s painting of the battle (1797).

Title page of Corri, Dussek & Co.'s edition commemorating the The Battle of Camperdown depicting the defeat of the Dutch fleet
British Library g.138.(13.)

The commercial opportunities that arose around the Napoleonic wars were not limited to events happening abroad, but also covered celebrations at home. In 1798 Corri, Dussek & Co. published the descriptive piece A Complete & exact delineation Of the Ceremony from St. James’s to St. Pauls: … to return thanks for the several Naval Victories obtained by the British Fleet over those of France, Spain, & Holland. The naval thanksgiving (1797) enlisted the full theatricality of public spectacle, involving the monarchy, government, members of the army and navy, and ordinary Britons lining the streets accompanied by bespoke music written by J. L. Dussek (1760-1812). The score provided an audio-visual reproduction of the event: it contained music written for the procession and church service and captured the visuality of the occasion through an ‘elegant Frontispiece’, which is unfortunately now lost. 

George III conceived the event to rival the civic ceremonies of revolutionary France in an attempt to promote a sense of national unity in Britain. This impact, however, was limited to those who lived near enough to London to attend the ceremony. The success of the occasion relied heavily on newspapers and periodicals circulating accounts to other parts of the country, but Corri, Dussek & Co.’s musical edition was unique in its capacity to deliver both the visual and audial spectacle to those who had not witnessed the event. This edition gave people who did not live in London the opportunity to experience and take part in the patriotic symbolism of the ceremony from afar.

The hype surrounding military victories provided a market for commemorative print in the short term, capitalising on spikes in patriotic sentiment and the celebrations linked to the events. In this context music scores became collectable objects alongside commemorative pottery, porcelain, and medals, together projecting idealised images of war and victory. They helped to facilitate celebration by reminding purchasers of important dates in the national calendar and providing the music with which to celebrate them. The graphic and textual additions to printed music meant that scores had commercial value beyond their musical content and appealed to the conspicuous consumption of print buying audiences, the visually idealised militarism of the title pages allowing Britons to fulfil their patriotic duty through purchasing the score.

Dominic Bridge, Collaborative PhD student, University of Liverpool and British Library

02 February 2021

Update on Music E-resources

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We are pleased to announce a number of new subscriptions to our Music e-resources offer this year, as well as changes to remote access for some of our existing subscriptions:

Remote access to RILM and RIPM (full text)

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text contains more than 200 full-text journals, many of which are not available anywhere else online, with content spanning 50 countries and 40 languages. The full-text content encompasses all disciplines related to music including: Ethnomusicology; Jazz studies; Musicology; Pedagogy; Performance; Popular music and Theory. It also covers interdisciplinary subjects, such as: Archaeology; Dance studies; Dramatic arts; Literature; Philosophy; Psychology; Therapy.

Thanks to a kind offer by RILM we are pleased to offer this resource to our users until 30 September 2021.

The resource is available in all reading rooms (please note our reading rooms are currently closed) as well as via remote access to registered readers, and can be accessed via Explore.

RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals (Full Text)

This new RIPM series is a collection of unique and rare full-text music titles, which complements RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals, which the Library also subscribes to. The resource includes over 100 titles of music periodicals published in Europe and North America ranging from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.

This is a new subscription which is available in all reading rooms. The resource is also available via remote access to registered readers until 30 September 2021, and can be accessed via Explore.

An example of content on the RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals (Full Text) database on the EBSCO platform

BabelScores

This is a new subscription which offers access to an online Library of contemporary music. The BabelScores catalogue contains music in full score by composers of the last 40 years and includes audio and video content for some of the music scores, and also short composer biographies and work descriptions.

This resource is currently only available in our readings rooms but we are working towards making it available remotely in the future.

BabelScores homepage

Our existing subscriptions to the Index of Printed Music and Music Index are now also available remotely to registered readers.

For any enquiries on how to search and use these e-resources please contact our Music Reference Team.