Music blog

4 posts from June 2012

28 June 2012

Original Purcell manuscripts digitised

Following the launch online of Handel's Messiah, we have now digitised three original manuscripts of Henry Purcell's music. The digitised Purcell manuscripts have joined Handel's Messiah and manuscripts of Bach and Mozart on our Digitised Manuscripts website. The easiest way to find these music manuscripts is to type the composer's surname into the keyword search box on the Digitised Manuscripts homepage.

Between them, these three Purcell manuscripts - all largely in the composer's own hand - cover most of his short career and many of the musical genres in which he worked, from the anthem and sacred part-song to the court ode, solo song, sonata and fantasia.

Two of the manuscripts (R.M.20.h.8 and Add MS 30930) are large score-books, into which Purcell copied music over a number of years. R.M.20.h.8 contains music written for use at the courts of Charles II and James II, with anthems at one end of the book and odes and welcome songs at the other. Add MS 30930 is very different: a collection of music written for use in the home, it contains sacred part-songs for between three and five voices at one end and instrumental music at the other end. The 'instrumental end' of the book includes Purcell's fantasias and In Nomines for viol consort, along with trio sonatas and his famous 'Chacony'.

MS Mus. 1 - an easy prelude by Purcell

The third manuscript (MS Mus. 1) is a small volume of keyboard music containing music by Purcell at one end and pieces by the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Draghi at the other. The manuscript is believed to have been used for teaching purposes: the earliest piece in Purcell's section of the book is a very easy prelude for keyboard, and the pieces gradually increase in difficulty, suggesting the student was gradually improving!

We marked the launch of the digitised Purcell manuscripts with a Purcell Study Day at the British Library on Tuesday. This featured presentations on the three manuscripts and their music, and a performance by the viol consort Fretwork of three of the viol fantasias.


20 June 2012

Messiah goes online

We are busy digitising some of the British Library's most important music manuscripts, and plan to make these freely available online over the coming months via our Digitised Manuscripts system.

Today we have uploaded one of the most famous of the Library's music manuscripts: Handel's Messiah.  You can now leaf through the complete manuscript and zoom in to see tiny details.

Although excerpts from the manuscript have previously been available in the British Library's Online Gallery, this is the first time that the complete manuscript has been made available on the web.

14 June 2012

Purcell and his manuscripts

Henry PurcellThe British Library is holding a study day on the music of Henry Purcell on Tuesday 26 June. Join us to explore Purcell's vocal and instrumental music - and some of his own manuscripts now preserved at the British Library. Speakers include Peter Holman and Bruce Wood, and the day ends with a talk and performance by the renowned viol ensemble Fretwork.

The British Library holds some of the most important manuscripts of Purcell's music. We have just digitised three of these and will be marking the launch of the online versions at the study day. Some original manuscripts will also be on display.

Update, 19 June: This event is now fully booked.


13 June 2012

Young Person's Guide acquired

The British Library has acquired the original manuscript of ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’, one of the most famous compositions of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). In this draft score, Britten set out his earliest ideas for the piece, finishing on New Year’s Eve 1945. The work would go on to become one of the most frequently performed pieces by any British composer and to introduce generations of schoolchildren to the instruments of the orchestra.

Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, autograph manuscript

Once Britten had written out the full score of the work, he had no further need for this draft score, and gave it to a friend. It remained completely unknown until last year. The manuscript was sold to an overseas buyer at auction in November 2011, but Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary export bar on it, providing a last chance for it to be kept in Britain. The British Library was able to raise the necessary funds to purchase it for the nation.

No earlier sketches for the ‘Young Person’s Guide’ are known to survive, and it seems that Britten composed the piece directly into the present draft score. The manuscript reveals the astonishing fluency with which Britten was able to construct a large-scale work. Almost every aspect of the piece is already worked out in detail in this draft. The final fugue, in particular, is extremely complex, yet there are no signs that Britten struggled with its creation.

The manuscript will feature in an exhibition on Benjamin Britten at the British Library next year, marking the centenary of his birth.