Music blog

5 posts from July 2012

25 July 2012

Unlocking historical musical resources

Sixteenth-century musicians
As part of the Electronic Corpus of Lute Music project, 'ECOLM III: Opening historical music resources to the world's online researchers', funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, we shall be holding a free one-day workshop at the British Library on Friday, 7th September 2012, 10.30-17.30, in the Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation.

The ECOLM project, a partnership between Goldsmiths, University of London, the British Library and the UK Lute Society, aims to transform digital images from 300 of the British Library's 16th-century music books in the Early Music Online resource ( into encodings which can be viewed on-screen or printed out in a variety of formats including modern score notation, listened to, transposed, analysed, searched and compared with other music.

To do this, it uses the latest techniques in optical music recognition adapted to the demands of 16th-century music printing. While most of the repertory in Early Music Online is vocal music such as masses, motets, chansons and madrigals, about 10% of the collection is printed in tablature for various instruments, mainly the lute, but also for keyboard and the diminutive renaissance guitar; this specialised and arcane notation demands a somewhat different, instrument-oriented approach for automatic recognition.

In this workshop you can learn more about the British Library's holdings of early printed music and their historical background, about the optical music recognition methods and the challenges presented by this material, about the musical repertory and how ECOLM could enable a deeper understanding of the musical relationships and influences within it, about the all-important online involvement of non-professional musicians in the process of correcting errors, as well as the potential impact of the approach on musicology and the early music scene in general.

Update, 5 Sept: This is the full programme for the workshop:

10:30  Doors open for coffee

11:00  Welcome (Richard Chesser, British Library & Tim Crawford, Goldsmiths)

11:15  Historical background to the Early Music Online (EMO) collections (Sandra Tuppen, British Library)

11:45  'Für die Jugend und anfahende dieser Kunst': the repertory of German printed tablatures (Stephen Rose, Royal Holloway)

12:15  What is Digital Musicology and what can be expected from it? (Frans Wiering, Utrecht)

12:45  Lunch break

14:00  The Electronic Corpus of Lute Music (ECOLM) and EMO (Tim Crawford & David Lewis, Goldsmiths)

14:30  Recognition of EMO vocal music with Aruspix (Laurent Pugin, Swiss RISM Office)

15:00  Automatic polyphonic transcription of lute tablature: A  machine learning approach (Reinier de Valk, City University)

15:30  Tea

16:00  Optical recognition of lute tablature (Christoph Dalitz)

16:30  The online lute community, amateur & professional (Chris Goodwin & John Robinson, UK Lute Society)

17:00  Discussion

17:30  Close

The workshop is free, but booking is essential. Please email Sandra Tuppen if you would like to attend, at [email protected]

The workshop will be followed at 20:00 by a special evening concert, 'La Fleur des Chansons', at King's Place, London N1 9AG, conveniently close to the British Library, to be given by the Brabant Ensemble with a distinguished group of instrumentalists and showcasing musical highlights from the repertory under discussion at the workshop. Tickets for the concert can be purchased from the King's Place Box Office.

20 July 2012

Maltese Music Collection

Indri Brincat

Collected in early 2011, a unique video collection of Maltese għana folk music is now available to view on-site at the British Library through the Listening & Viewing Service. Largely privately filmed by practising musicians and aficionados between 1985 and 2010 in Malta, and its diasporic Australian communities of Sydney and Melbourne, this collection features influential singers and guitarists in a variety of private, public and television performances. Contained within the 140 hours of material are examples of għana spirtu pront (improvised verses on antagonistic themes), għana tal-fatt (ballads), għana bormliża (a rarely-performed, high-pitched melismatic vocal song style), prejjem (instrumental guitar music with a virtuosic lead guitarist), and a number of other traditional Maltese vocal styles. Other than Manuel Casha's recording collection held in the National Library of Australia, this is the only other collection of Maltese folk music that is publicly available. Although it is only possible to view the videos on-site at the British Library, the collection is fully searchable via the Sound and Moving Image catalogue with the collection code C1479. Users can search this archive by any number of keywords such as location, genre, name of performer(s), year, etc, and can glean much information from this alone: common ensembles, the frequency with which particular musicians perform, popular performance locations, etc. As well as being a collection that is of great use to Maltese and Mediterranean studies in its own right, it also represents an exciting emerging branch of archival activity that collects, documents and disseminates private collections recorded by 'insiders' to a tradition, thus presenting an insight into judgments of quality, of motivations for recording, and representations of a tradition by those who know it intimately.

13 July 2012

Rare Tanzanian music recordings preserved

Alison Hope Redmayne conducted anthropological fieldwork in western Tanzania in the 1960s, resulting in her D.Phil from Oxford University’s Nuffield College in 1964 in a thesis entitled The Wahehe people of Tanganyika. As is often the case in ethnographic research disciplines, the doctorate was not the end, but the beginning of a lifetime’s work that has seen Dr Redmayne return to Tanzania every year for nearly 50 years.

In 1965 she realised the value of documenting Hehe oral traditions by recording them and between that year and 1975 she amassed approximately 100 hours on magnetic quarter inch reel tape. The British Library has recently acquired these original recordings. They have been digitised by our audio engineers and are fully catalogued and searchable on our online catalogue. This can be accessed at To find the recordings enter “C3 and Redmayne and Tanzania” (without the quotation marks) in the simple search box.

Unique gems of the collection include recordings of songs accompanied on the ligombo (a large bass trough zither), the sumbi (a gourd zither) and a lidimba or didimba (a large lamellophone) – all little documented instrumental traditions. Dr Redmayne’s recordings also include beautiful renditions of local folktales, performed by a wide range of performers of all ages, and recitations of important historic events, for example, that document German colonisation accomplishments of notable local leaders.

The recordings will become available online via BL Sounds in due course but as a preview, listen to this recording of Pancras Mkwawa: Ligombo mourning song (to 4 min. 56 sec.).- Pancras recites praises of Chief Mkwawa (to 5 min. 30 sec.).- Pancras recites an idalika [an important speech as when rousing the troops before battle] (to end).



10 July 2012

Endangered dongjing archives

The following is a guest post by Lynda Barraclough, Endangered Archives Programme Curator.

In 2007 the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library received digital copies of music scores, lyrics and sutras documenting the Chinese ritual music known as dongjing. We also received audio and video recordings of recitals and interviews with performers and material relating to dongjing societies themselves, including correspondence, research notes and newsletters. The archives were copied from eight separate collections held by dongjing societies and private individuals in North Yunnan, China. In 2010 we received further dongjing scores and related material, this time copied from two privately owned collections in South Yunnan.

The original composers, authors and scribes of this material are largely unknown. Exact dates for most of the compositions are also unknown. The original documents and volumes date to the 20th and 21st centuries, but they contain copies of pieces that may be much older. For example, some of the texts recorded in volumes belonging to EAP209/1 Li Chun Collection on Dongjing Manuscripts are attributed to the Ming dynasty (14th century). The image below comes from EAP209/1/3 San yi za yue shang, thought to have been written by Li Hao during the reign of Emperor Hongwu in the early Ming dynasty.


Most of the scores are written in the jianpu notation, although other notations such as guche and gugin are also present. The image below shows a music score in jianpu notation. It comes from EAP012/8/1/30 Heqing ding jing yin yue. This script includes an introductory explanation to the piece, and comes from Heqing county.


The Endangered Archives Programme is funded by Arcadia. More information on the projects responsible for digitally preserving this material can be found on the EAP webpages:

EAP012 Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunnan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance

EAP209 Survey on surviving dongjing archives in Jianshui, Tonghai and Mengzi 

Copies of these archives were also deposited with the Institute of Historical Anthropology and the University Library at Sun Yat-sen University. The images received by the British Library are available via the Endangered Archives Programme webpages. Four complete manuscripts are also available on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts pages (just type in “dongjing”). For information on how to access the audio and video material please email the EAP.


You can read more about the Endangered Archives Programme on Lynda's Endangered Archives blog.

05 July 2012

Happy 4th of July!

Yesterday's US festivities reminded me about something I'd looked at many times before. It is well known how the union of the words and music for The Star-Spangled Banner came about. The tune was composed by John Stafford Smith and was very popular at the end of the 18th century in England. It was used as a setting for lots of different words, and even travelled across the Atlantic to the newly independent colonies. But it wasn't until the battle of Fort McHenry in 1814 that Francis Scott Key penned the poem that we are familiar with today and the tune was published with those words.

The tune began quite differently, however. It was first published in London around 1780 as the Anacreontic Song, 'as sung at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand', for the Anacreontic Society, a singing and drinking club. There were lots of such clubs at this time, and they would meet and sing catches, glees, and suchlike. Indeed, the song was subsequently arranged as a 3-part glee and published in 1799.

Anacreontic song edit
But who was Smith? It turns out that he has an eminent musical pedigree which appears quite at odds with what one would expect for a composer of bacchanalean ditties. He was a church musician, scholar, and one of the earliest music historians. His musical education began with his father, the organist at Gloucester Cathedral, after whom he studied with Boyce in London, and sang variously at the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey. Further, he was a great collector. Sadly, his library was dispersed after his death before proper records could be made of what it contained. But we do know that he owned the Old Hall manuscript and Mulliner Book, two anthologies which have preserved much important British music of the 14th and 16th centuries and which are two of the British Library's musical jewels today. What else must his library have contained?

Smith's interest in the past led him to collect music from old sources and libraries, to gain an understanding of the origins of British music. Some of the fruits of these labours were published in his anthology Musica Antiqua (1812), evidently intended to complement in music editions the famous histories of Hawkins and Burney. Smith's opinion of those two writers is a story for another time.

For the moment it's interesting to reflect on the origins of this national hymn. While the words capture the aspirations of the New World and reject the Old, the music belongs to a long musical tradition, composed by someone with an extraordinarily wide range of musical talents and interests.