Music blog

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8 posts from August 2012

24 August 2012

British Library at WOMAD

2012 saw the 30th anniversary of the UK World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) Festival. Just three years after its inaugural event in Shepton Mallet,  British Library staff started recording the event to create an archive that would be available for generations to come.

In the early years the BL team had to cart around heavy reel to reel recording machines and the tapes had to be copied one by one, stored on basement shelves and manually retrieved for every request. As technology advanced the team recorded on VHS and subsequently DAT tapes and nowadays it’s all recorded digitally. Recordings are made and backed up on site with data entry compiled at the same time, making it very much easier to process back at the Library. The result is that this year's recordings are available for listening via computer terminals in the reading rooms at the St Pancras building in London less than one month after the event.

23 August 2012

The Meanings of Music in Brazilian Culture


Brazil World Music Day: Public Lecture at the British Library

September 7, 2012

In celebration of Brazil World Music Day ( and Brazilian Independence Day the British Library is holding a public lecture on the meanings of music in Brazilian culture by David H. Treece, Camoens Professor of Portuguese, King’s College London. David Treece is author of the forthcoming book: Brazilian Jive - from Samba to Bossa and Rap (Reaktion). The lecture will explore key symbolic ideas attributed to Brazilian music and its role in shaping and characterising popular images of the country.

Cost: Free, but booking is essential

Location: British Library Conference Centre

Time: Refreshments: 12.30; Lecture: 1pm

Martin Moir Donation

The British Library is fortunate to be the recipient of a collection of more than 500 very rare recordings built up over many years by the well known record collector and dealer, Martin Moir and donated by him and Kay Helena Scholastica Parkes. 

Mr Moir ran The Gramophone Exchange in Wardour Street for many years and as a result a considerable number of rare discs passed though his hands, many into his own personal collection.  The Library has acquired not only rare shellac 78rpm discs, but LPs and CDs as well.  The CDs include many unusual releases on the American MCA label and other short-lived or hard to find foreign labels such as Pilz, Urania, Arlecchino (a series of recordings by the great conductor Herman Abendroth), Stradivarius and Deutsche Schallplatten. 

Classical highlights on shellac include eleven early Caruso discs including five extremely rare early blue label Zonophones whilst on vinyl there are such unusual labels as the Westminster Laboratory Series, Concert Hall, Chamber Music Society, Plymouth, Westminster, Ades, Sine Qua Non, Amadeo and Remington.  Mr Moir collected certain classical artists such as violinist Peter Rybar whose LPs are very hard to find, and conductor Robert Heger, while for a Japanese client he used to acquire any recording he could find of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.  Other rarities include a Danish EMI LP of singer Vilhelm Herold (1865-1937) in test pressings and unpublished recordings made between 1904 and 1908. 

There is a curious format of LP on the Trimicron label, promoted as a ‘triple play disc’ with one hour per side containing Beethoven’s Third and Sixth Symphonies plus an overture. 


Shelmark 1LP00236815
Trimicron Triple Play LP

However, the collection is not only of classical recordings; it is an eclectic mix of diverse popular, classical, jazz, blues, music hall, world music, spoken word and many curiosities such as an Adolf Hitler speech from 1933 on two ten inch German shellac discs, The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce on LP and The Investigator which was a radio play written by Reuben Ship and first broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The play lampooned the actions of the US House Committee on Un-American Activities and Senator Joseph McCarthy.  There is a cardboard picture postcard disc from CBS Auravision of excerpts from Richard M. Nixon’s nomination acceptance speech of August 8, 1968 and three LPs of Trujillo Merengues (Dominican political songs).


Shelfmark 9CS0027527
Hitler speech
The Investigator

Jazz discs on shellac include a series of recordings on the Melodisc label containing some of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts while an important collection of 24 LPs on the sought after Clef Records label include the Jam Session series and further recordings by such jazz greats as Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.  Fifteen shellac discs from the Vocalion Swing Series filled many gaps in the Library’s holdings.  There are also rare blues records including a very rare early American Columbia disc of Blind Willie Johnson.  Other shellac discs appear on such desirable labels as Actuelle, Zonophone, Edison, Okeh and Gennett.  British music hall star Marie Lloyd turns up on the Ariel label whilst Stanley Holloway appears on the rare Dubrico label.

There is also a collection of 31 seven-inch Berliner and early Gramophone Company discs one of which is a very scarce recording of bird imitator Charles Mildare recorded on the 29th May 1900.  One possibly unique disc is of a private recording of film producer and founder of Universal Pictures Carl Laemmle giving a ‘pep’ talk to his employees.


Charles Mildare

The Moir collection is unique for the range of material it encompasses, the diverse styles of music and performance and the rarity of many of the discs.  Mr Moir was honoured with the unveiling of a plaque in the British Library Conservation Centre in 2012.  All of his donated recordings can be found by searching the catalogue using his full name of Martin James Gordon Moir.



20 August 2012

Closing ceremony - where to start?

Today sees the CD release of the music from the Closing Ceremony of  London 2012, a copy of which has already found its way into the BL's pop music collection (1CD0330501). The closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics was always going to suffer from comparison with Danny Boyle's innovative, lavish and epic opening ceremony. The end ceremony promised a 'symphony of British Music' which would soundtrack 'the best-ever aftershow party' and prompted much speculation as to what would and wouldn't be included. Symphony

Artistic Director Kim Gavin and Music Director David Arnold somehow selected thirty hits from the past fifty years of British Music and, given the choice on offer, it is unlikely that any other two people would agree on the same playlist. The final choice inevitably gave rise to a number of gripes about who was missing and what was not represented, but it is a nigh on impossible task to represent every facet of British popular music in such a presentation. One of the most daunting tasks that faces the pop music collections at the BL is keeping track of what is happening out there - and as the myriad forms of music, subcultures and genres of popular music keep expanding it is important that we represent all types of music that is created in Great Britain. Should Kim Gavin have wished to do so, he could have come to the BL, browsed our catalogue and listened to more than 100,000 different vinyl singles to audition his playlist. To then narrow down the task to 30 or so tracks (having also auditioned our digital collections to come bang up to date) would be the difficult part, which is where Gavin's experience in staging large-scale mainstream events such as Dancing On Ice Live and Take That arena concerts will have shaped his wishlist. 2012-08-12 21.41.38Where the relatively radical Opening Ceremony could include punk rock and a track by F*** Buttons, the closing ceremony was always going to be more similar to a wedding disco or an inoffensive edition of Top of The Pops. Allowance also has to be made for artists on the initial list - such as The Rolling Stones, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Adele -  who either declined to appear or were unavailable. Gavin had stated that he wanted to provide a big party for the ending and in trying to provide that for as wide an audience as possible the playlist had to be recognisably full of big hits and nothing more ambitious than that. It seemed to work.

17 August 2012

Wandering Minstrels - the story of a forgotten Victorian orchestra

When I first started working at the British Library, I was intrigued to see, on the shelves in the music library, three huge leather cases, each containing a large lavishly-bound album from the 19th century.

Wandering Minstrels Archive
Inside the albums are faded photographs of aristocratic-looking men and women, many with musical instruments. There are also concert programmes, drawings and watercolours, and hundreds of newspaper cuttings, all carefully pasted in. With the three large volumes are some notebooks, a manuscript score and a small glass case of badges.

Lord Gerald Fitzgerald, cellist

This is the archive of a long-forgotten Victorian orchestra, the Wandering Minstrels. Following its acquisition in the early 20th century, the archive was simply catalogued as “Records of "The Wandering Minstrels," a Musical Society which gave Charity Concerts in various places 1860-1898.” I did a little more research, and it quickly became clear that in their own day the Wandering Minstrels had known extraordinary fame. But modern accounts of musical life in Victorian Britain make only fleeting references to them: the Wandering Minstrels have faded, like their photographs, from history.

The Wandering Minstrels and their archive will shortly see the light of day once more, however, as they are the subject of the Music Feature on BBC Radio 3 tomorrow, Saturday 18 August, 12.15-13.00. In the programme Sarah Walker investigates the history of the orchestra, visiting the British Library to look at their archive, and travelling to some of the places the orchestra performed.

You can hear me talking to Sarah about the Wandering Minstrels and their archive in the programme. I have also just completed a detailed catalogue of the archive, which you can see in the British Library’s Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue.

The Wandering Minstrels orchestra
The Wandering Minstrels were an amateur orchestra of forty or so players, drawn from the ranks of the aristocracy and military. The Earl of Wilton and his sons were leading lights in the orchestra and, for many years, the Earl’s younger son, the Honourable Seymour Egerton, was conductor and president.

The Wandering Minstrels conscientiously documented their activities. Their albums of posters, photographs and concert programmes shine a light on a little-studied aspect of musical life in the 19th century: concerts given by noble amateurs. The albums provide information on the music performed, the structure of the concerts and Victorian programming habits, and show which composers - and which musical works - were popular. (Mendelssohn and Gounod were the most popular composers, by a long way.)

Among the Wandering Minstrels and their circle were several individuals interested in that relatively new medium, photography. The archive is full of photographs of members of the society, their friends and families, and, perhaps of greater interest to the historian, photographs of buildings and streets in the towns and cities they visited.

Among their social circle were several talented artists, who designed programmes for the orchestra, sketched the players, and occasionally members of their audiences, and who presented them with drawings and paintings for their archive. There are also some poems and humorous notes.

The Wandering Minstrels were assiduous collectors of reports of their concerts, and these too were pasted into the albums. It is interesting to see that they kept the bad reviews as well as the good ones! The reviews include many revealing eyewitness reports of the occasions, the venues, and the attitudes and appearance of the audiences. As well as material relating to their own activities, the Minstrels collected old prints and drawings, which were also pasted into the albums.

Wandering Minstrels' accounts
The albums also contain information on the finances of the organisation. They reveal that in their heyday the Wandering Minstrels filled the best concert halls in London.  They toured England giving several hundred concerts over their nearly 40 year history, mainly but not exclusively for charity.  By the time they disbanded in 1898, they had raised over £16,000 for good causes - a huge sum in those days. They also popularized the 'smoking concert' - an exclusive social gathering at which gentlemen (and occasionally ladies) would gather to drink, dine, and listen to high-quality music and - the gentlemen only - to smoke. The Wandering Minstrels also gave the very first concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1871 - a concert for the workmen who had just finished building the hall!

The orchestra named themselves 'the Wandering Minstrels' because of their habit of travelling around the country to give their concerts. The name was probably a slightly tongue-in-cheek one: the so-called wandering minstrels of earlier times had been musicians at the bottom end of the social scale. They travelled from town to town, scraping a living from their playing. The Victorian Wandering Minstrels were right at the other end of the social spectrum, and didn't need to earn a living from music. They performed for their own enjoyment and for philanthropic purposes.

Henry Le Patourel, flautist
It's very tempting to think that Gilbert and Sullivan's song 'A wandering minstrel I' from The Mikado was written with a nod and a wink towards the Victorian Wandering Minstrels orchestra. Like them, the Wandering Minstrel in The Mikado, Nanki-Poo, was an aristocrat, in his case the son of the Mikado of Japan in disguise as a humble musician. Sullivan was friendly with the conductor of the Wandering Minstrels, and even performed with them on occasion. The Wandering Minstrels were at the height of their fame when The Mikado was premiered in 1885, and it seems likely that the audience would have recognised a topical reference in 'A wandering minstrel I'.

08 August 2012

Derek Collier Collection

Collier b+w photo


Last year a collection of recordings by British violinist Derek Collier (1927-2008) was donated to the British Library by his daughter.  Collier’s career spanned the second half of the twentieth century, and this career is documented in broadcasts he gave for the BBC which he preserved.  Recordings from the first two decades have now been uploaded to the BL Sounds website from lacquer discs, many in a poor state of deterioration.  Classical music | British Library - Sounds

Collier began to play the violin at the age of six. He then became a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London and later studied intensively with Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991). Collier was the leader of many of the great British orchestras including the Bournemouth Symphony, London Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia.

Collier’s first surviving broadcast dates from 1949 when he was twenty-two and although the collection of recordings spans his entire career, only those without copyright restrictions have been posted on BL Sounds. 

In addition to the standard violin repertoire Collier performed works by lesser known composers and gave first performances in Britain of many works including concertos by Dag Wirren, Rodrigo and Boris Blacher.  He performed twice at the Proms - a Bach Concerto with Malcolm Arnold conducting in 1966 and the Violin Concerto by Arthur Benjamin in 1961 [link here when uploaded].  During the 1950s he performed Bredon Hill a Rhapsody for violin and orchestra written by English composer Julius Harrison in 1941.  There are two versions available to hear and this one from 1956 with the BBC Midland Orchestra includes the original BBC announcement.  Bredon Hill

Campoli toured the USSR twice in 1956 and he may have been the influence behind Collier performing violin concertos by Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and Rakov during the 1950s.  The rarely heard Estonia composer Nikolai Lopatnikov (1903-1976) emigrated to America.  Collier performs his Toccata from the Suite Op. 17.  Toccata

The earliest broadcasts are short recitals of well known pieces or extracts from concertos with piano accompaniment and these can be searched by broadcast date or composer.  Collier often performed with either Wilfred Parry or Josephine Lee at the piano.

Collier also appeared on the BBC’s more popular light entertainment radio programmes including Variety Playhouse, and for this programme in 1962 performed Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen where he is introduced by actor Dennis Price, most famous for his role in the British film Kind Hearts and CoronetsZieguenerweisen

Collier also played many arrangements for violin and piano of works originally for piano solo – preludes by Shostakovich, one of six piano pieces by Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) plus many of the famous arrangements by Jascha Heifetz.  In addition to favourite violin ‘encore’ pieces such as William Kroll’s Banjo and Fiddle, which can be compared in two performances from 1952 and 1960, Collier also played original works by another great violinist of the past, Fritz Kreisler. 

06 August 2012

Delius in 2012: an international celebration

The composer Frederick Delius was born in Bradford on 29 January 1862 and to mark his 150th anniversary, the British Library will be hosting a symposium devoted to his music in association with the Delius Society on 22 and 23 September. 

With a packed programme comprising talks, a round-table discussion, live music and a screening of the recent BBC4 film ‘Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma’ by John Bridcut, the Symposium will also provide the opportunity for delegates to speak with renowned experts in the field. 

Delius in 1899

Speakers will include: Bo Holten (composer and conductor of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra); Dr. Lionel Carley (Delius scholar); Professor Tim Blanning (Emeritus Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University); Digby Fairweather (jazz composer and musician); Dr. Jérôme Rossi (Delius scholar and author of the first French biography of Delius); and Anthony Payne (composer).

Live music will include a recital by Paul Guinery (pianist and BBC Radio 3 broadcaster), song and violin recitals by the winners of the 2011 Delius Performance Prize Competition, Natalie Hyde and Dominika Fehér, and a UK first performance of the winning entry of the 2012 Delius International Composition Prize Competition, composed by Michael Djupstrom.

The British Library holds the bulk of Delius’s manuscripts (presented to the Library by the Delius Trust in 1995) and a large body of correspondence relating to the composer, as well as numerous sound recordings charting the performance history of his works, making the Library the focal point of research concerning his life and music. 

To book for the Delius Symposium, see the British Library events page.
Tickets are £20 per day.  Each day must be booked separately.

For further details, please download the pdf flyer.

The full programme is also available at the Delius Society website.



03 August 2012

A New Olympic Hymn?

The Olympic Hymn composed by Spiro Samara for the first modern Olympiad in 1896 has been used as the official Olympic anthem at every games since 1960, and accompanied the hoisting of Olympic flag at last week’s opening ceremony. Between 1900 and 1952 new music had been specially composed for each games, and for the 1956 Games it was decided that a new Olympic Hymn should be commissioned, to serve as a permanent anthem for future games. Prince Pierre of Monaco organised a competition, and there were almost 400 entries from 40 countries.

Olympic Hymn - James Stevens

Among the entrants was the British composer James Stevens, who died on 26 June 2012 at the age of 89. He bequeathed his compositions to the British Library, and a listing of them will appear on our catalogue in due course. He was most active as a composer of film music, but his Olympic Hymn, ‘dedicated to sport, valour and the glory of youth’, is a relatively simple work for large orchestra, a rather high-pitched tenor soloist and the massed voices of the spectators. Olympic judgesScores were to be submitted under a pseudonym – Stevens used the moniker ‘Anglo-Saxon’ – and were judged by an international panel of eminent composers convened by his former teacher Nadia Boulanger. In April 1955 the jury met for a week in Monte Carlo to assess the submissions. Each piece had a cover sheet attached to it, which the judges signed after inspecting the score: there are some very familiar signatures alongside much less well known names.

In the end, the jury awarded the prize to another of Nadia Boulanger’s students, the Polish composer Michał Spisak. However, his time of Olympic glory was limited: the winning Hymn was performed at the 1956 Games, but thereafter the Comité International Olympique decided, partly for copyright reasons, to revert to the original anthem of the 1896 Games. It has been performed ever since, in many different languages and on occasion in a purely instrumental version.