Music blog

7 posts from November 2012

30 November 2012

Cataloguing the Malcolm Sargent Collection

Last week we began a new project at the British Library to catalogue the Malcolm Sargent Collection. As the project archivist, I will be posting regular updates over the next few months to illustrate the work in progress.

Papers from the Sargent Collection
The Malcolm Sargent Collection comprises correspondence, engagement diaries, repertoire books, concert programmes, press cuttings and photos, some compositions, and a small number of Sargent’s own conducting scores. A few personal possessions, including his batons and pocket metronome, are also included.  Assembled between 1920 and 1968 by his private secretaries, it provides an extensive record of Sargent’s professional life.

The 120 boxes of material are currently listed in files broadly corresponding to their original arrangement. My task will be to catalogue each of these files at a more detailed item level. My first few days have been spent working through the series of Sargent’s general correspondence from 1928 onwards. This series excludes correspondence relating to specific concert series or events. So far I have reached 1948.

Correspondence from 1928-1939 was found to be full of requests for Sargent to conduct or adjudicate at provincial festivals. It also includes numerous speculative enquiries from musicians seeking orchestral work, the opportunity to perform a concerto, or to have a composition performed.

There were fewer letters during the war years, but evidence of Sargent’s personal efforts to prevent talented musicians being posted abroad. In November 1944 he writes to the Government requesting that bass singer Norman Walker is spared a posting to Iceland in order to be available for a recording of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. He considers his concerts “to be of national importance in entertainment value to civilians, factory workers and the Forces”. Walker later sang in Sargent’s Gerontius recording of 1945.

An unusual item is a copy of a humorous poem written to a friend during his second Australian tour in 1938, in which he describes lying awake at night and experiencing a vision of accidentally setting alight a hedge with a casually discarded cigarette, “A hedge of which she was so very fond / That had the culprit even been a parson / She’d ‘have him up’ – and sue the fool for arson”.

Sargent's personal effects
More sardonic is a 1945 New Year greeting to the principal trumpet-player of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra concerning his Christmas performances: “When I asked you if you would like a third trumpet to help you out”, he writes, “it was never my intention that he should play third throughout and the second play first …You do realise that as it was, my second trumpeter played far more of the ‘Messiah’ than you did”.

There is evidence of Sargent’s efforts to cultivate relationships with high society. In addition to correspondence concerning his membership of London gentleman’s clubs such as the Garrick, they include an invitation from the Earl of Clarendon to lunch at St James’s Palace, and messages acknowledging letters received by Montgomery of Alamein, Winston Churchill, and the Queen.

A letter from the Ministry of Education dated 8 January 1946 requests Sargent conduct for a film they are making called ‘Instruments of the Orchestra’. “The score has been specially composed by Benjamin Britten and, in the opinion of those who have heard it on the piano, it is a brilliant piece of work”.

Sargent agreed to conduct and provide the narration for Britten's work, which became famous as the 'Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra'. The British Library acquired the autograph manuscript of the ‘Young Person’s Guide’ earlier this year.

Letter to Sargent concerning 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra'
Some correspondence relates specifically to the Courtauld-Sargent Concerts, the main records of which are to be catalogued later. Examples include a heated discussion with Arthur Maney, Secretary of the London Symphony Orchestra, in which Sargent implies the orchestra has tried to claim more than it is due in costs for extra musicians. On another occasion, Maney is upset that the Orchestra’s name has been omitted from all promotional material.

Concert-related material also refers to the organisation of UK premieres of works including the Hindemith Piano Concerto, Szymanowski’s ‘Symphonie Concertante’, and Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto and Symphony of Psalms (“a curious score, the Violins and Violas are not used at all”). These examples suggest many more interesting records will emerge later in the cataloguing process.

23 November 2012

International Folk Music Film Festival in Nepal

Today marks the start of the 2nd International Folk Music Film Festival in Nepal. Hosted by the Music Museum of Nepal the festival includes films which document traditional music cultures throughout the world with a particular focus on the music and cultural traditions in Nepal.


A selection of films which were screened at the first festival in 2011 have now been archived in collection C1516: International Folk Music Film Festival – Nepal in the World and Traditional Music section and are available to view on-site in the reading rooms at the British Library.

If you happen to be heading to Kathmandu this weekend then you can find out about screening times and venues from the Music Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu. If you miss it however we hope to be able to add some of the selected films from 2012 to the collection by March 2013 to allow researchers access to some of the latest material from Nepalese and worldwide film makers documenting musical traditions.

14 November 2012

World and Traditional Music collections on YouTube

The first four archive film clips to be launched on the  British Library  - Sound and Moving Image  - YouTube channel are the results of a collaboration between the British Library World and Traditional Music and Moving Image departments, Dr Richard Widdess at SOAS and the Music Museum of Nepal. The digitisation, identification and editing of some of the film and non-synchronous audio material in the Arnold Adriaan Bake collection, C52, means we are now able to release some edited highlights from the Bake collection online. Furthermore each clip is specifically referenced in the summary of the YouTube clip to allow researchers to link directly back to the source material in the catalogue.

The first film begins with Bake's arrival in Nepal in 1931.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Indra Jaatra festival Kathmandu, 1931

Arnold Bake created a unique document of the religious music of Nepal through his films of the annual festivals which was where he found many of the musicians he would record for his research. In his films he also represented a changing culture and built landscape that would in part vanish in the earthquakes of 1933.

Many collections in the World and Traditional Music section hold a range of formats, reflecting the diverse nature of ethnographic field recording. Among these is C52, a unique collection of South Asian material recorded by Dutch ethnomusicologist Dr Arnold Adriaan Bake [1899-1963]. His collection spans not only many decades but also many formats of audio and visual material including wax cylinders, tefi-bands, reel-to-reel tapes and 16mm black and white and colour silent films, providing a complex and detailed document of music and ritual in South Asia from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

The collection itself is in many ways like a jigsaw. The recent digitisation of the 16mm film material by the Moving Image team enabled access to footage hitherto impossible in the British Library. This coincided with the digitisation of audio material from the collection. However the documentation, especially that of the films, was extremely sparse and in places non-existent. To add to the complexity the non-synchronous nature of the recordings means that although much of the audio and film footage is related it would not have been shot at the same time: in many cases Bake would record an event in film and then return to record the event in audio. The story could have ended there with a complex collection awaiting researchers to release its secrets………….

Excitingly the Nepalese material in this collection, which makes up at least half of the collection, became the subject of a repatriation project with the Music Museum of Nepal. With painstaking effort they honoured the exchange of knowledge by returning detailed documentation for the films to the British Library which has now been added to the catalogue and was the inspiration for the making of these short films.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Newar musicians, 1955-56

The second film introduces musicians from one of the main culture groups in Nepal, the Newar. Among the religious music performed by the Newar is Dapha, a form of hymn singing.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Matayaa festival, 1955-56

The third film illustrates the importance of ritual in Nepalese life. The Matayaa festival celebrates family ancestors with offerings at shrines. Musicians and devotees circumambulate the town making offerings.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Seto Machindranath festival, 1955-56

The final film allows a glimpse of one of the main features of the religious festivals in Nepal, the mobilisation of the chariots carrying the deities. This colour footage shows the dedication and worship related to the chariots and the precariousness as they are manually pulled through the streets during the festival. The mountains of Nepal can be seen on the horizon.

These represent only a small portion of the collection, with a great deal more digitised films to be released next Spring 2013, but we hope they will encourage researchers to come to the British Library to delve further into this and other collections.

12 November 2012

Mozart's Marriage Contract

The British Library has a long tradition of collecting printed and manuscript sources for Mozart’s music, cultivated both under its previous guise as part of the British Museum and in its present incarnation as an autonomous library at St. Pancras.  Mozart himself visited the British Museum in July 1765 at the tender age of nine and took the opportunity to deposit a copy of his first sacred composition (and only setting of an English text), God is our Refuge, written out with the assistance of his father Leopold.  He may therefore be counted as the first in an illustrious line of composers to have presented manuscripts to the Library. 

K_10_a_17_(3)_f. 1

Since that time, the Library’s Mozart holdings have grown apace, with items acquired individually from dealers and at auction, via the legal deposit of music published in the UK, and as part of larger collections – notably those amassed by Vincent Novello and Edward Meyerstein.  Without question the most important single acquisition was the donation in 1986 by the heirs of Stefan Zweig of his collection of musical and literary autographs.  Mozart was at the core of Zweig’s interests as a collector, so that by the time of his death in 1942 he had acquired no fewer than 17 important Mozart documents (another was added to the collection in 1955). 

They included autograph manuscripts of the song Das Veilchen, the horn concerto in E flat major (K. 447), a draft of Cherubino’s aria ‘Non so più cosa son’ in Le nozze di Figaro, and the string quintet in E flat (K. 614), as well as the thematic catalogue that Mozart maintained from 1784 until his death in 1791.  In addition to musical sources, Zweig also acquired five Mozart letters and, most remarkably, the contract of marriage between Mozart and Constanze Weber (shelfmark Zweig MS 69).  Zweig had acquired this document in 1935 from the collection of the financier and philanthropist Sir Edgar Speyer (1862-1932) and it had previously formed part of the Hauser collection, which was sold at auction in Leipzig in 1905. 

The contract is dated 3 August 1782, the day before the wedding at St.Zweig_ms_69_f. 001v Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.  It was signed by Constanze Weber, her mother Maria Caecilia Weber, her witness Johann Carl Cetto von Kronstorff and her guardian Johann Thorwart, as well as by Mozart (‘Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’) and his witness Franz Gilowsky.  The seals of each signatory appear on the document, Mozart’s in the form of his initials ‘WAM’.  The only other person present at the wedding, in addition to the clergy, was Constanze’s younger sister, Sophie. The text of the contract stipulates that two copies were to be drawn up and signed, one for each spouse. 

The events leading up to the marriage are documented in Mozart’s correspondence and they provide much biographical fodder for analysing the composer’s strained relationship with his father.  The wedding was arranged in some haste and went ahead despite the fact that Leopold Mozart’s blessing was not received in advance (it was conveyed in a letter that Mozart only received the day after).  Mozart subsequently wrote a conciliatory letter to his father dated 7 August 1782, in which he offers a touching description of the ceremony itself: ‘When we were joined together, my wife and I began to cry – everybody was touched by that, even the priest – they all wept when they saw how deeply moved we were in our hearts’ (translation by Robert Spaethling). 

The marriage contract has been published in facsimile and in transcription, and has been shown at various exhibitions in the UK, Austria, and the US since 1934. The British Library has now digitised this document to make it freely available on the internet, as part of its Digitised Manuscripts portal. 


09 November 2012

Boxing day

Barely a day passes when there is not another delivery of packages from record companies containing the latest releases to add to the BL collection. A constant stream of sturdy, anonymous brown boxes arrive at my desk, labelled only by the distribution company, with little external clue as to their contents. Even after many years of receiving such deliveries there remains a thrill of anticipation as to what the boxes might contain – Christmas Day every day, as a colleague has described it.

But yesterday this arrived:

 Indies 005

We are used to receiving boxed sets of records to add to our collections – in fact the revival in the fortunes of vinyl means we are seeing more and more such deluxe reissue packages – but custom-made stickers on the box proudly announcing the contents have not been done before as far as I can remember.

So the ‘what’s in the box?’ anticipatory moment was denied but on opening we found a 16-LP set of Beatles albums on 180 gram audiophile-quality vinyl with a lavish 250-page book describing the albums and the remastering process.

Indies 008

This is an extravagant set which many will covet and, given the likely price, few can obtain. Only 50,000 copies are to be available worldwide so we are lucky and appreciative that EMI have donated the set. Like many of our holdings it will probably become a collectors’ item, so in a departure from normal practice we are likely to keep the delivery box with the one-off sticker in addition to the set for the benefit of future Beatles completists.

Oh, and the records sound pretty good too.

08 November 2012

The Stephen Oliver Archive at the British Library

It's twenty years since the English composer Stephen Oliver died, aged 42, leaving behind a huge array of musical works, from small instrumental pieces to operas.

Stephen Oliver’s published music is issued by Chester Novello. But many of his compositions, notably small-scale chamber pieces and songs, remain unpublished.

Stephen Oliver’s family have generously presented his archive of music manuscripts and papers to the British Library. The 177 volumes of material have now been fully catalogued and are available for researchers to consult in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room at the Library. The archive reveals the talent and versatility of the composer and the extraordinary quantity of music he produced in his short life.

Full description of the Stephen Oliver Archive (PDF file, 105KB)

Stephen Oliver began composing as a child.  He wrote his first mini-opera, Thespis, or The Gods, Grown Old for soloists, chorus and piano in 1966, when he was 16. At Oxford, where he studied with Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Kenneth Leighton, his operas All the Tea in China (1969), The Duchess of Malfi (1971) and The Dissolute Punished (1972) were performed. The Duchess of Malfi drew particular praise, and within a few years Oliver was able to earn his living as a full-time composer. 

The young Stephen Oliver

Oliver would become one of the leading composers of theatrical music of his generation, writing 40 operas, incidental music to more than 15 Royal Shakespeare Company productions, the musical Blondel and scores for TV and radio, including for the BBC radio production of The Lord of the Rings. Oliver also gave lectures on music and took part in radio and TV broadcasts.

Recordings of a number of Oliver's compositions are preserved at the British Library, including his symphony and the opera Timon of Athens. Also held are recordings of plays featuring his music, notably the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions of Shakespeare's Othello (1980) and David Edgar's Maydays (1984). Oliver's soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings and excerpts from Blondel also feature in the Library's Sound Archive, and there are several recordings of interviews with Oliver. Finally, there is a copy of a tribute programme presented by Michael Finnissy after Oliver's death in 1992. None of these recordings is available online for copyright reasons, but all can be made available to researchers on-site at the British Library.

Twenty years on from Stephen Oliver's death, it's a pleasure to make his archive available for consultation. I hope it will provide researchers of 20th-century music and culture with a wealth of material to explore, and that musicians seeking new repertoire will bring some of the unpublished pieces to light once more.

02 November 2012

Brazilian music lecture podcast

In celebration of Brazilian Music Day and Brazilian Independence Day the British Library held a public lecture on the 7th of September 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 concerned the meanings of music in Brazilian culture exploring key symbolic ideas attributed to Brazilian music and its role in shaping and characterising popular images of the country.

As part of our on-going work to increase accessibility, the lecture was recorded and is now available internationally as a podcast at