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4 posts from June 2013

28 June 2013

Library acquires George Lloyd's music manuscripts

The British composer George Lloyd was born one hundred years ago today.  On his centenary - and at a time when his music is experiencing something of a renaissance - we’re very pleased to announce that the British Library has just acquired all of George Lloyd’s autograph music manuscripts.

George Lloyd in the 1990s
George Lloyd in the 1990s. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)

Lloyd studied at Trinity College of Music in London, and before the outbreak of World War II had already composed three symphonies and two operas, Iernin and The Serf. During the war Lloyd served as a bandsman in the Royal Marines.

George Lloyd in uniform
George Lloyd in uniform. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)

George Lloyd and fellow band members
George Lloyd and fellow band members. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)

On the notoriously dangerous Arctic convoys, Lloyd’s ship HMS Trinidad was struck by one of its own torpedoes, which had veered off course and returned to strike the ship.  Lloyd was one of just a handful of survivors.

George Lloyd composed his Fourth Symphony in 1946 as he struggled to come to terms with his experience, describing it on the title-page as “A world of darkness, storms, strange colours and a far-away peacefulness”.  You can now see the autograph manuscript of this symphony on display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. 

Title page of George Lloyd's Fourth Symphony
Title page of George Lloyd's Fourth Symphony. Copyright The George Lloyd Music Library (Lloyd Music Ltd.)

Despite the physical and mental scars, Lloyd went on to complete 12 symphonies, 7 concertos, three operas and many other vocal and instrumental works.  Although for some years his music was little played - it was considered too tuneful by some - the last 20 years of Lloyd's life saw a revival of interest in his music, and this has continued in the years since his death in 1998.  This week, he has been featured as BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week, and there are two performances of his music at the BBC Proms: his Requiem and, on the Last Night of the Proms, the orchestral version of his HMS Trinidad March, which only turned up while the collection was being sorted prior to its arrival at the British Library.

The George Lloyd Collection, now available for researchers and musicians to consult at the British Library, includes early sketches and drafts of many of Lloyd's compositions, as well as the autograph ‘final versions’. For researchers, such sketches and drafts are invaluable, as they shed light on a composer’s approach to writing and creative processes. Even what appear to be the final versions of a work are not always that: like many other composers, Lloyd sometimes made changes to his works after they had been copied by a professional copyist in preparation for performances of the music, or even during rehearsals.  Copyists' scores with autograph annotations can therefore contain important information on the composer's afterthoughts.  A number of copyists' scores with Lloyd's annotations are included in the collection.  Many of the scores were used by George Lloyd when conducting concerts or recordings of his music, and they frequently contain markings that provide valuable information on the performance.

You can find out more about George Lloyd and his music on the webpages of the George Lloyd Society and Lloyd Music Ltd.


12 June 2013

Poetry in Sound exhibition: Britten and Auden in the spotlight

Following the launch of the new British Library exhibition Poetry in Sound: the music of Benjamin Britten, we’ll be putting the spotlight, on this blog, on some of the themes we’ve chosen to explore in the exhibition. I hope these posts will tempt you to come and discover the manuscripts, unpublished recordings, rare printed materials and photographs we’ve selected from our archives.

Britten (right) and Auden in New York in 1941
Britten (right) and Auden in New York in 1941. Courtesy of

At the start of the exhibition we focus on one of the most important of Britten’s early relationships: his friendship and collaboration with the poet W.H. Auden (1907-1973). Britten and Auden attended the same school, Gresham’s, in Norfolk, but Auden was six years older, so their paths didn't cross until the mid-1930s, when both began working for the General Post Office Film Unit. Britten confided in his diary that Auden ‘is a remarkably fine brain’. Auden was struck by Britten’s sensitivity in setting the English language to music.

Their most famous collaboration was Night Mail (1936), a GPO documentary depicting the Postal Special train puffing its way from London to Glasgow. There's a clip from the film in the exhibition (the final section, where Auden’s famous verse ‘This is the Night Mail crossing the border’ is heard to Britten’s evocative accompaniment of sandpaper, wind machine and a side drum representing the sound of the train). Alongside is a leaf from Britten’s handwritten score, showing those unconventional musical forces.

Although Britten is probably best known today for his operas, songs and music for children, he spent much of the 1930s composing for film, radio and the theatre. He was involved with the Group Theatre, an experimental theatre company which presented plays by T.S. Eliot, Louis MacNeice, Auden and Isherwood and staged lectures, exhibitions and debates. Britten composed music for five productions between 1935 and 1938, including Auden and Isherwood’s plays The Ascent of F6 and On the Frontier

Pamphlet about the Group Theatre (London: Group Theatre, 1938?). LD.31.a.2219.
Pamphlet about the Group Theatre (London, 1938?). LD.31.a.2219.

The Ascent of F6 features the song ‘Funeral Blues’, which, with its opening line ‘Stop all the clocks’, later became more famous as a poem - reaching an even bigger audience after its appearance in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. Among the many rare or unique recordings in the exhibition is Britten and Auden’s song ‘Stop all the clocks’ performed by Peter Pears (tenor) and Britten (piano) in an unpublished test pressing made for Decca in 1955.

Auden and Isherwood travelled to the USA shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and Britten followed soon afterwards with Peter Pears. In America, Britten and Auden collaborated on a rather unconventional operetta, Paul Bunyan. The character Paul Bunyan was a giant lumberjack of American legend, who had a blue ox called Babe as a travelling companion. The operetta was first performed at Columbia University, New York in 1941.

Whether through annoyance at the Englishmen for attempting a work on such an all-American theme, or dislike of the piece itself, the critics were overwhelmingly hostile. ‘As bewildering and irritating a treatment of the outsize lumberman as any two Englishmen could have devised’, wrote Time magazine. A ‘musico-theatrical flop’ was the verdict of composer and critic Virgil Thomson.

The piece was seemingly much too long. Milton Smith, the director, told Britten’s biographer Donald Mitchell of his unsuccessful attempts to persuade Britten and Auden to make cuts. After the first night, he was begged to make the cuts he'd long been advocating but by then, he said, ‘the boat had sailed’. Paul Bunyan was withdrawn, and only revived in 1976, in a much amended version. In the Donald Mitchell Archive at the British Library, and featured in the exhibition, are some rare colour photographs of the première and a recording of part of it. Although the sound quality of the recording is quite poor, it gives us a tantalising glimpse of how Paul Bunyan sounded before Britten revised it, and how it was received in 1941. Even if the critics remained unmoved, it's clear from the laughter and applause that the audience members were enjoying themselves.

As well as composing for the cinema and theatre, Britten also provided music for nearly 30 UK and US radio productions in the 1930s and 1940s. The Rocking-Horse Winner was a radio play adapted by W.H. Auden and James Stern from D.H. Lawrence's short story of the same name, first broadcast by CBS in 1941. Britten composed eight numbers, which were conducted by Bernard Herrmann. The score doesn't seem to have survived, but the annotated script, on display, is preserved among the James Stern Papers at the British Library.

Britten’s last major collaboration with W.H. Auden is also one of his best-known pieces, the Hymn to St Cecilia, for unaccompanied chorus.  The pair worked worked together closely on the text while Britten was still living in the USA. In March 1942, homesick for England, Britten left America on a cargo ship to return permanently to the UK with Pears, and during the return voyage completed the music. It was first performed in November 1942, in a radio broadcast by the BBC Singers.  The first page of Britten’s autograph draft, on display, reveals that he originally called the work ‘Song for St Cecilia’.

Auden remained in the USA, and with the closing of this chapter in his life, Britten abruptly cut his ties with the poet. Like many people who upset Britten or outlived their usefulness, Auden became one of his 'corpses', former friends and associates who were banished from his life. 

In my next Britten post, I'll be focusing on the composer's attitude to war, his stance as a conscientious objector and his mighty War Requiem.

05 June 2013

Dramatised reading of Wagner's Ring cycle, Sunday 9 June

Rehearsals are continuing apace for the dramatised reading this Sunday of Richard Wagner's entire Ring cycle in the British Library Conference Centre.  The reading takes its cue from Wagner's own practice of reciting from the libretto in public or to guests after dinner, providing a rare opportunity to experience the richness and subtlety of Wagner's writing and to thrill to the drama of the text as poetry.

Directed by William Relton, the 'British Library Ring Cycle' will be more than a simple Sir John Tomlinsonread-through. Judging from today's dress rehearsal, the audience can look forward to an enthralling and dramatic semi-staging with a cast of outstanding recent graduates of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.  Presiding throughout the performance as narrator will be the great operatic bass and linchpin of Wagner productions at the Bayreuth Festival, at Covent Garden and at opera houses around the world over the past two decades, Sir John Tomlinson

An integral part of the performance will the projection of early pictorial interpretations of scenes from the Ring on the big screen, adding visual expression to the dramatic experience.  The illustrations will be drawn from the work of artists including Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), Josef Hoffmann (1833-1904), and Igance Fantin-Latour (1836-1904).  We'll also be showcasing the work of contemporary artist Phil Redford, whose amazing hand printed linocut books of illustrations of the Ring and Tristan und Isolde produced between 1992 and 2005 are held at the Library.

The full cast details are as follows:

Ring reading rehearsal
Siegmund, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde in rehearsal


Sir John Tomlinson (Narrator)
Gethin Alderman (Wotan)
Rebecca Dickson-Black (Brünnhilde)
Mathew Foster (Siegfried/Donner)
Daryl Armstrong (Alberich)
Jason Broderick (Mime)
Kane Surry (Loge/Gunther)
Sara Hirsch (Fricka/Helwige/Gutrune)
Maryanna Hedges (Wellgunde/Sieglinde)
Matt Beveridge (Froh/Siegmund)
Simon Lyshon (Fasolt/Hagen)
Mischa Resnick (Fafner)
Emily Jane Kerr (Erda/Schwertleite)
Paula Carson (Waltraute)
Julia Jade-Duffy (Freia/Siegrune/Second Norn)
Pernille Haaland (Rossweise/Woodbird/Third Norn)
Melissa Ulloa (Woglinde/Grimgerde)
Lauren Osborn (Flosshilde/Gerhilde)
Lucy Bairstow (Ortlinde/ First Norn)
William Relton (Director)
Truly Lin (Assistant Director)

 Tickets are available via the BL website:

Approximate timings:

11.00  The Rhinegold
12.10  Break
12.20  The Valkyrie
13.45  Lunch break
14.45  Siegfried
16.25  Break
16.35  Twilight of the Gods
18.00  End


04 June 2013

Benjamin Britten exhibition launched at the British Library

On Friday we launched a new exhibition on Benjamin Britten in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library. This free exhibition runs until 15 September 2013 and is part of the international Britten 100 festivities marking the centenary of the composer's birth.

In the exhibition, Poetry in Sound: the music of Benjamin Britten, we explore the literary influences on Britten's music, from William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson to W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, as well as some of the political and musical influences that shaped his work.


Britten at home in about 1949
Britten at home in about 1949. Photograph by Roland Haupt, courtesy of Britten 100


In addition to several of Britten's own draft manuscripts, including The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and War Requiem, we've included photographs, rare literary and historical printed material and unpublished sound recordings. Over the coming days, I shall be blogging about some of the key exhibits on display. 

To mark Britten's centenary, we have also digitised all 42 of the autograph manuscripts of Britten in the British Library's collection.  The manuscripts are now freely available for everyone to see and study on our Digitised Manuscripts website.  (You just need to type 'Britten' in the search box to find them.) We are very grateful to all the copyright holders for allowing us to make the manuscripts available online.

The Library is also staging a series of related Britten events and performances. For more details of the exhibition and events, please see