Music blog

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3 posts from July 2015

07 July 2015

Thea Musgrave - a new performance and a PhD opportunity

A few years ago the British Library acquired the archive of Thea Musgrave. We are now collaborating with the University of Glasgow to offer a PhD studentship on "The music of Thea Musgrave: an analysis based on the archival sources". Now in her 80s, Thea Musgrave remains very active as a composer, and her latest work Voices of our Ancestors will be premiered on Thursday 9 July at the City of London Festival by the Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge.

Photo: Christian Steiner

The studentship will be offered under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme in conjunction with the British Library, London. This exciting opportunity will require the researcher to divide his or her time between the University of Glasgow and the British Library. The student will be expected to assist with the cataloguing and interpretation of the archive, and will be invited to participate in other aspects of the British Library’s activities. A supervisory team from both institutions will oversee this work and full research training (including archival research skills) will be offered. The team will include Dr Martin Parker Dixon (Music) and Dr Simon Murray (Theatre Studies) from Glasgow University, and Richard Chesser, Head of Music at the British Library.

The studentship is funded for three years to commence in October 2015 and covers tuition fees at the Home/EU rate, due to funding. Home students and EU students who have lived in the UK for 3 years prior to the award will also receive a maintenance bursary (stipend) of £14,057 (2015/16 RCUK rate). In addition, the student is eligible to receive up to £1,000 a year from the British Library to support travel directly related to the doctoral research, and will be given use of a desk and computer in the Music department of the Library and access to staff catering facilities. All AHRC Collaborative PhD students automatically become part of the UK-wide Collaborative Doctoral Partnership development scheme which will provide training in a range of skills needed for research within museums, archives, galleries and heritage organisations.

Informal enquiries are welcome. Please write to Dr Martin Parker Dixon ([email protected]) in the first instance.

Voices of our Ancestors
A page of sketches for Thea Musgrave's new work, Voices of our Ancestors

We see four interconnected questions as providing the stimulus for developing and integrating original research into Musgrave’s oeuvre:

  • Thea Musgrave follows a fairly typical pattern of British composing of the period in that she is concerned to synthesise new continental techniques of serialism and aleatoricism with more traditional academic preoccupations of long-term tonal planning and modal harmony. With this, for example, she follows the same trajectory as the composers of the more heavily researched Manchester School. A comparative analysis of Musgrave’s technical via media – for which a study of the sketches would be indispensable – would provide an intimate portrait of the cultural and intellectual tolerances and ambitions of post-War Britain.
  • Another significant parallel with the Manchester School is Musgrave’s impulse towards drama and theatre, both in terms of writing for the stage, but also working with movement and spacialisation to affect ‘dramatic-abstract’ scenarios in her instrumental works. It would be important to contextualise her theatricalisation of musical form, and her concept of the dramatic against theatre practices and theories of the day. Musgrave has been described as essentially an operatic composer and it is important to substantiate this insight by discerning the representational, theatrical or narrative elements of her musical language. We stress that the concept of ‘theatre’ must not be treated naively or ahistorically, and this is why the investigation of this key aspect of Musgrave’s oeuvre needs to be carried out in collaboration with Theatre Studies.
  • A broader approach to her technique would attempt to discover the origins of her notion of compositional professionalism and work ethic, and her tactfulness and practicality towards the technical limitations of musical performers. These are principles that she has generally wanted to impress upon her students. Musgrave has very successfully managed the ‘business’ of compositional production at a time when commissions for new music were not easy to come by. Because she settled in the USA in the early 1970s, her life affords the opportunity to consider the different working conditions, expectations and cultural positions of the American and the European composer as they attempted to build a career within the economy of new music during the latter half of the 20th Century.
  • A further question relates to how her compositional career-building in the post-War context was shaped, hampered, or indeed boosted by gender and national identity. Early in her career, Musgrave seems to have benefitted enormously by being identified as Scottish at a time when Scottish musical institutions needed to champion homegrown talent. This identification does not sit easily with her more modernist and international positioning. And while a good proportion of her music has Scottish themes, there is no overt nationalist sentiment in her work. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that she is very much treated as a woman composer, even though she would rather be considered a ‘composer’. Susan McClary notes that Musgrave is one of many successful female musicians who is quick to rebuff any association with feminism. This tension must be explored.

In all of these areas of enquiry we anticipate that close study of the manuscript materials will underpin the research findings. It may then be appropriate for a catalogue description of the archive, taking account of the compositional processes as revealed in the source materials, to form an appendix to the thesis. By this means the student’s contribution to the Library’s catalogue can form part of the overall evaluation of the PhD.

For further details of how to apply for the studentship, please see

Applications should be submitted by Friday 17th July 2015, and interviews will take place in early August.

02 July 2015

Two film screenings and Conference on Audio-Visual Archives at the British Library, 17-19 July 2015

The School of Music at the University of Leeds and the British Library will host a conference, Audio-Visual Archives, at the British Library on 18-19 July 2015. In addition we will screen two films, Still Alice (2014) on Friday 17 July and In the Name of the Father (1993) on Saturday 18 July, with special introductory sessions.


Collections of materials relating to audio-visual processes and products take various forms ranging from the multitrack reels of film-score recording sessions in the Trevor Jones Archive at the University of Leeds to the Muir Mathieson papers and other film-related manuscripts at the British Library to the scores and other documents in the Warner Brothers’ Archive in California. This two-day conference will address some of the fundamental issues surrounding the use of archival collections relating to audio-visual processes and products, and explore current research in screen music that draws on archival resources. More information about the conference, including booking information, can be found here.


Muir Mathieson Archive British Library MS Mus 1763

In addition to the conference there will be two public film screenings, each with a pre-screening session.

On Friday 17 July at 7.00pm, London-based film and television composer Ilan Eshkeri, whose list of credits includes Stardust (2007), The Young Victoria (2009), The Snowman and the Snowdog (2012) and Shaun the Sheep (2015), discusses his score for the 2014 film Still Alice, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, and starring Julianne Moore. The session also includes live performance of parts of the score to illustrate the discussion and as a short concert ahead of a complete screening of the film at 8.00pm-9.45pm. Entry to the session with Ilan Eshkeri and the film screening that follows is not included in any of the conference ticket types. A combined ticket to this pre-screening session and the following film can be purchased for £7 here.

On Saturday 18 July at 4.45pm there will be a session in which the research team for the AHRC-funded project The Professional Career and Output of Trevor Jones draw on unique archival materials relating to Jones’s score for the 1993 film In the Name of the Father. The various audio, video, textual and musical resources housed in the Trevor Jones Archive at the University of Leeds reveal aspects of the composer’s creative process as well as some of the underlying aesthetic and musical considerations that underpin the score. This session is followed by a screening of the film at 5.15pm-7.45pm. This screening and the session that precedes it are free to conference delegates with a pass that includes Saturday. A combined ticket to this screening and the pre-screening session can be purchased for £7 here.

01 July 2015

The British Library at WOMAD

The British Library is celebrating 30 years of collaboration with WOMAD.

British Library team member at WOMAD

The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD is nearly as long as the festival's existence. Since 1985, missing only 3 years, we have been present at WOMAD's major annual summer event in the UK. Each year a small team of staff from the Library has spent an enjoyable weekend making documentary recordings of as many of the performances as possible. We try to cover all the stages and often record artists several times as they deliver different performances, including workshops and interviews, over the weekend. The concentration in one place of so many diverse and talented musicians allows us to document musical traditions from around the world right here on our doorstep. And it's not just a case of keeping a record of each performance for listening at the archive, but also a way of documenting for the long term a significant event on the ‘world music’ scene.

The British Library now has recordings of a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since their appearance at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal (first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991), Thomas Mapfumo (1990) and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1985), to cite only a few.

Our first WOMAD recording (on 20 July 1985 at Mersea Island, near Colchester) was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country.

In total we hold over 2000 hours of music recorded at WOMAD, backed up digitally for preservation and onsite access.

WOMAD is the only music festival that has this incredible relationship with the British Library, and to celebrate we are collaborating to offer one lucky winner a pair of tickets to this year’s festival at Charlton Park (24th-26th July) and an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the British Library Sound Archive in London for four people. For more information click here.

Open air stage Dhol Foundation 2
Dhol Foundation recorded by British Library at WOMAD 2004

Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme

Follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad