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3 posts from June 2016

15 June 2016

Recycling Madrigals in Counter-Reformation Italy

Last week, I started my PhD project placement at the British Library to work on 16th- and 17th-century printed music. After a day of induction to the workings of the Library, including a fascinating tour of the basement, where most of the Library’s collection items such as rare books and manuscripts are housed, my supervisor handed me a list of printed sources of which I was to produce descriptive data. I initially picked three items from the list to start off with, two of which I’d like to focus on in this post.

The first one, Nuove Laudi Ariose (Rome, 1600), was an anthology of laude, largely homophonic vocal pieces (in this case for four voices), the purpose of which was to strengthen the Catholic faith of those who sang and heard them, hence their widespread use during the Counter-Reformation. The anthology, edited by Giovanni Arascione and printed in 1600 by Nicolò Mutij in Rome, consists of four part books (Canto, Alto, Tenor, Basso). The copy housed at the British Library was acquired in 1975. Six more exemplars are extant, all of them in Italian libraries.

Several of the pieces contained in Nuove Laudi Ariose are actually recycled from popular secular madrigals, set to new texts. As Joachim Steinheuer points out, retexting secular madrigals and choosing popular dance basses of the time (such as the folia and the ciacona) as a basis for laude, were both common practices around 1600. In the case of retexting, one of the main reasons for this practice seems to have been to allow performers and educated listeners to link their familiarity with a particular secular madrigal, usually centred around themes of romantic love in various guises, with a new text and message – one that focussed on love of God, Christ, or Mary, as well as other pious topics such as the rejection of sin and worldly pleasures (see Joachim Steinheuer, 'Poverello che farai? - Musik als Vehikel gegenreformatorischer Bestrebungen', in Victoria von Flemming, ed., Aspekte der Gegenreformation, Sonderheft Zeitsprünge (Forschungen zur Frühen Neuzeit, Vol. 1, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1997), 611). 

Monteverdi, Madrigals Book 4, title page

Last page, tenor part book, and title page, alto part book of Claudio Monteverdi, Il quatro libro de madrigali (Venice, 1603)

The second printed source I worked on was the 1607 edition of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, while the third was Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals for five voices of 1603. ‘Si ch’io vorrei morire’ (‘Yes, I’d like to die’) – this madrigal has regularly recurred during the course of my studies. I was first introduced to it by my music theory professor in Berlin, at some point during the first two years of my undergraduate degree. With its suggestive erotic text, rapid harmonic shifts and seemingly endless chains of dissonant suspensions, there was little not to like about this five-part madrigal, which counts as one of Monteverdi’s best known works in this genre.

It resurfaced in my attention at a concert a couple of months ago by the Turton Consort, who performed the entire fourth book in a concert at St. Ann’s Church in Manchester. As Joachim Steinheuer states in his article, ‘O Jesu mea vita’ is actually a retexting of ‘Si ch’io vorrei morire’, with the erotic text describing a sexual act turned into one about the desire for spiritual unification with Christ, without changing even one note.  I had not remembered the exact contents of Monteverdi’s fourth book, so I realised only when leafing through the publication that this particular madrigal was back to ‘haunt’ me.

Monteverdi, Madrigals Book 4, Canto

Page 17 (‘Si ch’io vorrei morire’), canto part book of Monteverdi, Il quatro libro

The fourth book of madrigals is scarcer than Arascione’s Nuove Laudi Ariose: only two further exemplars are extant, one each in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, and in the Biblioteca comunale Ariostea in Ferrara, Italy. The British Library exemplar forms part of the Hirsch collection, which was bought from the previous owner, Paul Hirsch, in 1946.
As with the Arascione edition, Monteverdi’s fourth book was printed by single-impression movable type. It also carries a dedication (Illustration 3), addressed ‘to the illustrious gentlemen and observing patrons, the gentlemen of the Accademia degli Intrepidi [literally, the academy of the fearless] of Ferrara’ by the ‘most affectionate and obliging servant Claudio Monte verde’. In other words, even though Monteverdi, who had only recently been promoted to the position of ‘Maestro della Musica del Sereniss[imo] Sig[nor] Duca di Mantova’, printed the volume in Venice, the main hub for music printing at the time, his dedicatees were the members of the Accademia degli Intrepidi in Ferrara. Among these was the Duke of Mantua, which has lead Paolo Fabri to suggest it was ‘most likely intended, if only indirectly, as an act of homage to his own employer’ (see Paolo Fabri, Monteverdi, transl. Tim Carter (Cambridge: University Press, 1994, first published in Italian in 1985), 57.).  In any case, this dedication may well be why there is an exemplar housed in the public library of Ferrara.

Stephan Schönlau (University of Manchester)

PhD Placement Student

Monteverdi, Madrigals Book 4

Dedication (verso of the title page), canto part book of Monteverdi, Il quatro libro









03 June 2016

Peter Kennedy Archive

As part of an AHRC Cultural Engagement project grant awarded to City University and partially funded by the National Folk Music Fund, ethnomusicologist Andrew Pace, has engaged in a project to catalogue thousands of paper and photographic files from Peter Kennedy’s collection of British and Irish folk music held at the British Library.

This month we have launched a unique website - - in which listeners can retrace the chronology and geographical routes of Kennedy's extensive field recording activity. In the text below, Andrew describes the project and walks us through the website's main features.

Peter Kennedy interviewing Edgar Button. Thebburton, Suffolk, 1956 [PR0925]

Peter Kennedy was one of the most prolific collectors of British and Irish folk music and customs from the 1950s up until his death in 2006. Working closely with other collectors of his generation, such as Alan Lomax, Sean O’Boyle and Hamish Henderson, he recorded hundreds of traditional performers ‘in the field’, including Margaret Barry, Fred Jordan, Paddy Tunney, Harry Cox, Frank and Francis McPeake and Jack Armstrong. In 2008 his collection came under the care of the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library.

I’ve been working on Peter’s sizeable collection periodically since 2010, cataloguing thousands of audio tapes and photographs of traditional performers and uploading some of this material to Sounds. In fact, just this month an additional 500 photographs and 70 audio recordings from Peter’s collection have been added to the existing collection available online. 

Bob Copper, John Copper, Ron Copper and Jim Cooper photographed by Peter Kennedy in Rottingdean, Sussex, 1950s [025I-MSMUS1771X1X-0201A0]

However, Peter’s paper files, comprising song texts, scores, contracts, draft manuscripts and a large amount of correspondence between himself and performers, collectors, institutions and enquirers, hadn’t been catalogued. This is the task that I’ve been undertaking since January. All of these papers will be uploaded to the Library’s catalogue in due course.

Amongst these papers I discovered 31 reports written by Peter for the BBC’s ‘Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme’, a project on which he was working during the 1950s. Across 180 typewritten pages, Peter describes his daily itinerary recording traditional performers around the UK and Ireland between 1952 and 1962. Full of anecdotes and insightful information about the musicians he recorded - including confirmation of when and where he recorded them - these documents reveal a great deal about Peter’s fieldwork during this period.

I decided to use these reports as the basis for a new website which brings these narratives together with all of the audio recordings and photographs from Peter’s collection that have been digitised so far:

These reports feature ‘hotspots’ placed over the names of the more than 650 musicians that Peter recorded during these trips. Clicking on the name of a performer reveals any sound recordings or photographs taken of them by Peter on that particular day that are available to view and listen to on Sounds. Additionally, links to entries in the British Library’s catalogue are provided for any related material that hasn’t yet been digitised, such as Peter’s tapes or BBC transcription discs.

What makes this website unique is the way it contextualises recordings and photographs of performers with Peter’s own notes about them. Whilst the British Library’s catalogue is useful as a search tool, it doesn’t reveal how a collection was formed and developed – and it doesn’t tell us very much about who created it. This new website gives us a better idea of what’s in this collection by refocusing attention on Peter as a recordist and reconstituting his material into a form that better resembles how he created it.

I hope will prove useful to researchers and musicians alike and encourage more people to explore Peter’s collection at the British Library. As more of his field recordings are digitised and attached to the site, it should become an increasingly valuable resource

- Andrew Pace

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

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.


02 June 2016

Out of the Archive - Peter Gellhorn, Composer

On 30 June 2016, the British Library will be hosting an event entitled Out of the Archive – Peter Gellhorn, Composer.

Peter Gellhorn (1912-2004) came to Britain in 1935 as a refugee from Nazi Germany and soon gained a reputation as a pianist and conductor, working with many of the leading musicians of the post-war era, and holding posts at Sadler’s Wells Opera, the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, and the BBC.

Less well-known is his work as a composer, especially during the 1930s in Berlin, where he was a prize-winning student at the Berlin Akademie, and in the years following his arrival in Britain. Over the last few months a team from the Royal College of Music, led by Norbert Meyn and Terence Curran, has been working on a project to investigate Gellhorn’s musical legacy and to evaluate his compositions, the manuscript scores of which are now held at the British Library.

Their research forms part of the Royal College of Music’s wider Singing a Song project, which considers the lives and works of the many musicians who were forced into exile by National Socialism and went on to play pivotal roles in shaping Britain’s post-war musical culture.‎

In this event, the Alke Quartet will perform some of Gellhorn’s works for strings, many of which have not been heard for over 75 years. There will also be presentations about the project and on research into Gellhorn’s life and career, as well as the opportunity to view a selection of his manuscripts held within the collections at the British Library.

The event will take place on Thursday 30 June 2016, 3pm to 5pm, in the Foyle Room at the British Library. The event is free, but places are limited. To reserve your place, please email [email protected]. The closing date for bookings is Sunday 26 June 2016.

Alke Quartet

The Alke Quartet