Music blog

5 posts from August 2016

23 August 2016

Passionate music from a hot country: a musical visit to Iraq-Kurdistan

The British Library's World and Traditional Music section supported ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, on a field trip to record music in Iraq-Kurdistan over June/July 2016. This is his report.

Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan Photo Rolf Killius
Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

It is hot. No, it is extremely hot. Today the temperature is 45° Celsius; the air is bone-dry, no trace of wind. I am in Sulaimani, the second urban centre in Iraq-Kurdistan. This part of Iraq belongs to the Kurds and is de-facto an independent state run by a Kurdish government.

Traditional singers and musicians have gathered in the Zardosht Café. Zardosht is the Kurdish term for Zoroastrianism, an age-old religion known in the wider region. Since the coming of the Islamic period, it has become a minority religion, often frowned upon. These days the Zardosht belief is making a kind of come-back. Here in Kurdistan the faith is essentially Kurdish and promotes traditional folk music.

Listen Zardosht Cafe Group

The group starts to play: The zarab (goblet drum) player provides rhythm while the Korg keyboardist adds harmonies and melodic phrases. Occasionally the saz (plucked lute) virtuoso contributes drone and melodic sounds. But the musical highlight is the charismatic lead-singer Ata Azizy; he alternates – or even competes – with the balaban player, Jowanro, in expressing intricate melodic lines. A balaban is a traditional single-reed wood instrument; it is very similar to the Armenian duduk. Its sound is soothing and exciting at the same time. Their way of singing and playing, including the guttural stops, is possibly what makes the music “typically” Kurdish.

The singer Ata Azizy Photo Rolf Killius
The singer Ata Azizy. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016
The balaban player Jowanro accompanied with zarab drum, keyboard and saz Photo Rolf Killius
The balaban player Jowanro accompanied with zarab drum, keyboard and saz. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

With the support of the British Library's World and Traditional Music section, I was able to visit Iraq-Kurdistan and record traditional music during live events and in pre-arranged recording sessions. I was curious: how does a new country treats its rich traditional music culture?

I stay for the ‘after-party’ at the Zorgasth Café. Here the singer, Rafat Germiany, and the same balaban player perform howrama. Though this musical genre is remotely connected to Zoroastrianism, it is known as a typical Kurdish vocal style. The voice and the wind-instrument alternate again.

 Listen Zardosht Cafe Howrama group

 The singer Rafat Germiany (second left) and the balaban player Jowanro (second right) Photo Rolf Killius

The singer Rafat Germiany (second left) and the balaban player Jowanro (second right). Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

For me the most remarkable thing is the large, mainly young crowd (only men). They watch the performance with increasing anticipation. It shows that the music is still meaningful to a younger audience and therefore has a future. One participant told me that this café was the only public space where a female singer was allowed to perform these days.

Everybody mentions the traditional vocal style called heiran from the Erbil region, Erbil being the country’s capital and the other urban centre. Mr Delzar, a friend, invites me to his home village far from Erbil, just below the Qarachokh mountain range. Today his ‘village’ consists of several farm-houses managed on a part-time basis and re-created only recently. The original Kurdish villages of this region were destroyed by Iraqi troops, the last time by Saddam Hussain in 1988. Only in the last few years – the region was only recently secured by the Peshmerga (Kurdish liberation army) – have some of the original villagers and their descendants come back to farm again.

A seasoned Kurd arrives at Mr Delzar’s farm-house and immediately starts singing. Mr Mahyadin Sherwani is a farmer and self-taught heiran singer. He explains to me that the songs of the heiran genre describe the rugged countryside of Kurdistan and its people.

I first experienced traditional Kurdish vocal music many years back in the Kurdish region of eastern Turkey. I listened to the always slightly over-amplified and highly reverberated recordings from cassettes played on the crackling PA-system of a local bus. There, listening to this music and viewing the hills flying past, I imagined how this music was born in the Kurdish countryside.  I have the same feeling today, listening to this talented singer in this Iraq-Kurdistan village.

The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani Photo Parwez Zabihi
The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani. Photo Parwez Zabihi, 2016

Listen The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani


I have already mentioned the saz. During my last week in Iraq-Kurdistan I was invited to a performance in the heart of Erbil of the saz player and musical instrument shop owner, Bakr Sazvan. He has his shop just below the ancient citadel set on a mound towering over the city. He played a number of electrifying pieces, setting his business aside for a full hour.

The saz is a pear-shaped plucked instrument, with five or six strings organised in three courses. For the Kurds the saz is an essentially Kurdish instrument though it is also used by Turkish and Iranian musicians.

Especially intriguing is how Bakr Sazvan plays, combining melodic phrases played on the higher pitched strings, and striking the lower pitched strings in order to create the accompanying drone sound.

The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop Photo Rolf Killius
The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

Listen The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop


As I pack my bags for the return journey to London I ponder about Kurdish traditional music: in comparison with many other regions of the world I’ve visited, the music of the Kurds is still alive and kicking! As these people are very keen to demonstrate traditional music and to preserve their culture, they invited me to come again for a much longer stay. I happily accepted.

Rolf Killius ([email protected] and 09/08/2016 

(with thanks to the musicians, interpreters, fixers and friends who assisted on the trip)

The recordings made during this project will be added to the Rolf Killius Collection (C815). Some of Rolf's recordings from rural India are online on BL Sounds.

Find out more about the work of the British Library'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.


Nicola Matteis and his Ayrs for the Violin

Researching for my recent blog post (, I came across a number of volumes that initially caused me great confusion: there were a total of twelve shelf marks at the British Library associated with a smaller number of different titles, all of which seemed to be of Ayrs or Ayres for the violin by Nicola Matteis. Some of the shelf marks carried the same title and the same date, but there seemed to be five different dates: 1676, 1685, 1687, 1688 and 1703. What was less clear to me was whether these five dates represented different editions of the same pieces, or of entirely different music. It turned out there were actually four different books of Ayres, some of which were published at the same time, while some copies of the same book were printed at different times. To explain this, we need to delve into some of the context surrounding music printing in the late seventeenth century, specifically that using engraved plates.

1 Title page Hirsch M.1425
Illustration 1: First title page of Hirsch M.1425

Movable type had to be disassembled after a print-run of one gathering, in order to be re-used for other music or text, so reprinting the same page later was an expensive choice. As a result, print-runs were often relatively large, and a book that had sold out would often appear in another edition rather than another issue of the same edition. By contrast, engraved plates were usually kept and re-used whenever necessary, so it was financially viable to have a relatively small initial print-run if there were any doubts that the book would sell. As a result, copies produced in a second print-run may look almost exactly the same as those produced earlier. Furthermore, there may be later additions of pages to printed music, or small differences between seemingly identical copies that came about by correcting previous errors on the same plate, or, more rarely, re-engraving an entire plate (Jones, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis’, 51-2; also Krummel, Guide, 9-11; for a description of the process of correcting errors, see Poole, ‘Music Printing’, 46-7). Lastly, excess printed leaves from a previous print-run might be given a new title page and interspersed with new pages, so that the production date of a particular copy may actually stretch several years. This means that, unlike in type-set books and music, it is often more difficult to decide whether two engraved volumes of the same music constitute a different ‘edition’, ‘issue’ and ‘impression’. Dates given on title pages sometimes cannot be trusted, as the actual print run may have been much later than the date suggested (Kummel, English Music Printing, 145); often, as a consequence, no date is given at all.

All of these factors are relevant when considering the self-published output of Nicola Matteis, an Italian-born virtuoso violinist who settled in London by 1674. Matteis may initially have printed some of his violin music for his pupils before choosing to publish his first two books of Ayres for violin and bass in 1676 (Carter, ‘Music Publishing’, 84-5). This publication may in turn have been intended to attract more pupils (Ibid., 128-9). Simon Jones even argues that the technical difficulties of many of the pieces in Matteis’s rather successful Books 1 and 2 could have encouraged people to enrol for the composer’s violin lessons in order to learn to play them (Jones, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis’, 58). According to Jones, the earliest British Library copy of this (shelf mark Hirsch M.1425, Illustration 1) dates from between 1676 and 1679, so the date given in the online catalogue (1676) is potentially correct. The date ‘1679’ occurs in a handwritten inscription on a front flyleaf, which may indicate the date it was presented as a gift rather than the date it was printed (Ibid., 117).

2 Title page K.1.f.12
Illustration 2: First title page of K.1.f.12.

The first two books were probably reprinted several times: the first volume of British Library K.1.f.10 represents a different impression of the same issue as Hirsch M.1425. At some point after 1676, Matteis also published them with Italian title pages (British Library K.1.f.12.; see Illustration 2) and with a preface to the reader. The two instances of the number ‘8’ in the coronet on the Italian title pages (see the close-up in Illustration 3) has led cataloguers to assume that the publication is dated 1688 (this is also the date given in the British Library’s online catalogue), but, as Jones points out, these figures may be purely ornamental and ‘[e]verything else about the issue supports the conclusion that it dates from a much earlier period’ (Ibid., 57).

K.1.f.12 close-up
Illustration 3: Close-up of coronet on first title page of K.1.f.12.

Jones’s main argument is that the wording of the preface (Illustration 4) suggests a date of publication some years after Matteis’s arrival in London, but not at least fourteen years as suggested by the date ‘1688’: ‘It is an honourable and proper thing to conform to the customs of those persons with whom one lives. Seeing that for some years I have lived under the northern skies I have sought to adopt the musical tastes of the inhabitants of this country without distancing myself too far from the Italian style’ (‘È Cosa honorevole, e giusta d'uniformarsi a l'Umore di quelle Persone con I chi si vive, essendo io vissuto alcuni anni sotto il Cielo Settentrionale, ho cercata incontrare il genio de gl’abbitatori di quello, nel stile musicale, benche non tutto affatto, per I non distaccarmi di molto dalla Scuola Italiana’, translation in Jones, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis’, 57). Interestingly, Matteis also displays confidence in his own music by challenging readers who are not satisfied to ‘have the goodness to write something better’ (‘haverai la bonta di comporne delle megliori’).

3 Preface K.1.f.12
Illustration 4: Preface of K.1.f.12.

Books 3 and 4 were published from 1685 onwards; the coronet on the title page of Book 3 here clearly includes the date ‘1685’ (Illustrations 5 and 6). The British Library copies are Hirsch III.379. / Hirsch III.379.a. (bound together) and the second volume of K.1.f.10., a presentation volume which has a beautiful – possibly contemporary – binding bearing an inscription to Pietro Capponi, the representative of the Grand Duke of Tuscany (Jones, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis’, 40, see Illustration 7).

4 Title page of K.1.f.10
Illustration 5: First title page in second volume of K.1.f.10.

K.1.f.10 close-up
Illustration 6: Close-up of coronet on first title page in second volume of K.1.f.10.

5 Binding of K.1.f.10
Illustration 7: Binding (with inscription) of second volume of K.1.f.10.

Despite the Ayres being solo violin pieces with bass, Matteis issued a second violin part to the existing violin-and-bass publications from about 1687 (British Library K.1.f.11. and Hirsch IV.1632.a.), most likely to take advantage of the increasing interest in sonate a tre sparked by the circulation of Corelli’s opp. 1-3 in England (Jones, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis’, 50). The first violin (and bass) part book of Books 3 and 4 was also reissued, probably to be sold with the newly published second violin part. In the British Library copy (Hirsch IV.1632.), both Books 3 and 4 now carry different title pages. Book 3 still carries the date ‘1685’ in the coronet (Illustrations 8 and 9), but cannot have been printed before 1687, as it (and that of Book 4) point out that a ‘Second Treble’ was now available (Ibid., 69). Furthermore, the title page of Book 3 mentions that new pieces had been added to Book 4 (the last three pages were substituted by seventeen pages of new music).

6 Title page of Hirsch.IV.1632
Illustration 8: Title page of Hirsch IV.1632.(1.)

Hirsch.IV.1632 close-up
Illustration 9: Close-up of coronet on title page of Hirsch IV.1632.(1.)

Much later (in 1703), John Walsh issued Books 1 and 2 in three part books (violin 1, 2 and bass) in a new engraved edition – the first time the second violin part of Books 1 and 2 was published. The British Library has two copies of these: shelf marks c.66 and d.20.(3.), the latter of which is lacking the bass part book. The overview given in Illustration 7 summarises Jones’s findings in respect of all British Library copies of Matteis’s Ayres. While this may seem confusing at first, it serves to demonstrate some of the complexities researchers and catalogues may be faced with when working on seventeenth-century (and later) engraved music.

7 overview
Illustration 7: Overview of British Library copies of Matteis’s Ayres (click on image to view in full size)

Moreover, a clear chronology of the various issues of a publication such as Matteis’s Ayrs may help to understand changes to the musical text or to other aspects of the publication. Some of these modifications may be relatively simple corrections of engraving errors, but other, more creative amendments such as the addition of a ‘Concert of three Trumpetts’ to Book 4 in about 1687 may reflect stylistic changes and fashions of a certain time, such as the popularity of music for trumpets in the late seventeenth century (Jones, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis’, 150-2).

Stephan Schönlau (University of Manchester)

PhD placement student


Carter, Stephanie, ‘Music Publishing and Compositional Activity in England, 1650-1700’ (Doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester, 2010).

Krummel, D. W., Guide for Dating Early Published Music (Hackensack, New Jersey: Joseph Boonin, 1974).

Krummel, D. W., English Music Printing, 1553-1700 (London: Bibliographical Society, 1975).

Jones, Simon, ‘The “Stupendious” Nicola Matteis: an Exploration of his Life, his Works for the Violin and his Performing Style’, 3 vols. (Doctoral dissertation, University of York, 2003).

Poole, H. Edmund, ‘Music Printing’, in D. W. Krummel & Stanley Sadie, eds., Music Printing and Publishing (London: Macmillan Press, 1990), 3-78.

15 August 2016

Music printing in England, 1650-1700, and The British Library

The purpose of this blog post is two-fold: to give a brief overview of music printing in England during the second half of the seventeenth century and to demonstrate the comprehensiveness of the British Library’s holdings of printed music from this period, including pointing out some of its gaps. It is based on the ‘Short-Title Catalogue of Extant English Music Publications, 1650–1700’, given as Appendix A in Stephanie Carter’s 2010 PhD thesis, ‘Music Publishing and Compositional Activity in England, 1650–1700’ (see below for detailed references), complemented by RISM A/I (online), B/I, B/VI, and the British Library’s online catalogue. Carter points out that her catalogue does not include ‘psalm books, broadsides, music magazines, and other music books not primarily containing music notation’ (Ibid., 227). Furthermore, I do not count items marked as separate issues that appeared in the same year, but did not constitute a new edition (e.g. with added music).

Music printing in England between 1650 and 1700 was characterised by a relatively steady increase in the number of publications appearing per year, which has been understood to be largely due to the pioneering activities of John Playford (Krummel, English Music Printing, 115; also Krummel, ‘Music Publishing’, 92). Within the scope of Carter’s catalogue, no new printed music volumes appeared in 1650 (though John Playford did reprint the engraved plates he had acquired of William Child’s psalms, see Carter, ‘Music Publishing’, 87) and only a single publication each is extant from the years 1654, 1661, 1664. At the end of the century, a total of 12 appeared in 1699, and 13 in 1700.

In Britain, very little music was printed outside of London: a mere handful of publications were printed elsewhere, including in Oxford and a very small number in Aberdeen (the latter of which are not included in the following discussion, which focuses on England). Music printing in the seventeenth century generally catered for a tiny market, which was apparently made up primarily of amateurs: over 70% of the 159 different titles Carter examined seem to have been conceived for this market (‘Music Publishing’, 86). Many of these include brief introductions or are primarily tutors explaining musical rudiments and how to play a specific instrument. The actual pieces contained are often popular tunes or arrangements of them for the instrument in question (Ibid., 96). As an example, the tune of ‘Old Simon the King’ was first printed (to my knowledge) as the last tune in the supplement to the sixth edition of The Dancing Master (1679), and subsequently reprinted in every edition until this particular series ended with the eighteenth edition around 1728, thereby well outliving not only its founder John Playford (1623–1686/7), but also his son Henry (1657–1709). ‘Old Simon’ also appeared in The Genteel Companion (1683), a recorder tutor, in Apollo’s Banquet, a violin tutor (not in the first edition, 1678, but definitely by the fifth edition, 1687), in The Division-Violin (1684), where it was reprinted at least until the sixth edition (1705), and in a keyboard arrangement in The Second Part of Musick’s Hand-maid (1689) (see Illustrations 1–4).

1 Old Simon - Dancing Master
Illustration 1: A Supplement to the Dancing-Master, of new Dances, never Printed before (London, 1679), p. 22, amended by hand to ‘182’

2a Old Simon - Genteel Companion 1
2b Old Simon - Genteel Companion 2
Illustration 2: The Genteel Companion (London, 1683), pp. 38–9.

3a Old Simon - Division Violin 1
3b Old Simon - Division Violin 2
Illustration 3: The Division-Violin (London, 1684), no. 4

4 Old Simon - Musick's Hand-maid
Illustration 4: The Second Part of Musick’s Hand-maid (London, 1689), signature mark F3

There seems to have been considerable demand for beginner manuals, some of which were clearly intended to teach someone from scratch, while others would have been merely sufficient to complement actual music tuition. The success of Playford’s relatively detailed An Introduction to the Skill of Musick, first published in 1654 and in eighteen further editions until 1730, suggests that self-instruction was fairly common, which would often have been for economic reasons as paying a personal instrumental or singing teacher was probably beyond many amateurs’ means (Carter, ‘Music Publishing’, 99). Playford’s Introduction was clearly designed to encourage musical literacy, thereby gradually broadening the market for printed music (Ibid., 42; see also Herissone, ‘Music Theory’, 8-9).

Another large proportion of printed music consisted of multi-composer anthologies catering for musically more literate amateur performers. Single-composer publications were significantly less common in this period, and were often printed ‘for the author’, that is, self-published by the composer, who would have had to invest a considerable sum in order to have his music printed (Herissone, ‘Playford, Purcell, and the Functions of Music Publishing’, 256, 261). Carter has argued that the overall dominance of anthologies over single-composer collections (or publications of single works such as operas) ‘highlights a reliance upon the figure of the editor and compiler’ rather than the composer (‘Music Publishing’, 86), who often had little or no involvement in the printing process, especially towards the end of the century (Ibid., 79-80). Moreover, composers were rarely named in instrumental anthologies, though attributions were more common in vocal ones (Ibid., 133-6).

Most of Playford’s publications were printed using single-impression movable type, and although engraved music appeared to some extent throughout the seventeenth century (Krummel, English Music Printing, 143-53; also Poole, ‘Music Printing’, 43), the last two decades saw a marked rise in the use of engraving. This was pioneered by Thomas Cross and later John Walsh, the former of whom gained fame and, for some, notoriety, for engraving and selling single-sheet songs at a very low price (Carter, ‘Music Publishing’, 72-3; see also Krummel, ‘Music Publishing’, 101). Unlike printing from movable type, which tended to make more virtuosic music look unattractive and did not allow for the printing of chords, engraving allowed for notationally complex music such as that for keyboard instruments to be printed (Poole, ‘Music Printing’, 40; also Krummel, English Music Printing, 144-5). Comparing the type-set 'Old Simon the King' in Illustration 1 above with the engraved versions shown in Illustrations 2-4 demonstrates the different appearance that results in the use of the two different printing techniques. Ironically, John Playford’s very first music publication, Child’s The First Set of Psalmes (1650), was a reprint using engraved plates previously used for an edition in 1639 (Munstedt, ‘John Playford’, 137).

The British Library holds exemplars of a large majority of publications that appeared in England between 1650 and 1700: out of a total of 259 publications on Carter’s list (counting every edition or ‘book’ separately, except different issues of the same edition or book), the Library has copies of 211 (about 81%). Furthermore, duplicates exist of forty-six publications (many are from the Royal Music Library), while there are three exemplars each of a further ten, and there are four copies of three of the publications (I will discuss the rather complex situation of Nicola Matteis’s Ayrs for the Violin in its various parts and impressions in another blog post). The fact that there are four exemplars (and a large number in other libraries worldwide) of Purcell’s ‘failed’ publication The Vocal and Instrumental Musick of the Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (see Herissone, Playford, Purcell, and the Functions of Music Publishing’, 277–82) probably has more to do with Purcell’s posthumous fame and later collection patterns favouring large single works over multi-composer anthologies than indicating the popularity of the publication in Purcell’s own day.

Nevertheless, there are a few noticeable gaps in the British Library’s holdings: for example, while there is a copy each of the 1675, 1678 and 1682 editions of Thomas Greeting’s flageolet tutor The Pleasant Companion (see Carter, ‘Music Publishing’, 100) there are none from the 1672, 1673, 1676, 1680, 1681 (entitled The Most Pleasant Companion) and 1683 editions. According to RISM A/I (online), two of the British Library’s copies (of the 1678 and 1682 editions) are unica, as is the first edition (1672), held at Cambridge University Library. However, the information seems to be far from complete, as RISM makes no mention of the 1675, 1676, 1681 and 1683 editions, though it lists an additional 1688 edition, not mentioned as such by Carter. The Library also does not have the 1655 Introduction to the Skill of Musick, but there are copies of every other edition printed in the seventeenth century.

A majority of ‘missing’ publications are, however, from the last decade of the century, which may simply reflect the fact that almost as much music was published in England in the fourteen years following John Playford’s death in the winter of 1686/7 than in the 37 preceding years. Among those publications with no copies at the British Library are several instrumental tutors, such as Nolens Volens (1695, for violin), the first and second books of The Harpsichord Master (1697 and 1700, respectively), and the first and third books of the Self-Instructor on the Violin (1695 and 1700, respectively; there is a copy of the second book).

Another unfortunate gap is John Playford’s third music publication, A Musicall Banquet of 1651, which he seems to have designed to test the market for subsequent publications, since he later expanded its sections into four successful series: An Introduction to the Skill of Musick, Musick’s Recreation (a viol tutor), Court-Ayres (an anthology of instrumental music) and Catch that Catch can (Carter, ‘Music Publishing’, 87). According to RISM B/I, the only complete copy is at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, with an incomplete one at the Huntington Library in California. The British Library does, however, own a copy of The English Dancing Master (the first edition of the series later entitled The Dancing Master), Playford’s relatively scarce second music publication and the first that was not a reprint.

Stephan Schönlau (University of Manchester)

PhD placement student



Carter, Stephanie, ‘Music Publishing and Compositional Activity in England, 1650-1700’ (Doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester, 2010).

Herissone, Rebecca, Music Theory in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: University Press, 2000).

Herissone, Rebecca, ‘Playford, Purcell, and the Functions of Music Publishing in Restoration England’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 63 (2010), 243-90.

Krummel, D. W., English Music Printing, 1553-1700 (London: Bibliographical Society, 1975).

Krummel, D. W., ‘Music Publishing’, in D. W. Krummel & Stanley Sadie, eds., Music Printing and Publishing (London: Macmillan Press, 1990), 79-132.

Munsteadt, Peter Alan, ‘John Playford, Music Publisher: A Bibliographical Catalogue’ (Doctoral dissertation, University of Kentucky, 1983).

Poole, H. Edmund, ‘Music Printing’, in D. W. Krummel & Stanley Sadie, eds., Music Printing and Publishing (London: Macmillan Press, 1990), 3-78.

Woolley, Andrew, ‘English Keyboard Sources and their Contexts, c.1660-1720’ (Doctoral dissertation, University of Leeds, 2008).

Wash on Monday? Beethoven's laundry list

Wash on Monday,

Iron on Tuesday,

Mend on Wednesday,

Churn on Thursday,

Clean on Friday,

Bake on Saturday,

Rest on Sunday

So goes the familiar rhyme, quoted here in the version that appears in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s popular children’s book Little house in the big woods (1932).

This routine of household chores had a much longer history, however, and even famous composers, it would seem, could not escape the drudgery of the weekly wash.

Amongst the British Library’s extensive Zweig Collection is Zweig MS 210, a single, handwritten leaf dating from 1827. The back of the leaf bears an intriguing inscription in red crayon: "der letzte Wäschzettel" and "von Beethoven".

Zweig MS 210, folio 1v

This unassuming document is nothing less than Ludwig van Beethoven’s last laundry list.

British Library Zweig MS 210, folio 1 recto

Scribbled in pencil, the items described include:

Hemden 12 (Shirts – 12)

Leintücher 10 (Linen cloths – 10)

Handtücher 8 (Hand towels – 8)

This is one of several documents that provide a fascinating insight into the everyday life of the great composer. Also included are his kitchen accounts (Zweig MS 209) and an itemised receipt of his funeral expenses (Zweig MS 212).

To view Beethoven’s last laundry list alongside a wealth of other manuscript material, visit

05 August 2016

Batons galore!

This year's BBC Proms series is now well underway. To get you in the mood, we thought we'd showcase two batons from our collections. Both formerly belonged to Sir Henry Wood, who conducted the Proms for nearly half a century. His orchestral players affectionately nicknamed him "Timber". Apparently, this was more than a play on his name, since it seemed to represent his reliability, too.

The first baton (Additional MS 56443 B) was presented to Sir Henry by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, after a concert of selections from Wagner's Parsifal in 1898. It is housed in its original presentation case made by Collingwood & Co., jewellers to the Royal Family.


Made of beech and 575 mm long, it is decorated with a copper-gilt band bearing the initials 'V R I' in blue enamel, and a gilt coronet ornamented with coloured glass.


It seems highly unlikely that Sir Henry used this baton on a daily basis as it was clearly intended for presentation rather than practical purposes. By contrast, our second example (Additional MS 56443 C), was used by the conductor. 610 mm in length, the wood of the stick is painted white.

Additional MS 56443 C


The cork handle reveals the baton's history. It was used by Sir Henry at his last concert, which took place in Bedford on 26 July 1944.

Additional MS 56443 C (detail)


If you're lucky enough to attend one of this year's Proms concerts in person, or to catch one on television or radio, take a moment to remember Sir Henry, whose bust is displayed so prominently in the Royal Albert Hall auditorium, and whose batons are here at the British Library. His artistic energy and enthusiasm for new music endowed the Proms with their continuing creative and educational force.