Music blog

4 posts from January 2017

30 January 2017

From the British Library Schubert archive: some collectors of Schubert's music

The 220th anniversary of the birth of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) at the end of January 2017 provides a welcome excuse for us to explore the rich Schubert holdings at the British Library. Drawing on materials assembled by several important collectors, these range from curiosities relating to the man himself to sources documenting practical engagement with his music.

Collectors collect all sorts of things. The same Frederick George Edwards who gathered a leaf from Mozart’s grave also collected one from Schubert’s. 'Grave-leaf collecting' is admittedly an unusual activity. In a more conventional manner, the writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) began to amass famous signatures in his teenage years by waiting at stage doors and sending unsolicited requests to literary and artistic luminaries.

Leaf from Schubert's graveLeaf collected from Schubert’s grave in 1890. British Library, Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 13

As the years passed, Zweig's desire to collect developed further, and he went on to assemble a wide-ranging assortment of manuscripts of musical, literary and historical significance. In later life, he bought, sold and traded scores by many famous composers, including Mozart, Bach and Wagner as well as Schubert. The collection formed at the time of his death (along with a few later additions) was generously donated to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.

Photograph of Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)]

Zweig's manuscript of Schubert’s An die Musik has already been featured in this blog, and seems to have been particularly important to him. Other Schubert examples include the Misero pargoletto (D. 42) (Zweig MS 78); Four German dances for piano (D. 146/2; D.769/1; D.783/1-2) (Zweig MS 79); Dance in A flat for piano (D.365/2) (Zweig MS 80); Schlachtlied, for double male-voice choir (D.912) (Zweig MS 82) and Mirjams Siegesgesang, for soprano solo, choir and piano (D.942) (Zweig MS 83).

Schubert Dance in A flat D 365-2Schubert's Dance in A flat for piano (‘Deutscher’) (D.365/2). British Library, Zweig MS 80, folio 1 verso

Zweig talks about collecting only the most representative examples of a particular composer’s work, and in so doing trying to capture the essence of creation itself. His memoir, The World of Yesterday, also makes it clear that, for him, collecting wasn’t purely about ownership:

Of course I never considered myself the owner of these things, only their custodian for a certain time. I was not tempted by a sense of possession, of having them for myself, but I was intrigued by the idea of bringing them together, making a collection into a work of art. I was aware that in this collection I had created something that in itself was worthier to last than my own works.

Stefan Zweig (trans. Anthea Bell), The World of Yesterday (Pushkin Press, 2011),  p. 377

To a certain extent, collecting will always be a reflection of the individual undertaking it and the context of their time. This is evident in the activities of a slightly earlier collector, the pianist and composer Ernst Perabo (1845-1920). Perabo assembled a collection that included music in the hands of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and other familiar names. This treasure trove also contains a number of autograph Schubert manuscripts, including the Mass in B flat (D.324), several songs, and the G major “Fantasie” piano sonata (D.894) (the latter to be made available on the Digitised Manuscripts website later this year). Most of Perabo’s manuscript collection is thought to have been purchased from a sale in Leipzig in 1882, having originally been in the possession of the Austrian publisher Tobias Haslinger.

Schubert Piano Sonata D 894 Add MS 36738Schubert's Piano Sonata in G Major, D.894. British Library Add. MS 36738, folio 1 verso

For several decades after his death, Schubert’s piano sonatas were rarely performed. Perabo was among the earliest pianists to introduce them to the public. He noticed differences between the text of the manuscripts and published editions which he described in a journal article. He pasted a copy of the text at the end of one of his Schubert manuscripts, and presumably went on to incorporate his observations into subsequent performances.

Perabo article on Schubert Add MS 36738Perabo's article on Schubert, British Library Add. MS 36738, folio 18 recto

The details of another pianist’s interactions with Schubert are also preserved in the British Library, courtesy of the collection of scores belonging to Clifford Curzon (1907-1982). These include Curzon's own copies of standard printed editions, marked up with annotations. Among them is the B-flat major piano sonata, D.960 (Add. MS 65057). The delicate and well-worn pages give a fascinating insight into his meticulous preparations for performance.

Curzon’s collection also includes scores of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ fantasy (D.760). Such ‘re-composition’ of Schubert’s works occurred frequently. Examples include  the Viennese-operetta stylings of Franz von Suppé, the Berté/Romberg/Clutsam sensation Lilac Time (as it was known in its UK version – Richard Tauber played Schubert in the film version, Blossom Time), Anton Webern’s distilled modernist orchestrations, and the postmodern re-imaginings of Luciano Berio and Dieter Schnebel (the latter based on the same piano sonata represented in the Perabo collection) .

Another example can be found in a printed score of Schubert string quartets formerly owned by the composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). This, along with other items from Mahler’s library, had passed to the musicologist and publisher Donald Mitchell, who then deposited the materials at the British Library. In the 1890s, Mahler made an arrangement of Schubert's ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet, D.810, for string orchestra. Mahler's lightly annotated copy of the score includes a few, characteristically fastidious, pencil annotations, providing an insight into the small amendments that he made in his own arrangement.

Schubert string quartet annotated by MahlerScore of Schubert’s 'Death and the Maiden' string quartet, D.810, annotated by Gustav Mahler. British Library MS Mus. 101


Chris Scobie
Rare Books & Music Reference Service

20 January 2017

Many hands make light music: a pianistic peculiarity from St Pancras

Now and again the innocent toil of a music cataloguer is enlivened by something unusual, even unique.  A case in point is an early-19th-century sonata for piano five hands, enigmatically entitled Le souvenir.  It is a substantial three-movement work by the little-known organist, music teacher, composer and bookseller James Knottesford Ansell (1776–1860), once a resident of St Pancras parish in which the British Library now stands.  The style of the music is reminiscent of his younger contemporary Rossini, whose operas were then just beginning to take the musical world by storm.

Precise dating of music editions presents a perennial problem, but this copy displays two crucial pieces of evidence.  A faint but discernible watermark date of 1815 and a faint but discernible pencilled inscription by the composer to “Miss Coupland Novr 24th 1815 JKA” neatly combine to place the date of publication neither before nor after 1815.

Ansell piano 5 hands sonata title page

J K Ansell, Le souvenir : sonate à cinque mains pour le piano forte (London, 1815) British Library h.3212.t.(5.), title-page

Works for two, four and even six hands at one piano need no further explanation.  And there is a substantial literature of piano music for left hand alone, memorably featured in the horror film The beast with five fingers (1946).  This repertoire had already received a tragic boost when the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, elder brother of the philosopher Ludwig, lost his right arm in action on the Russian front during World War I.  Readers of an advanced age may also remember the three-hand piano duo formed by Phyllis Sellick and her husband Cyril Smith (not the Liberal MP!) after he suffered a paralytic stroke while on a concert tour in the same country.

Five hands, however, seems an eccentric diversion from the norm.  Ansell’s sonata bears a printed dedication to “Mesdemoiselles Loraine”, who may readily be imagined as three sisters receiving piano lessons from the composer.  At first I drew the obvious conclusion that the youngest, or the least competent, was as yet unable to co-ordinate two hands together reliably.  Then the idea took root in my mind that one of them had suffered a horrendous industrial accident while working in a satanic textile mill.  Or had she perhaps lost an upper limb during the Napoleonic conflict so recently concluded, before her French family took refuge in England?

Ansell piano 5 hands sonata introduction

Slow introduction to Ansell’s sonata, h.3212.t.(5.), pages 2–3

The music is laid out in the fashion familiar to piano duettists, the bass or secondo part on the left-hand pages and the treble or primo part on the right, with an extra stave above each line of music to accommodate the one-handed terzo part.  Whether this was intended to be played by the right or the left hand is unclear: a smart young lady would probably have cheated by using both.

We may never know the full story behind this intriguing work, but we may take pride in the achievement of a visionary British composer.  His originality still resonates today in the closed world of music cataloguing as the progenitor of a hitherto unknown Library of Congress subject heading “Sonatas (Piano, 5 hands)”.

Robert Balchin

Music Cataloguer

12 January 2017

Music Collections acquires Boosey & Hawkes archive

Previous storage of the Boosey and Hawkes archiveThe Boosey & Hawkes Archive in storage before transfer to the British Library

The recent post on the Library’s acquisition of the album of Vincent Novello, father of the publishing house, provides a useful reminder to announce the acquisition in the past year of another collection relating to British music publishing: the archive of Boosey and Hawkes. This is undoubtedly one of the most important music acquisitions in recent years, and in terms of size, it is certainly the largest. Comprising many hundreds of boxes of documents relating to the business of the firm for about a hundred years up to around 1980, it is of enormous research value, charting, as it does, the rich role that Boosey and Hawkes played in the musical life of the nation during that period; and of course the company is thriving and still very much in business today.

The modern company was formed in 1930 when the two founder firms merged: one had been established at the end of the 18th century as a lending library by John Boosey, before moving into publishing popular operas as they became fashionable in the mid-nineteenth century. William Henry Hawkes, on the other hand, was a military musician who set out to provide editions of woodwind and brass music in the second half of the 19th century. The new firm therefore came to cater for all musical tastes, producing editions of light music, popular songs, music for brass and military bands, dance orchestras, as well as publishing the works of some of the greatest classical composers of the 20th century. Today no other British music publisher has a greater international standing.

During the 20th century Boosey & Hawkes were pioneering in their support of contemporary music. They had a keen eye for identifying composers whom we now recognise to be amongst the greatest of the time: Bartók, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Martinů and Copland, for example, as well as the major British composers Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Maxwell Davies.

Though most of the autograph scores of the major composers do not form part of the archive, the archive contains documentation relating to just about every other aspect of the publication process and the promotion of the composers and their works. The correspondence between publisher and composer, for example, when considered side by side with the annotated proofs of the editions, shows how compositions reached their final form in print. So there are about 50 Stravinsky proofs and about 250 letters. In addition, there are about 100 letters from Benjamin Britten, whose works the company published until the mid ’60s. Other papers in the archive relate to performance, copyright, royalties, contracts and other legal matters.

None of this material has been publicly accessible to researchers before, so it is of enormous interest and importance. The archive is currently being arranged and catalogued and we look forward to making it available in our reading rooms as soon as we are able. Meanwhile, Helen Wallace’s Boosey & Hawkes: the publishing story (London, 2007) gives a flavour of what treasures and excitement to expect.

Boosey and Hawkes new storage at British Library

The Boosey & Hawkes Archive in its new location at the British Library

Richard Chesser

Head of Music

06 January 2017

Lew Stone and his Thirties Sound

Trumpet part for Lew Stone’s arrangement of Sam, you made the pants too long

Trumpet part for Lew Stone’s arrangement of ‘Sam, you made the pants too long’. British Library MS Mus. 1746/3/4, f. 18

In London’s 1930s high life, only the smartest entertainment and only the freshest music would do – and these are what the new Monseigneur restaurant, opened in 1931 at 215 Piccadilly, promised its clientele.  Lew Stone (1898-1969), having already made a name for himself as a craftsman of snappy arrangements, was originally pianist and arranger for the band in residence – he can be seen at his duties here – but found himself in charge when its leader Roy Fox fell ill.  The music Stone then brought to the Monseigneur’s dance-floor made the band so popular that, by mutual agreement, he was given the job permanently.  At the helm of a band ranked among the best in London, he made recordings with Decca and radio broadcasts on the BBC, and became a household name in Britain, his musical career lasting until his death in 1969.

Lew Stone’s widow Joyce, who promoted her husband’s legacy energetically, presented many of his original manuscript scores to the British Library for its music collections.  The Lew Stone collection (British Library: MS Mus. 1746) is now in the process of being catalogued and includes not only full scores from throughout his career but individual instrument parts actually used when the band performed.  Some bear the scribbled names of band-members well-known in their own right, such as Nat Gonella (trumpeter), Don Barrigo (saxophonist) or Tiny Winters (bassist).

Well-used parts for Lew Stone’s signature tune: a ‘fanfare if wanted’ followed by a few bars each of Oh! Susannah and Goodbye BluesWell-used parts for Lew Stone’s signature tune: a ‘fanfare if wanted’ followed by a few bars each of ‘Oh! Susannah’ and ‘Goodbye Blues’. MS Mus. 1746/3/1, f. 14

Many of the parts are scrawled over with cues and prompts: ‘Close in to ‘Mike’’, ‘Have Plunger Ready’ and ‘Remind Lew’ of how many bars to omit during broadcasts, or pencil drawings of spectacles to attract attention and avert disaster.  In some places the manuscripts are scorched, as if the musicians had perched lit cigarettes on their music.  Then there are the doodles: signs of missed vocations in the band?

Doodle, possibly by Nat Gonella, on the score of The Three TreesDoodle, possibly by Nat Gonella, on the score of ‘The Three Trees’, of three trees and a geometric dog. MS Mus. 1746/3/2, f. 21

  Annotated photograph of Lew StoneMeticulous annotation of the band-leader’s face. MS Mus. 1746/3/11, f. 11

In addition to arrangements of popular melodies, romantic numbers or nonsensical melodramas sung by members of the band, several sets of scores are Lew Stone’s original compositions.  One tune, ‘Whispering Waters’, was composed by Joyce and arranged by her husband (clarinets to play ‘liquidly’).  There are some initial drafts and sketches for songs and collaborations with lyricists, and also incidental music composed for the 1940 film ‘Under your Hat’ (directed by Maurice Elvey).  And throughout the collection Lew Stone’s own adjustments and re-adjustments appear on the scores, the proof of how finely he tuned a sound that once livened up dance-floors and the airwaves all over the country.

Incidental music for the film Under your Hat Incidental music for the film ‘Under your Hat’ (1940). MS Mus. 1746/3/40, f. 3

Alto Saxophone part of Lew Stone's Whispering Waters

The1st Alto Saxophone part of ‘Whispering Waters’, Joyce Stone’s tune, arranged by her husband (1940). MS Mus. 1746/3/35, f. 3v


Dominic Newman

Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer

The British Library always attempts to identify copyright holders in order to give proper acknowledgement when reproducing their material. Please email [email protected] if you believe you hold rights connected with any of the content included in this article.