Some music manuscripts from the British Libraryâ€™s collections have recently taken a trip to Kassel for this year's Documenta exhibition â€“ the 14th of the quinquennial series that started in 1955. Displays of international contemporary art have been brought together by the artistic director (this year Adam Szymczyk ) and team of curators in venues around the city. This time a parallel exhibition is also taking place in Athens â€“ with a spectacular â€˜parthenon of booksâ€™ in Kassel bringing something of the Greek capital to Germany, in a striking visualisation of the overarching theme: â€˜Learning from Athensâ€™.
The Parthenon of Books (2017), by Marta MinujÃn (under construction). Friedrichsplatz, Kassel. Photograph by Lesley Thomas.
The manuscripts on temporary loan are all scores by Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981). Cardewâ€™s music evolved from a post-war modernist style conveyed through detailed notational intricacies, to something that leaves open decisions about interpretation of signs on the page to performers â€“ as in his iconic 193-page graphic score, Treatise.
Cornelius Cardew, Treatise, p.47 ( Â©1967 ). Used by kind permission of Peters Edition Limited, London.
The Great Learning, another of Cardewâ€™s celebrated pieces, arose from the experimental music class he taught at Morley College and the ensemble connected with it, the Scratch Orchestra. With performers from a range of backgrounds and musical abilities, this communal and democratic â€˜coming togetherâ€™ was reflected in the instructional nature of the score; consisting of a mixture of written words, traditional notation and illustrative diagrams.
Documenta 14 features other examples of scores that represent sound (or perhaps the actions that create sound â€“ something suggested by John Cage) in a wide variety of ways. These often have a very immediate visual appeal too and blur the boundaries between art, music, sound, poetry and other modes of performance, as in the work of Katalin Ladik .
As well as published scores, books and articles, the British Library has three main manuscript collections relating to Cardew. The first, acquired in 1991 (Add MS 70727-70774 ), consists mostly of autograph scores. In 2010 the Library also acquired a large collection of Cardewâ€™s papers (MS Mus. 1817) and scores - notably his annotated copy of Treatise used in early performances. In 2011 the British Library was also presented with a series of Cardewâ€™s notebooks with sketches, jottings and writings dating from 1958-1980 (MS Mus. 1741). Complementing all of this are recordings of oral history interviews with people who knew Cardew (C1430) and, of course, recordings of performances of the pieces themselves - searchable in our Sound & Moving Image catalogue.
Chris Scobie, Curator of Music Manuscripts. British Library.