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90 posts categorized "Classical music"

10 October 2018

William Byrd, catholic composer

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    William Byrd, one of the most prolific English composers of his time, was born in 1543 (or possibly late in 1542) and died in 1623.

    A devout Roman Catholic, Byrd was also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal with a secure position at court. Well known among the Catholic nobility, with whom his ties were naturally close, Byrd also enjoyed a wealth of connections across Protestant society, including major cultural figures such as Sir Philip Sidney.

    This post explores Byrd's music for the Roman Rite.

The Masses

R.M.15.d-tileWilliam Byrd. [Mass for three voices] Cantus. London: Thomas East, 1594. Cantus. British Library R.M.15.d.4.

   In 1593 Byrd moved from Harlington in Middlesex, where he had lived since the 1570s, to Stondon Massey in Essex. This was only a few miles from Ingatestone, the seat of his friend Sir John, afterwards Lord, Petre. It was almost certainly for clandestine Mass celebrations at Petre’s house that Byrd composed his three Masses, issued separately without title pages, dedicatees or any indication of the printer (Thomas East), but with Byrd’s name placed courageously at the top of every page. The four-part work was printed (and composed) first, the three-part next (shown above) and the five-part last, all between about 1592 and 1595. Second editions of the three- and four-part Masses appeared about 1600.

Gradualia Book I, 1605

K.2.f.7. dWilliam Byrd. Gradualia, ac Cantiones Sacræ, quinis, quaternis, trinisque vocibus concinnatæ, Lib. Primus
Excudebat Humphrey Lownes. Londini: Impensis Ricardi Redmeri. Superius. 1610.. British Library K.2.f.7.

Byrd followed the publication of his three settings of the Ordinary of the Mass with an even more daring venture. His Gradualia is one of the most comprehensive provisions of Mass Propers and related music for the Roman church’s year ever attempted by a single composer. When the first book appeared in 1605 he evidently felt that the times were less dangerous, for it was printed with a titlepage and a dedication to the Catholic Privy Councillor Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton.

 But the moment proved ill chosen: it was the year of the Gunpowder Plot and anti-Catholic sentiment was rife. Despite having been approved before its publication by Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London and an ecclesiastical censor of books, Byrd’s Gradualia became dangerous currency. The Frenchman Charles de Ligny was arrested merely for having a copy of the ‘papistical books’ in his possession. The image above shows the communion sentence from the Corpus Christi mass and Ave verum corpus, a Eucharistic prayer in the version printed in the Primer, for private devotions.

Gradualia Book II, 1607

K.2.f.6-tileWilliam Byrd. Gradualia: seu cantionum sacrarum quarum aliæ ad quatuor, aliæ verò ad quinque et sex voces editæ sunt.
Liber secundus.
London: Thomas East, assign of William Barley, 1607. Bassus. British Library K.2.f.6.

   Despite the hostility shown to Book I of Gradualia, Byrd went ahead and published Book II in 1607, openly declaring that the music had been composed for use in the house of its dedicatee, Lord Petre. But he may have found it necessary to withdraw both books until 1610, as the sheets were reissued then with new title pages. The partbook of Book I shown here has the substitute title page of 1610, but those of Book II are from the only surviving set with the original 1607 title pages. On the wrapper of the bassus part the unknown first owner has written ‘Mr William Byrd his last Sett of Songs geven me by him Feb. 1607.’

K.2.f.6. a'William Byrd. Gradualia: seu cantionum sacrarum quarum aliæ ad quatuor, aliæ verò ad quinque et sex voces editæ sunt.
Liber secundus.
London: Thomas East, assign of William Barley, 1607. Bassus. British Library K.2.f.6.

Byrd’s handwriting: Certificate concerning an annuity granted to Dorothy Tempest.

   The letter below, a similar copy of which is also in the British Library (Egerton 3722), along with the two signatures to his will are the only known examples of Byrd’s handwriting.

    One of those implicated in the Catholic plot of 1570 in favour of Mary Queen of Scots was Michael Tempest, who was convicted of treason but managed to escape to France entering the service of Philip II. His wife Dorothy and their five children were left without means of support, and Queen Elizabeth granted her an annuity of twenty pounds a year, to be paid quarterly. On 17 October 1581 Byrd wrote to his friend William Petre (son of Sir John, discussed above), an official at the Court of Exchequer, reminding him that a payment was due, at the same time sending the letter below to certify that she was alive and well.

Ms Mus 1810 Byrd cWilliam Byrd. Autograph certificate on behalf of Dorothy Tempest, 25/6/1581. British Library Ms Mus. 1810

02 October 2018

Welcome to Discovering Music

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    The British Library has the pleasure of bringing you an exciting free educational resource providing unparalleled access to our music collection: Discovering Music.

   Aimed at A level students, teachers, undergraduates and the general public, the site features manuscript and printed sources as well as recordings to support the study of particular music topics. The site also sheds light on the historical, political and cultural contexts in which key musical works were composed and musicians operated.

MS. Mus. 1810 - Debussy - f01r - Article 3Claude Debussy (1911) 'Brouillards', from Préludes, Book 2 British Library Shelfmark MS Mus. 1810

The first stage focuses on music from the early 20th century, while other periods will be explored in the future. This present web space highlights some of the Library’s most treasured collection items, in high-resolution digitised images, including manuscripts by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and others. In addition, the site features a rich range of contextual material, including letters, notebooks, illustrations, newspapers, photographs and other forms of ephemera. 

You can explore this exciting web space from different angles: Themes, Collection items, Works and People. These gravitate around the centrepiece of Discovering Music, an exciting series of articles:

BThe Second Viennese School: Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern
Mark Berry introduces the three composers labelled as key members of the ‘Second Viennese School’, each influential in his own way on musical modernism throughout the remainder of the 20th century.

Music and the creative process: Elgar’s Third Symphony
The composer Anthony Payne, who completed Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, describes Elgar’s compositional methods as seen in the surviving sketches for this work at the British Library.

Delius in performance
Joanna Bullivant explores how Delius’s compositions were brought to life by various interpreters. Did he give his performers enough information? How important are the contributions made by the famous musicians with whom he worked: the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, the pianists Theodor Szántó and Evlyn Howard-Jones, and the violinist May Harrison?

Folksong revival in the early 20th century
Eric Saylor surveys the social contexts and musical impact of the folksong revival in the early 20th century.

Ballet in Paris in the early 20th century
Jane Pritchard discusses the ballet companies and their artists who were active in Paris in the early 20th century.

BBritish composers in the early 20th century
Jeremy Dibble gives an overview of British composers in the early 20th century and their context.

Delius, Paris, Grez
Lionel Carley explores Delius’s long association with France, and how the distinctive landscapes of Paris and Grez-sur-Loing inspired some of his most famous scores.

Exploring Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations
Julian Rushton discusses the early history of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations.

The use of the instruments of the orchestra
Lucy Walker surveys three orchestral masterpieces of the early 20th century.

Music and the First World War
Kate Kennedy examines the impact of the First World War on British composers and the music composed both during the war and in its aftermath.

Music and the Holocaust
Stephen Muir examines the impact of the Holocaust on musicians and musical life in Germany and Austria in the Second World War.

SkMusic for film: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten
Music formed an important component of the propaganda and educational films produced during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. In this article, Nicholas Clark explores the film scores composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten between 1940 and 1948.

Music and the Russian Revolution
Pauline Fairclough discusses the impact of the Russian Revolution on Russian composers’ lives and careers.

Delius and America
Daniel M. Grimley explains the significance of America in Delius's life, music, and career.

Stravinsky and Neoclassicism
Stephen Walsh discusses Neoclassicism as a concept focussing on the music of Stravinsky who extensively used this compositional ‘attitude’ in his music.

The Society of Women Musicians
Sophie Fuller discusses the history of the Society of Women Musicians and some of its leading members.

Delius's workshop
Daniel M. Grimley examines Delius's compositional routine and looks at the processes involved in assembling a large-scale musical work.

Tonality in crisis? How harmony changed in the 20th century
Arnold Whittall explores changing approaches to harmony and the concept of tonality in early 20th-century music.

Vaughan Williams and The English Hymnal
Simon Wright explores the role of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in selecting and arranging the music for The English Hymnal.

Teaching resources

These 19 articles are accompanied by three teaching resources to support the study of 20th-century classical music at GCSE and A Level.

Composition: learning from Delius and Elgar
Use Delius's and Elgar's sketches to develop compositional skills and understand their music.

Music and place: sacred music and folksong
Learn how English composers were inspired by folksong and ideas of the sacred.

Overturning tonality: into the 20th century
Explore new ways of composing in the early 20th century

 

10 July 2018

Chopin First Editions available online

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Chopin par Delacroix Eugène Delacroix (ca 1838)  Portrait de Frédéric Chopin, compositeur. Louvre Museum R.F1717

 As part to our commitment to bring our collections to everyone, we have digitised over sixty first editions of piano music by Frédéric Chopin, which are now available online.

As is the case with most composers, first editions of Chopin’s music are important to study the text of a given piece. Chopin would often add expression marks to the printing proofs, marks which weren't in the manuscripts provided to the publisher. Sometimes these additions were so numerous that a second proof had to be prepared for Chopin to approve for publication. In these cases they reveal a more advanced compositional state than the autograph manuscripts.

You may download a spreadsheet with the complete list by clicking here. The links on the right hand side will take you to the corresponding catalogue record. To view the score click on the "I want this" tab, and then on the red “GO” button next to "Digital Content, Collection Item". This newly digitised set will no doubt be a welcomed complement to the Chopin Online Resources, which includes other first editions from our collections.

19 June 2018

More Digitised Music Manuscripts available online

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 We have the pleasure of bringing you some more highlights from our collection which we have digitised in high resolution and uploaded onto our website so anyone can enjoy them remotely.
 All the below are autograph, unless noted.

Egerton MS 2954Musical treatises (15th century)
Italian Musical Treatise by Johannes de Muris
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2954 
Egerton_ms_2954_f014v

Add MS 36738 - Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata in G major D. 894, Op. 78 (1826)
Published as the Fantasy, Andante, Menuetto and Allegretto, is the eighteenth sonata of Franz Schubert composed in October 1826.
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_36738
Add_36738_f011r
Lansdowne MS 763 - Musical treatises (15th century)
Treatises transcribed, and probably to a great extent compiled, by John Wylde, precentor of Waltham Holy Cross Abbey, about 1460.
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Lansdowne_MS_763 
Lansdowne_ms_763_f017r

R.M.19.d.9 - George Frideric Handel,  Il Trionfo del Tempo HWV 46a (c 1710)
Manuscript copy, except for the Overture on ff. 69-78, and the corrections which are in the hand of Handel.
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=R.M.19.d.9R.m.19.d.9_f070r

Add MS 47849 - Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 40 in F major (1763)
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_47849 
Add_ms_47849_f001r

Egerton MS 2327 - Ludwig van Beethoven, Rough copies of twelve airs for pianoforte, with accompaniment for flute or violin (c. 1817)
These are connected with his arrangements of English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish airs. They were all published in Sechs variirte Themen (op. 105) and Zehn variirte Themen (op. 107), about the year 1817. From op. 107 are taken nos. 1-4 (nos. 9, 10, 2, 8, respectively), no. 9 (no. 4), and nos. 11, 12 (nos. 1, 5); and from op. 105, nos. 5-8 (nos. 1, 2, 4, 5), and no. 10 (no. 6).
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2327
Egerton_ms_2327_f002r

Egerton MS 2746 - Miscellaneous, including:
Robert Schumann, March in G minor, op. 76/2 
Richard Wagner, Sketch of the people's chorus (melody and bass only) from Act ii of 'Rienzi' (1839)
Richard Wagner, Largo maestoso (introductory movement) and Allegro con brio (beginning only), in C, for 4 hands
Draft of a letter, apparently by Richard Wagner, but unsigned
    Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2746
Egerton_ms_2746_f004r

04 May 2018

The Mozarts in London

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It's April 1764 and Leopold Mozart was standing on the French shore of the Channel, waiting for the ferry to England. He was accompanied by his wife Anna Maria and their two children, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) and Wolfgang, aged 12 and 8 respectively. They had never seen the sea and any apprehensions they might have had were met with a rough crossing. Leopold reported in a letter that they made “a heavy contribution in vomiting.”1

On the 23 April they finally arrived in London from Paris, lodging above a barber’s shop near Trafalgar Square. They had left Salzburg almost a year before, as Leopold showed the prowess of his two child prodigies across different European courts. Britain wasn’t included in their initial plans, but they had been urged to make the journey by two Englishmen in the French Court: London was at the time the richest, the biggest and most successful city in Europe. It contained a wealthy class of merchants who patroned public performances. This was an important difference from previous countries they had visited, where concert life was mainly confined to the courts. 

The Mozart family spent around fifteen months in the British capital, but their experience was not as successful as they had hope so. Let’s find out more about their story through these three items from our collections

Violin Sonatas, KV 10–15 
R.M.11.f.5. 1b
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Six Sonates Pour Le Clavecin ... Oeuvre III. London: Printed for the Author, 1765. British Library Shelfmark R.M.11.f.5 

The start of the trip was nonetheless auspicious. The letters of introduction from France had been very effective, as within a week the family was summoned to Buckingham House (a more modest predecessor to the current Palace), for the first of their three visits to the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Here Wolfgang’s skills were put to royal test:

The King placed before him not only works of Wagensil, but those of Bach, Abel, and Handel,2 and he played off everything prima vista. Then he accompanied the Queen in an aria which she sang, and also a flautist who played a solo. Finally he took the bass part of some airs of Handel and played the most beautiful melody on it and in such a manner that everyone was amazed. In short, what he knew when we left Salzburg is a mere shadow compared with what he knows now. It exceeds all that one can imagine.3

The Queen asked the Mozarts to be the dedicatee of one of Wolfgang's compositions. Leopold obliged, printing at his expense a run of three sonatas. The copy shown above, is the very one which was presented to the Queen.

God is our refuge, K. 20
K.10.a.17.(3)_f001rMozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.: ‘God is our Refuge’, K. 20; 1765 (detail). British Library Shelfmark K.10.a.17.(3) 

Towards the end of their London stay the Mozarts received an invitation to visit the British Museum (from which the British Library was born). It seems now hard to believe, but children weren’t allowed then. Wolfgang and Nannerl were indeed very privileged. Leopold and his daughter kept a travel diary and she recalls to have seen “the library, the antiquities, birds of all kinds, fishes, insects and fruits.” in the Museum 4

They presented the Museum directors with a copy of his first two sonatas (also in our collections); a copy of a print showing Leopold and his two children (in the British Museum); and the manuscript of ‘God us our Refuge’ K. 20 shown above (a digitised version is available here). This motet for four voices was especially composed and presented to the Trustees of the Museum. It was to be his only setting of English words during his life. Little Wolfgang seems to have had trouble fitting the words to their corresponding notes (noticeable in bars 7-9), so his father wrote them in the rest of the piece.

At the British Library we can boast that our collection of Mozart manuscripts is certainly the first to have been started by the composer himself!

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser
NGDA - 01.06.1764
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 May 64 . British Library Shelfmark Burney 529.b.

The British Library has an important collection of Newspapers gathered by the Reverend Charles Burney (b.1757, d.1817), mostly published in London between 1604 and 1804. The collection has been digitised and can be viewed on any of our Reading Room terminals.

Leopold Mozart was no doubt an astute marketer, paying for several adverts on London papers where he announced performances by his children. They were often described as “prodigies of nature” and Leopold was more than ready to bend the truth slightly, purporting his children to be one or two years younger. The adverts here shown appeared on the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, where Leopold published more frequently.

Their first few months of their London stay saw them play in the most fashionable gardens of London. However their luck changed in early July when Leopold fell gravely ill, developing from what he described as “a kind of native complaint, which is called a cold5. Without his guidance and promotion, performances stopped for a few months and by the spring of 1765 public interest in the child prodigies began to wane. Wolfgang in the meantime, occupied himself composing -among other works- his first symphony, which premiered in February at the Little Theatre in Haymarket.

Their bad fortunes may have also been influenced by external forces, as there are indications that malicious rumours were being spread about the family. One of the most outrageous no doubt, said that Wolfgang wasn’t a child but a small adult with a growth deficiency. His father Leopold was forced to deny this in an open letter

Understandably, by mid-1765 the Mozarts started to arrange their long return to Salzburg. Private concerts were being offered at reduced fees. By July 1765 the young Mozarts, who had started performing for the Royals, were now playing during lunchtime at the Swan and Hoop pub near Moorgate in the City... 

 

  

Special thanks to Maddy Smith, curator of printed heritage collections 1601-1900, for her assistance with this article.

 

Notes:

  1. Letter from Leopold Mozart to his merchant and friend, Johann Lorenz von Hagenauer. London, 25 April May 1764 (extract)
  2. Composers Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Christian Bach, Karl Friedrich Abel and the King’s favourite composer, George Frideric Handel
  3. ibid 1. London, 28 May 1764 (extract)
  4. Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Gesamtausgabe. (Kassel 1962) Vol I. pp196, 198-9. British Library Shelfmark 07902.e.4.
  5. ibid 1, "Chelsea near London", 13 September 1764.

30 March 2018

Latest Music Manuscripts available on our website

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 In addition to the previous batch announced here, we are pleased to share with you a few more Music Manuscripts freshly uploaded onto our website. 

One of the principal reasons that compel us to make these images available, is to preserve our collections for future generations. Every reading room request will involve at least eight pairs of hands that will handle the item from the shelf, to the reading desk and back. Naturally, this means that considerable stress is placed upon collection items which may be -as in the case of Music Collection materials- over 500 years old. Therefore, having high resolution images available on our website greatly minimizes threats to the longevity of our collection.

Please note that all of the below are Autograph Manuscripts, unless noted.

Add MS 31707 - Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no.103 in E-flat major "The Drumroll(1795)
This manuscript was presented by Haydn to Luigi Cherubini, who is said to have provided the missing folios 23r, 23v, and 26r by his own hand. From the collection of Julian Marshall.
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_31707
Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002023864
Add_ms_31707_f002v

Add MS 32173 - Franz Joseph Haydn, Johann Michael Haydn - A collection of songs, duets, choruses, cantatas, and a divertimento (18th-19th century)
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_32173
Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002025922 Add_ms_32173_f039r
Add MS 47851, Ludwig van Beethoven,  Concerto, op. 61, for violin or piano (1808) 
 Manuscript copy made for the first printed version of the concerto, with autograph corrections. This document is the main textual source for both the violin solo part and its piano arrangement. More information elsewhere on this blog.
Catalogue Records: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002104251
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_47851
Add_ms_47851_f010r 

Add MS 35272, 35273 - Franz Joseph Haydn, Collection of Scottish airs for one or two voices (c. 1803)
 Manuscript Copies, mainly in the hand in the hand of his amanuensis J. Radnitzky, with autograph additions.
Digital Versions: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_35272
                               http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_35273
Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS036-002088745
Add_ms_35272_f001v

 Add MS 35274 - 35275 Franz Joseph Haydn, Collection of Welsh airs for one or two voices (c.1804)
Manuscript copy, with an autograph note by the composer at the beginning,
Digital Versions: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_35274
                               http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_35275
Catalogue Records: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002088748
                                    http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002088749
Add_ms_35274_f002v 

16 March 2018

Latest Music Manuscripts available online

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 At the core of what we do at the British Library is our mission to make our collections available to the public. In line with these values there are over 300 Music Manuscripts from our collections available in high resolution on our Digitised Manuscripts Portal: bl.uk/manuscripts
 In the past weeks we have uploaded some more, which we are proud to share here. All the manuscripts are Autograph.

Add MS 29801 - Ludwig van Beethoven, The Kafka Sketchbook (c1786-99)
 One of the most complete earlier repositories of Beethoven's Sketches, partly assembled by the composer himself. It takes its name from the Johanm Nepomuk Kafka, from whom the manuscript was purchased by the British Museum in 1875.
 Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_29801
 Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS032-002021357
Add_ms_29801_f064r

Add MS 29997 - Ludwig Van Beethoven, Sketches (early 19th century)
 Sketches of musical compositions, including C sharp minor quartet, Op. 131, 
 Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_29997 
 Catalogue record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS032-002021580
Add_ms_29997_f019r

Add MS 29802 -  Franz Schubert, Die Verschworenen (1823)
 Singspiel in one act with libretto by Ignaz Franz Castelli. The manuscript includes its printed pianoforte score at the end. The work was commissioned by Vienna's Hofoper in 1823, but it wouldn't be premiered until 1861 
 Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_29802 
 Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS032-002021358
Add_ms_29802_f018r

Add MS 28613 - Francis Joseph Haydn, Collection of songs  (18th-19th century).
Songs, with symphonies and accompaniments for violin, violoncello, and pianoforte, in score.
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_28613 
Catalogue Record:  http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS032-002020026Add_ms_28613_f004v

Add MS 29803 - Cadenza by Beethoven & Canzonetta by Rossini (19th century)
Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS032-002021359
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_29803 
Add_ms_29803_f001r

 

08 March 2018

International Women's Day 2018

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Women’s day is of course, every single day and not just today. However let’s take this opportunity to briefly mention only a few of the many many great women composers represented in our Music Collections. 

Collage

Ethel Smyth (b. 1858, d.1944) was an English composer and one of the leading figures of the Suffragette Movement. Against the wishes of her father, she went to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. Smyth composed in a wide range of formats: symphonies, operas, choral and chamber works. Her second opera Der Wald (1899–1901), whose manuscript is shown below, was premiered in 1902 in Berlin. The following year it was performed at the New York’s Met, remaining until 2016 the only opera by a woman to be staged there.

In 1910 Ethel Smyth put her music career aside to concentrate fully on the Suffragette Movement, spending two months in prison in 1912 for breaking the window of a politician that opposed women’s suffrage. Her composition The March of the Women became the anthem of women's suffrage movement.

Add MS 45938 aSmyth, Ethel (1902), Der Wald. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 45938 

Francesca Caccini (b. 1587 ,d. 1641) was an Italian composer, singer, music teacher and poet. Her opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina (c. 1625) was not only the first opera to be written by a woman, but it is also thought to have been the first opera to be staged outside of Italy. Pictured is the first edition, printed in Florence in 1625.

K.8.g.17. bCaccini, Francesca(1625). La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina Firenze: Pietro Cecconcelli. British Library K.8.g.17.

Thea Musgrave (b.1928) is a Scottish-American composer whose career spans seventy years. She has written both vocal music (especially operas) and instrumental pieces. Her works are performed in major concert halls, festivals, and broadcast on the radio both in Europe and America.

Thea Musgrave studied composition with Hans Gal and Nadia Boulangier, among others. In 1970 she became a guest professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and has resided in the United States ever since. In 2008 the British Library acquired her archive and continues to acquire subsequent papers as they are completed.


MusgraveThea Musgrave Archive at the British Library.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (b.1665, d.1729) was French harpsichordist and composer. She was a child prodigy and played for Louis XIV at the age of five. Then she was accepted into the French court where she continued her musical studies before becoming a well known composer.

The item below is a 1644 edition of Céphale et Procris, an opera in five acts taken from the myth which appears in in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was staged  in 1694 at the Académie Royale de Musique, a first for a French woman composer.


I.298.a. 3Jacquet de La Guerre, Elisabeth-Claude. (1644). Cephale et Procris, tragedie mise en musique. Paris: Christophe Ballard. British Library I.298.a.

British composer and violinist Ethel Barns (b. 1874 d.1948) studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Emile Sauret. In 1911 the Society of Women Musicians was conformed and she served on its first council.

Among her compositions is included her Violin Concerto, for which the manuscript of a piano and violin arrangement is at the British Library. The full orchestra concerto was performed in 1907 at a Promenade Concert with herself as the soloist.


Add MS 63058 aBarns, Ethel (1904) Violin Concerto, reduction for piano and violin Manuscript. British Library Add MS 65038

The Benedictine abbess, writer, philosopher, composer (and of course, Saint) Hildegard de Bingen (b.1098, d.1179) was one of the most fascinating and multifaceted personalities of the High Middle Ages.

One of her musical compositions, the Ordo Virtutum (c.1511) is a 'morality play' which eschews biblical stories for the allegorical struggle of the human soul. This 1487 manuscript in our collection is a copy of this work, said to have been taken directly from a Manuscript in the hand of St Hildegard.

Add MS 15102 207pSaint Hildegard (1487), Liber Epistolarum Manuscript Copy. British Library Add MS 15102 

Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886, d. 1979) was a British composer and violist best known for her chamber music works. She is considered one of the most important interwar female composers. Her setting of the motet Ave Maria, for unaccompanied women’s voices, was her first published choral work and its manuscript is in our music collections.


MS Mus.1694A 2Clarke, Rebecca (1937?) ‘Ave Maria’, for unaccompanied women’s voices. Autograph Manuscript. British Library MS Mus. 1694 A 

Germaine Tailleferre (b. 1892, d. 1983) was born Germaine Tailefesse although she changed her name as a young woman in defiance of her father, who was against her musical studies. She was a pupil of Ravel and became part of the denominated Group des six French modernist composers along Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud and Georges Auric.

The Royal Philharmonic Society Archive includes a manuscript copy with annotations by Tailleffere of the soprano vocal part of the The Cantate du Narcisse (1938), for soprano and baritone soloists, women’s chorus and orchestra. Unlike the Greek myth this work shows Narcissus insensitive to the charm of nymphs and lovers of his only reflection. The nymphs end up putting him to death.

RPS MS 236 aTailleferre, Germaine. Cantate du Narcisse. Manuscript copy with autograph annotations. British Library RPS MS 236 

English composer Elisabeth Lutyens (b. 1906, d.1983) began her musical studies in 1922 at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, before accompanying her mother to India in 1923. Upon returning she studied with John Foulds and later continued her musical education from 1926 to 1930 at the Royal College of Music. Lutyens is credited to have brought the serial technique of Schoenberg the UK , although through a very particular personal interpretation.

The extensive catalogue of his work includes compositions in various fields: pieces for solo instrument, chamber music (including thirteen string quartets), works for orchestra and for the stage. She also wrote the music of twenty-two films, many of which for the Hammer Production Company. The British Library holds an important collection of her manuscripts, among which is the soundtrack for the horror film The Skull (1965).


Add MS 64762 bLutyens, Elisabeth (1965). The Skull. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 64762-64764