30 March 2018
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 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 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 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
Catalogue Record: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS036-002088745
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
Catalogue Records: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:IAMS040-002088748
16 March 2018
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 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 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 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:IAMS032-002020026
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
08 March 2018
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.
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.
Smyth, 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.
Caccini, 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.
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.
Jacquet 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.
Barns, 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.
Saint 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.
Clarke, 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.
Tailleferre, 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).
Lutyens, Elisabeth (1965). The Skull. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 64762-64764
02 March 2018
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D op 61 is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the violin repertoire: a rite of passage for all violinists against which they measure their maturity as musicians. But the early life of the work was rather chequered, both before and after its premiere. Let’s have a brief overview to understand more:
In early 19th century Vienna, public performances of music looked very different. They were usually considerably longer than what we are used to today, often with more than one session featuring many works in each. For instance, on 22 December 1808 Beethoven premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, his Fourth Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy… and that was just half of the programme!
These types of performances were mostly single events like charity or benefit concerts organised by a musician to raise funds for his upkeep. A Great Musical Academy was then announced for 23 December 1806 for the benefit of the virtuoso violinist Franz Clement. This was the occasion on which Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was premiered.
The Violin Concerto shares that particular characteristic with other chef d’oeuvres in the sense that it was not appreciated as a masterpiece during the composer’s lifetime. A few weeks after the performance, the critic Johann Nepomuk Möse wrote on the Wiener Zeitung:
“With regard to Beethofen’s [sic] concerto, the opinion of all connoisseurs is the same: while they acknowledge that it contains some fine things, they agree that the continuity often seems to be completely disrupted, and that the endless repetitions of a few commonplace passages could easily lead to weariness. It is being said that Beethofen ought to make better use of his admittedly great talents....”1
One of the reasons that could explain this kind of reception lies in the process of composition, whose circumstances were far from ideal. This was perhaps reflected in the performance. Carl Czerny, a friend of the composer and celebrated musician himself, recounts that Beethoven finished the work barely two days before its premiere2. If this was the case the musicians wouldn’t have had enough time to prepare.
The myth tells us that Franz Clement, as the soloist, had to sight read his part during the premiere. Although this could have been partially true, particularly in the later passages of the concerto, in reality Clement would have seen much of the violin part before the concert, acting perhaps as an advisor to Beethoven. Another doubtful detail of the story says that Clement interrupted the performance of the Concerto between movements to show off his virtuoso skills. His motivation for this would have been to prove what he was capable of when able to rehearse a piece. As we can see above in the poster for the premiere this had been previously included in the programme, albeit with the same intention, as a ‘Sonata on a single string played with the violin upside down’.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61 Autograph Manuscript.. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
Only in November 1806, a few weeks before the premiere, did Beethoven start the first full scale writing down of the work in his autograph manuscript, which is part of the Music Collections of the Austrian National Library. There is a digital version which can be seen in full on their website.
The dedication to Clement contains a humorous pun pleading the violinist to show his clemency to the composer. Particularly in the last movement, we find signs of how hurried the creation of this masterpiece was.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f 104v. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
The violin part was written six staves from the bottom, under which we have the cellos (when they are not playing ‘col bassi’) and the double basses. The last three staves are left blank but interestingly in several passages they show alternative melodies for the violin. The variants in darker ink in seem to have been added after the premiere.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f.122. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
What was the immediate cause for these revisions? At least in part they were carried out because of a music publisher from London, eager to publish some of Beethoven works, took a somewhat tangential interest in the Violin Concerto.
The Italian-born English composer, pianist and music publisher Muzio Clementi met Beethoven in 1807 as a partner of the firm Clementi, Banger, Collard, Davis & Collard. He managed to obtain the English publishing rights of six works, among which was the Violin Concerto. Clementi was probably aware of its frosty reception the previous year and wanting to reap its commercial potential asked Beethoven to create a piano version. The composer obliged and an agreement was signed in April 1807.
Autograph manuscripts are often too messy for engravers to use as a reference against which to prepare the plates that produce a printed score. For that matter a copyist is employed to transcribe the work by hand from the original to a more legible document. We call this a manuscript copy. One such manuscript was prepared in mid-July 1807 for the first printed edition. The resulting document is held in the British Library, coming into our Music Collections almost 65 years ago as part of the Meyerstein Bequest. For the sake of clarity we’ll adopt Alan Tyson’s terminology and call this manuscript the ‘Meyerstein Copy’ from now on.
Rondo, bars 77-82. Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f 104. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
After it was completed, the Meyerstein Copy was returned to Beethoven who added corrections, mainly in pencil which were subsequently inked over by the engraver. There are several additions by Beethoven in characteristically Red Rottel, however not all of these are in the composer’s hand. Almost exclusively these rectifications concern expression, dynamics, phrasing and accidentals. No notes are modified by Beethoven. This makes evident that between both manuscripts there was at least one more document where both the solo violin (especially for the first and third movements) and its piano transcription took their final form. Since this document hasn’t survived the Meyerstein copy has the significant value of being the primary source for the solo parts of one of the most highly regarded Violin Concertos.
Beethoven’s skills at the piano are beyond dispute, but whether he was skilled at the violin is not well documented. As proposed above, it is plausible that a violinist would have advised him during the composition of the Violin Concerto. In the Meyerstein Copy there are signs of a similar collaboration. Franz Clement is, of course, a possible candidate. However, at the end of the Meyerstein Copy we find the message in French (not in Beethoven’s hand) “Pössinger Pressant [Urgent]”, perhaps a clue that the violinist and personal friend Franz Alexander Pössinger was also involved in these revisions.
A clear instance of a violinist’s advice in the final form of the solo part is evident on several long slurs –seemingly unplayable- which appear in the autograph manuscript. In the Meyerstein Copy these have been split into bar-long segments.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, ff. 11,11v. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
It is through the composer’s association with another violinist, George Bridgetower, that the British Library Music Collections holds one of its most fascinating items: Beethoven’s tuning fork. You can read more about it in another post of this blog.
The business relationship with Clementi’s firm wasn’t the best: Beethoven didn’t receive payment for almost two years. War in Europe was partly to blame. The Violin Concerto and its piano arrangement were instead printed first by the Viennese publisher Bureau des Arts et de l'Industrie around 1808/1809.
One of the signs that the Meyerstein copy was used as the Stichvorlage (engraver’s copy) are the brackets in red crayon (not by Beethoven) that appear throughout the score. These mark the page ends of the printed parts of the first edition:
The Pianoforte staves with a number 23 bracket. Beethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, f.81v. Add MS 47851
Viennese first edition (piano arrangement). Beethoven, L, (1807) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. Piano part, p.23 Hirsch IV.301
A few mistakes that survived from the Meyerstein Copy through to the first edition provide evidence of the direct relationship between these documents. They also show that Beethoven and his collaborators weren’t the most diligent proof readers.
In bar 301 of the allegro, Beethoven adds the marking “Espressivo”. However the writing is not clear and the engraver understood sempre fortissimo, which is what was published in the first printed editions
A 1822 reprint of the Vienna first edition shows the mistake corrected. The image featured below is taken from a rather special score that belonged to Ferdinand David. He was a violinist who worked with Felix Mendelssohn in the composition of his own Violin Concerto. There are numerous bowing and fingering indications annotated in his handwriting throughout the score, reflecting performance practice of the mid-nineteenth century.
Another instance of not-so-careful proofreading appears in the second violin part of the first edition. If we look closely there is a 5/4 bar! Can you find it?
The Violin Concerto remained in relative obscurity until a crucial performance took place during the Philharmonic Society Concert on the 27 May 1844 in the Hanover Square Rooms in London, with the 13-year-old virtuoso Joseph Joachim making his debut as the soloist. The orchestra was conducted by no other than Felix Mendelssohn himself, who composed his own Violin Concerto in E minor op.64 shortly after his return from London.
By 1844, musical tastes had changed and audiences were more receptive to the scale and melodic qualities of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The tremendous success of Joachim’s performance steered the piece into the musical repertoire, helping it to be recognised as the masterpiece we consider it to be today.
Many thanks to Andrea Harrandt and Peter Prokop from the Austrian National Library for kindly granting us permission to feature images from the autograph manuscript on this blog post.
1. Wiener Theater-Zeitung, 8 January 1807
2. Carl Czerny, Pianoforte-Schule op.500, Part IV, p117
- Autograph Manuscript: Musiksammlung, Austrian National Library (Vienna) Shelfmark Mus.Hs.17538 MUS MAG
Available online: http://data.onb.ac.at/rep/10040AE1
- Meyerstein Copy: British Library Shelfmark Add MS 47851
Available online: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_47851
- Viennese first edition (Piano arrangement): British Library Shelfmark Hirsch IV.301
- London first edition (Orchestral parts only): British Library Shelfmark 383.a.(1.)
Tyson, A. (1962). The Text of Beethoven's Op. 61. Music & Letters, 43(2), 104-114. London : Oxford University Press British Library Shelfmark P.P.1946.bd.
Beethoven, L.; Clarke, R (ed) (2007). Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major = D-Dur : Op. 61 / London: Eulenburg. British Library Shelfmark: D.856.j./30
Beethoven, L, & Del Mar, J (ed). (2010). Konzert in D für Klavier und Orchester : Nach dem op. 61. Kassel: Bärenreiter. British Library Shelfmark h.383.vv./1-3
Stowell, R. (1998). Beethoven: Violin concerto (Cambridge music handbooks). Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. British Library Shelfmark YC.1999.a.2995
04 December 2017
To mark the 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the beginning of the German Reformation, the British Library is hosting a free exhibition in its Treasures Gallery which looks at Luther’s life, works and influence.
The cantatas of J. S. Bach are, of course, among the most widely known works of the Lutheran musical tradition, so it is entirely fitting that the exhibition should include Bach’s own manuscript score of one such work, Wo soll ich fliehen hin (BWV 5).
The autograph score for this work forms part of the Zweig collection (shelfmark Zweig MS 1), a large collection of manuscript treasures collected by the Austrian author Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) which was donated to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.
Bach’s autograph (Zweig MS 1) consists of twelve folios, with the first two movements crammed onto just eight pages and additional staves ruled to accommodate loose ends. The following image shows how Bach ran out of space at the end of the bass aria, completing the final phrase with the separate parts side by side.
The manuscript has been fully digitised and is available to view on the British Library’s digitised manuscripts page.
The cantata was composed in the early years of Bach’s employment as the Cantor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, with the first performance taking place on 15 October 1724. The cantata’s text is derived from a hymn of the same name by Johann Heermann (1584-1647), the first line of which roughly translates as ‘Where shall I flee’; however the identity of the librettist of the full text used by Bach remains unknown.
In Leipzig, the congregation of the Thomaskirche clearly did not sing the original chorale melody first printed with Heermann’s Wo soll ich fliehen hin. Instead, the melody quoted by Bach in the soprano part is a tune more commonly associated with Auf meinen lieben Gott by Jacob Regnart.
The cantata is scored for four-voice choir, strings, basso continuo, oboes and, slightly unusually, ‘Tromba da tirarsi’ or slide trumpet. In addition to doubling the chorale melody in the opening chorus, the trumpet is most prominently heard in the aria Verstumme, Höllenheer (Be still, hordes of hell!), where the player must negotiate the long passages of triplet semiquavers described by John Eliot Gardiner as ‘ferociously demanding’.
In Bach’s time, the Lutheran cantata had taken the place of the motet which was traditionally sung after the gospel reading appointed for the day. In the tradition of these motets, the cantata was supposed to draw out themes and meaning from the gospel, fulfilling an exegetical role in the understanding of the word of God. Bach’s Wo soll ich fliehen hin is clearly composed in this tradition, taking its scriptural starting point from the prescribed passage in the Gospel of Matthew. This passage for the 19th Sunday after Trinity recounts the story of the man who is sick of the palsy, healed when Christ forgives his sins. Bach’s libretto is therefore largely concerned with sin and forgiveness, adapting the text of Heermann’s chorale to include references to the healing and atonement of sin by Christ’s blood.
The exhibition label accompanying this manuscript in the Treasures Gallery makes an interesting note of the fact that Heermann, whose chorale formed the textual basis for Bach’s libretto, is commemorated in the Lutheran calendar of saints along with fellow hymn writers Philipp Nicolai and Paul Gerhardt. Bach himself is, of course, commemorated in the same calendar on 28 July, the day of his death: his inclusion is undoubtedly well deserved on account of his great contribution to the Lutheran musical tradition, and is not simply for canonic variation.
By James Ritzema, Collaborative PhD student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and British Library
 John Eliot Gardiner, Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, (London: Allen Lane, 2013), p270.
28 November 2017
We continue our series of blog posts serving as accompaniment to the current V&A exhibition: ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ which features several items from our Music Collections. On this occasion we focus on ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’ Op 29 by the soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich. The dramatic events surrounding this work compete with those taking place on stage.
Lady Macbeth was composed between 1932 and 1934, with a libretto by Shostakovich and Alexander Preys. The story is based on a novel by Nikolai Leskov which takes place in the Russian pre-revolutionary days of serfdom. The unlikely heroine is Katerina Ismailova, the wife of a rich merchant from a bleak provincial town. Consumed with the crushing boredom of her empty life she becomes the mistress of one of her husband’s servants. When found out she murders her father–in-law and later, her husband. They are then sent to Siberia, where her lover forsakes her for another woman. In mad desperation, she kills her rival and then herself.
The British Library holds a rare vocal score of the opera, published in 1933 before its premiere and two years before the first regular edition shown in the image above.
Its rudimentary printing method and paper quality are indications that it may have been intended for limited rather than wide distribution. These were copies that perhaps circulated among musicians and collaborators during rehearsals for the Moscow production.
Lady Macbeth was premiered on 22 January 1934 in the Leningrad Malyi Opera Theatre with Samuil Samosud, who had been a close collaborator of Shostakovich in the latter stages of the production, as conductor. Two days later it opened in the Nemirovich-Dachenko Theatre in Moscow.
The London premiere took place at the Queens Hall on the 18th of March 1936, under the baton of Albert Coates. Among the audience there was a 22-year-old Benjamin Britten who was especially impressed by the entreact music. One can only speculate whether he was equally impressed by the tenor singing the minor part of '2nd Foreman'. It wasn’t until later on that year that Britten formally met Peter Pears, who would become a lifelong personal and professional partner.
Our Music Manuscripts collection has a manuscript copy of the full score which appears to have been used in the preliminary stages of the London production. The music was copied by Soviet hands while the text was added later on in England. It follows the English translation prepared by the musicologist Michel Calvocoressi, while the music reflects earlier versions of the opera. Several pencilled cuts and annotations, probably by the conductor himself, are present throughout the score
While there was some initial criticism regarding the naturalist use of the music and the choice of subject, Lady Macbeth was a firm success. It was performed hundreds of times in its first two years, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. The Daily Herald called it ‘the Best modern opera since ‘Wozzeck’, while the Sovetskaia Muzyka praised it as “the chef d’ouvre of soviet creativity”. Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was hailed as the first great proletarian opera.
Shostakovich’s fortunes would be dramatically reversed on the evening of 22 January 1936. The composer was requested to attend the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow for a production of the opera. Upon reaching his seat, he saw in the box across the stage were three of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union, Andrei Zhanov, Anastas Mikoyan and none other than Joseph Stalin himself. As the opera progressed, Shostakovich witnessed with horror how they winced and laughed every time a loud note emerged from the orchestra pit. Before the end of the third act, they had left the theatre.
Two days later the Communist Party’s official newspaper, Pravda, published an article which has since been considered as one of the most prominent examples of art censorship.
This page comes from the Pravda issue of 28th January 1936, a copy of which is in our Newspapers Collections. On the bottom left we can see the fateful article, which was titled 'Сумбур вместо музыки – Об опере Леди Макбет Мценского уезда’, or 'Muddle Instead of Music: On the Opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District'. Here Shostakovich is condemned as formalist, while giving in to bourgeois tastes. The music, on the other hand, “quacks, grunts, growls and suffocates itself.” His status as the foremost soviet composer rapidly dissolved into the paranoia and repression of the Great Purge, which unravelled that year.
His peers from the Leningrad Composer’s Union unanimously voted to support the Pravda article. Shostakovich had no other choice than to buckle under party pressure and withdraw his Fourth Symphony shortly before its premiere. He would never write another opera again and it was not until 1963, after Stalin’s death, that Lady Macbeth was performed again, revised, and under a different name and opus number: Katerina Ismailova, op. 114
Excerpt from the March of the Convicts. Dmitrii Dmitrievich Shostakovich, ‘Lady Macbeth (Katerina Izmaylova)’, op.29, MS Mus. 148
This would be the first of two public denunciations of Shostakovich's music, the second of which took place in 1948. From both he was officially rehabilitated after managing to court back regime favour. This resilience and artistic conviction are captured in a 1943 letter to his friend Sir Henry Wood1
(…) I am sure that the hour is near when our common enemy will be smashed and when our peoples will be able to resume their upbuilding of culture and art. With all my heart and soul I believe that after the war our art, to which we give all our efforts and abilities, will flourish with redoubled glory and magnificence.
With kindest regards.
Yours very Sincerely,
Dmitry Shostakovich .
We would like to thank Ms Shostakovich and Mirjam Eck-Yousef from Sikorski Music Publishers for their kind authorization to feature some of the images above.
31 October 2017
Have you recently started a PhD in Music? Alternatively, are you Master's student thinking of going on to study at doctoral level? If so, the British Library's doctoral music open day on 8 December 2017 is for you.
The music collections at the British Library are unparalleled in their scope and diversity, providing a wealth of material to aid and inspire researchers and performers. The Library’s holdings of written musical sources (printed music and music manuscripts) and related literature (books, journals, concert programmes) encompass all genres and countries from the Middle Ages to the present day. Equally valuable for researchers is the rich body of private papers, correspondence, and business archives relating to composers, performing musicians, music publishers and performing institutions. Our sound and moving image collection is similarly extensive, covering commercial discs, pop videos and ethnographic field recordings from across the globe, as well as radio sessions, interviews, documentaries and live performances. These materials are relevant to students in music and many other disciplines.
With this amount of material on offer, it can be difficult to know where to start, which is where our open days come in.
Comments from last year include:
“The day was excellent and demystified the British Library. ”
“It was not just about the library but also gave me lots of ideas. Very inspiring. Thank you.”
“Not to belittle the excellent and useful sessions, but the (carrot) CAKES!!!!”
We look forward to seeing you there!
28 July 2017
From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.
At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 335 music manuscripts on the site. Additional content is added regularly.
Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Lansdowne MS 763. Dating from the fifteenth century and written on vellum, this is a collection of music treatises by various authors.
For a full list of what is currently available, please see this file: Download PDF of BL digitised music manuscripts summer 2017.
This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download spreadsheet of BL digitised music manuscripts summer 2017.
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- Latest Music Manuscripts available online