12 April 2022
Beethoven and Zweig
Of the exhibits in our current Beethoven exhibition, no fewer than 12 come from the collection of autograph manuscripts assembled by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, and generously bequeathed to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.
Stefan Zweig as a collector
Zweig was a keen collector of autographs from an early age and built up one of the finest collections of its kind. He particularly sought out examples which he felt showed the process of creativity in the writers, composers and other historical figures he most admired. Beethoven was certainly one such, and fitted Zweig’s image of the true creative genius, but most of Zweig’s Beethoven material in fact comprised not music manuscripts that show Beethoven the genius composer at work, but items such as letters and notebooks that shed light on Beethoven the man.
This was no doubt in part because Zweig had an equally wealthy and eager rival when it came to collecting Beethoveniana, the Swiss bibliophile Martin Bodmer, but Zweig also had a liking for ‘relics’ of great men as well as actual examples of their work. One of his happiest moments as a collector came in 1929 when he was able to purchase Beethoven’s writing-desk and various other realia once belonging to the composer, such as a lock of hair, a violin and even a compass, from the descendants of Beethoven’s friend Stephan von Breuning. (These were later acquired by Bodmer and are now in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.)
Exhibits from the Zweig collection in the Beethoven exhibition
Two of the items from the BL Zweig manuscripts currently on display show a very humdrum side of Beethoven’s life: a laundry list and a page of kitchen accounts. The latter gives a glimpse into Beethoven’s diet: a lot of meat, bread and potatoes, spiced with mustard and horseradish, and washed down with wine and rum. Vegetables do feature, but usually lumped together as ‘Zuhspeis’ (literally a ‘side-dish’). Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his frequent ill health, referred to with a dash of self-deprecating humour in a letter of 1817 inviting his friend Johann Bihler to visit and mentioning that ‘Dr Sassafras’ will also be in attendance – a reference to the diuretic sassafras root.
Other items show more ‘elevated’ aspects of Beethoven’s life. A notebook from the early 1790s lists expenses from his first months in Vienna, including a series of composition lessons with Joseph Haydn, the main reason he had come to the city. Another collection of notes from 1815 contains transcriptions of poems by Johann Gottfried Herder with some snatches of music and some reflections on nature by Beethoven. By this time Beethoven’s loss of hearing loss was very advanced, but he writes that this seems not to trouble him in the countryside and that “every tree seems to speak to me, saying ‘Holy! Holy!’” Despite a number of health and personal problems at this time, another piece from 1815 strikes a similar note of optimism: a short three-part canon written in the autograph album of fellow-composer Ludwig Spohr sets words from a play by Friedrich Schiller, “Kurz ist der Schmerz und ewig ist die Freude” (“Pain is brief and joy is eternal”).
Beethoven’s admiration for Schiller’s work would culminate of course in the setting of the ‘Ode to Joy’ in his Ninth Symphony, but he also set works by the other literary giant of the age, Goethe. Zweig was particularly pleased to acquire the manuscript of the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ (‘The drum is beaten’) from Beethoven’s incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont as it combined the work of both men. In the play the song is sung by Egmont’s mistress Clärchen, who dreams of dressing as a soldier to follow her beloved to war. It is one of the pieces that forms the soundtrack to the exhibition, along with another work owned in manuscript by Zweig and on display, the 1808 Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major.
The last Zweig items displayed relate to Beethoven’s death and funeral. A book of sketches by Josef Teltscher includes two studies of the composer on his deathbed. Teltscher was in attendance and his moving images of an exhausted Beethoven are no doubt more realistic that the legend that Beethoven died shaking a fist in defiance. A list of expenses for Beethoven’s funeral shows what a costly affair it was, with details of money spent to pay the priests and to provide candles and roses. It was one of the most lavish funerals ever granted to a commoner in Vienna and the streets were packed with onlookers. Access to the service was by invitation only; the invitation on display is thought to have belonged to Stefan von Breuning. Finally there is a list of donors to a fund to help Beethoven’s servants after his death, something that brings us back to the household accounts and laundry list and reminds us of the people behind them who ran Beethoven’s various households in Vienna.
Some of Zweig’s contemporaries – and more recent critics – may have been cynical about the relic-hunting aspect of Zweig’s collecting, something nowhere more obvious than in his Beethoven holdings. But these items can help us to see a more rounded picture of Beethoven and his world rather than just the genius at work.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Arthur Searle, The British Library Stefan Zweig Collection: Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts (London, 1999).
Oliver Matuschek (ed.), Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig, mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005).
Oliver Matuschek, Three Lives: a Biography of Stefan Zweig (London, 2011).
Michael Ladenburger, Das “kollektive Sammler-Empfinden”: Stefan Zweig als Sammler und Vermittler von Beethoveniana: Begleitbuch zu einer Ausstellung des Beethoven-Hauses Bonn, 12. Mai-4. Oktober 2015 (Bonn, ) (A brief PDF guide to the exhibition that this book accompanied can be found here:)
21 February 2022
Beethoven exhibition update: some new arrivals from Berlin
We’ve had two very exciting additions to our Beethoven exhibition recently, in the form of loans from the Music Department and Mendelssohn Archive of the Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
With a big drumroll…
We are thrilled to announce that the autograph manuscript of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has arrived – its first time in the UK. The piece is often thought to be among Beethoven’s greatest achievements and, with its famous ‘Ode to Joy’ movement, one of his most immediately recognisable works. Its arrival in the UK is especially significant as the piece was first commissioned by the Philharmonic Society in London. It is even more of a privilege that the manuscript has been lent for the exhibition, since it became the first musical score to be added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2001.
The first complete score
The autograph score from Berlin represents the first complete manuscript of the symphony, committed to paper by Beethoven between 1822 and 1824. The pages on display show a climactic passage in the final part of the setting of the ‘Ode to Joy’, a poem by Friedrich Schiller celebrating universal friendship and equality.
How does it relate to London and the exhibition?
In November 1822 the Directors of the Philharmonic Society in London decided to offer Beethoven £50 for a new symphony for their season the next year: this was to become the Ninth. The minute books from that meeting are among the objects in the exhibition showing some of the realities behind the creation of famous works of art – a receipt, signed by Beethoven for his £50 fee, is another one.
The commission was supposed to have given the Philharmonic Society the premiere of the new work and exclusive rights for 18 months after, but Beethoven in fact arranged for the first and second performances of the piece to be held in Vienna in May 1824.
A neat manuscript, prepared by copyists under Beethoven’s supervision and incorporating some changes in his hand was sent to London in fulfilment of the commission at some point in 1824, probably after those first Vienna performances. This, a star item from the Royal Philharmonic Society Archive, acquired by the British Library in 2002, is also on display in the exhibition: the first time the two manuscripts will have been side by side since 1824.
Conversing with Beethoven
Another artefact on loan from Berlin, of no less significance in telling the story of Beethoven’s life, is one of the composer’s conversation books. By 1818 Beethoven’s hearing had deteriorated to such an extent that he carried with him a ‘conversation book’ so that his companions could write down their contribution to the dialogue. Beethoven normally replied verbally, so only one side of the conversation survives in most cases. The book on display dates from April 1824, with several visitors giving insights into an assortment of unconnected and unremarkable issues from Beethoven’s daily life. However, a musical excerpt in the composer’s hand appears on one of the pages on display, showing him explaining that the emphasis in the final line of the ‘Ode to Joy’ should be on the word ‘Sternen’ (‘stars’).
Beethoven’s hearing loss
The conversation book joins several other items in the exhibition that help to illustrate Beethoven’s struggles with increasing deafness through his life. This theme is reflected in some of his own writings, in the accounts of people who met him and in a specially-created installation that allows visitors to experience Beethoven’s music through vibrations and visualisation.
Visit the exhibition!
Both loans had had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions that were implemented before the opening of the exhibition in December 2021. Happily though, the loan has now been able to go ahead. With the exhibition open until Sunday 24 April, we hope as many people as possible get to see these iconic manuscripts from Berlin, alongside the diverse and surprising range of scores, letters and other artefacts from the British Library’s own collections.
Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts
07 February 2022
Conserving creativity – the case of Beethoven’s ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany
In this blog post we look at a recent conservation project involving an important Beethoven manuscript known as the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany (Add MS 29801).
How did the manuscript come to be in the British Library?
The manuscript’s name comes from its previous owner, Johann Nepomuk Kafka (1819-1886), an Austrian pianist, composer and manuscript collector.
The British Museum bought it, together with a manuscript of Beethoven’s cadenza for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor and some scores by Franz Schubert and Gioachino Rossini, in 1875 for a total of £323.
What is contained in the volume?
Although the ‘Kafka’ volume is sometimes referred to as a sketchbook, that is only really true of the first 37 folios, which would have originally formed a bound entity in their own right. This section dates from about 1811 and shows the in-demand Beethoven at work on music for the play Die Ruinen von Athen (‘The Ruins of Athens’) – now most famous for its overture and ‘turkish’ march.
The rest of the volume (ff. 39-165) is actually something of a jumble. The earliest of these pages date from about 1781 when Beethoven was just 11 years old. There are also examples from throughout his early life, charting his formative years, his move from Bonn to Vienna in 1792, and the period following that when he was busy establishing a name for himself.
Beethoven probably kept leaves like this unbound, perhaps revisiting them at different points in his life. It seems unlikely that he kept them in any kind of consistent order, but even if he had, they are unlikely to have retained it after his death. There was a lively market for manuscripts and mementos of the composer through the 19th century, and such relics changed hands frequently – often, sadly, with the result of related pages being separated and scattered among different owners.
This particular bundle of miscellaneous leaves were brought together with the 1811 sketchbook into a composite volume at some point after Beethoven’s death, with each individual folio eventually mounted on a small stub of paper (known as a guard) and bound together.
The contents of these pages range from relatively neat drafts of complete pieces – like this movement of a sonatina for mandolin and piano – to barely legible scribbles, capturing ideas quickly in a burst of inspiration.
Many examples show initial musical ideas being worked over and over, developed on the page. Sometimes these ideas came to nothing, but other times they ended up as pieces we know today.
Beethoven’s creative process, and how it is reflected on paper, has been the subject of a lot of discussion over the years, but there is a useful introduction by Barry Cooper.
What was the conservation journey of the ‘Kafka’ volume?
The ‘Kafka’ volume was flagged for conservation attention in 2019 due to a number of pages displaying wear and tear along the edges. Of particular concern was the potential loss of Beethoven’s annotations at the extremities of sometimes fragile and weakening paper.
What were the challenges?
The range of different paper and ink types in the volume, as well as the jumbled nature of the contents, presented a varied situation though, and meant that careful consideration and close collaboration between curators and conservators was important. Whatever we did needed to balance a respect for the object and its history with long-term preservation needs.
The general approach to treatment was to make the volume fit for purpose but with minimal intervention. So, we took a targeted approach, retaining the structure of the object but identifying vulnerable leaves where the paper was particularly weak or worn at the edges, or where text was in danger of being gradually worn away.
Another factor we considered was how the volume is used, both now and in the future. It had already been digitised, and a facsimile and transcription of the contents were published in the 1970s, and these have helped reduce the number of times the volume is handled for study.
What’s next for this iconic manuscript?
As an iconic manuscript in public ownership, it is something that we want to be able to display periodically, both at the British Library and occasionally on loan to other institutions.
Given the disparate content there are many possibilities as to what might be chosen to be exhibited. The fact that the manuscript is bound means either displaying the whole volume or else needing to lift individual leaves from the guards. The latter is certainly possible, but not something to be undertaken regularly or repeatedly. In prioritising leaves for conservation work, we took into account the likelihood of use in future displays.
As well as some small paper repairs to support areas of fragile ink and small tears to the edges of some folia, the main solution was to remove the identified leaves from the original guards and hinge them onto a sheet of archival handmade paper with fine Japanese tissue.
This both helps to reduce direct handling of the manuscript pages and to create a buffer between the inks, which themselves can have a deteriorating effect over time. Additionally, this treatment will help make it easier for particular folios to be removed from the volume for display without damage or disruption in a sufficiently stable condition to withstand transport and display requirements.
Finally, a custom–made drop back box was constructed to better support the volume while in storage, providing a buffer against the environment and a safe way to transport it.
This conservation work was undertaken with generous support from the Idlewild Trust and has meant that several leaves from this unique volume are now on display in our exhibition Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon. – open until Sunday 24 April 2022.
Selected pages of this volume are also featured on our Discovering Music webspace, where you can find out more about it – and images of all 162 folios are available to view up on Digitised Manuscripts.
Zoë Miller, Conservation Team Leader
Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts
04 August 2021
Digitised Manuscripts from the Royal Music Library
In the last year we digitised nearly 40 manuscript volumes from the Royal Music Library, including autographs by Agostino Steffani, J.C. Bach, Alessandro Scarlatti, and other composers.
Among the manuscripts digitised are 24 volumes with works by Agostino Steffani (1654-1728), who served as Kapellmeister and diplomat at the court of Duke Ernst August of Hanover from 1688 until 1703. The manuscripts in the Royal Music Library, some of which are in his own hand, are thought to have been brought from Hanover to England by King George I. They include numerous volumes with Steffani's chamber duets and operas, which survive in their original bindings.
The original leather binding of volume X of Agostino Steffani’s 13-volume set of vocal duets, and folio 59r with the opening of the duet ‘Gia tu parti’ in Steffani’s own hand. British Library R.M.23.k.18.
All surviving volumes of Steffani’s 13-volume set of vocal duets at R.M.23.k.13-20 have now been digitised, with volumes R.M.23.k.16-20 available to view via our Archives and Manuscripts catalogue and Universal Viewer. The operas by Steffani that have been digitised include the Hanoverian operas La Superbia d’Alessandro, Orlando Generoso and Henrico Leone (the latter is available to view on our Digitised Manuscripts portal).
Other manuscripts that were digitised include autographs by Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), music master to Queen Charlotte from 1763 to 1782, including his 3-act opera Artaserse from 1761 (R.M.22.a.18-20), and two Te Deum in D major (R.M.22.a.14, R.M.22.a.15) and Magnificat in C major (R.M.22.a.11 and R.M.22.a.13).
Also digitised is a volume with 12 autograph symphonies by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) (R.M.21.b.14).
Other highlights include autographs by Francesco Bianchi (1752-1810), and François Hippolyte Barthélémon (1741-1808), the opera Semiramide by Francesco Araja (1709-1770), and volumes with operatic arias and duets by Steffani, Pietro Torri (1650-1737), and Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739).
Alongside the digitised autograph Handel manuscripts in the Royal Music Library, the digitisation of these volumes is helping to highlight examples of well-represented composers in this collection and their autograph manuscripts, and also preserve manuscripts that survive in their original, and quite often fragile bindings.
08 December 2020
Celebrating Beethoven: a new online exhibition on Discovering Music
We are pleased to announce a new Discovering Music space on 19th-century music, which launches now with an exhibition celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.
The exhibition features 27 collection items, including several manuscripts in Beethoven’s own hand, as well as articles written by experts in the field, and much related content!
Find out more about the composition history and context of some of Beethoven’s most celebrated works, including his ‘Pastoral’ and Ninth symphonies, his violin concerto, and several of his piano and chamber music works.
The space also offers insights into Beethoven’s compositional processes that formed his music, for which evidence may be found in his intricate and notoriously difficult to decipher sketchbooks.
The space also features collection items reflecting Beethoven’s career as a keyboard performer, personal items such as his tuning fork; as well as collection items reflecting both the inspiration and consolation he found in nature and the mental and physical struggles arising from his debilitating loss of hearing.
Also featured on the space are People pages for musicians that Beethoven collaborated with as well as famous literary figures who inspired his music, such as Goethe and Schiller.
You can explore our Beethoven holdings further by visiting our Digitised Manuscripts and Explore catalogues of printed, audio and manuscript music.
12 October 2020
Ralph Vaughan Williams in the Boosey & Hawkes Archive
It was with characteristic self-deprecation that Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) – whose birthday is today, 12th October – reacted to Boosey & Hawkes’ proposed republication of two pieces that he had written 30 years before:  ‘These youthful indiscretions were a great shock to me’, he wrote. ’.
The ‘Two Old Airs’, arrangements of German folk-melodies for voice and piano, were now rather too old for the composer’s liking. They dated from the early 1900s, about the time of his involvement in the English folk-song revival, and before his studies with Maurice Ravel were to lend his music the distinctive textures he wryly called ‘French polish’. By 1933, the time of this letter, his style had undergone considerable development — this was the discordant era of the furious Fourth Symphony (Add MS 50140) and ‘Job: A Masque for Dancing’ (Add MS 54326) — so the composer’s opinion of the early pieces was rather lower than Leslie Boosey’s (1887–1979), and he was anxious that they should not be mistaken for new work. ‘I am not very proud of them’, was Vaughan Williams’s verdict; ‘If you do decide to issue them I must insist that the date of composition must be printed on the copy’.  Boosey agreed, and the songs were re-issued later that year.
Boosey & Hawkes Ltd. were not the main publishers of Vaughan Williams's music, their rights being mainly in his early chamber works, but their archive (MS Mus. 1813) nevertheless holds a number of his letters. Many, like the above, concern mainly formalities: rights, reprints or new arrangements of works for different instruments. (This kind of correspondence was continued after the composer’s death by his widow Ursula). Other exchanges, however, shed interesting light on both Vaughan Williams’s life and the publisher’s role in the musical world. In May 1938, for instance, Vaughan Williams wrote to Leslie Boosey with an unusual request:
Can you help me with some advice — I have been asked to arrange the music for a pageant — one scene is a garden party in 1900 — Could you find out from your records what were the popular songs about 1895 (I had better ante-date it a bit)
— (1) what a military band at a party would be likely to be playing?
— (2) what a young lady would be likely to sing when asked for a song with piano accomp[animent]?
— It will be very kind of you if you can help me in this 
Vaughan Williams would surely have had a fairly good idea of these things himself, but evidently wished to be sure of historical accuracy. The pageant in question, a collaborative effort between several composers entitled 'England's Pleasant Land' (Add MS 57290-57291) was performed two months later at Milton Court near Dorking, with Vaughan Williams conducting.  It depicted the phemonena old and new that have threatened the peace of the English countryside and the freedom of its people: land enclosures, industrialisation and wanton urban growth. Interestingly, some of the themes Vaughan Williams composed for this pageant later reappeared, in transfigured form, in the much-loved Fifth Symphony (1943) (Add MS 50371-50372) whose serenity was to bring such peace and consolation to war-battered Britain.
Vaughan Williams's involvement in the war effort (in both World Wars) is well-known. One form his service took during the Second was his chairmanship of a board which sought to aid foreign-born musicians interned in Britain as 'Enemy Aliens'. The policy of internment, though precautionary in intention, inevitably resulted in the imprisonment of innocent people, many of whom had moved to Britain precisely in fear or defiance of Nazism. Several times Vaughan Williams sent lists of names to Leslie Boosey, asking if he knew them well enough to be able to attest to their character. The favour was to be repaid when the same board helped to secure the release of three of Boosey's own staff — Erwin Stein, Alfred Kalmus and Ernst Roth — after they were interned in July 1940. (For more about this tale, see this blog [https://blogs.bl.uk/music/2020/05/ernst-roth-and-the-business-of-music.html]).
A final category of Vaughan Williams’s correspondence consists of his letters of recommendation in support of younger or less prominent composers and musicians. In July 1938 he wrote to Boosey ‘to introduce to you Mr. William Cole — a composer of talent and a first rate organist’.  He did the same for the composer Franz Reizenstein (1911–1986), whom he introduced as his ‘friend and ex-pupil’ — adding, ‘though indeed there was nothing he needed to learn from me’.  Reizenstein, being German by birth, was among those later interned and for whose release Vaughan Williams was to intervene. 
Letters like these show both composer and publisher working quietly behind the scenes for the flourishing of the musical world. The tone of the correspondence also reveals the esteem in which each held the other. Yet it would only have embarrassed Vaughan Williams had Leslie Boosey told him directly what he had written to the Norwegian composer Sverre Hagerrup Bull (1892–1976): 'RVW is our greatest living Composer, and probably the best purely English composer we have ever had'.
Full transcriptions of the letters quoted in this article can be found on the website ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, http://vaughanwilliams.uk.
 Editorial comment, ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 6 August 1933, letter number VWL5061<http://vaughanwilliams.uk/letter/vwl5061>, retrieved 18 July 2020.
 Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 6 August 1933. Full text transcribed at ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, letter number VWL5061<http://vaughanwilliams.uk/letter/vwl5061>, retrieved 18 July 2020.
 Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 6 August 1933.
 Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 16 May 1938. British Library, MS Mus. 1813/2/1/219/8.
 Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘England’s Pleasant Land’, The Redress of the Past, <http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1061/> , retrieved 28 August 2020.
 Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 3 July 1938. British Library, MS Mus. 1813/2/1/212/6.
 Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 9 July 1937. British Library, MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/8.
 Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, 22 October 1940. Full text transcribed at ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, letter number VWL 4969, <http://vaughanwilliams.uk/letter/vwl4969>, retrieved 28 August 2020.
Dominic Newman, Manuscripts Cataloguer
05 October 2020
Digitising Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at the Birmingham Oratory
Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, a setting of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem of the same name for voices and orchestra, is an important work that sealed Elgar's reputation as a composer of international significance. With its references to Catholic doctrine concerning Mary, Mother of God and Purgatory, it is also strongly connected to Elgar’s background as a Roman Catholic, and proved controversial in its early performances. Despite the significance of the work, the manuscript has been historically difficult to access, as it was donated by Elgar to the Oratory of St Philip Neri in Birmingham.
Dr Joanna Bullivant of the University of Oxford has therefore organised a project with the British Library, the National Institute of Newman Studies, USA, and the National Trust (who run the Elgar Birthplace Museum) to digitise and curate the manuscript for scholars and the general public. As well as digitising the manuscript and making it available online, the project involves developing new expert commentary for the British Library Discovering Music pages and organising a series of events with school children. The manuscript score together with related Newman manuscripts at the Birmingham Oratory were digitised by Eugenio Falcioni who writes about the process and special techniques used during digitisation, whilst Joanna Bullivant comments about the manuscripts and their significance for research.
The Church, Library, and Cardinal Newman Room at the Birmingham Oratory. Photos by Eugenio Falcioni
The British Library on-location digitisation service
The British Library has offered on-location digitisation services to external customers for some time. For these customers, an on-location service is usually preferable due to the precious nature of their collection items, or in some cases, because they are too fragile or bulky to be sent to the London studio.
To fulfil an on-location job, an experienced heritage photographer will travel to the location of the item(s) along with state of the art photographic equipment and a number of digitisation and collection care tools approved by conservation experts at The British Library.
The digitisation of Elgar’s original score and the two Newman manuscripts of The Dream of Gerontius at The Birmingham Oratory is a prestigious example of this service. The Newman manuscripts consist of the author’s rough draft of his poem and the first autograph fair copy. The Elgar manuscript is the autograph score used in the first performance. All these documents contain myriad rich details that give insight into the history of poem and music: not only crossings-out, corrections, and notes on performance, but also Elgar’s remarks on the weather and the signatures of everyone involved in the first performance.
The digitisation process of the Elgar and Newman manuscripts at the Birmingham Oratory
The project, carried out in March 2020, took four days of intense work, capturing every page of the manuscripts. This process may seem straightforward, but involves many crucial aspects, such as transport and setup of various specialist equipment; extreme care in handling the original manuscripts; a technically flawless photographic process; and consistent image management. These elements are crucial in delivering the finest digitised product to the customer in a relatively short time.
Setup of the temporary digitisation workstation at the Birmingham Oratory. Photo by Eugenio Falcioni
Fortunately, the three manuscripts were all in excellent condition, which made the imaging process quite smooth and without any particular hitches.
Having the opportunity to work on such important items, in a fascinating place like The Birmingham Oratory, is enough for a photographer to feel satisfied. But what made this project really interesting and challenging from a photographic point of view was the fact that a number of pages in Elgar’s manuscript score had been covered with additional sheets, glued over parts of the original score. Elgar did this where he made emendations to the musical text in the form of adding bars or material for particular parts. As a painstaking editor of his music for performance, it was common for Elgar to want to make these kinds of changes.
Reading the information covered by this layer of paper is almost impossible with the naked eye. Even by magnifying the new digital images it was difficult to see anything. Given the great interest in uncovering the original information and the importance of the manuscript, following the normal imaging process, I undertook a special imaging cycle to try to reveal the hidden text. A couple of attempts were made using an infrared camera and subsequently trying to illuminate the manuscript under ultraviolet torches, but both proved unsuccessful. As a last attempt, the technique of 'transmitted light' finally revealed the original hidden text.
Applying the transmitted light technique on a Newman manuscript at the Birmingham Oratory with the light placed behind the manuscript page and the camera on the other side. Photos by Eugenio Falcioni
Transmitted light is a photographic technique where only one lighting source is placed at the back of the photographed object, making it possible to photograph the passage of light through it. This technique is mainly used on supports like paper or canvas that don’t completely block the light and is often used at the BL to capture watermarks in paper documents. The technique itself is not particularly complicated, although it requires a good mastery of the lighting systems and particular care in leafing through the original document. It is essential to have no other sources of light apart from the photographers' lamp, to avoid unnecessary light pollution that may affect the output. The lamp must also be placed at a reasonable distance from the photographed page, so as not to transmit any heat.
Uncovering hidden text in Elgar’s score
By back-lighting the pages of Elgar’s manuscript it was possible to reveal the information contained on its inner side. At first sight it would seem that much of the covered information is now legible, albeit with some difficulty due to the overlapping of the scores. Although Elgar probably never imagined that anyone would uncover the music he attempted to conceal, it was a privilege to use my photographic skills to help scholars further understand the context and meaning of his work.
The final step of the process was a patient post-production effort, carried out to emphasize the contrast of the ink recovered. This resulted in being able to distinguish the overlapping scores from each other to make it more visible to those who wish to study it. While there is no lost aria or the secret of the ‘Enigma’ Variations concealed beneath the glued-down corrections, they reveal a more quotidian but no less important side of Elgar.
By tracing the minute alterations made as the work reached its final version, we witness the composer’s working methods, his attention to detail, and his sensitivity to the impact of the work in performance.
Elgar’s score of The Dream of Gerontius at the Birmingham Oratory. The transmitted light photographic technique reveals the hidden text on page 35 of the score. Images by Eugenio Falcioni. Reproduced with kind permission from The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory.
Fully digitized versions of the Elgar and Newman manuscripts in IIIF can be viewed on the NINS website.
Written by Eugenio Falcioni, Senior Imaging Technician, The British Library, and Dr Joanna Bullivant, Lecturer, University of Oxford Faculty of Music
02 September 2020
Digitised Music Manuscripts
During the last few months we have been actively publishing music manuscripts on Digitised Manuscripts. Approximately 60 digitised manuscripts are listed below grouped in rough chronological order. Highlights include: The ‘Cosyn’ and ‘Forster’ virginal books and autographs by Purcell; Henry Lawes; Haydn; Thomas Arne; Rossini; Mendelssohn; Verdi; Arthur Sullivan; Berlioz; Gounod; Liszt; Offenbach; Mahler; and Elgar.
16th-century music manuscripts
A collection of motets, masses, Te Deum, and Kyrie, in four volumes, by English composers (Add MS 17802; Add MS 17803; Add MS 17804; Add MS 17805); A collection of services, anthems, and a few part-songs, for five voices, by English composers (Add MS 30480; Add MS 30481; Add MS 30482; Add MS 30483; Add MS 30484); A collection of sacred compositions in parts (Add MS 32377); A collection of parts of masses, motets, and services (Add MS 34191); A miscellany of Middle English verse, including ballads by Chaucer and Lydgate; 'The Flyting of Montgomerie and Polwart' by Alexander Montgomerie; 'Nebuchadnezzar's Fierie Furnace'; the 'Annals of Oskell'; grammatical exercises in Latin and Greek; and Old songs of Durham (Harley MS 7578); Masses and motets, in parts, by Nicolas Ludford (Royal Appendix MS 45; Royal Appendix MS 46; Royal Appendix MS 47; Royal Appendix MS 48); A collection of largely sacred music of English origin, composed for instruments and voice (Royal Appendix MS 74; Royal Appendix MS 75; Royal Appendix MS 76); A collection of French and Italian compositions by anonymous authors (Royal Appendix MS 55); A collection of frottole, strambotti, and odes, with music for four voices, by Italian composers of the 15th and early 16th century (Egerton MS 3051).
17th-century music manuscripts
A volume with miscellaneous writings, ornamented with initials, portraits of saints, royal arms, etc. including songs with lute accompaniment in tablature (Add MS 4900); A volume with keyboard and lyra viol music (Add MS 63852); The Cosyn Virginal Book (R.M.23.l.4); The Forster Virginal Book (R.M.24.d.3); The autograph of Henry Purcell’s The Yorkshire Feast Song (Egerton MS 2956); The Henry Lawes Music Manuscript (Add MS 53723); Canons for 4 voices to the first lines of the Psalms (Vulgate version), by Sydrach Rahel, with a dedication, in French , to James I (Royal Appendix MS 64).
18th-century music manuscripts
Original letters of Joseph Haydn (Egerton MS 2380); Sonatas, suites and other works for keyboard instrument by G. F. Handel and other composers (MS Mus. 1587); A collection of anthems, in score, by G.F. Handel (Add MS 30309); The Chandos Music Manuscripts (Add MS 62099; Add MS 62100; Add MS 62101; Add MS 62102; Add MS 62103); A collection of songs, excerpts from operas, and an anthem, by Thomas Arne (Add MS 29370); Autograph cantatas by Antonio Caldara (Add MS 31549); Sonatas for the viola-da-gamba by Carl Friedrich Abel (Add MS 31697); 19th century letters and papers relating to the ownership of the Mozart string quartets in Add MS 37763-37765 (Add MS 37766).
19th-century music manuscripts
Selected autograph vocal pieces by Gioacchino Rossini (Add MS 30246); Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s autograph of his String Quartet in E flat (Add MS 30900); The Scherzo, Notturno, and Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream arranged by the composer for piano (Egerton MS 2955); Giuseppe Verdi’s autograph of his opera Attila (Add MS 35156); The autograph of Robert Schumann's piano sonata in F minor (Add MS 37056); Charles François Gounod’s Messe Solennelle (Add MS 37639); The autograph score of Arthur Sullivan’s operetta The Gondoliers (Add MS 53779); Letters from Hector Berlioz to members of his family (Add MS 56237); Songs by Thomas Moore arranged by Henry Bishop and others (Add MS 19569); Songs with piano accompaniment by Hortense Bonaparte, wife of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland (Add MS 30148); 19th-century copy of The ‘Lamentabatur Jacob' by Cristobal Morales, and a setting of ‘Incipit Lamentatio Hieremiæ’ by Thomas Tallis (Add MS 34070); Autograph compositions by Franz Liszt (Add MS 34182); The musical autograph album of Eliza Wesley, containing short pieces, inscriptions and signatures of numerous composers, musicians, and singers (Add MS 35026); Miscellaneous autograph compositions by various composers (Add MS 38070); Music by Michael Haydn and Carl Maria von Weber (Add MS 41634); Airs from the cantatas and other works of J.S. Bach, arranged by Robert Franz for alto and tenor voices with pianoforte accompaniment (Add MS 41635); Jacques Offenbach’s autograph score of his comic opera Fantasio (Add MS 42064); Miscellaneous music, partly autograph, by various 18th- and 19th-century composers (Add MS 47860).
Early 20th-century music manuscripts
Cancelled folio from the draft orchestral full score of the third movement, ‘Rondo-Burleske’, of Gustav Mahler's Symphony no.9 in D major (MS Mus. 97); Sketches and drafts by Edward Elgar (Add MS 49973 B).
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