29 June 2020
The Qatar Digital Library (QDL) is a collaboration between the British Library and the Qatar National Library, in which historical records from the former India Office are being catalogued and digitised, along with Arabic manuscripts on scientific topics from the British Library’s collection. Music theory has always been considered a scientific pursuit by Arabic scholars – as it had been by Plato and Pythagoras – on account of the mathematical nature of topics such as intervals, modes, rhythm, transposition, and tonal relationships.
Musical manuscripts digitised for the QDL so far include a copy of a commentary on an influential theoretical treatise, the Book of Cycles (Kitāb al-adwār) by Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Urmawī (d. 1294) (Add MS 7471, ff. 41v-92r), a work on the construction of musical instruments (Or. 9649), a cosmological treatise on music (Add MS 23494), and a recently-catalogued copy of the Kitāb al-inʻām bi-maʻrifat al-anghām (Book of Generosity on the Understanding of Melodies; Or. 13019) by the 16th-century music theorist Shams al-Dīn al-Ṣaydāwī. [Note that although this manuscript has been digitised it is not yet available to view on the Qatar Digital Library.]
The Kitāb al-inʻām is a short text in verse, remarkable for its presentation of an innovative and apparently unique system of music notation. It is also a feast for the eyes: both its text and its many diagrams are copied using a range of brightly-coloured inks which are not merely decorative, but rather an inherent aspect of this notation system. While several other copies of this text are known, the QDL’s high resolution, full-colour digitisation is a first, allowing its fundamental aesthetic and graphic features to be appreciated on an accessible digital platform for the first time.
Little is known about the author, although his name indicates origins in Ṣaydā (Sidon) in today’s Lebanon. His dates are uncertain, but he may have died in Damascus in 1506, which would mean that Or. 13019 – dated to 906 in the Islamic hijrī calendar (equivalent to 1501 CE) – was produced within his lifetime, as well as being the earliest known surviving copy. Ownership marks recorded on folio 1r indicate predominantly Syrian owners over the centuries. It was bought by the British Museum in 1966.
Following an introduction [fig. 1], al-Ṣaydāwī opens the treatise by outlining the four fundamental musical modes (called ‘uṣūl’) used in his time: Rāst, ʻIrāq, Zīrāfkand and Iṣfahān. Modes are constructed of sets of tetrachords which may be present within more than one of them, establishing complex familial relationships between them. From each of these four basic modes, two further ‘branch’ modes (furūʻ) are derived, which maintain a musical relationship with their ‘parents’. In addition to these groups of four and eight, al-Ṣaydāwī also enumerates six secondary modes called awāzāt, each of which is likewise related to two of the twelve fundamental and branch modes already outlined.
To present these modes and describe further aspects of their performance, al-Ṣaydāwī uses a stave-like diagram [fig. 2] of eight labelled parallel horizontal lines enclosed within a circular frame, representing the degrees of the scale (buḥūr). The lowest pitch is indicated on the bottom line, and the highest (an octave above) on the second-highest line (the uppermost line in each diagram is a framing device and not indicative of a note).
Al-Ṣaydāwī follows established convention in using Persian terms to describe these notes as yekgāh (first position), dūgāh (second position), etc. However, he innovates in additionally colour-coding each line, with the eighth line from the bottom the same colour as the lowest, as the notes represented are an octave apart (the uppermost line in the diagrams is only a frame). The specific colours are described in the introduction to the text [fig. 3].
Al-Ṣaydāwī goes on to outline a system for representing notes above and below the basic octave, independently of this graphic stave. To do this, a table [fig. 4] presents colour-coded Arabic alphanumeric abjad letters indicating microtonal intervals. These notes are paired with a ‘question’ and ‘response’ concept indicating further notes, at fixed intervals of separation totalling an octave, and allowing the total range of notation to be expanded.
The second unique aspect of al-Ṣaydāwī’s work is a notational system applied to the stave diagram which, in combination with instructions in the text, indicates aspects of the performance of the mode [fig. 5]. The letter mīm (م), standing for ma’khadh (مأخذ, meaning ‘place from which one takes something’) is written on the starting note/line of the mode and in the same colour, on the left of the diagram. The mode’s final note – often also its tonal centre – is indicated with the word rakz (with the sense of ‘setting, fixing’), written on the corresponding line, to the right.
The instruction iṣʻad (اصعد, ‘ascend’) in red, denotes a transition to a higher pitch. Conversely, a yellow letter hāʼ (ھ, from the root هبط, ‘descent’) indicates a transition to a lower pitch. These ascents or descents must be performed note-by-note (bi-al-tartīb) if the letter ‘tā’’ (ت, in red) is written next to the note towards which the pitch ascends or descends, whereas the player should jump directly to that pitch if iṣʻad or hāʼ is written with a long ‘tail’. Other abbreviations indicate additional aspects of performance such as prolongation, staccato articulation, and trill-like ornamentation.
This work presents difficulties of interpretation due to the poetic text and some ambiguity in terminology. For example, yekgāh, meaning the first note of the scale, also indicates the particular mode which starts on that note, i.e. rāst, while buḥūr also has variant meanings. Similarly, while the word maqām these days means ‘mode’ in general, in al-Ṣaydāwī’s time it still retained a more literal meaning of ‘placement’. Furthermore, the meaning of some of the notational abbreviations is unclear; some of the diagrams in the extant copies appear unlabelled and unfinished; and Or. 13019 lacks at least one folio (between the present folios 11v and 12r).
Al-Ṣaydāwī’s musical notation remains a fascinating and enigmatic theoretical experiment, unique of its time. While it permitted a wide range of notes to be succinctly conveyed, their relationships to each other expressed, and an unprecedented level of codified performance detail to be indicated, no later texts are known to have developed this system further.
Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Project
Antar, Thérèse B. (translation and commentary), Exploitation de la couleur en musique: Livre de la connaissance des tons et leur explication. Mouhammad Chams al-Din al-Saydawi al-Dimachqi (Beirut: Presse Chemaly and Chemaly, 2001).
Ghrab, Anas, 'Livre de la générosite dans la connaisance des modes: Edition et traduction (Unpublished thesis submitted for the Diplôme d'études approfondies, Université Lumiere-Lyon, 2002).
Shiloah, A. and A. Berthier, 'A propos d’un "petit livre arabe de musique"', in Revue de musicologie, 71.1 (1985), pp. 164-77.
05 July 2019
The archive of Susan Bradshaw (1931-2005) is now catalogued and available for consultation in the Library’s Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Proceeds from the British Library's purchase of the archive went towards the Royal Philharmonic Society's establishment of the Susan Bradshaw Composers’ Fund, as arranged by Brian Elias, composer and Bradshaw's close friend.
Susan Bradshaw pianist, teacher and writer on music, was born in Monmouth on 8 September 1931. After spending time in India and Egypt during her childhood, where her father’s work in the army had taken their family, Bradshaw embarked on learning piano and violin. She later studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Harold Craxton (piano) and Howard Ferguson (composition). Then, in 1957, Bradshaw seized the chance to expand her musical world, taking up a French Government Scholarship to study composition with modernist figurehead, Pierre Boulez, and Max Deutsch in Paris.
That year in France proved a catalyst for melding musical partnerships and alliances. Bradshaw formed a piano duo with her close friend Richard Rodney Bennett, and the Mabillon Trio with Philip Jones (oboe) and William Bennett (flute). However, the year in France signalled the decline of her activity as a composer, and on her return to the UK, Bradshaw moved her energy to accompaniment and performance.
Bradshaw was an ardent advocate of new music. She helped contemporary composers by including them in ensemble programming, promoting new works with first performances and using broadcasts to share what she recognised as important and progressive about such music. Concert ephemera, cuttings from radio show advertisements and draft programme scripts in her papers record her efforts and enthusiasm.
Inside Bradshaw’s Archive
Bradshaw’s archive reflects the breadth of her own musical experience and contains:
- Draft scores of over thirty of Bradshaw’s compositions, largely from the period 1951-1958
- Drafts of her writings on music, on individual composers/works/musical aesthetics
- A collection of printed materials compiled by Bradshaw into composer information files
- Scrapbooks and collected programmes, tracing Bradshaw’s musical career
- Select correspondence from composers and friends
- A box of 60th birthday tributes: musical compositions, letters and cards
- Publicity photographs and documents relating to her wider musical involvements.
Related Resources at the British Library
Many items in the British Library Sound Archive complement and enhance the vibrant resource of Bradshaw’s paper archive. Examples include:
- A recording of Bradshaw’s Eight Hungarian Folksongs, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1978. Catalogue reference: M7663.
- Susan Bradshaw’s talk with recorded illustrations, In search of Pierre Boulez, given at the National Sound Archive in their Spring Lectures, 1985. Catalogue reference: B627/1.
- A recording of an event dedicated to the music and literary work of Lord Berners, Lord Berners: an entertainment in words and music, 1972. Susan Bradshaw and John Betjeman both performed at this. Catalogue reference: T706, M5087.
- William Bennett and Susan Bradshaw performing Boulez’s Sonatine for flute and piano. Catalogue reference: 2LP0048923; 1LP0073897.
Translating the ‘Shapes and Sounds’ of Composers’ Imaginings 
Bradshaw was well-positioned to act as a mediator between composers and audiences. She had a deep understanding of musical composition, performance and analysis, and used her knowledge of all three to interpret the works she encountered and to bring composers’ imaginings to life. Bradshaw believed that these three strands of musical endeavour were inter-related, and mutually nourishing. She appreciated that each was essential for advanced musical understanding, and furthermore, that the true product of this understanding was the communication of meaning. Whether that communication was musical (in performance), linguistic (for example, in academic writing), or pedagogical, Bradshaw saw the need to balance emotional experience with enquiry:
Passionate involvement precedes – must precede – cool appraisal; but when narcissistic pleasure starts to cancel out enquiry, when the sense of striving to understand and to reveal ceases to be the outcome of delight, when wonder becomes complacency, then great art becomes commonplace in the mind of the beholder and creation and recreation lapse into mere repetition. 
Bradshaw’s influence on the musical world can be seen in the archive. To trace it, one might begin with her scrapbook programmes (signalling, for example, her involvement with the Darmstadt International Summer Courses) and move to the exchange of ideas with fellow musicians in her correspondence, before visiting the vividly-expressed opinions in her writings.
New Ways of Hearing: “Untuning the Tempered Scale” 
The catastrophic destruction brought about by two world wars permeated all aspects of social existence; many composers felt that the old musical systems were inadequate for the development of the art. In a parallel to the destruction of societal structures through war, it was as if the hierarchies of the diatonic tonal system had to be broken down also. Composers looked to expand the resources available to them – the boundaries between music and noise blurred, and the number of notes in the conventional system increased with experiments in microtonality.
As musical modernism turned from the tradition of western diatonic tonality, it wrenched audiences from their familiar sound worlds. To the modernist composers, the rules and patterns of diatonic harmony represented predictability and constraint. Bradshaw’s broadcasting demonstrates her use of radio as a medium to promote modern music but also to challenge audiences to question the nature of listening: Why do we listen to music? What function does it have in our lives? She strove to help listeners navigate contemporary music, pointing out features and techniques, and highlighting composers’ search for truth in music.
As an individual whose influence and reach in the contemporary classical music scene was extensive, and well-evidenced in her archive, it is fitting for her papers to sit alongside those of many composers and musicians who so appreciated her support, here at the British Library.
Sarah Ellis, Archivist and Cataloguer of the Susan Bradshaw Papers (MS Mus. 1755)
 Susan Bradshaw, untitled (London, British Library, MS Mus. 1755/2/3, f. 152, undated).
 Susan Bradshaw, draft letter to the editor of Music Analysis journal (London, British Library, MS Mus 1755/2/3 ff. 45-46, undated).
 Susan Bradshaw, untitled (London, British Library, MS Mus. 1755/2/3, f. 152, undated).
02 October 2018
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.
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.
The 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.
British 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.
Music 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.
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.
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
19 June 2018
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 2954 - Musical treatises (15th century)
Italian Musical Treatise by Johannes de Muris
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2954
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
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
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.9
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
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 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
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
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