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.
27 May 2017
Today (27 May 2017) is the eighty-ninth birthday of the Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave, born in Barnton, Midlothian, but, since the mid-1970s, resident in the USA. Following a major purchase in 2009, with assistance from the Eccles Centre for American Studies, the British Library has the world’s largest institutional collection of Musgrave archival papers, which include music manuscripts, programmes, correspondence, and photographs.
Musgrave studied at the University of Edinburgh, enrolling initially as a medical student, before switching to study music, under Hans Gál and Mary Grierson. An important influence during that time was the legacy of one of Edinburgh’s former Reid Professors of Music, Donald Francis Tovey: Musgrave says she “read absolutely every word of Donald Francis Tovey”. After graduating from Edinburgh in 1950, having won its Tovey Memorial Prize, Musgrave moved to Paris to study with the celebrated pedagogue Nadia Boulanger.
It is from these Paris years (1950–1954) that the earliest material in the collection originates: the manuscript for a set of five songs to poetry by Ezra Pound and Louis Macneice, premièred at the Cercle de l’Union Interallié in Paris, on 16 May 1951, with Musgrave herself as the pianist and Doda Conrad as the baritone. Although Musgrave does not use opus-numbers (with the exception of her Divertimento for string orchestra, op.15), she refers to this set informally as her opus one.
Inside of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l'Union Interallié on 16 May 1951. The Musgrave songs are listed as the sixth item (the items are demarcated by Roman numerals). In this programme, the make of the pianoforte (in this case, a Pleyel) is specified.
Contents-page of the autograph manuscript for the set of five songs to poems by Pound and Macneice (misspelt as "Macniece"). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.
The programme has some evident typographical errors, misspelling Macneice (as “Macniece”) and ‘An Immorality’ (as “An Immortality”). More interesting, however, is a discrepancy in the syntax: when compared with the manuscript, ‘An Immorality’ and ‘The return’ have been swapped. Meanwhile, the title of the concert, “jeunes compositeurs et vieux maîtres anglais”, characterises Musgrave as an English composer — this is probably an erroneous conflation of English and British, rather than a belief that Musgrave were English.
Among the other performers in the concert was the pianist Luise Vosgerchian, who, although not involved in performing Musgrave on this occasion, was the dedicatee of a subsequent Musgrave composition, the first pianoforte sonata, completed in January 1952. The British Library has the fair copy for this work, which is withdrawn.
Musgrave also withdrew three of the five songs in the aforementioned set, resulting in a pair of songs, both settings of Ezra Pound.
Title-page of the fair copy of the two songs, both to texts by Pound, not withdrawn from the set of five songs. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.
Whatever Musgrave’s reasons for this partial withdrawal, the manuscript is a fascinating record of an early case of Musgrave’s wont for collecting texts from more than one author in a single song-cycle — this approach of text-setting as anthology becomes more pronounced in several of her later vocal and choral works, the most recent of which is The Voices of Our Ancestors, which was premièred, in London, on 9 July 2015.
Following her studies with Boulanger, during which she was awarded the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize, Musgrave returned to the UK, where she was in demand not only as a composer, but also as a pianist, lecturer, and, in due course, conductor of her own work. From the late-1950s, Chester Music was her publisher, until she moved to Novello in the mid-1970s.
Yet, a number of her subsequent works remain unpublished. Of the unpublished works represented in the collection, a suitably festive example is her contribution to a set of variations on Happy Birthday.
Title-page of the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.
First page of music in the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.
Musgrave’s “variation in one minute” is third in the set, with the other composers being Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Arnold, Nicholas Maw, Robert Simpson, and Peter Maxwell Davies (the latter's contribution now housed in the British Library as Add MS 71323). The set was premièred by the London Symphony Orchestra on 28 March 1972, the day before William Walton’s seventieth birthday, in the Royal Festival Hall. A recording is available in the British Library’s Sound Archive, at shelfmark C1398/0775.
Although the Musgrave collection does not include the programme for this concert, there are hundreds of other programmes relating to Musgrave — some were collected by her, and many more were sent to her by performers, promoters, and friends. These document the significant influence and reach of Musgrave’s oeuvre in various continents, and not just in the English-speaking world.
For example, in 1988, Musgrave and her husband, Peter Mark, visited Jerusalem for a tour in which each of them conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Musgrave’s concert comprised four of her own compositions from various points in her career to date, cumulatively spanning a period of twenty-three years. Conveniently, the programme is bilingual:
A page, in Hebrew, from a programme for a concert of Musgrave orchestral works in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem on 27 March 1988, performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Musgrave.
Not all programmes have a translation into English so readily available. In respect of the world première of Orfeo III, which took place in Moscow on 9 October 1993, Musgrave annotated the programme with a translation of the key information.
Programme for a concert in the Rachmaninoff Hall, Moscow State Conservatoire on 9 October 1993, featuring the world première of Musgrave's /Orfeo III/, performed by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Musgrave was not present at the concert, but has annotated the programme with an outline translation. Annotations copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.
As the numeral suggests, Orfeo III, scored for flute and string quintet, is a transcription based on two earlier compositions. This transcription was written for Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Here, Musgrave is presented as an American composer, sharing the programme with Thomas Whitman, Gerald Levinson, and Richard Wernick. By 1993, Musgrave had been permanently resident in the USA for almost two decades.
This performance in Russia is by no means the only case of Musgrave’s compositions touring continental Europe. Indeed, some of her works have received greater attention on the continent than in the UK, her country of birth. Indeed, Musgrave’s opera Simón Bolívar, completed in 1992, received its European première in Regensburg on 31 March 1995, and has yet to be performed in full in the UK.
Sasha Millwood, Doctoral Researcher (Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Partnership), Music Collections, British Library, and University of Glasgow
24 May 2017
From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of British Library music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the Digitised Manuscripts website.
MS Mus. 1591, My Layde Nevells Booke (1591)
At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 323 music manuscripts on the site. For a full list of what is currently available in PDF format, please see this file: Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.
This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.
Additional content is added regularly. Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Additional MS 29996. Dating from the seventeenth century, this is a collection of motets, madrigals and fancies, by Thomas Tomkins and others, interspersed with political verses, satires, recipes.
Additional MS 29996: a recently-digitised music manuscript, including works by Thomas Tomkins
If you are looking for something more specific, why not consult our blog posts on the material we’ve digitised relating to Handel, Mozart, Purcell and Wagner. For more general advice on using the site, we highly recommend this blog post.
We'll be posting updated versions of these lists quarterly, so be sure to check the blog again in a few months time for an updated edition. In the meantime, to get the latest news about our digitisation projects, acquisitions and events, please follow us on Twitter: @BL_Music_Colls.
15 May 2017
This year sees the 450th anniversary of the birth of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. This milestone is currently being commemorated, among a wide range of celebrations, with a series of performances by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Although we do not know the exact date of Monteverdi’s birth, his baptism was recorded at the Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso in Cremona on this day (15 May) in 1567.
The British Library’s printed music collections contain extensive Monteverdi holdings, with many editions of the composer’s works which were published in his own lifetime: these include various parts of first or early editions of his madrigal books (B.252.a, Hirsch III.942, D.195.a, D.195.b), as well as an early edition of his opera Orfeo (R.M.15.c.6).
Perhaps the Library’s greatest Monteverdi treasure is a letter written by the composer in 1627 (MS Mus.1707). This was acquired from the private collection of the late Albi Rosenthal in 2009. Monteverdi wrote the letter to Ferrarese nobleman Enzo Bentivoglio, who was in the process of organising the celebrations for the wedding of Odoardo Farnese and Margherita de’ Medici, and had commissioned Monteverdi to write a set of five intermedi for the marital celebrations in Parma.
Sadly, the five intermedi are not known to have survived; however, the letter remains a useful indicator of the commission, as well as an interesting testament to Monteverdi’s characteristically adventurous musical practices. In the letter, he discusses possibilities for musical representations in the intermedi of the Greek goddess Discord. He suggests that Discord’s part should be recited in an inharmonious voice (‘recitar in voce et non in armonia’) and not be built on instrumental harmony (‘appoggiato sopra ad armonia alcuna di ustrimenti però’): these suggestions could variously be interpreted to mean that the voice be in some way tuneless and dissonant, not accompanied by instruments, or even performed in some sort of half-spoken manner.
Monteverdi was, of course, well-versed in the use of dissonance for dramatic or textually-symbolic purposes. After attracting criticism for supposedly improper use of dissonance, he famously began a defence of the composer’s right to harmonic discretion in his fifth book of madrigals. The text is preserved, among other places, in an extremely rare first edition of the Quinto Libro in the British Library's music collections (D.195.a.), dating from 1605.
The British Library’s Monteverdi letter also has indications of a more personal discord in the composer’s own life; indeed, he mentions an accident or misfortune (‘acidente’) which had recently interrupted his compositional activity. Musicologist Denis Stevens interpreted this as a reference to the imprisonment of Monteverdi’s younger son, Massimiliano, who had been arrested by the Roman Inquisition for reading a forbidden book. While we don’t know which text got Massimiliano into trouble, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum lists what was forbidden at the time; Massimilano, who is known to have had interests in astrology, might well have been reading the particularly controversial books about helio-centrism by authors such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei, and he was clearly a source of grave concern for his father at this time.
James Ritzema. Collaborative PhD student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and British Library
11 April 2017
Imogen Holst, who was born on 12 April 1907, is well-known, among her many accomplishments, for her folk-song and folk-dance arrangements. Many of these published volumes, written for a variety of educational and recreational purposes, are available in the printed music collections here at the British Library.
Recently, however, we have come across a collection of Imogen Holst's folk-dance arrangements in her own hand which never made it into print. The manuscript, along with related correspondence, is contained within our recently-acquired Boosey & Hawkes archive, and gives further insight into Imogen Holst’s editorial approach to folk-song and dance, as well as her tireless commitment to the promotion of British music.
Newly-discovered Imogen Holst folk-dance arrangements in the British Library Boosey & Hawkes Archive. Reproduced with permission of the Holst Foundation
In June 1944, while she was busy running the music course at Dartington Hall, Imogen Holst received an invitation from the music publisher Boosey & Hawkes to edit and arrange two volumes of British folk-songs and dances for piano. She accepted with enthusiasm - ‘I cannot tell you what pleasure your suggestion gave me’ - and within 6 weeks had completed the manuscripts for both volumes.
The intention of Boosey & Hawkes was to promote the works internationally, capitalizing on pro-British sentiments in countries ‘where everything British will be much more appreciated after the war’. Imogen Holst replied that this was ‘a practical piece of internationalism that appeals to me very strongly’. Proofs for the first volume of folk-songs, complete with French and Spanish (but notably, not German) translations, were ready by January 1945, and publication followed in 1947.
However, the second volume of folk-dances remained in manuscript form. Languishing in the Boosey & Hawkes archive ever since, it contains piano arrangements for around 35 folk-dances from around the British Isles, along with handwritten introductions to both volumes. Imogen Holst had clear ideas about how folk-song and dance should be presented and was assertive about these in her correspondence with the company: ‘I feel very strongly indeed that most editions of traditional tunes are cluttered up with a lot of “expression” marks which might be all right in elaborate “composed” music of the 19th and 20th centuries but which are hopelessly out of place in simple tunes that sing themselves’.
Her keen stylistic sense, along with her understanding of traditional dance forms, also comes across in the introduction to the folk dances: ‘In the following piano arrangements the left hand has to supply the light, rhythmical accompaniment of the missing drum. Instead of providing solid harmonies it must let in the air between each rise and fall of the phrase, lifting the imaginary dancers off their feet’.
The related correspondence in the Boosey & Hawkes archive does not indicate why this second volume was never published. In 1951 Imogen Holst returned the volumes of folk-songs loaned to her by the publisher for the purposes of the project and a rather formal reply from Dr Rosen denied all knowledge of the current state of play regarding her work. By then Imogen Holst was set to leave Dartington and, after a period of travel in India, would soon become assistant to Benjamin Britten. Her subsequent dealings with Boosey & Hawkes were mostly concerned with this new creative partnership.
Emma Greenwood, Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer, British Library
Imogen Holst, composer, conductor, writer, and administrator, was born on 12 April 1907 and died at Aldeburgh on 9 March 1984. Her archive is held at the Britten-Pears Library and has recently been catalogued as part of the Holst Archive Project. Please note that cataloguing of the Boosey & Hawkes archive at the British Library is ongoing and that access to the archive is limited until the project is complete.
17 March 2017
A highlight of the work of British Library Music Collections this week has been hosting a visit of second and third year music students from King's College London studying sixteenth-century polyphony.
Display of printed items for the visit
Assisted by British Library music staff and her colleague Uri Smilansky, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow Elisabeth Giselbrecht gave a fascinating insight into a selection of items from the printed music collections. These included the Liber selectarum cantionum (Augsburg: Grimm and Wirsung, 1520), Motetti C (Venice: Petrucci, 1504) and the first edition of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Venice: Amadino, 1615).
Students and lecturer discussing early music printing
Students were also treated to a special introduction to some highlights from the collection of music manuscripts, including a set of partbooks belonging to Edward Paston (1550-1630) (Additional MS 29388-29392) and a choir book from the workshop of Petrus Alamire (Royal 8 G VII).
The choir book is available to browse in full online, and is also featured elsewhere on this blog. Dating from circa 1513 to 1544, it was probably produced for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. In colours and gold, it includes a miniature depicting the royal arms with dragon and greyhound supporters. Also present are the heraldic emblems of the Tudor rose and pomegranate (the latter being Catherine's emblem).
British Library Royal MS 8 G VII, folio 2 verso
30 January 2017
The 220th anniversary of the birth of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) at the end of January 2017 provides a welcome excuse for us to explore the rich Schubert holdings at the British Library. Drawing on materials assembled by several important collectors, these range from curiosities relating to the man himself to sources documenting practical engagement with his music.
Collectors collect all sorts of things. The same Frederick George Edwards who gathered a leaf from Mozart’s grave also collected one from Schubert’s. 'Grave-leaf collecting' is admittedly an unusual activity. In a more conventional manner, the writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) began to amass famous signatures in his teenage years by waiting at stage doors and sending unsolicited requests to literary and artistic luminaries.
As the years passed, Zweig's desire to collect developed further, and he went on to assemble a wide-ranging assortment of manuscripts of musical, literary and historical significance. In later life, he bought, sold and traded scores by many famous composers, including Mozart, Bach and Wagner as well as Schubert. The collection formed at the time of his death (along with a few later additions) was generously donated to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)]
Zweig's manuscript of Schubert’s An die Musik has already been featured in this blog, and seems to have been particularly important to him. Other Schubert examples include the Misero pargoletto (D. 42) (Zweig MS 78); Four German dances for piano (D. 146/2; D.769/1; D.783/1-2) (Zweig MS 79); Dance in A flat for piano (D.365/2) (Zweig MS 80); Schlachtlied, for double male-voice choir (D.912) (Zweig MS 82) and Mirjams Siegesgesang, for soprano solo, choir and piano (D.942) (Zweig MS 83).
Zweig talks about collecting only the most representative examples of a particular composer’s work, and in so doing trying to capture the essence of creation itself. His memoir, The World of Yesterday, also makes it clear that, for him, collecting wasn’t purely about ownership:
Of course I never considered myself the owner of these things, only their custodian for a certain time. I was not tempted by a sense of possession, of having them for myself, but I was intrigued by the idea of bringing them together, making a collection into a work of art. I was aware that in this collection I had created something that in itself was worthier to last than my own works.
Stefan Zweig (trans. Anthea Bell), The World of Yesterday (Pushkin Press, 2011), p. 377
To a certain extent, collecting will always be a reflection of the individual undertaking it and the context of their time. This is evident in the activities of a slightly earlier collector, the pianist and composer Ernst Perabo (1845-1920). Perabo assembled a collection that included music in the hands of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and other familiar names. This treasure trove also contains a number of autograph Schubert manuscripts, including the Mass in B flat (D.324), several songs, and the G major “Fantasie” piano sonata (D.894) (the latter to be made available on the Digitised Manuscripts website later this year). Most of Perabo’s manuscript collection is thought to have been purchased from a sale in Leipzig in 1882, having originally been in the possession of the Austrian publisher Tobias Haslinger.
For several decades after his death, Schubert’s piano sonatas were rarely performed. Perabo was among the earliest pianists to introduce them to the public. He noticed differences between the text of the manuscripts and published editions which he described in a journal article. He pasted a copy of the text at the end of one of his Schubert manuscripts, and presumably went on to incorporate his observations into subsequent performances.
The details of another pianist’s interactions with Schubert are also preserved in the British Library, courtesy of the collection of scores belonging to Clifford Curzon (1907-1982). These include Curzon's own copies of standard printed editions, marked up with annotations. Among them is the B-flat major piano sonata, D.960 (Add. MS 65057). The delicate and well-worn pages give a fascinating insight into his meticulous preparations for performance.
Curzon’s collection also includes scores of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ fantasy (D.760). Such ‘re-composition’ of Schubert’s works occurred frequently. Examples include the Viennese-operetta stylings of Franz von Suppé, the Berté/Romberg/Clutsam sensation Lilac Time (as it was known in its UK version – Richard Tauber played Schubert in the film version, Blossom Time), Anton Webern’s distilled modernist orchestrations, and the postmodern re-imaginings of Luciano Berio and Dieter Schnebel (the latter based on the same piano sonata represented in the Perabo collection) .
Another example can be found in a printed score of Schubert string quartets formerly owned by the composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). This, along with other items from Mahler’s library, had passed to the musicologist and publisher Donald Mitchell, who then deposited the materials at the British Library. In the 1890s, Mahler made an arrangement of Schubert's ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet, D.810, for string orchestra. Mahler's lightly annotated copy of the score includes a few, characteristically fastidious, pencil annotations, providing an insight into the small amendments that he made in his own arrangement.
Rare Books & Music Reference Service
06 January 2017
Trumpet part for Lew Stone’s arrangement of ‘Sam, you made the pants too long’. British Library MS Mus. 1746/3/4, f. 18
In London’s 1930s high life, only the smartest entertainment and only the freshest music would do – and these are what the new Monseigneur restaurant, opened in 1931 at 215 Piccadilly, promised its clientele. Lew Stone (1898-1969), having already made a name for himself as a craftsman of snappy arrangements, was originally pianist and arranger for the band in residence – he can be seen at his duties here – but found himself in charge when its leader Roy Fox fell ill. The music Stone then brought to the Monseigneur’s dance-floor made the band so popular that, by mutual agreement, he was given the job permanently. At the helm of a band ranked among the best in London, he made recordings with Decca and radio broadcasts on the BBC, and became a household name in Britain, his musical career lasting until his death in 1969.
Lew Stone’s widow Joyce, who promoted her husband’s legacy energetically, presented many of his original manuscript scores to the British Library for its music collections. The Lew Stone collection (British Library: MS Mus. 1746) is now in the process of being catalogued and includes not only full scores from throughout his career but individual instrument parts actually used when the band performed. Some bear the scribbled names of band-members well-known in their own right, such as Nat Gonella (trumpeter), Don Barrigo (saxophonist) or Tiny Winters (bassist).
Many of the parts are scrawled over with cues and prompts: ‘Close in to ‘Mike’’, ‘Have Plunger Ready’ and ‘Remind Lew’ of how many bars to omit during broadcasts, or pencil drawings of spectacles to attract attention and avert disaster. In some places the manuscripts are scorched, as if the musicians had perched lit cigarettes on their music. Then there are the doodles: signs of missed vocations in the band?
In addition to arrangements of popular melodies, romantic numbers or nonsensical melodramas sung by members of the band, several sets of scores are Lew Stone’s original compositions. One tune, ‘Whispering Waters’, was composed by Joyce and arranged by her husband (clarinets to play ‘liquidly’). There are some initial drafts and sketches for songs and collaborations with lyricists, and also incidental music composed for the 1940 film ‘Under your Hat’ (directed by Maurice Elvey). And throughout the collection Lew Stone’s own adjustments and re-adjustments appear on the scores, the proof of how finely he tuned a sound that once livened up dance-floors and the airwaves all over the country.
The1st Alto Saxophone part of ‘Whispering Waters’, Joyce Stone’s tune, arranged by her husband (1940). MS Mus. 1746/3/35, f. 3v
Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer
The British Library always attempts to identify copyright holders in order to give proper acknowledgement when reproducing their material. Please email [email protected] if you believe you hold rights connected with any of the content included in this article.
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