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103 posts categorized "Music"

06 March 2024

Harriet Cohen and Astra Desmond: introducing two newly catalogued archives

Within Music Collections, we have an ongoing 18-month project to catalogue several archives of 20th-century women musicians. The project is part of the Library’s ‘Unlocking Hidden Collections’ initiative, which aims to make available selected Library collections that for various reasons, including cataloguing backlogs and metadata issues, remain undiscoverable and ‘hidden’ to users. The initiative places particular emphasis on materials relating to demographics which are underrepresented within the Library’s special collections.

The subjects of the two archives discussed below – pianist Harriet Cohen and contralto Astra Desmond – were near-contemporaries and had interlinked musical networks. Both were keen internationalists involved in various strands of British cultural diplomacy over several decades. Both were also esteemed for their intellect and partook in scholarly projects – for instance, they each contributed chapters to a 1943 book about Dvořák, on his piano music and vocal music respectively.[1] Their archives are quite different in scope and type, but both provide unusual and striking insights into the mechanisms of musical life in Britain across the first half of the 20th century.

MS Mus. 1917: Harriet Cohen Papers (Part II)

Harriet Cohen (1895-1967) was a concert pianist active from the late 1910s to the 1950s. She is best remembered today for her recordings and transcriptions of Bach; her promotion of new music, especially by British, Spanish, and Soviet composers; her 40-year love affair with Arnold Bax; and her fundraising and activism on behalf of Jewish and Zionist causes. Cohen was a prolific writer and lecturer on music, producing two books titled Music’s handmaid and A bundle of time alongside countless articles and opinion pieces for books and magazines.[2]

Cohen’s archive has a convoluted history. She died suddenly in November 1967, at the age of 71, and in her will bequeathed four trunks of letters and papers to the British Museum. The trunks contained some 1,900 letters between Cohen and Bax, along with letters from other ‘close men friends’ (as she called them) and prominent musical figures, and material formerly owned by Bax. It’s clear that Cohen considered these letters and papers to be of significant music-historical importance, and – once her stipulated 30-year embargo on the materials elapsed – that she wished for them to be viewed by musicologists. This first Cohen collection has been fully catalogued for many years now at MS Mus. 1626-1677. Cohen’s will also included donations of material elsewhere: her substantial art collection was given to the Royal Academy of Music, while individual music manuscripts in her possession (by Bax and others) were distributed to various universities and libraries. It is fair to say, therefore, that she carefully curated her own archival legacy and managed its destinations.

Not mentioned specifically in the will, however, were Cohen’s own personal and professional papers, which had clearly been useful while writing her memoir, and which it appears were in the process of being sorted at the time of her death. These papers went first to Cohen’s literary executor, and were eventually donated to the British Library by his widow in 2008, 40 years after the first Cohen bequest. This later archive has recently been arranged and catalogued as MS Mus. 1917: Harriet Cohen Papers (Part II).

One series of files contains a loosely chronological paper trail of her concert activity, with invitations, fee negotiations, contracts, travel itineraries, expenses receipts, draft running orders, and sometimes concert programmes. Another series contains her writings, lectures, and broadcasts on all sorts of topics: matters of musical interpretation and practical pianism; recollections of her work with composers such as Bax, Elgar, and Sibelius; lectures and debates on political and social issues. There’s a lot of correspondence – professional, personal, and political – with evidence of very patchy attempts by Cohen or an associate to order the hundreds of letters chronologically, alphabetically, or (slightly chaotically) by profession of correspondent; the final cataloguing order embraces these half-sequences, in order to preserve prior curatorial processes.

Cohen’s papers present an unusually full account of a performer’s efforts to advocate for herself and her career. While in-demand as a soloist, recitalist, and recording artist in the interwar years and during the second world war, Cohen’s engagements and opportunities decreased significantly after 1945, especially in the aftermath of life-changing illnesses and injuries. Letters show that Cohen would frequently ask conductors, programmers, and producers directly for engagements, or ask musical friends to pull strings on her behalf; copies of these outbound letters are found together with generally negative replies – some kind and explanatory, some short and blunt. Cohen believed she was discriminated against as a woman (especially as she grew older), and as a Jewish person who openly advocated for Jewish causes, which is very probably true in both cases. At the same time, Cohen was a complex and sometimes difficult character. Her proprietorial tendency comes across in letters to young Bax enthusiasts, where she refuses them permission to play works which she considered ‘hers’, and in remonstrations to conductors and organisations in cases where other soloists had been invited to perform ‘my Vaughan Williams’ or ‘my Elgar’ – with the possessive pronoun often underlined. Cohen’s mastery of the strongly worded letter was not limited to musical contexts: the archive includes an elaborate explanatory missive following a court summons for a driving infraction, and a letter to the Wine and Food Society threatening resignation as a member unless it addressed the prevalent sexist treatment of lone female diners in restaurants.

We may speculate that Cohen would not have wanted all of this preserved for posterity – especially when encountering occasional papers marked ‘Rubbish’ and ‘Discard’. Considering the Library’s two Cohen collections side by side inevitably leads to reflections upon the original bequest’s carefully curated presentation of an artist’s life and work – which ultimately revolved around her relationships with the creative men in her life[3] – and the much fuller, unfiltered and messy snapshot of the same life and work found in Part II. In the latter, the breadth and depth of Cohen’s own contributions to, and struggles within, the musical and political life of the 20th century shine through (alongside her Fortnum and Mason bills, cruise ship quiz certificates, and cat photos).

Image of Harriet Cohen and  Astra Desmond concert posters
Concert posters from the collections of Harriet Cohen (MS Mus. 1917) and Astra Desmond (MS Mus. 1952)

MS Mus. 1952: Astra Desmond Papers

The papers of contralto Astra Desmond (1893-1973) arrived at the Library in 2022, along with a set of test pressings donated to the Sound Archive. Between the late 1910s and early 1950s, Desmond maintained a busy schedule as a recitalist and soloist for oratorio and concert performances (with occasional appearances on the operatic stage too). She was perhaps best known in her time for the Angel role in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius – which she performed widely with the composer at the podium – and she appeared in the first performances of Vaughan Williams’s Five Tudor Portraits and Serenade to Music. Desmond made frequent broadcasts for the BBC when the corporation was brand new, and as its music programmes developed she contributed a wide variety of recitals, talks, and reviews.

The collection reflects the full range of Desmond’s professional activity. There’s an extensive chronological run of concert programmes, which documents Desmond’s evolving recital repertoire and relationships with conductors, pianists, organisations, and venues. Files containing lists of repertoire and plans for recitals demonstrate both her thoughtful artistic programming and her consideration of audience demographics. There are papers relating to her roles as vocal professor at the Royal Academy of Music (1947-1963) and her adjudication notes for major vocal competitions.

Among the most important and unusual material in the Desmond collection relates to her work as a translator. Desmond had a good command of 12 European languages, and strongly preferred to sing art song in its original language while also recognising the importance of English ‘singing translations’ for the dissemination and appreciation of foreign-language songs in the UK. She learned Swedish and Norwegian in order to promote little-known songs by Grieg, Sibelius, and Kilpinen in the UK, and went on to write important early studies of the songs of Grieg and Sibelius; she published ‘singing translations’ of Grieg, Brahms, and Dvořák songs, and, when singing in original languages, printed her translations in concert programmes wherever possible. Newspaper reviews of her performances by critics around Europe applaud her linguistic prowess and excellent pronunciation. Topics of song, language and translation were hotly debated among British critics throughout Desmond’s performing years, and this material offers an invaluable insight into this aspect of song performance history.[4] What’s more, as the difficult, complex and imaginative work of translators still so often falls by the wayside in discussions of creativity (musical and otherwise), it is unusual and exciting to have a substantial archival resource of this kind.

The correspondence series in the Desmond collection is quite small, but includes a couple of alphabetically-arranged files of letters from important musicians – including one short letter from Harriet Cohen, addressed to ‘Gwen’ (Desmond’s real name was Gwendoline Neame).[5] In turn, there is one short note from Desmond to Cohen preserved in the Cohen collection, relating to the Society of Women Musicians, of which Desmond was president in the mid 1950s, and for which both gave concerts and/or talks. Beyond this, paper traces of their many, illustrious mutual friends and colleagues point to the wider social networks behind so much of British musical life in the early and mid 20th century.


[1] Gerald Abraham, ed., Antonin Dvorak: His Achievement (London: Drummond, 1943).

[2] Music’s handmaid (London: Faber, 1936); A bundle of time: The memoirs of Harriet Cohen (London: Faber, 1969).

[3] Helen Fry’s biography of Cohen is titled Music and Men: The Life and Loves of Harriet Cohen (Stroud: The History Press, 2008). A reader may instinctively critique such a title in line with wider problematic tropes of understanding the lives of creative women through their relationships with creative men, of which there are no shortage of examples; however, this should be contextualised with the knowledge that Cohen’s own self-perception was to a great extent bound up in similar tropes, which she embraced – for instance, she would often speak proudly of her ‘life’s work’ being bound up with Bax’s compositions.

[4] For context on the politics of singing language and translation during the interwar period, see Laura Tunbridge, Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), especially Chapter 2, ‘Singing translations’.

[5] At some point, Desmond also modified this spelling to ‘Gwendolyn’. It is unclear from the papers exactly when she took on the professional name of Astra Desmond, but it was in use by the time of her official recital debut at Steinway Hall on 9 February 1916.

Frankie Perry, Music Manuscripts and Archives Cataloguer

29 January 2024

Celebrating Women Musicians, past and present

To mark International Women’s Day 2024 we are holding a study day on women musicians on Friday 8 March in the British Library Pigott Theatre.

The study day will feature a series of presentations and discussions by expert musicologists, performers, composers, and British Library curators, on various aspects of the lives and music of women musicians, ranging from the 18th century until today. This will include case studies on specific composers and performers; more general talks on their achievements, challenges and barriers they faced in their careers; as well as aspects of acquiring, curating, and researching women musicians’ archives at the British Library.

Programme details and information on how to book a free ticket can be found at:

19th century wood engraving of three women singers on stage
'Mdlle Jenny Lind as "Susanna" in "Le Nozze di Figaro" at Her Majesty's Theatre'. Wood engraving by Frederick James Smyth (active 1841-1867). NPG D45841. ©National Portrait Gallery, London.

26 January 2024

Restoring access to the British Library’s Music Collections (January 2024)

Following the recent cyber-attack on the British Library, the Library has now implemented an interim service which will enable existing Registered Readers to access most of our printed music, music manuscripts, and paper-based archival collections relating to music. This service will be expanded further in the coming weeks so please see the British Library's temporary website for the most up to date information. 

We understand how frustrating this recent period has been for everyone wishing to access our printed music, and music manuscripts and archives, and we would like to thank you for your patience. We are continuing to work to restore our services, and you can read more about these activities on our Knowledge Matters blog

The Using the Library page on our temporary website provides general information on current Library services, and advice for those without an existing Reader Pass. Please read on for information about the availability of specific music collections.

Printed music

You can now search for printed music using a searchable online version of our main catalogue of books and other printed material. Online and advance ordering is unavailable, so Registered Readers will need to collect a paper order form from staff in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room and fill in the required details. Please write the shelfmark exactly as it appears in the online catalogue.

Printed music with shelfmarks that start with the following letters should be available: a-i, A-H, Hirsch, I, M, N, P, R.M.5-R.M.17., RPS, Tyson. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee availability, as an item may, for instance, be in use by another Reader, or restricted for other reasons. If you wish to gain greater assurance on the availability of a particular item before you visit us, please contact our Reference Services Team by emailing

For other material, including printed music shelfmarks beginning K., Mad. Soc., R.M.18.-R.M.27., VOC and INS we would also advise checking before you visit as some restricted category material is not yet available. The lending collection of modern printed scores held at our Boston Spa site is also currently unavailable.

Music manuscripts and music-related archival documents

Although the Library’s online catalogue of archives and manuscripts is not currently available, the Reference Services Team can assist with queries about these collections, checking paper catalogues and other sources. Please speak to the team in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room or email

In addition, the following digitised copies of older catalogues give details of music manuscripts acquired before about 1900: Hughes-Hughes, Augustus, Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum, 3 vols (London: British Museum, 1906-1909).

Most music manuscripts and archives can now be made available to existing Registered Readers, although some restricted category material currently remains unavailable and some other material may need approval to see first. This includes manuscripts with the following prefixes:

  • Soc. (Madrigal Society Loan Collection)
  • Music Loan
  • M. manuscripts
  • RPS MS (RPS printed music is available, but not RPS manuscripts)
  • Zweig MS

As well as some music manuscripts from the following collections: Add MS, Egerton, Royal Appendix, Royal, King’s, MS Mus. The Reference Services Team can advise on whether a particular item is likely to be available. Please speak to the team in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room or email

To place a request to see a music manuscript or archival document relating to music, Registered Readers need to collect a paper order form from staff in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room and fill in the required details, including the shelfmark (manuscript number).


The Reference Services Team in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room has a full list of microfilms of printed and manuscript music.

Digital resources

You can search for most of our digitised printed music on Google Books.

Early Music Online contains images of 16th-century anthologies of printed music in the British Library.

We regret that our digitised music manuscripts and electronic research resources are not currently available.

We thank you, once again, for your patience as we continue to work to restore our services. Please do check this blog and the temporary British Library website for further updates.

Sandra Tuppen, Head of Music Collections

January 2024 (updated 19 April 2024)

03 May 2023

Music for British Coronations

To mark the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla we are highlighting some of the finest examples in our collections of manuscript and printed music associated with coronations in Britain.

Music in Coronation Ceremonies

Music has formed an important part in coronation ceremonies throughout English, and later British, history. The musical selection for each coronation has varied through the centuries, with newly commissioned works and coronation anthems by prominent composers featuring alongside many other sacred and secular pieces. Not only does the music contribute to the grandeur and splendour of the ceremony as a whole, it also plays an important liturgical role in the religious service at the heart of the ceremony, with certain pieces traditionally being performed in specific parts of it.

Coronation Music

Handel’s Coronation Anthems

Arguably the most well-known piece associated with the coronation ceremony is George Frideric Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’. One of a series of four anthems Handel composed for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727, it has been performed at every coronation since then. Handel’s autograph manuscripts of all four anthems are held in the Royal Music Library at the British Library.

‘Zadok the Priest’ is scored for SATB chorus and an orchestra consisting of strings, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and basso continuo. The words are drawn from the first Book of Kings (1 Kings 1:38-40), a text that describes the anointing of Solomon as King by the Priests Zadok and Nathan, an act mirrored in the anointing of the new monarch at the solemn heart of the coronation service itself. Handel’s anthem is fittingly performed at this moment in the proceedings.

Reproduced below is a page from Handel’s manuscript showing the opening section of the anthem with the words ‘God Save the King’. The manuscript in full can be viewed on our Digitised Manuscripts website

Image of the manuscript in Handel's handwriting of 'Zadock the Priest'
British Library R.M.20.h.5, f.5r. Zadok the Priest, HWV 258.


You can also follow the opening pages of the manuscript together with the music below:

G.F. Handel: 'Zadok the Priest', HWV 258. Music licensed courtesy of Naxos Music. Catalogue no. 8.578072.

At King George II and Queen Caroline’s ceremony, Handel’s other coronation anthems were sung during the Recognition part of the service (‘The King shall rejoice’), the Inthronisation (‘Let thy hand be strengthened’) and the coronation of the Queen (‘My heart is inditing’). ‘My heart is inditing’ was also set to music by other composers for the crowning of a Queen Consort, such as Henry Purcell (1659-1695) who composed this anthem for the coronation of Queen Mary of Modena in 1685 and William Boyce (1711-1779) who composed the anthem for the coronation of Queen Charlotte in 1761.

Although it was not written for use in coronation ceremonies, Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah also featured in several coronations, from that of George IV (1821) onwards.

The opening page of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah
The opening page of G.F. Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah. British Library R.M.20.f.2, f. 100r.

Elgar’s Coronation music

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) composed a number of works for the coronations of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902, and King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, although not all of them were actually performed during the coronation ceremonies. These included the Coronation Ode op. 44 composed in 1902, the Coronation March op. 65 and the anthem ‘O hearken thou’ composed in 1911. His Military Marches op. 39 (‘Pomp and Circumstance’) were also performed at the coronations of George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 (no.1), and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (nos. 1, 2 and 4), where also the Variation no.9 (‘Nimrod’) from his famous ‘Enigma’ variations op. 36, was heard before the coronation service. Shown below is the title and opening page from the autograph manuscript of Elgar’s anthem ‘O hearken thou’, in a version for voices and organ accompaniment:

Title page from the vocal score of Edward Elgar’s anthem ‘O hearken thou’ in the composer’s hand


Opening page of Elgar's anthem 'O hearken thou'
Title and first page from the vocal score of Edward Elgar’s anthem ‘O hearken thou’ in the composer’s hand. British Library Add MS 58049, f. 5r-v.

The coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra also included a new setting for the coronation anthem ‘I was glad’ by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918). An anthem based on these words is traditionally sung during the monarch’s entrance into Westminster Abbey, and has been set to music by a number of composers, including William Boyce (1711-1779) and Thomas Attwood (1765-1838). Parry’s setting has been used in every coronation since its performance at the coronation of King Edward VII (1902).

Title page of Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I was glad’

The opening page from the 1902 Novello edition of Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I was glad’.
Title and opening page from the 1902 Novello edition of Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I was glad’. British Library: F.231.r.(28.).


Vaughan Williams’s coronation music

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed his Festival Te Deum for chorus, organ and orchestra for the coronation of King George VI on 12 May 1937. It was based on traditional themes and was performed during the procession from the throne into St. Edward’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Shown below is the opening page of the full score in Vaughan Williams’s hand.

Opening page from Ralph Vaughan William’s Festival Te Deum
Opening page from Ralph Vaughan William’s Festival Te Deum. British Library Add MS 50459. © Oxford University Press. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.

Vaughan Williams’s music also featured prominently in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. The service included the ‘Creed’ and ‘Sanctus’ from his Mass in G minor (Add MS 50443-50444) originally composed in 1920-1921, and he also composed the congregational hymn ‘All people that on earth do dwell’, and the anthem for voices only ‘O taste and see’.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation also included William Walton’s (1902-1983) Te Deum Laudamus, for double chorus, semi-chorus, organ and orchestra, which was especially composed for her coronation. It was performed in the same position in the proceedings that Vaughan Williams’s Festival Te Deum was performed for the coronation of King George VI, during the procession into St. Edward’s Chapel. Below are reproduced the title and opening page from Walton’s autograph manuscript:

Title page of William Walton's Te Deum laudamus in D
Opening page of William Walton's Te Deum Laudamus in D.
Sir William Walton: Te Deum Laudamus in D. British Library Add MS 47898, ff.1r-v. © Oxford University Press. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation additionally included the anthem 'I will not leave you comfortless’ ('Nos vos relinquam orphanos') for solo voices by William Byrd (ca. 1540-1623), whose 400th anniversary is celebrated this year. Below is a page from the soprano (cantus) part of this piece in the original Latin version ‘Non vos relinquam orphanos’:

A page from William Byrd’s ‘Non vos relinquam orphanos
William Byrd’s ‘Non vos relinquam orphanos’ from his Gradualia published in London in 1607. Cantus primus part. British Library, K.2.f.6.

‘God Save the King’

We also hold in our collection what is believed to be the earliest surviving manuscript of the words and music of what has since become Britain’s national anthem. Although the words and tune are anonymous, the anthem has been arranged and harmonised by numerous composers since it first became known in the mid-18th century. The arrangement shown below is in the hand of the composer Thomas Arne (1710-1778) and was sung at Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1745. The words are slightly different from the established version and include mention of the king at the time, George II. Historically, it was not uncommon for the national anthem to mention the name of the King or Queen.

‘God bless our noble King’ in the hand of Thomas Arne harmonized for 3-part chorus, with instrumental accompaniment.

‘God bless our noble King’ in the hand of Thomas Arne harmonized for 3-part chorus, with instrumental accompaniment
‘God bless our noble King’ in the hand of Thomas Arne harmonized for 3-part chorus, with instrumental accompaniment. British Library Add MS 29370 ff. 114r-v.


Dr Loukia Drosopoulou, Curator, Music


Matthias Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: from James I to Elizabeth II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Anselm Hughes, ‘Music of the Coronation over a Thousand Years, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 79th Session, May 1953, pp. 81-100.

Janet Leeper, ‘Coronation Music’, The Contemporary Review, volume 151, January 1937, pp. 554-562.

29 March 2023

Remembering Tim Neighbour

The 1st of April 2023 marks 100 years since the birth of Oliver Wray (Tim) Neighbour (1923-2015) former Music Librarian of the British Library, scholar and Library benefactor, who is fondly remembered by his former colleagues.

Tim began working at the British Museum Library as a cataloguer in 1946. He became Assistant Keeper in the Music Room in 1951, and was Music Librarian from 1976 until his retirement in 1985. His work was focused on building up the printed music collections (music manuscripts at that time were the responsibility of the Department of Manuscripts), adding appropriately to the existing collections. As his musicological knowledge informed this collection development activity, so his librarian's intimate knowledge of sources informed his scholarly writing. His publications include works on the consort and keyboard music of William Byrd, and the music of composers as varied as Orlando Gibbons, Richard Wagner, Arnold Schoenberg and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

During his time as Head of the Music department, he also oversaw the publication of the 62 volumes of The Catalogue of Printed Music in the British Library to 1980 (London: K.G. Saur, 1981-1987). This important work was the first published catalogue of the printed music collections, whose converted entries form the bulk of the records for printed music resources in the current online catalogue.

Photograph of Tim Neighbour
Tim Neighbour in the Music Room at the British Museum in 1998 [?] Photo: Robert Parker

During and after his tenure as Music Librarian, Tim was gradually building up a private collection of music manuscripts, which he left to the Library in his will; this collection includes autograph manuscripts of Corelli, Clementi, Puccini, Debussy, Coleridge-Taylor, Britten, Lutyens, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and many other composers. He also made a significant bequest to the British Library for the purchase of printed and manuscript music.

Tim's dedication to the British Library's music collections continued well beyond his retirement, as he transferred seamlessly to a Voluntary Assistant role and continued to attend every working day. Current members of the music teams have memories of him dating from the 1990s and 2000s.  Tim walked from his home in Marylebone to the Library every morning.  His arrival (at 10.34 precisely) was the signal for all who were so inclined to take a coffee break, where work matters might be discussed, along with other wide-ranging topics; from plans for walking and bird-watching holidays on the Isle of Skye (Tim was a keen ornithologist), to the merits of Alice in Wonderland, to the best method of drying clothes in a London flat, to the difference between the Catalogue of Printed Music's 'suppositious' and 'supposititious' works. He would then spend the rest of the day at work in the music office, lending his expertise to curatorial selection decisions and carrying out other projects.

At this time Tim chose to contribute through his existing specialist knowledge rather than spend time learning new technologies. He never embraced email as a means of communication; instead, explanatory notes were written in small neat handwriting with one of his selection of improbably short pencils. To copy him in to an email correspondence meant laying a printed copy of the relevant email on his desk!

Tim was always encouraging to colleagues and willing to share his detailed knowledge of the music collections and the quirks of their history. He was a familiar figure at social gatherings and outings, which he enjoyed, and was always interested in his colleagues' lives and activities, inquiring kindly after family members. We join his family and friends in remembering him with affection at this time.

Caroline Shaw, Music Cataloguing and Processing Team Manager

Further reading

Chesser, Richard. “Oliver Wray ‘Tim’ Neighbour (1923–2015)”, Fontes Artis Musicae, vol. 62, no. 4, 2015, pp. 349–51. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Shenton, Kenneth. ‘Oliver Neighbour: Versatile librarian and scholar who played a vital role in raising musicological standards in postwar Britain’, The Independent, Thursday 26 March 2015. Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

08 November 2022

Nino Rota’s I due timidi - an opera for radio transmission


On 15 November 1950 the RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana) Third Programme broadcast I due timidi, an ‘opera radiofonica’ composed by Nino Rota to a libretto by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, for the first time. It had been commissioned by the Italian public broadcasting company, which aimed to create an original repertoire exclusively intended for radio. It was the beginning of a remarkable journey: over two decades the opera would be performed across different media, languages and cultures, ranging, with appropriate adjustments, from the darkness of radio to the limelight of the stage and television, constantly reshaping to adapt to new contexts, while keeping its own poetic, aesthetic, dramatic, and musical substance. This is indeed a fascinating story, with a relevant chapter unfolding in Britain during the 1950s, which documents preserved in the British Library allow us to reconstruct.

The work

Nino Rota (1911-79) and Suso Cecchi d’Amico (1914– 2010) were invited to create a new opera for broadcasting in late 1949. They had been close friends since their youth, sharing from different sides the exciting adventure of Italian post-war cinema. Rota, a talented pupil of Ildebrando Pizzetti and Alfredo Casella, was successfully making his way as a composer of both classical and applied music, and was already known in England as the author of the score for films such as The Glass Mountain. Cecchi d’Amico, the daughter of eminent scholar Emilio Cecchi and painter Leonetta Pieraccini and the wife of the distinguished music critic Fedele d’Amico, was successfully making her way as a screenwriter, the co-author of the script for Vittorio De Sica’s film The Bicycle Thief.

Working together in perfect harmony, in a few months they conceived and created an original story that takes place over a single day in a lower middle-class apartment block in an unnamed city – a recurring setting in Italian movies at the time. A young man, Raimondo, and a young woman pianist, Mariuccia, who are in love with each other from a distance but have never met, have settled close to each other, hoping to be able one day to declare their mutual love. Raimondo lives in a boarding house held by a mature landlady, while Mariuccia resides in a modest flat with her mother, gracefully practising the piano to Raimondo’s delight. However, fate has different plans for them. An accident and a subsequent misunderstanding cause each of them to declare their love to the wrong person, which turns out to be fatal: both Raimondo and Mariuccia are too shy to express their true feelings in order to put right the difficult situation. In an elliptical, bittersweet finale, set two years later, we hear an exhausted pianist practising at night-time – it is Mariuccia, now the wife of an elderly doctor, mother of two kids - and an angry male voice: Raimondo, now the landlady’s husband and the landlord of the boarding house, who is manifestly annoyed by that disturbing noise.

Flyer for the world stage premiere of I due timidi
Flyer for the world stage premiere of I due timidi. BL MS Mus. 1743

I due timidi in the UK

I due timidi received a special mention at the Prix Italia 1950, where its immediate expressiveness and the fresh quality of its soundscape were greatly appreciated, including by delegates from the BBC. Within a few months the BBC Third Programme broadcast the Italian production of the opera and the operatic department at the BBC produced an English version, first aired on 5 March 1952, again on the Third Programme, under the title The two shy people. A few days later, on 17 March 1952, the opera received its world stage premiere at the Scala Theatre in London, a production of The London Opera Club in association with the Arts Council of Great Britain.

A page from the typescript libretto of The two shy people
Typescript libretto of The two shy people

The intense British life of I due timidi during the 1950s is retraceable in detail from documents kept in a folder preserved at the British Library (MS Mus. 1743) presumably collected by David Harris, the BBC Opera Manager who was the producer of the opera’s BBC broadcast and the author of the English version of its libretto. The folder is rich in press cuttings related to the 1952 radio performance and to a new production, also curated by Harris and broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 1 April 1957, whose typewritten opening and closing announcements are preserved. The folder additionally contains a considerable number of reviews of the stage premiere, but no press cuttings referring to the BBC production of the opera for television, which adopted the English version by Harris and was first broadcast after his death, on 30 March 1961.

Signed vocal score of I due timidi
Signed vocal score of I due timidi


The vocal score

The core of the folder lies in the musical material. The vocal score of the opera, a diazotype copy of a non-authorial manuscript of the original version signed by Harris on the cover and by the whole cast of the 1952 production inside, has Rota’s autograph dedication to Harris inscribed on the front page. The playbill flyer of the stage premiere is pasted on the inside cover.

The score clearly testifies to the work undertaken to make the opera more intelligible to a British audience. The English translation is added in red ink in exact alignment with the Italian text and carefully notes slight alterations to the original version, such as the addition of a 25-bar prologue before the original opening (using the same music as the closing 25 bars of the opera) followed by a brief spoken description of the scene.

Vocal score of I due timidi showing English additions in red
Vocal score of I due timidi showing English additions in red


Recordings and UK revival

It is especially interesting to look at the musical material while listening to the recordings of the 1952 (Product note 1LL0011884-95) and 1957 (Product note 1LL0011487-1LL0011499) BBC broadcasts, which are kept in the Library and available for listening as audio files. There is still uncertainty over the exact identity of the recording of what seems to be a studio performance of the English piano version (Product note 1LL0012460-73, presumably dated 19 February 1961).

The documents as a whole prove to be an invaluable source to allow a close examination of the opera in its multiple versions and to integrate with the precious autograph material relating to the opera preserved in the Fondo Nino Rota at the Fondazione Cini, Venice.

I due timidi received its Italian stage premiere on 19 January 1971 at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari – a city in the South, where Rota was the director of the local Music Conservatory for almost 30 years. From that moment on, it was gradually included in the opera repertoire. Seventy years after the world stage premiere, the opera returns to the London stage, presented by the Guildhall School’s Opera Department at the Silk Theatre. We would like to imagine that Nino Rota, who had a special affection for London and was happy to have some of his operas staged by students in academic institutions, would be delighted to be together with his dearest friend Suso Cecchi d’Amico in the audience.

Prof. Angela Annese

Conservatory of Music “Niccolò Piccinni”, Bari


Further reading

Pier Marco De Santi, La musica di Nino Rota (Roma-Bari, 1983).

[BL Shelfmark: General Reference Collection LB.31.b.4190]

Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Storie di cinema (e d’altro); raccontate a Margherita d’Amico (Milano, 1996; Milano, 2002).

Francesco Lombardi (ed.), Fra cinema e musica del Novecento: il caso Nino Rota (Firenze, 2000).

Veniero Rizzardi (ed.), L’undicesima musa: Nino Rota e i suoi media (Roma, 2001).

Richard Dyer, Nino Rota: Music, Film and Feeling (London, 2010).

[BL Shelfmark (2nd edition, 2019): General Reference Collection DRT ELD.DS.550948]

Francesco Lombardi (ed.), Nino Rota: un timido protagonista del Novecento musicale (Torino, 2012).

Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Suso a Lele: lettere (dicembre 1945 – marzo 1947), a cura di Silvia e Masolino d’Amico (Milano, 2016).

[BL Shelfmark: General Reference Collection YF.2019.a.15133]


Further listening

Nino Rota: I due timidi (original radio production, 1950), Twilight Music TWI CD AS 06 27 (2006)

Nino Rota: La notte di un nevrastenico / I due timidi (live recording, Rieti, Teatro Vespasiano, 2017), Dynamic DVD 57830 (2018)

Nino Rota: La notte di un nevrastenico / I due timidi (live recording, Rieti, Teatro Vespasiano, 2017), Dynamic CDS7830.02 (2019)

21 April 2022

Beethoven's legacy

As we come into the final few days of our Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon exhibition, open until Sunday 24 April, we are concluding our series of Beethoven blog posts with a blog dedicated to Beethoven’s legacy.

Join us also for our last events celebrating Beethoven on Friday 22 April at 19.00: Beethoven in concert, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Bach Choir and on Saturday 23 April at 19.30: Late at the Library: The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble.

Drawing from the rich collection of Beethoven material kept at the Library, the objects on display have given visitors a unique opportunity to experience the composer’s manuscripts, published scores, notebooks, letters, and personal belongings in the flesh. The immediacy of Beethoven’s chaotic handwriting shows his creative imagination at work, his personal notebooks reveal an individual troubled by progressive hearing loss, and his letters show that Beethoven was as much an astute businessman as a composer. But whilst the intimacy of these objects gives us access to Beethoven the individual, it remains difficult to gain a single perspective on the composer.

Beethoven’s image

It is the often-ambiguous image of Beethoven that carries his influence through music, literature, and the visual arts; to frequent adaptations and reinterpretations in popular culture; and that has allowed his music to be appropriated by diverse (often conflicting) political movements since his death. Beethoven’s image was elusive even during his lifetime. Prints of the composer circulated widely in Europe, and likenesses were contested by his contemporaries and even by Beethoven himself. The exhibition features several depictions of Beethoven that show the changing image of the composer in his life, death, and legacy.

Photograph of British Library Beethoven exhibition billboard

The title image of the exhibition recreates a portrait of Beethoven by Carl Jager (1870). The painting was completed over 40 years after Beethoven’s death. It shows a highly Romanticised image of the composer with a thoughtful look and swept-back hair. After its completion, an engraved version was printed and distributed by major publisher Frederick Bruckmann who traded in Berlin, Paris, New York and London.

Johann Peter Lyser’s sheet of Beethoven sketches (1833) include a full-length image of Beethoven in a top hat and coat and one of his head in profile. Although Lyser had never met Beethoven, the lithograph was considered a good likeness and was popular throughout the 19th century. Lyser produced the image from written descriptions of Beethoven but implied its authenticity visually by writing ‘Created after an original drawing’ below the image and including a copy of Beethoven’s signature. The British Library’s copy of the print made its way to England via Ignaz Moscheles, co-director of the Philharmonic Society in London, who included it in his autograph book.

Johann Peter Lyser’s sketches of Beethoven
Johann Peter Lyser’s sketches of Beethoven in Ignaz Moscheles’s album. Zweig MS 215, f.7r

One of the most striking moments in the exhibition are the sketches made by Austrian painter and lithographer Josef Teltscher who attended Beethoven at his deathbed. The two images show a rough sketch of the deathbed scene (right) and a touched-up version (left). Teltscher’s depictions sit on the boundary of Beethoven’s life and legacy. The rough sketch on the left shows a stark representation of Beethoven’s death, departing life with fists clenched, hair dishevelled, and face grimaced, whilst on the right we are presented with an image of Beethoven at rest, his softened facial features and pillow detail remarkably peaceful in contrast. Between these two images we see the Romanticisation of Beethoven in process: the immediate observations of the artist’s preliminary sketch followed by the idealised reconstructed image, perhaps ready for reproduction in paint or print.

Josef Teltscher’s sketch of Beethoven on his deathbed Josef Teltscher’s sketch of Beethoven on his deathbed
Josef Teltscher’s sketches of Beethoven on his deathbed. Zweig MS 207, f.1v-2r.

At the centre of the final section of the exhibition on Beethoven’s legacy sits a bust of Beethoven, copied from one sculpted by Johann Nepomuk Schaller (1777-1842). The bust presents the Romantic image of Beethoven in full swing. His swept back hair, classical attire, and piercing look form one of the most recognisable images of the composer today. The bust was donated to the Philharmonic Society in 1870 and has featured at every Society concert since 1871. The Society have adopted this image of Beethoven as 'a symbol of enduring musical excellence', and use the image for their prestigious gold medal.

Photograph of a plaster bust of Beethoven
Plaster bust of Beethoven from one sculpted by Johann Nepomuk Schaller (1777–1842). ©British Library Board, BLWA 43. Photography by Justine Trickett

Since the production of contemporary prints, the deathbed sketch, and Schaller’s iconic bust, Beethoven’s image has become ubiquitous in popular culture, reimagined in the screen prints of Andy Warhol (1987) and in Terry Adkins’ Synapse (2004) as part of his Black Beethoven series.

Legacy section

The legacy section of the exhibition provides a glimpse of the myriad ways Beethoven has influenced art, politics, and popular culture over the past two hundred years. Visitors are invited to contemplate the adoption of Beethoven’s music by a diverse range of political movements, his influence on countless composers, writers, and visual artists, and how his music and image have frequently found their way into popular culture.

A pamphlet of Wartime Songs from the BBC (1944) broadcast to Nazi-occupied France sees Beethoven’s music playing a part in the V for Victory campaign during the Second World War; May Byron’s romanticised fictional account of the composer’s daily life (1910) show his image being adopted into popular literature; Charles Schulz’s yearly celebration of Beethoven’s Birthday in his Peanuts cartoons brought Beethoven to a younger audience; and the Voyager Golden Record sees Beethoven’s music sent drifting out into deep space.

A page from Charles Schulz's It’s a Dog’s Life, Charlie Brown. A New Peanuts book highlighting Beethoven’s birthday
Charles Schulz highlighting Beethoven’s birthday in It’s a Dog’s Life, Charlie Brown. A New Peanuts book (1962). X.429/1504
Image of the Golden Voyageur record
The ‘Golden Record’ which included the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the ‘Cavatina’ movement from the String Quartet in B flat major (opus 130). 1ss0013021

There are only a few days left to experience this Beethoven material on display, until the exhibition itself becomes part of Beethoven’s legacy. But the items on show only scratch the surface of the Beethoven material available at the library, and readers will be able to explore Beethoven through the rich physical and digital collections that have made this exhibition possible.

Dominic BridgeCollaborative PhD student, University of Liverpool and British Library

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.

Photograph of Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig by Bassano Ltd. 24 May 1939. NPG x156327 © National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

A page from Beethoven’s kitchen accounts
A page from Beethoven’s kitchen accounts. British Library Zweig MS 209, f.1r

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 three-part canon in Spohr’s autograph album
Beethoven’s three-part canon in Spohr’s autograph album. British Library Zweig MS 11, f. 1r

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.

Beethoven’s initial musical ideas for the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ in his music for Goethe’s play Egmont
Beethoven’s initial musical ideas for the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ (op. 84 no. 1), sung by the character of Clärchen in his music for Goethe’s play Egmont. British Library Zweig MS 8, f.1r

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.

Drawing of Beethoven on his deathbed by the artist Josef Teltscher
Drawing of Beethoven on his deathbed by the artist Josef Teltscher. British Library Zweig MS 207, f.1v

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

References/further reading:

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, [2015]) (A brief PDF guide to the exhibition that this book accompanied can be found here:)