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Music news and views

Introduction

We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

08 December 2020

Celebrating Beethoven: a new online exhibition on Discovering Music

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We are pleased to announce a new Discovering Music space on 19th-century music, which launches now with an exhibition celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Discovering Music 19th century

The exhibition features 27 collection items, including several manuscripts in Beethoven’s own hand, as well as articles written by experts in the field, and much related content!

Find out more about the composition history and context of some of Beethoven’s most celebrated works, including his ‘Pastoral’ and Ninth symphonies, his violin concerto, and several of his piano and chamber music works.

The opening of Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 in D minor op.125
The opening of Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 in D minor op.125. RPS MS 5

The space also offers insights into Beethoven’s compositional processes that formed his music, for which evidence may be found in his intricate and notoriously difficult to decipher sketchbooks.

Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony sketchbook. At the bottom of the page Beethoven has written: 'Sinfonia caracteristica oder Erinnerungen an das Landleben' (‘Characteristic symphony, or memories of country life’).
Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony sketchbook. At the bottom of the page Beethoven has written: 'Sinfonia caracteristica oder Erinnerungen an das Landleben' (‘Characteristic symphony, or memories of country life’). Add MS 31766.
Folio 87r from the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany showing the opening of a sonata for mandolin and keyboard WoO 47.
Folio 87r from the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany showing the opening of a sonata for mandolin and keyboard WoO 47. Add MS 29801.

The space also features collection items reflecting Beethoven’s career as a keyboard performer, personal items such as his tuning fork; as well as collection items reflecting both the inspiration and consolation he found in nature and the mental and physical struggles arising from his debilitating loss of hearing.

Beethoven’s cadenza for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor (K. 466).
Beethoven’s cadenza for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor (K. 466). Beethoven is known to have admired Mozart’s D minor concerto, and it is possible that he performed it in a benefit concert for Mozart’s widow, Constanze, in 1795. Add MS 29803

Also featured on the space are People pages for musicians that Beethoven collaborated with as well as famous literary figures who inspired his music, such as Goethe and Schiller.

This single leaf of sketches contains Beethoven’s initial musical ideas for the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ from his incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont.
This single leaf of sketches contains Beethoven’s initial musical ideas for the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ from his incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont. Zweig MS 8.

You can explore our Beethoven holdings further by visiting our Digitised Manuscripts and Explore catalogues of printed, audio and manuscript music.

21 November 2020

Music for a while… for more than 325 years! (a joint RISM-British Library blog post about sources for Purcell's music)

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When Henry Purcell died (on 21 November 1695 - 325 years ago today) he was probably one of the best-known composers in England – honoured with a burial at Westminster Abbey no less. But a reputation will only take you so far, and the fact that his music lives on all these years later is thanks in part to it being preserved in sources that have been interpreted and reinterpreted over time. 

 

Autograph manuscript of Henry Purcell's Sonata in F major (Z. 810).                          BL Add MS 30930, f. 37v
Autograph manuscript of Henry Purcell's Sonata in F major (Z. 810). BL Add MS 30930, f. 37v.

 

This evidence of Purcell’s music comes in different forms, from scores in the composer’s own hand to printed editions produced for wider circulation. A multitude of manuscript copies, made for all sorts of purposes, enriches the story even more – often giving us a sense of the ways in which the music was actually played by the composer’s contemporaries, and therefore how people would have known it. Later sources can also demonstrate the various routes of dissemination and transformation his music has taken in the centuries since, reflecting changing tastes and viewpoints over time. From 19th -century manuscript copies of Dido and Aeneas to Michael Tippett’s and Benjamin Britten’s arrangements, these all tell us something about how Purcell and his music has been understood – and provides a context for how we interpret it today.

 

Autograph manuscript of Benjamin Britten's realisation of the same Purcell sonata as is in the first image above
Autograph manuscript of Benjamin Britten's realisation of the Purcell sonata in the first image above.  BL Add MS 60626, f. 1r.

 

Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) - finding printed and manuscript musical sources

Last month the new RISM UK catalogue was launched, providing everyone with the ability to search for the location of pre-1850 printed and manuscript music sources in libraries, archives and other repositories around the UK (for more information, see our blog post announcing it here). A quick search for Henry Purcell shows that plenty of material can be found all around the country. In fact, Purcell is the composer with the second highest amount of material preserved in British institutions, second only to Georg Friedrich Händel (excluding the ubiquitous Anonymous). Among more than 2,500 results are around 150 autograph scores. The posthumously published collection of Purcell's songs, Orpheus Britannicus, is particularly well represented as well, with copies of the first and second volumes of the first edition (1698 and 1702) in 19 and 21 institutions respectively - and with the second, expanded, edition of 1706 to be found in a whopping 28 institutions.

 

Title page of the first edition of Orpheus Britannicus
The first edition of 'Orpheus Britannicus', a posthumously published collection of Purcell's songs (1698). BL G.100.
Music for the song 'Ah Belinda' from Dido & Aeneas
 'Ah! Belinda' as printed in Orpheus Britannicus. The first part of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas to appear in print. BL G.100.

 

The RISM UK catalogue is a subset of the international catalogue, and this provides a perspective on the transmission of Purcell's music around the world – with material preserved all over Europe as well as in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States. The Library of Congress (US-Wc) holds the largest number of Purcell sources outside of the UK, and in fact around a dozen of these sources are printed editions that can only be found there. The Royal Conservatory of Belgium (B-Bc) also houses a significant amount of music by Purcell, largely thanks to the music collector Guido Richard Wagener (1822-1896): in the manuscript anthologies with shelfmarks 2559014981 and 15139 one will find sonatas, keyboard pieces, and overtures by Purcell.

 

 

Purcell at the British Library

25 years ago the British Library put together an exhibition to mark the 300th anniversary of Purcell’s death, and it’s great to see that a digital trace of that can still be found online – now almost a historical source in its own right! At the time of the exhibition in 1995, a relatively recent acquisition was the newly discovered autograph manuscript of Purcell’s keyboard music (MS Mus. 1). This was digitised along with two other major manuscript sources in Purcell’s own hand in 2012 – a blog post from the time provides a bit more information about these important volumes. Since then we have also digitised the autograph score of Purcell's ‘The Yorkshire Feast Song’ (Egerton MS 2956).

A particularly stormy passage in the autograph manuscript of 'The Yorkshire Fest Song' (Z. 333).
A particularly stormy passage in the autograph manuscript of 'The Yorkshire Feast Song' (Z. 333). BL Egerton MS 2956, f. 13r.

There have also been several new Purcell-related acquisitions since that volume of keyboard music in the 1990s – copies of songs from 'The Fairy Queen', for example, as well as contemporary copies of the songs 'She who my poor heart possesses' (Z. 415) and 'Cease anxious world' (Z. 362) (Mus. Dep. 2016/52).

The most recent acquisition came last year. This is a substantial volume of music mostly for the flute or for the violin and includes what is the only known source for Purcell’s Sonata in G minor (Z. 780). It is currently awaiting attention from our conservation team, but this seems a good time to introduce it and to provide a sneaky peak inside.

 

Manuscript of Purcell's sonata in G
Henry Purcell, Sonata in G minor (Z. 780), as copied by Edward Finch. BL MS Mus. 1851.

The volume had passed through the hands of several collectors in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries and had been last seen in the early years of the 20th century, when an edition was made of the Purcell piece, very much in the style of the time.

 

Printed edition from 1903 of the Purcell sonata in G minor
Frederick Bridge's 1903 edition of Purcell's Sonata in G minor (Z. 780).

After failing to sell in an auction in 1935, the manuscript disappeared. Despite attempts by Thurston Dart and others to reconstruct the original Purcell piece (free from the idiosyncrasies of the early 20th -century edition), the volume’s whereabouts remained a mystery until 2012, when Peter Holman found it at Spetchley Park.[1]

The volume is known to be the work of two people: William Armstrong (d. 1717) and Edward Finch (1664-1738), both well-connected personalities in musical life of the 1600s and early 1700s. Not much is known about William Armstrong but he certainly played viola in the orchestra in the early days of the Italian Opera at the Haymarket theatre, around 1710, and we know he undertook work as a copyist for various theatres in the early 1700s too. Edward Finch was from a wealthy family and, among other things, seems to have been a proficient player of wind instruments. In particular he was a relatively early adopter of the ‘German flute’, predecessor of the modern flute (the recorder, known then as the ‘common flute’, or 'English flute', had been more popular before that). As part of the volume is in the hand of Armstrong, and the other in the hand of Finch, it has become known as the ‘Armstrong-Finch’ manuscript. The volume is dated 1691 at the beginning, but it is clear that Finch was still adding to it up to at least 1720.

William Armstrong's inscription at the front of the volume.
William Armstrong's inscription at the front of the volume. BL MS Mus. 1851.
 
A sonata copied by Armstrong and Finch's characteristic sign-off, from Christmas 1717
A sonata copied by Armstrong and Finch's characteristic sign-off, from Christmas 1717.


Besides the Purcell piece, the volume as a whole is of interest especially because of the connections between Finch, Armstrong and some of the prominent musicians they would have known and whose music is represented in the volume – from Purcell and Gottfried Finger to Francesco Geminiani a bit later. Given these connections, it is also a important source of information about all sorts of other things, from the use of ornamentation at the time, to the establishment of the flute as a popular instrument in professional and amateur circles. We hope, as Peter Holman says at in his introductory article to the manuscript, that it will “continue to yield up its secrets for a long time to come”.[1]

 

Chris Scobie (Curator, Music Manuscripts, British Library) and Jennifer Ward (Editor, RISM Zentralredaktion)

 

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References

[1] Holman, Peter (2012). 'A Purcell manuscript lost and found'. in Early Music. 40/3. pp.469-487.

10 November 2020

PhD placement opportunity – The Royal Music Library: understanding provenance and collecting practices

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We are pleased to announce a PhD placement opportunity to work in Music Collections on the project:

The Royal Music Library: understanding provenance and collecting practices

Royal Music Library

About the PhD placement scheme:

The scheme is open to current PhD students and offers an opportunity to work on a 3-month project in a specific area under the supervision of Library staff, and enables students to broaden their skill set, engage with research outside the academic context, and experience different career paths.

About the project

The Royal Music Library consists of music collected by several generations of the Royal Household, reflecting the musical tastes of its successive members. It contains about 1,000 volumes of manuscript music and 4,500 volumes of printed music, dating from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries. Among the many treasures are 97 volumes of Handel’s autograph manuscripts, and scores by Purcell, Steffani, J.C. Bach and Mendelssohn. With a few notable exceptions, such as the provenance of the Handel manuscripts, little is known regarding the provenance of the majority of the music, in terms of when it was acquired and by whom.

The PhD placement student will undertake a bibliographical study of selected parts of the Royal Music Library collection. Findings will improve understanding of its provenance and the collecting practices of members of the royal household, particularly George III, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.

The project will help to improve the Music team’s work in curating and promoting this collection through agreed outputs emanating from the research, which will include metadata enhancement; writing content for online exhibitions and blogs; and using digital tools to analyse and visualise the collection.

How to apply

Full details about the project, the PhD placement scheme, and how to apply can be found here:

https://www.bl.uk/news/2020/october/phd-placement-adverts-2020

The deadline for applications is 5 pm on Friday 18 December 2020.

For any enquiries about the PhD placement scheme or project please contact the Research Development team (Research.Development@bl.uk) in the first instance.

 

16 October 2020

Announcing the new RISM UK Catalogue!

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RISM UK is pleased to announce the launch of the new RISM UK Catalogue.

The catalogue is a subset of the international RISM Online Catalogue of Musical Sources. It contains all data from that resource on printed and manuscript music held in British libraries and archives, and pulls data directly from the international database to ensure it remains up-to-date.  We hope it will be of value and interest to researchers wanting to locate sources of printed and manuscript music held in repositories in Britain.

Image of the RISM UK catalogue homepage

The catalogue illustrates the rich resource of historic music materials that have been preserved in Britain. The information held can be searched in traditional ways, such as by composer and title, and also by the incipits of the musical notation.  A new feature makes it possible to identify and locate unica - printed editions that survive in single copies only. It is also possible to define the date ranges of searches more precisely than was possible before. Data from search results can be freely downloaded in simple CSV format, allowing researchers to reuse the information for their own purposes.  The database also provides access to digitised images, where they are available, from participating libraries via IIIF.

The new interface has been funded by the Strategic Knowledge Exchange Initiative at Royal Holloway, University of London. You can find out more about the RISM UK database at the Royal Holloway’s School of Music Research Projects and Centres pages.

Future projects

RISM UK in partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London, is currently completing a scoping study of the potential for further cataloguing projects involving music manuscripts and printed music in county record offices and other archives across the UK.

Work by postgraduate researchers Micah Neale and James Ritzema, supervised by Stephen Rose and Sandra Tuppen, has uncovered large holdings in county record offices especially of parish church music manuscripts from the 18th century, manuscripts of vernacular dance tunes, teaching manuscripts for learner musicians, and fragments of medieval music in the bindings of later volumes.

This scoping study is funded by the Strategic Knowledge Exchange Initiative at Royal Holloway, University of London.

We would also be very pleased to hear from holders of material within RISM’s scope who would be interested in adding its details to the database. Please contact Caroline Shaw, Secretary of the RISM (UK) Trust: caroline.shaw@bl.uk if you would like to be involved.

12 October 2020

Ralph Vaughan Williams in the Boosey & Hawkes Archive

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It was with characteristic self-deprecation that Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) – whose birthday is today, 12th October – reacted to Boosey & Hawkes’ proposed republication of two pieces that he had written 30 years before: [1] ‘These youthful indiscretions were a great shock to me’, he wrote. [2]’.

The ‘Two Old Airs’, arrangements of German folk-melodies for voice and piano, were now rather too old for the composer’s liking.  They dated from the early 1900s, about the time of his involvement in the English folk-song revival, and before his studies with Maurice Ravel were to lend his music the distinctive textures he wryly called ‘French polish’. By 1933, the time of this letter, his style had undergone considerable development — this was the discordant era of the furious Fourth Symphony (Add MS 50140) and ‘Job: A Masque for Dancing’ (Add MS 54326) — so the composer’s opinion of the early pieces was rather lower than Leslie Boosey’s (1887–1979), and he was anxious that they should not be mistaken for new work.  ‘I am not very proud of them’, was Vaughan Williams’s verdict; ‘If you do decide to issue them I must insist that the date of composition must be printed on the copy’. [3]  Boosey agreed, and the songs were re-issued later that year.

Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey regarding the re-issue of another previously-published work
Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams (in the hand of his wife Adeline, signed by Ralph) to Leslie Boosey, probably 13 August 1933, regarding the re-issue of another previously-published work: ‘Rondel’, composed in 1896: ‘I have no objection to your issuing the songs if, as I say, the date of composition is printed on the copies. […] There is nothing particularly wrong with them technically – they are only, to me, rather characterless’. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/8. © The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by kind permission of The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.

Boosey & Hawkes Ltd. were not the main publishers of Vaughan Williams's music, their rights being mainly in his early chamber works, but their archive (MS Mus. 1813) nevertheless holds a number of his letters.  Many, like the above, concern mainly formalities: rights, reprints or new arrangements of works for different instruments.  (This kind of correspondence was continued after the composer’s death by his widow Ursula).  Other exchanges, however, shed interesting light on both Vaughan Williams’s life and the publisher’s role in the musical world.  In May 1938, for instance, Vaughan Williams wrote to Leslie Boosey with an unusual request:

Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 16 May 1938
Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 16 May 1938. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/219/8. © The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by kind permission of The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.

Can you help me with some advice — I have been asked to arrange the music for a pageant — one scene is a garden party in 1900 — Could you find out from your records what were the popular songs about 1895 (I had better ante-date it a bit)

— (1) what a military band at a party would be likely to be playing?

— (2) what a young lady would be likely to sing when asked for a song with piano accomp[animent]?

— It will be very kind of you if you can help me in this [4]

Vaughan Williams would surely have had a fairly good idea of these things himself, but evidently wished to be sure of historical accuracy.   The pageant in question, a collaborative effort between several composers entitled 'England's Pleasant Land' (Add MS 57290-57291) was performed two months later at Milton Court near Dorking, with Vaughan Williams conducting. [5]  It depicted the phemonena old and new that have threatened the peace of the English countryside and the freedom of its people: land enclosures, industrialisation and wanton urban growth.  Interestingly, some of the themes Vaughan Williams composed for this pageant later reappeared, in transfigured form, in the much-loved Fifth Symphony (1943) (Add MS 50371-50372) whose serenity was to bring such peace and consolation to war-battered Britain.

Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 31 October 1940
Letter from Vaughan Williams (in the hand of his wife Adeline, signed by Ralph) to Leslie Boosey, 31 October 1940. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/6. © The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by kind permission of The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust

Vaughan Williams's involvement in the war effort (in both World Wars) is well-known.  One form his service took during the Second was his chairmanship of a board which sought to aid foreign-born musicians interned in Britain as 'Enemy Aliens'.  The policy of internment, though precautionary in intention, inevitably resulted in the imprisonment of innocent people, many of whom had moved to Britain precisely in fear or defiance of Nazism.  Several times Vaughan Williams sent lists of names to Leslie Boosey, asking if he knew them well enough to be able to attest to their character.  The favour was to be repaid when the same board helped to secure the release of three of Boosey's own staff — Erwin Stein, Alfred Kalmus and Ernst Roth — after they were interned in July 1940.  (For more about this tale, see this blog [https://blogs.bl.uk/music/2020/05/ernst-roth-and-the-business-of-music.html]).

Copy letter from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Vaughan Williams, 11 October 1940
Copy letter from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Vaughan Williams, 11 October 1940. ‘I am afraid there are some very stupid people in charge of [affairs] here today’. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/6. © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes Ltd.

A final category of Vaughan Williams’s correspondence consists of his letters of recommendation in support of younger or less prominent composers and musicians.   In July 1938 he wrote to Boosey ‘to introduce to you Mr. William Cole — a composer of talent and a first rate organist’. [6]  He did the same for the composer Franz Reizenstein (1911–1986), whom he introduced as his ‘friend and ex-pupil’ — adding, ‘though indeed there was nothing he needed to learn from me’. [7]  Reizenstein, being German by birth, was among those later interned and for whose release Vaughan Williams was to intervene. [8]

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ letter of introduction for Franz Reizenstein, sent to Leslie Boosey, 9 July 1937
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ letter of introduction for Franz Reizenstein, sent to Leslie Boosey, 9 July 1937. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/8. ©  The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by kind permission of The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.

Letters like these show both composer and publisher working quietly behind the scenes for the flourishing of the musical world.  The tone of the correspondence also reveals the esteem in which each held the other.  Yet it would only have embarrassed Vaughan Williams had Leslie Boosey told him directly what he had written to the Norwegian composer Sverre Hagerrup Bull (1892–1976): 'RVW is our greatest living Composer, and probably the best purely English composer we have ever had'.

Full transcriptions of the letters quoted in this article can be found on the website ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, http://vaughanwilliams.uk.

References

[1] Editorial comment, ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 6 August 1933, letter number VWL5061<http://vaughanwilliams.uk/letter/vwl5061>, retrieved 18 July 2020.

[2] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 6 August 1933.  Full text transcribed at ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, letter number VWL5061<http://vaughanwilliams.uk/letter/vwl5061>, retrieved 18 July 2020.

[3] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 6 August 1933. 

[4] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 16 May 1938.  British Library, MS Mus. 1813/2/1/219/8.

[5] Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘England’s Pleasant Land’, The Redress of the Past, <http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1061/> , retrieved 28 August 2020.

[6] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 3 July 1938.  British Library, MS Mus. 1813/2/1/212/6.

[7] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Leslie Boosey, 9 July 1937.  British Library, MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/8. 

[8] Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, 22 October 1940.  Full text transcribed at ‘The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams’, letter number VWL 4969, <http://vaughanwilliams.uk/letter/vwl4969>, retrieved 28 August 2020.

Dominic Newman, Manuscripts Cataloguer

 

05 October 2020

Digitising Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at the Birmingham Oratory

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Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, a setting of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem of the same name for voices and orchestra, is an important work that sealed Elgar's reputation as a composer of international significance. With its references to Catholic doctrine concerning Mary, Mother of God and Purgatory, it is also strongly connected to Elgar’s background as a Roman Catholic, and proved controversial in its early performances. Despite the significance of the work, the manuscript has been historically difficult to access, as it was donated by Elgar to the Oratory of St Philip Neri in Birmingham.

Dr Joanna Bullivant of the University of Oxford has therefore organised a project with the British Library, the National Institute of Newman Studies, USA, and the National Trust (who run the Elgar Birthplace Museum) to digitise and curate the manuscript for scholars and the general public. As well as digitising the manuscript and making it available online, the project involves developing new expert commentary for the British Library Discovering Music pages and organising a series of events with school children. The manuscript score together with related Newman manuscripts at the Birmingham Oratory were digitised by Eugenio Falcioni who writes about the process and special techniques used during digitisation, whilst Joanna Bullivant comments about the manuscripts and their significance for research.

Photograph of the Birmingham Oratory Church

Photograph of the Birmingham Oratory Library Photograph of the Cardinal Newman room at the The Birmingham Oratory
The Church, Library, and Cardinal Newman Room at the Birmingham Oratory. Photos by Eugenio Falcioni

The British Library on-location digitisation service

The British Library has offered on-location digitisation services to external customers for some time. For these customers, an on-location service is usually preferable due to the precious nature of their collection items, or in some cases, because they are too fragile or bulky to be sent to the London studio.

To fulfil an on-location job, an experienced heritage photographer will travel to the location of the item(s) along with state of the art photographic equipment and a number of digitisation and collection care tools approved by conservation experts at The British Library.

The digitisation of Elgar’s original score and the two Newman manuscripts of The Dream of Gerontius at The Birmingham Oratory is a prestigious example of this service. The Newman manuscripts consist of the author’s rough draft of his poem and the first autograph fair copy. The Elgar manuscript is the autograph score used in the first performance. All these documents contain myriad rich details that give insight into the history of poem and music: not only crossings-out, corrections, and notes on performance, but also Elgar’s remarks on the weather and the signatures of everyone involved in the first performance.

The digitisation process of the Elgar and Newman manuscripts at the Birmingham Oratory

The project, carried out in March 2020, took four days of intense work, capturing every page of the manuscripts. This process may seem straightforward, but involves many crucial aspects, such as transport and setup of various specialist equipment; extreme care in handling the original manuscripts; a technically flawless photographic process; and consistent image management. These elements are crucial in delivering the finest digitised product to the customer in a relatively short time.

Photograph of the temporary digitisation workstation setup at the Birmingham OratorySetup of the temporary digitisation workstation at the Birmingham Oratory. Photo by Eugenio Falcioni

Fortunately, the three manuscripts were all in excellent condition, which made the imaging process quite smooth and without any particular hitches. 

Having the opportunity to work on such important items, in a fascinating place like The Birmingham Oratory, is enough for a photographer to feel satisfied. But what made this project really interesting and challenging from a photographic point of view was the fact that a number of pages in Elgar’s manuscript score had been covered with additional sheets, glued over parts of the original score. Elgar did this where he made emendations to the musical text in the form of adding bars or material for particular parts. As a painstaking editor of his music for performance, it was common for Elgar to want to make these kinds of changes.

Reading the information covered by this layer of paper is almost impossible with the naked eye. Even by magnifying the new digital images it was difficult to see anything. Given the great interest in uncovering the original information and the importance of the manuscript, following the normal imaging process, I undertook a special imaging cycle to try to reveal the hidden text. A couple of attempts were made using an infrared camera and subsequently trying to illuminate the manuscript under ultraviolet torches, but both proved unsuccessful. As a last attempt, the technique of 'transmitted light' finally revealed the original hidden text.

Photograph showing the transmitted light technique for the digitisation of a Newman manuscript Photograph showing the transmitted light technique for the digitisation of a Newman manuscript with the light placed behind the manuscript page and the camera on the other side
Applying the transmitted light technique on a Newman manuscript at the Birmingham Oratory with the light placed behind the manuscript page and the camera on the other side. Photos by Eugenio Falcioni

Transmitted light is a photographic technique where only one lighting source is placed at the back of the photographed object, making it possible to photograph the passage of light through it. This technique is mainly used on supports like paper or canvas that don’t completely block the light and is often used at the BL to capture watermarks in paper documents. The technique itself is not particularly complicated, although it requires a good mastery of the lighting systems and particular care in leafing through the original document. It is essential to have no other sources of light apart from the photographers' lamp, to avoid unnecessary light pollution that may affect the output. The lamp must also be placed at a reasonable distance from the photographed page, so as not to transmit any heat.

Uncovering hidden text in Elgar’s score

By back-lighting the pages of Elgar’s manuscript it was possible to reveal the information contained on its inner side. At first sight it would seem that much of the covered information is now legible, albeit with some difficulty due to the overlapping of the scores. Although Elgar probably never imagined that anyone would uncover the music he attempted to conceal, it was a privilege to use my photographic skills to help scholars further understand the context and meaning of his work.

The final step of the process was a patient post-production effort, carried out to emphasize the contrast of the ink recovered. This resulted in being able to distinguish the overlapping scores from each other to make it more visible to those who wish to study it. While there is no lost aria or the secret of the ‘Enigma’ Variations concealed beneath the glued-down corrections, they reveal a more quotidian but no less important side of Elgar.

By tracing the minute alterations made as the work reached its final version, we witness the composer’s working methods, his attention to detail, and his sensitivity to the impact of the work in performance.

Page 35 from Elgar's score of The Dream of Gerontius score Page 35 from Elgar's score of The Dream of Gerontius with the transmitted light technique

Detail from page 35 of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius

Elgar’s score of The Dream of Gerontius at the Birmingham Oratory. The transmitted light photographic technique reveals the hidden text on page 35 of the score. Images by Eugenio Falcioni. Reproduced with kind permission from The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory.

Fully digitized versions of the Elgar and Newman manuscripts in IIIF can be viewed on the NINS website.

Written by Eugenio Falcioni, Senior Imaging Technician, The British Library, and Dr Joanna Bullivant, Lecturer, University of Oxford Faculty of Music

02 September 2020

Digitised Music Manuscripts

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During the last few months we have been actively publishing music manuscripts on Digitised Manuscripts. Approximately 60 digitised manuscripts are listed below grouped in rough chronological order. Highlights include: The ‘Cosyn’ and ‘Forster’ virginal books and autographs by Purcell; Henry Lawes; Haydn; Thomas Arne; Rossini; Mendelssohn; Verdi; Arthur Sullivan; Berlioz; Gounod; Liszt; Offenbach; Mahler; and Elgar.

16th-century music manuscripts

A collection of motets, masses, Te Deum, and Kyrie, in four volumes, by English composers (Add MS 17802; Add MS 17803; Add MS 17804; Add MS 17805); A collection of services, anthems, and a few part-songs, for five voices, by English composers (Add MS 30480; Add MS 30481; Add MS 30482; Add MS 30483; Add MS 30484); A collection of sacred compositions in parts (Add MS 32377); A collection of parts of masses, motets, and services (Add MS 34191); A miscellany of Middle English verse, including ballads by Chaucer and Lydgate; 'The Flyting of Montgomerie and Polwart' by Alexander Montgomerie; 'Nebuchadnezzar's Fierie Furnace'; the 'Annals of Oskell'; grammatical exercises in Latin and Greek; and Old songs of Durham (Harley MS 7578); Masses and motets, in parts, by Nicolas Ludford (Royal Appendix MS 45; Royal Appendix MS 46; Royal Appendix MS 47; Royal Appendix MS 48); A collection of largely sacred music of English origin, composed for instruments and voice (Royal Appendix MS 74; Royal Appendix MS 75; Royal Appendix MS 76); A collection of French and Italian compositions by anonymous authors (Royal Appendix MS 55); A collection of frottole, strambotti, and odes, with music for four voices, by Italian composers of the 15th and early 16th century (Egerton MS 3051).

Opening page from a Te deum from the Cantus part-book.
A Te deum from the Cantus part-book, Add MS 30480, f. 4r.

17th-century music manuscripts

A volume with miscellaneous writings, ornamented with initials, portraits of saints, royal arms, etc. including songs with lute accompaniment in tablature (Add MS 4900); A volume with keyboard and lyra viol music (Add MS 63852); The Cosyn Virginal Book (R.M.23.l.4); The Forster Virginal Book (R.M.24.d.3); The autograph of Henry Purcell’s The Yorkshire Feast Song (Egerton MS 2956); The Henry Lawes Music Manuscript (Add MS 53723); Canons for 4 voices to the first lines of the Psalms (Vulgate version), by Sydrach Rahel, with a dedication, in French , to James I (Royal Appendix MS 64).

Image from The Cosyn Virginal Book
The Cosyn Virginal Book. R.M.23.l.4, f. 2r
Opening page from Purcell's The Yorkshire Feast Song
Henry Purcell’s The Yorkshire Feast Song. Egerton MS 2956, f.1r

18th-century music manuscripts

Original letters of Joseph Haydn (Egerton MS 2380); Sonatas, suites and other works for keyboard instrument by G. F. Handel and other composers (MS Mus. 1587); A collection of anthems, in score, by G.F. Handel (Add MS 30309); The Chandos Music Manuscripts (Add MS 62099; Add MS 62100; Add MS 62101; Add MS 62102; Add MS 62103); A collection of songs, excerpts from operas, and an anthem, by Thomas Arne (Add MS 29370); Autograph cantatas by Antonio Caldara (Add MS 31549); Sonatas for the viola-da-gamba by Carl Friedrich Abel (Add MS 31697); 19th century letters and papers relating to the ownership of the Mozart string quartets in Add MS 37763-37765 (Add MS 37766).

Letter from Joseph Haydn to the music printer William Forster
Letter from Joseph Haydn to the music printer William Forster. Egerton MS 2380, f. 3r

19th-century music manuscripts

Selected autograph vocal pieces by Gioacchino Rossini (Add MS 30246); Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s autograph of his String Quartet in E flat (Add MS 30900); The Scherzo, Notturno, and Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream arranged by the composer for piano (Egerton MS 2955); Giuseppe Verdi’s autograph of his opera Attila (Add MS 35156); The autograph of Robert Schumann's piano sonata in F minor (Add MS 37056); Charles François Gounod’s Messe Solennelle (Add MS 37639); The autograph score of Arthur Sullivan’s operetta The Gondoliers (Add MS 53779); Letters from Hector Berlioz to members of his family (Add MS 56237); Songs by Thomas Moore arranged by Henry Bishop and others (Add MS 19569); Songs with piano accompaniment by Hortense Bonaparte, wife of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland (Add MS 30148); 19th-century copy of The ‘Lamentabatur Jacob' by Cristobal Morales, and a setting of ‘Incipit Lamentatio Hieremiæ’ by Thomas Tallis (Add MS 34070); Autograph compositions by Franz Liszt (Add MS 34182); The musical autograph album of Eliza Wesley, containing short pieces, inscriptions and signatures of numerous composers, musicians, and singers (Add MS 35026); Miscellaneous autograph compositions by various composers (Add MS 38070); Music by Michael Haydn and Carl Maria von Weber (Add MS 41634); Airs from the cantatas and other works of J.S. Bach, arranged by Robert Franz for alto and tenor voices with pianoforte accompaniment (Add MS 41635); Jacques Offenbach’s autograph score of his comic opera Fantasio (Add MS 42064); Miscellaneous music, partly autograph, by various 18th- and 19th-century composers (Add MS 47860).

Opening page from Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E flat.
Autograph of Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E flat. Add MS 30900.

 

Musical quotation from ‘Amami Alfredo’ from Verdi’s opera La traviata in the composer’s autograph
Musical quotation from ‘Amami Alfredo’ from Verdi’s opera La traviata in the composer’s autograph. Add MS 35026, f. 69r

Early 20th-century music manuscripts

Cancelled folio from the draft orchestral full score of the third movement, ‘Rondo-Burleske’, of Gustav Mahler's Symphony no.9 in D major (MS Mus. 97); Sketches and drafts by Edward Elgar (Add MS 49973 B).

Cancelled folio from Mahler’s draft orchestral full score of his Symphony no.9 in D major
Cancelled folio from Mahler’s draft orchestral full score of his Symphony no.9 in D major. Third movement, ‘Rondo-Burleske’. MS Mus. 97.

 

11 August 2020

Sir Henry Wood and the Concert Programme Exchange Scheme

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With the activities of concert and opera organisations abruptly curtailed owing to the coronavirus crisis, it seems a good time to explore an unusual set of concert programmes held by the British Library.  The Konzert-Programm-Austausch – or Concert Programme Exchange – collection stands out in the Library’s extensive holdings of programmes for its size, geographical diversity, and unusual configuration.  Bound in 60 volumes, the collection consists of some 15,000 programmes and flyers dating from between 1900 and 1914 and encompassing concerts given in Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, the USA, South America and Japan.

Title page of the 1909-1910 Konzert-Programm-Austausch series
Title page of the 1909-1910 Konzert-Programm-Austausch series (British Library, shelfmark P.P.1946.ad.)

This material forms part of a unique scheme initiated in 1893 by the Leipzig-based publisher Breitkopf & Hartel to distribute programmes on a subscription basis.   

Subscribers would receive 36 instalments per year, each typically containing between 50 and 100 programmes arranged alphabetically by location.  Annual subscriptions were offered to organisations such as music societies, orchestras, and chamber groups, each of which was obliged to contribute multiple copies of its programmes for distribution within the series.  Over time, subscribers could therefore build up runs of original programmes from each organisation.  The arrangement of the collection into separate parts, each enclosed in a wrapper with a decorative title page, reflects the way in which Breitkopf collected and then distributed the programmes to subscribers.

The venture as a whole operated from 1893 until 1944, a period of significant change in the technology of music dissemination.  In London, the conductor Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944) – founder of the long-running Promenade Concerts – subscribed to the series and contributed a selection of programmes for his concerts at the Queen’s Hall and elsewhere.  Indeed, the first few volumes in the British Library collection once formed part of Wood’s personal library and each are bound with his name embossed in gold lettering on the front cover. 

Image of Sir Henry Wood holding a baton
Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944). © National Portrait Gallery, London. NPG D45376

Wood was especially interested in new and unusual repertory – he called such works ‘novelties’ – and information gleaned from the Concert Programme Exchange series could, in theory, have influenced the programming of his concerts, or at least given him an indication of musical trends in other parts of Europe.  The series might also have acted to promote awareness of the activities and schedules of soloists and conductors, which will have given an inquisitive conductor like Wood ideas for future performances.  In this respect it helped to bridge the gap between the pre-audio era and the advent of commercial recording and broadcasting. 

Concert programme title page from a 1910 concert held in Barmen

Concert programme title page from a 1910 concert held in Darmstadt

Concert programme title page from a 1909 concert by the Czech Philharmonic orchestra

The portion of the series held at the British Library contains a rich variety of material, reflecting not only the musical repertories performed at the time but also the visual aesthetics for marketing performances at the time.  Represented within the collection are programmes not only for some of the world’s most important concert venues – such as the Queen’s Hall in London, the Musikverein in Vienna, and Carnegie Hall in New York – but also a wide range of concert-giving organisations in countless smaller towns and cities.  A typical issue dating from January 1900 consists of 41 flyers and programmes, beginning with a concert given in Altona by the Altonaer Kirchenchor at the St. Johanniskirche on 4 January.  The remaining items are from venues in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. 

Concert programme title page from a 1909 Singakademie concert

Concert programme title page from a 1910 concert held in Antwerp

Concert programme title page from a 1910 concert programme held in Berlin

They include a performance of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Oskar Fried in Vienna on 2 January with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as subscription concerts of orchestral music presented by the Berlin Hofkapelle (under Felix Weingartner), the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the Tonhalle in Zurich. The repertory ranged from performances of baroque choral music, to a performance of Bruch’s ‘Das Feuerkreuz’ in Cologne, to piano recitals by Ernst von Dohnanyi in Berlin and Wilhelm Backhaus in Darmstadt. Through the collection researchers can therefore investigate repertories and reconstruct concert programming with a detail and a geographic breadth impossible in any single collection of programmes elsewhere. 

The collection has been digitised in full and is currently available via the Nineteenth-Century Collections Online portal, a subscription service which can be accessed in the Library’s reading rooms (https://www.gale.com/intl/c/ncco-british-theatre-music-and-literature-high-and-popular-culture).

Rupert Ridgewell, Lead Curator, Printed Music