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36 posts categorized "Printed music"

27 May 2020

Lockdown piano: the pedagogical works of Muzio Clementi

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A piano-playing theme is emerging from the Coronavirus lockdown, with several famous names playing online, or mentioning that they are learning to play, including actor Anthony Hopkins, footballer Nathan Aké, and rugby union player Tom Curry. For anyone with time for a little extra practice, this seems a good time to visit the pedagogical works of the pianist and composer Muzio Clementi.

Clementi was born in Rome in 1752. Moving to England at the age of 14, he spent the rest of his life either in London or travelling extensively in France, Germany and Russia. A simple list of his professional activities does not convey the significance of his achievement in each area. As a publisher, he was the first to publish the works of Beethoven in England, including some first editions; as a teacher, he influenced many important pianists of the next generation; his piano manufacturing firm introduced technical innovations, and his compositions, although overshadowed by those of more famous composers, are still played and admired 200 years on.

Engraved portrait of Muzio Clementi holding a score
Muzio Clementi by Henry Richard Cook, after James Lonsdale stipple engraving, published 1833 NPG D9341 © National Portrait Gallery, London

As a composer, Clementi had most success with his keyboard music, writing sonatas, variations, suites, preludes and fugues and technical piano studies, and his best known publication Gradus ad Parnassum (1817, 1819, 1826) is a large compilation of these works.

His periods of travel were spent in promoting the Clementi firm’s pianos, making contacts with composers for his publishing business, and teaching. Both in England and abroad, he had professional pupils like J.B. Cramer, John Field, Ludwig Berger (later Mendelssohn’s teacher), Carl Zeuner and Frédéric Kalkbrenner (later briefly a teacher of Chopin). He also taught amateur players, and it was for this market that his educational works were written. In London he was in great demand as a piano teacher in the early 1790s, despite the lapse in his performing career caused by the great popularity of the music of the new arrival, Haydn.

His 1801 piano method, Introduction to the art of playing on the piano forte (British Library g.303.(3.), is one of the first instruction books specifically for the piano, which, as a relatively new instrument, was just beginning to supersede the harpsichord. It contains extracts from the works of other composers such as Handel, Corelli, Mozart and Beethoven, graded in difficulty, as well as instructional text. It begins with the basics (with a hint to the note-learning beginner to ignore the ‘short notes’ of the keyboard except as guides to the eye) and moves on to detailed information about theory, technique, style and expression for the more difficult pieces. The instructions are addressed directly to the pupil, with a serious and uncompromising assumption of a high level of understanding and application. For example, at the foot of one fingering study is the comment ‘Most of the passages fingered for the right hand, may, by the ingenuity and industry of the pupil, become models for the left.’ There is certainly no ‘dumbing down’ here!

Introduction to the art of playing on the piano forte quickly appeared in French and German translations. Publications aimed at intermediate and advanced students followed, and Clementi’s educational music became well known.

Among these pedagogical works are the easy Six progressive sonatinas op. 36, first published in 1797, which are still in use as teaching pieces, with a new edition appearing as recently as 2017.

TItle page of Clementi's Six progressive sonatinas op.36 for piano
Title page of Muzio Clementi’s Six Progressive Sonatinas op.36. Shelfmark: g.132.(4.)
Opening page of Clementi's Six progressive sonatinas op.36 for piano
Page 1 of Muzio Clementi’s Six Progressive Sonatinas op.36. Shelfmark: g.132.(4.)

The respectful attitude to the learner observable in the Introduction to the art of playing on the piano forte is also in evidence in the quality of the musical construction of these mini-sonatas; they are pieces which are not just possible but also satisfying for elementary pianists to play. Recommended for lockdown pianists everywhere!

Caroline Shaw

Printed & Manuscript Music Processing & Cataloguing Team Manager

References:

Leon Plantinga: ‘Clementi, Muzio’. Grove Music Online. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.40033, accessed 14 May 2020.

Margaret Cranmer and Peter Ward Jones: ‘Clementi’. Grove Music Online. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.05937, accessed 14 May 2020

Clementi Society: http://www.clementisociety.com/, accessed 15 May 2020.

24 October 2018

Music Doctoral Open Day - 4 December 2018

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Have you just started a PhD in Music or are you a Masters student considering studying at doctoral level?

If your answer to either of these questions is "yes", then the British Library Music Doctoral Open Day on Tuesday 4 December 2018 is for you!

The day will explain the practicalities of using the library and its services, and help you to navigate physical and online music collections. You will also have the opportunity to meet our expert and friendly staff together with other researchers in your field.

Music Doctoral Open Day 2017 manuscripts show and tell

A packed programme of events is available for the bargain price of £10 per attendee, including lunch and other refreshments.

What is more, this year's event is generously sponsored by the Royal Musical Association. This means that RMA student members are eligible to claim back the registration fee directly from the RMA.

Please book your place via the British Library website and email researchskills@rma.ac.uk for further information on claiming back the cost.

 

10 October 2018

William Byrd, catholic composer

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    William Byrd, one of the most prolific English composers of his time, was born in 1543 (or possibly late in 1542) and died in 1623.

    A devout Roman Catholic, Byrd was also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal with a secure position at court. Well known among the Catholic nobility, with whom his ties were naturally close, Byrd also enjoyed a wealth of connections across Protestant society, including major cultural figures such as Sir Philip Sidney.

    This post explores Byrd's music for the Roman Rite.

The Masses

R.M.15.d-tileWilliam Byrd. [Mass for three voices] Cantus. London: Thomas East, 1594. Cantus. British Library R.M.15.d.4.

   In 1593 Byrd moved from Harlington in Middlesex, where he had lived since the 1570s, to Stondon Massey in Essex. This was only a few miles from Ingatestone, the seat of his friend Sir John, afterwards Lord, Petre. It was almost certainly for clandestine Mass celebrations at Petre’s house that Byrd composed his three Masses, issued separately without title pages, dedicatees or any indication of the printer (Thomas East), but with Byrd’s name placed courageously at the top of every page. The four-part work was printed (and composed) first, the three-part next (shown above) and the five-part last, all between about 1592 and 1595. Second editions of the three- and four-part Masses appeared about 1600.

Gradualia Book I, 1605

K.2.f.7. dWilliam Byrd. Gradualia, ac Cantiones Sacræ, quinis, quaternis, trinisque vocibus concinnatæ, Lib. Primus
Excudebat Humphrey Lownes. Londini: Impensis Ricardi Redmeri. Superius. 1610.. British Library K.2.f.7.

Byrd followed the publication of his three settings of the Ordinary of the Mass with an even more daring venture. His Gradualia is one of the most comprehensive provisions of Mass Propers and related music for the Roman church’s year ever attempted by a single composer. When the first book appeared in 1605 he evidently felt that the times were less dangerous, for it was printed with a titlepage and a dedication to the Catholic Privy Councillor Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton.

 But the moment proved ill chosen: it was the year of the Gunpowder Plot and anti-Catholic sentiment was rife. Despite having been approved before its publication by Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London and an ecclesiastical censor of books, Byrd’s Gradualia became dangerous currency. The Frenchman Charles de Ligny was arrested merely for having a copy of the ‘papistical books’ in his possession. The image above shows the communion sentence from the Corpus Christi mass and Ave verum corpus, a Eucharistic prayer in the version printed in the Primer, for private devotions.

Gradualia Book II, 1607

K.2.f.6-tileWilliam Byrd. Gradualia: seu cantionum sacrarum quarum aliæ ad quatuor, aliæ verò ad quinque et sex voces editæ sunt.
Liber secundus.
London: Thomas East, assign of William Barley, 1607. Bassus. British Library K.2.f.6.

   Despite the hostility shown to Book I of Gradualia, Byrd went ahead and published Book II in 1607, openly declaring that the music had been composed for use in the house of its dedicatee, Lord Petre. But he may have found it necessary to withdraw both books until 1610, as the sheets were reissued then with new title pages. The partbook of Book I shown here has the substitute title page of 1610, but those of Book II are from the only surviving set with the original 1607 title pages. On the wrapper of the bassus part the unknown first owner has written ‘Mr William Byrd his last Sett of Songs geven me by him Feb. 1607.’

K.2.f.6. a'William Byrd. Gradualia: seu cantionum sacrarum quarum aliæ ad quatuor, aliæ verò ad quinque et sex voces editæ sunt.
Liber secundus.
London: Thomas East, assign of William Barley, 1607. Bassus. British Library K.2.f.6.

Byrd’s handwriting: Certificate concerning an annuity granted to Dorothy Tempest.

   The letter below, a similar copy of which is also in the British Library (Egerton 3722), along with the two signatures to his will are the only known examples of Byrd’s handwriting.

    One of those implicated in the Catholic plot of 1570 in favour of Mary Queen of Scots was Michael Tempest, who was convicted of treason but managed to escape to France entering the service of Philip II. His wife Dorothy and their five children were left without means of support, and Queen Elizabeth granted her an annuity of twenty pounds a year, to be paid quarterly. On 17 October 1581 Byrd wrote to his friend William Petre (son of Sir John, discussed above), an official at the Court of Exchequer, reminding him that a payment was due, at the same time sending the letter below to certify that she was alive and well.

Ms Mus 1810 Byrd cWilliam Byrd. Autograph certificate on behalf of Dorothy Tempest, 25 June 1581. British Library Ms Mus. 1810/26

02 October 2018

Welcome to Discovering Music

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    The British Library has the pleasure of bringing you an exciting free educational resource providing unparalleled access to our music collection: Discovering Music.

   Aimed at A level students, teachers, undergraduates and the general public, the site features manuscript and printed sources as well as recordings to support the study of particular music topics. The site also sheds light on the historical, political and cultural contexts in which key musical works were composed and musicians operated.

MS. Mus. 1810 - Debussy - f01r - Article 3Claude Debussy (1911) 'Brouillards', from Préludes, Book 2 British Library Shelfmark MS Mus. 1810

The first stage focuses on music from the early 20th century, while other periods will be explored in the future. This present web space highlights some of the Library’s most treasured collection items, in high-resolution digitised images, including manuscripts by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and others. In addition, the site features a rich range of contextual material, including letters, notebooks, illustrations, newspapers, photographs and other forms of ephemera. 

You can explore this exciting web space from different angles: Themes, Collection items, Works and People. These gravitate around the centrepiece of Discovering Music, an exciting series of articles:

BThe Second Viennese School: Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern
Mark Berry introduces the three composers labelled as key members of the ‘Second Viennese School’, each influential in his own way on musical modernism throughout the remainder of the 20th century.

Music and the creative process: Elgar’s Third Symphony
The composer Anthony Payne, who completed Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, describes Elgar’s compositional methods as seen in the surviving sketches for this work at the British Library.

Delius in performance
Joanna Bullivant explores how Delius’s compositions were brought to life by various interpreters. Did he give his performers enough information? How important are the contributions made by the famous musicians with whom he worked: the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, the pianists Theodor Szántó and Evlyn Howard-Jones, and the violinist May Harrison?

Folksong revival in the early 20th century
Eric Saylor surveys the social contexts and musical impact of the folksong revival in the early 20th century.

Ballet in Paris in the early 20th century
Jane Pritchard discusses the ballet companies and their artists who were active in Paris in the early 20th century.

BBritish composers in the early 20th century
Jeremy Dibble gives an overview of British composers in the early 20th century and their context.

Delius, Paris, Grez
Lionel Carley explores Delius’s long association with France, and how the distinctive landscapes of Paris and Grez-sur-Loing inspired some of his most famous scores.

Exploring Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations
Julian Rushton discusses the early history of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations.

The use of the instruments of the orchestra
Lucy Walker surveys three orchestral masterpieces of the early 20th century.

Music and the First World War
Kate Kennedy examines the impact of the First World War on British composers and the music composed both during the war and in its aftermath.

Music and the Holocaust
Stephen Muir examines the impact of the Holocaust on musicians and musical life in Germany and Austria in the Second World War.

SkMusic for film: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten
Music formed an important component of the propaganda and educational films produced during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. In this article, Nicholas Clark explores the film scores composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten between 1940 and 1948.

Music and the Russian Revolution
Pauline Fairclough discusses the impact of the Russian Revolution on Russian composers’ lives and careers.

Delius and America
Daniel M. Grimley explains the significance of America in Delius's life, music, and career.

Stravinsky and Neoclassicism
Stephen Walsh discusses Neoclassicism as a concept focussing on the music of Stravinsky who extensively used this compositional ‘attitude’ in his music.

The Society of Women Musicians
Sophie Fuller discusses the history of the Society of Women Musicians and some of its leading members.

Delius's workshop
Daniel M. Grimley examines Delius's compositional routine and looks at the processes involved in assembling a large-scale musical work.

Tonality in crisis? How harmony changed in the 20th century
Arnold Whittall explores changing approaches to harmony and the concept of tonality in early 20th-century music.

Vaughan Williams and The English Hymnal
Simon Wright explores the role of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in selecting and arranging the music for The English Hymnal.

Teaching resources

These 19 articles are accompanied by three teaching resources to support the study of 20th-century classical music at GCSE and A Level.

Composition: learning from Delius and Elgar
Use Delius's and Elgar's sketches to develop compositional skills and understand their music.

Music and place: sacred music and folksong
Learn how English composers were inspired by folksong and ideas of the sacred.

Overturning tonality: into the 20th century
Explore new ways of composing in the early 20th century

 

10 July 2018

Chopin First Editions available online

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Chopin par Delacroix Eugène Delacroix (ca 1838)  Portrait de Frédéric Chopin, compositeur. Louvre Museum R.F1717

 As part to our commitment to bring our collections to everyone, we have digitised over sixty first editions of piano music by Frédéric Chopin, which are now available online.

As is the case with most composers, first editions of Chopin’s music are important to study the text of a given piece. Chopin would often add expression marks to the printing proofs, marks which weren't in the manuscripts provided to the publisher. Sometimes these additions were so numerous that a second proof had to be prepared for Chopin to approve for publication. In these cases they reveal a more advanced compositional state than the autograph manuscripts.

You may download a spreadsheet with the complete list by clicking here. The links on the right hand side will take you to the corresponding catalogue record. To view the score click on the "I want this" tab, and then on the red “GO” button next to "Digital Content, Collection Item". This newly digitised set will no doubt be a welcomed complement to the Chopin Online Resources, which includes other first editions from our collections.

17 May 2018

Over There, All Over Again: American Sheet Music, World War 1 and Nostalgic Musicals

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It is always a great pleasure when you find your research coinciding with that of your colleagues. There has been a recent spike in discussions around American Music and World War I in the Eccles Centre as Jean Petrovic is currently developing an online exhibition showcasing the British Library's excellent collection of American sheet music, whilst I am research American musicals of the early 1940s which looked back at World War I and vaudeville.

As part of her project, Jean has been focusing on World War I, which saw an explosion in printed music. At the turn of the twentieth century – prior to the rise of radio and the phonograph – pianos were still the main source of home entertainment. Recent innovations in production had bought about a sharp decline in prices and an inevitable rise in demand. Not surprisingly, this was a boom-time for song-writers and music publishers. Print runs of top-selling songs frequently exceeded hundreds of thousands and between 1900 and 1910 more than 100 songs sold over one million copies.

More than 10,000 songs about World War I were published in the United States during 1914-18. In the early days, many of these songs echoed the non-interventionist stance of President Woodrow Wilson and most Americans.

Within days of the US declaration of war in 1917, George M Cohan, already one of the country’s most successful songwriters, penned ‘Over There’. With its patriotic call to arms, its optimism and its references to liberty and the American flag it went on to become the nation’s favourite war song. It was performed and recorded by many artists and eventually sold more than two million copies.

Over There - LOC photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: George Michael Cohan. Over There. New York: Wm Jerome Publishing Corp., c1917.  British Library shelfmark a.318.(5) (other versions, h.3825.z.(52); h.1562; H.1860.i.(8); h.3825.ff.(7)); image courtesy of the Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100010518

In 1936, President Franklin D Roosevelt presented Cohan with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his contribution to US morale during World War I.  He was the first person in an artistic field to receive this honour.

And this is where I come in. During America’s participation in World War II, a notable body of musical films were produced which reflected on the current crisis through the historical metaphor of America’s role in World War I. By binding these wartime stories with settings concerned with vaudeville and performance, these films conveyed patriotic messages and made entertainment culture central to American values. 

Yankee_Doodle_Dandy_poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: promotional poster for Yankee Doodle Dandy (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942, Warner Brothers)

In 1942, director Michael Curtiz made Yankee Doodle Dandy, a biopic about Cohan’s life. The narrative is framed by Cohan, in the present day, going to visit President Roosevelt at the White House where he discusses his career and receives the Congressional Gold Medal (despite the award actually being made 6 years previously). In the urgent context of World War II the film places Cohan (but also by extension Hollywood itself) as vital agents in America’s cultural mythmaking: the inclusion of his famous, popular songs (‘Over There’, ‘Give My Regards to Broadway’, ‘The Yankee Doodle Boy’ and ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’) and production numbers involving a lot (and I mean A LOT) of flags, allow the fictional President Roosevelt to comment to Cohan that “your songs were weapons as strong as cannons and rifles in World War I."

Interesting, whilst the film was certainly an important part of Warner Brothers Studio’s commitment to the war effort, aimed partially at legitimizing their own work in the context of the war, the unashamedly patriotic film also served an interesting purpose for its star, James Cagney, who had personally struggled to deny Communist links.

Cagney had initially been opposed to making a Cohan biopic as he’d disliked Cohan since the Actor’s Equity Strike in 1919 when Cohan had sided with the producers. However, during the late 1930s and early 1940s Cagney had run-ins with the Dies Committee (the House Un-American Activities Committee): in 1940 he was named along with 15 other Hollywood figures in the testimony of John R Leech (an LA Communist Party leader) and the New York Times printed the allegation that Cagney was a Communist on its front page (August 15, 1940).

Although Cagney refuted the allegations and Martin Dies made a statement to the press clearing him, his brother, William Cagney, who managed his business affairs is reported to have said that “we’re going to have to make the [most] goddamndest patriotic picture that’s ever been made. I think it’s the Cohan story.”[1] The film certainly achieves this aim: Cagney went on to win an Oscar for the role (and the film was a huge box office success for Warners).

For those interested in learning more about the American sheet music collection at the British Library, Jean’s web exhibition will go live later this summer.  In the meantime, an older incarnation of the project can be found here.

I will be discussing ‘American Film Musicals and the Reimagining of World War I’ as part of the British Library’s Feed the Mind series on Monday 21 May at 12.30 in the Knowledge Centre. I can promise clips of Gene Kelly, which must rate as one of the best ways to pass a lunch break. I hope you’ll be able to join me.

By: Dr Cara Rodway, Deputy Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, with thanks to Jean Petrovic, Bibliographical Editor.

[1] Patrick McGilligan, Cagney: The Actor as Auteur (New York & London: Tantivy Press, 1975), pp145-8 [shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.981/20794]

 

 

04 May 2018

The Mozarts in London

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It's April 1764 and Leopold Mozart was standing on the French shore of the Channel, waiting for the ferry to England. He was accompanied by his wife Anna Maria and their two children, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) and Wolfgang, aged 12 and 8 respectively. They had never seen the sea and any apprehensions they might have had were met with a rough crossing. Leopold reported in a letter that they made “a heavy contribution in vomiting.”1

On the 23 April they finally arrived in London from Paris, lodging above a barber’s shop near Trafalgar Square. They had left Salzburg almost a year before, as Leopold showed the prowess of his two child prodigies across different European courts. Britain wasn’t included in their initial plans, but they had been urged to make the journey by two Englishmen in the French Court: London was at the time the richest, the biggest and most successful city in Europe. It contained a wealthy class of merchants who patroned public performances. This was an important difference from previous countries they had visited, where concert life was mainly confined to the courts. 

The Mozart family spent around fifteen months in the British capital, but their experience was not as successful as they had hope so. Let’s find out more about their story through these three items from our collections

Violin Sonatas, KV 10–15 
R.M.11.f.5. 1b
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Six Sonates Pour Le Clavecin ... Oeuvre III. London: Printed for the Author, 1765. British Library Shelfmark R.M.11.f.5 

The start of the trip was nonetheless auspicious. The letters of introduction from France had been very effective, as within a week the family was summoned to Buckingham House (a more modest predecessor to the current Palace), for the first of their three visits to the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Here Wolfgang’s skills were put to royal test:

The King placed before him not only works of Wagensil, but those of Bach, Abel, and Handel,2 and he played off everything prima vista. Then he accompanied the Queen in an aria which she sang, and also a flautist who played a solo. Finally he took the bass part of some airs of Handel and played the most beautiful melody on it and in such a manner that everyone was amazed. In short, what he knew when we left Salzburg is a mere shadow compared with what he knows now. It exceeds all that one can imagine.3

The Queen asked the Mozarts to be the dedicatee of one of Wolfgang's compositions. Leopold obliged, printing at his expense a run of three sonatas. The copy shown above, is the very one which was presented to the Queen.

God is our refuge, K. 20
K.10.a.17.(3)_f001rMozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.: ‘God is our Refuge’, K. 20; 1765 (detail). British Library Shelfmark K.10.a.17.(3) 

Towards the end of their London stay the Mozarts received an invitation to visit the British Museum (from which the British Library was born). It seems now hard to believe, but children weren’t allowed then. Wolfgang and Nannerl were indeed very privileged. Leopold and his daughter kept a travel diary and she recalls to have seen “the library, the antiquities, birds of all kinds, fishes, insects and fruits.” in the Museum 4

They presented the Museum directors with a copy of his first two sonatas (also in our collections); a copy of a print showing Leopold and his two children (in the British Museum); and the manuscript of ‘God us our Refuge’ K. 20 shown above (a digitised version is available here). This motet for four voices was especially composed and presented to the Trustees of the Museum. It was to be his only setting of English words during his life. Little Wolfgang seems to have had trouble fitting the words to their corresponding notes (noticeable in bars 7-9), so his father wrote them in the rest of the piece.

At the British Library we can boast that our collection of Mozart manuscripts is certainly the first to have been started by the composer himself!

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser
NGDA - 01.06.1764
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 May 64 . British Library Shelfmark Burney 529.b.

The British Library has an important collection of Newspapers gathered by the Reverend Charles Burney (b.1757, d.1817), mostly published in London between 1604 and 1804. The collection has been digitised and can be viewed on any of our Reading Room terminals.

Leopold Mozart was no doubt an astute marketer, paying for several adverts on London papers where he announced performances by his children. They were often described as “prodigies of nature” and Leopold was more than ready to bend the truth slightly, purporting his children to be one or two years younger. The adverts here shown appeared on the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, where Leopold published more frequently.

Their first few months of their London stay saw them play in the most fashionable gardens of London. However their luck changed in early July when Leopold fell gravely ill, developing from what he described as “a kind of native complaint, which is called a cold5. Without his guidance and promotion, performances stopped for a few months and by the spring of 1765 public interest in the child prodigies began to wane. Wolfgang in the meantime, occupied himself composing -among other works- his first symphony, which premiered in February at the Little Theatre in Haymarket.

Their bad fortunes may have also been influenced by external forces, as there are indications that malicious rumours were being spread about the family. One of the most outrageous no doubt, said that Wolfgang wasn’t a child but a small adult with a growth deficiency. His father Leopold was forced to deny this in an open letter

Understandably, by mid-1765 the Mozarts started to arrange their long return to Salzburg. Private concerts were being offered at reduced fees. By July 1765 the young Mozarts, who had started performing for the Royals, were now playing during lunchtime at the Swan and Hoop pub near Moorgate in the City... 

 

  

Special thanks to Maddy Smith, curator of printed heritage collections 1601-1900, for her assistance with this article.

 

Notes:

  1. Letter from Leopold Mozart to his merchant and friend, Johann Lorenz von Hagenauer. London, 25 April May 1764 (extract)
  2. Composers Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Christian Bach, Karl Friedrich Abel and the King’s favourite composer, George Frideric Handel
  3. ibid 1. London, 28 May 1764 (extract)
  4. Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Gesamtausgabe. (Kassel 1962) Vol I. pp196, 198-9. British Library Shelfmark 07902.e.4.
  5. ibid 1, "Chelsea near London", 13 September 1764.

21 March 2018

Carry On to the Finland Station: The Russian Revolution in Music Hall Comedy

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Sid James and Kenneth Williams never got to play Lenin and Trotsky unfortunately, despite the latter often acting like the lead in a ‘Carry On’ film (see a previous post from our European Collections blog). However, the Russian Revolution did provide topical material for the kind of kitsch music hall performers who helped to inspire the series, leading to songs like ‘Bolsheviki-Trotski’, ‘The Bolshie Blues’ and ‘Let’s Knock the Bull out of the Bolsheviks’. Even George Formby senior, the father of the famous ukulele-playing troubadour, got in on the act with a song called ‘Bert the Bad Bolshevik’.

Performers drew on a specific range of themes – mocking the deposed Tsar and Tsarina for their perceived German sympathies (‘stuffing their faces with sauerkraut’), constant references to the rumours surrounding Rasputin, forced puns on Russian names (‘locked them up and threw away the Kerens-key’…), and above all the caricatured villainy of the Bolsheviks.

1fbc75380af9084636f250cc43624a41The ‘Lion Comique’ (1887) by Walter Sickert, from Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings (London, 2006) British Library Shelfmark LC.31.b.2771

Music Hall KickNicholasThe cover of the score for Cliff Hess, Sam M. Lewis & Joe Young, Everybody Took a Kick at Nicholas (New York, c.1917) British Library Shelfmark H.3993.rr.(24.)

R.P Weston and Bert Lee, the duo credited with composing the cockney national anthem ‘Knees up Mother Brown’, contributed to this genre with ‘The Bolshevik’ (1919):

I am a bold bad Bolshevik, to “bolsh” is my delight.
I’m busy “bolsh-ing” all the day, and then I “bolsh” at night.
I’m awfully good at murdering, and as I’m unemployed,
I’ve made a little list of those who’ve got to be destroyed.
… I’m going to kill our barber, I’d not much hair he said.
To make it grow he rubbed a lot of goose grease on my head.
Next day I’d grown some feathers, and I cackled and I cluck’d.
I never have my hair cut now, I have my feathers pluck’d!

Music Hall CoversLeft: R. P. Weston & Bert Lee, The Bolshevik (London, 1919). British Library Shelfmark H.3992.a.(8.) 
Right: Wynn Stanley & Andrew Allen, When I Get My Bolshevik Blood Up (London, c.1919). British Library Shelfmark H.3996.n.(64.)

Similarly, in Wynn Stanley and Andrew Allen’s ‘When I Get My Bolshevik Blood Up’ (c.1919), the performer describes his dreams of being a revolutionary, a creature of pure id, leading to various violent deeds and bawdy misadventures while sleepwalking:

I’ve joined the Bolsheviks, I’m thirsting for blood,
I’ll just tell you how it occurred.
They wanted a Trotsky to lead them in crime,
And my wild cowboy spirit was stirred,
The gang call me “Deathshead the Terrible Turk,”
‘Cos I’m such a devil-may care;
I’ve taken the vow,
There’ll be dirty work now,
And England had better beware
For when I get my Bolshevik blood up, there’s no crime too awful for me;
When I’m in a temper it’s true, I’d bite a banana in two;
They say I’m a born agitator
I’m stirring the whole neighbourhood up;
Of all deepdyed villains I’m really the worst,
For heartless destruction I’ve got such a thirst,
I’d blow up a baby’s balloon till it burst,
When I’ve got my Bolshevik blood up.
No woman is safe when I’ve had a small port,
They tremble whenever I’m near;
They say that my eyes are like Henry the Eighth’s,
I’ve ruined some homes without doubt,
I’m cruel I know,
But it just goes to show,
If it’s in you, it’s bound to come out.
And when I get my Bolshevik blood up,
Rasputin’s not in it with me;
When I use my mesmeric glance,
The women just fall in a trance;
Last night I’d to murder a Barmaid,
But her screams woke the whole neighbourhood up,
She fainted away as she sat on my knee,
Then my wife came up and she shouted with glee,
“If you call that murder come home and kill me
When you’ve got your Bolshevik blood up.”

The songs and ‘patter’ scripts are not exactly hilarious, at least outside of the context of a packed early 20th-century music hall. They do help to build an atmosphere of the popular culture of the time that we may miss when we focus on the ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, and imagine foreign observers either inspired or afraid.

Music Hall OldBedfordSickert’s ‘Gallery of the Old Bailey’ (1894-5) from Baron, Sickert

 By Mike Carey, Collaborative PhD student, University of Nottingham and British Library

  

References
The journal Music Hall Studies is available online at http://www.musichallstudies.co.uk
Richard Anthony Baker, British Music Hall: An Illustrated History (Stroud, 2005). British Library Shelfmark YC.2006.a.2290
Roy Busby, British Music Hall: An Illustrated Who’s Who from 1850 to the Present Day (London, 1976). British Library Shelfmark X.431/10288