02 October 2018
The British Library has the pleasure of bringing you an exciting free educational resource providing unparalleled access to our music collection: Discovering Music.
Aimed at A level students, teachers, undergraduates and the general public, the site features manuscript and printed sources as well as recordings to support the study of particular music topics. The site also sheds light on the historical, political and cultural contexts in which key musical works were composed and musicians operated.
The first stage focuses on music from the early 20th century, while other periods will be explored in the future. This present web space highlights some of the Library’s most treasured collection items, in high-resolution digitised images, including manuscripts by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and others. In addition, the site features a rich range of contextual material, including letters, notebooks, illustrations, newspapers, photographs and other forms of ephemera.
The Second Viennese School: Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern
Mark Berry introduces the three composers labelled as key members of the ‘Second Viennese School’, each influential in his own way on musical modernism throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
Music and the creative process: Elgar’s Third Symphony
The composer Anthony Payne, who completed Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, describes Elgar’s compositional methods as seen in the surviving sketches for this work at the British Library.
Delius in performance
Joanna Bullivant explores how Delius’s compositions were brought to life by various interpreters. Did he give his performers enough information? How important are the contributions made by the famous musicians with whom he worked: the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, the pianists Theodor Szántó and Evlyn Howard-Jones, and the violinist May Harrison?
Folksong revival in the early 20th century
Eric Saylor surveys the social contexts and musical impact of the folksong revival in the early 20th century.
Ballet in Paris in the early 20th century
Jane Pritchard discusses the ballet companies and their artists who were active in Paris in the early 20th century.
British composers in the early 20th century
Jeremy Dibble gives an overview of British composers in the early 20th century and their context.
Delius, Paris, Grez
Lionel Carley explores Delius’s long association with France, and how the distinctive landscapes of Paris and Grez-sur-Loing inspired some of his most famous scores.
Exploring Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations
Julian Rushton discusses the early history of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations.
The use of the instruments of the orchestra
Lucy Walker surveys three orchestral masterpieces of the early 20th century.
Music and the First World War
Kate Kennedy examines the impact of the First World War on British composers and the music composed both during the war and in its aftermath.
Music and the Holocaust
Stephen Muir examines the impact of the Holocaust on musicians and musical life in Germany and Austria in the Second World War.
Music for film: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten
Music formed an important component of the propaganda and educational films produced during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. In this article, Nicholas Clark explores the film scores composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten between 1940 and 1948.
Music and the Russian Revolution
Pauline Fairclough discusses the impact of the Russian Revolution on Russian composers’ lives and careers.
Delius and America
Daniel M. Grimley explains the significance of America in Delius's life, music, and career.
Stravinsky and Neoclassicism
Stephen Walsh discusses Neoclassicism as a concept focussing on the music of Stravinsky who extensively used this compositional ‘attitude’ in his music.
The Society of Women Musicians
Sophie Fuller discusses the history of the Society of Women Musicians and some of its leading members.
Daniel M. Grimley examines Delius's compositional routine and looks at the processes involved in assembling a large-scale musical work.
Tonality in crisis? How harmony changed in the 20th century
Arnold Whittall explores changing approaches to harmony and the concept of tonality in early 20th-century music.
Vaughan Williams and The English Hymnal
Simon Wright explores the role of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in selecting and arranging the music for The English Hymnal.
These 19 articles are accompanied by three teaching resources to support the study of 20th-century classical music at GCSE and A Level.
Composition: learning from Delius and Elgar
Use Delius's and Elgar's sketches to develop compositional skills and understand their music.
Music and place: sacred music and folksong
Learn how English composers were inspired by folksong and ideas of the sacred.
Overturning tonality: into the 20th century
Explore new ways of composing in the early 20th century
10 July 2018
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
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.
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.
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.” 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.
 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
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
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
Mozart, 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!
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 cold”5. 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.
- Letter from Leopold Mozart to his merchant and friend, Johann Lorenz von Hagenauer. London, 25 April May 1764 (extract)
- Composers Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Christian Bach, Karl Friedrich Abel and the King’s favourite composer, George Frideric Handel
- ibid 1. London, 28 May 1764 (extract)
- Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Gesamtausgabe. (Kassel 1962) Vol I. pp196, 198-9. British Library Shelfmark 07902.e.4.
- ibid 1, "Chelsea near London", 13 September 1764.
21 March 2018
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.
The ‘Lion Comique’ (1887) by Walter Sickert, from Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings (London, 2006) British Library Shelfmark LC.31.b.2771
The 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!
Left: 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.
By Mike Carey, Collaborative PhD student, University of Nottingham and British Library
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
08 March 2018
Women’s day is of course, every single day and not just today. However let’s take this opportunity to briefly mention only a few of the many many great women composers represented in our Music Collections.
Ethel Smyth (b. 1858, d.1944) was an English composer and one of the leading figures of the Suffragette Movement. Against the wishes of her father, she went to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. Smyth composed in a wide range of formats: symphonies, operas, choral and chamber works. Her second opera Der Wald (1899–1901), whose manuscript is shown below, was premiered in 1902 in Berlin. The following year it was performed at the New York’s Met, remaining until 2016 the only opera by a woman to be staged there.
In 1910 Ethel Smyth put her music career aside to concentrate fully on the Suffragette Movement, spending two months in prison in 1912 for breaking the window of a politician that opposed women’s suffrage. Her composition The March of the Women became the anthem of women's suffrage movement.
Smyth, Ethel (1902), Der Wald. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 45938
Francesca Caccini (b. 1587 ,d. 1641) was an Italian composer, singer, music teacher and poet. Her opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina (c. 1625) was not only the first opera to be written by a woman, but it is also thought to have been the first opera to be staged outside of Italy. Pictured is the first edition, printed in Florence in 1625.
Caccini, Francesca(1625). La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina Firenze: Pietro Cecconcelli. British Library K.8.g.17.
Thea Musgrave (b.1928) is a Scottish-American composer whose career spans seventy years. She has written both vocal music (especially operas) and instrumental pieces. Her works are performed in major concert halls, festivals, and broadcast on the radio both in Europe and America.
Thea Musgrave studied composition with Hans Gal and Nadia Boulangier, among others. In 1970 she became a guest professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and has resided in the United States ever since. In 2008 the British Library acquired her archive and continues to acquire subsequent papers as they are completed.
Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (b.1665, d.1729) was French harpsichordist and composer. She was a child prodigy and played for Louis XIV at the age of five. Then she was accepted into the French court where she continued her musical studies before becoming a well known composer.
The item below is a 1644 edition of Céphale et Procris, an opera in five acts taken from the myth which appears in in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was staged in 1694 at the Académie Royale de Musique, a first for a French woman composer.
Jacquet de La Guerre, Elisabeth-Claude. (1644). Cephale et Procris, tragedie mise en musique. Paris: Christophe Ballard. British Library I.298.a.
British composer and violinist Ethel Barns (b. 1874 d.1948) studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Emile Sauret. In 1911 the Society of Women Musicians was conformed and she served on its first council.
Among her compositions is included her Violin Concerto, for which the manuscript of a piano and violin arrangement is at the British Library. The full orchestra concerto was performed in 1907 at a Promenade Concert with herself as the soloist.
Barns, Ethel (1904) Violin Concerto, reduction for piano and violin Manuscript. British Library Add MS 65038
The Benedictine abbess, writer, philosopher, composer (and of course, Saint) Hildegard de Bingen (b.1098, d.1179) was one of the most fascinating and multifaceted personalities of the High Middle Ages.
One of her musical compositions, the Ordo Virtutum (c.1511) is a 'morality play' which eschews biblical stories for the allegorical struggle of the human soul. This 1487 manuscript in our collection is a copy of this work, said to have been taken directly from a Manuscript in the hand of St Hildegard.
Saint Hildegard (1487), Liber Epistolarum Manuscript Copy. British Library Add MS 15102
Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886, d. 1979) was a British composer and violist best known for her chamber music works. She is considered one of the most important interwar female composers. Her setting of the motet Ave Maria, for unaccompanied women’s voices, was her first published choral work and its manuscript is in our music collections.
Clarke, Rebecca (1937?) ‘Ave Maria’, for unaccompanied women’s voices. Autograph Manuscript. British Library MS Mus. 1694 A
Germaine Tailleferre (b. 1892, d. 1983) was born Germaine Tailefesse although she changed her name as a young woman in defiance of her father, who was against her musical studies. She was a pupil of Ravel and became part of the denominated Group des six French modernist composers along Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud and Georges Auric.
The Royal Philharmonic Society Archive includes a manuscript copy with annotations by Tailleffere of the soprano vocal part of the The Cantate du Narcisse (1938), for soprano and baritone soloists, women’s chorus and orchestra. Unlike the Greek myth this work shows Narcissus insensitive to the charm of nymphs and lovers of his only reflection. The nymphs end up putting him to death.
Tailleferre, Germaine. Cantate du Narcisse. Manuscript copy with autograph annotations. British Library RPS MS 236
English composer Elisabeth Lutyens (b. 1906, d.1983) began her musical studies in 1922 at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, before accompanying her mother to India in 1923. Upon returning she studied with John Foulds and later continued her musical education from 1926 to 1930 at the Royal College of Music. Lutyens is credited to have brought the serial technique of Schoenberg the UK , although through a very particular personal interpretation.
The extensive catalogue of his work includes compositions in various fields: pieces for solo instrument, chamber music (including thirteen string quartets), works for orchestra and for the stage. She also wrote the music of twenty-two films, many of which for the Hammer Production Company. The British Library holds an important collection of her manuscripts, among which is the soundtrack for the horror film The Skull (1965).
Lutyens, Elisabeth (1965). The Skull. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 64762-64764
02 March 2018
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D op 61 is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the violin repertoire: a rite of passage for all violinists against which they measure their maturity as musicians. But the early life of the work was rather chequered, both before and after its premiere. Let’s have a brief overview to understand more:
In early 19th century Vienna, public performances of music looked very different. They were usually considerably longer than what we are used to today, often with more than one session featuring many works in each. For instance, on 22 December 1808 Beethoven premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, his Fourth Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy… and that was just half of the programme!
These types of performances were mostly single events like charity or benefit concerts organised by a musician to raise funds for his upkeep. A Great Musical Academy was then announced for 23 December 1806 for the benefit of the virtuoso violinist Franz Clement. This was the occasion on which Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was premiered.
The Violin Concerto shares that particular characteristic with other chef d’oeuvres in the sense that it was not appreciated as a masterpiece during the composer’s lifetime. A few weeks after the performance, the critic Johann Nepomuk Möse wrote on the Wiener Zeitung:
“With regard to Beethofen’s [sic] concerto, the opinion of all connoisseurs is the same: while they acknowledge that it contains some fine things, they agree that the continuity often seems to be completely disrupted, and that the endless repetitions of a few commonplace passages could easily lead to weariness. It is being said that Beethofen ought to make better use of his admittedly great talents....”1
One of the reasons that could explain this kind of reception lies in the process of composition, whose circumstances were far from ideal. This was perhaps reflected in the performance. Carl Czerny, a friend of the composer and celebrated musician himself, recounts that Beethoven finished the work barely two days before its premiere2. If this was the case the musicians wouldn’t have had enough time to prepare.
The myth tells us that Franz Clement, as the soloist, had to sight read his part during the premiere. Although this could have been partially true, particularly in the later passages of the concerto, in reality Clement would have seen much of the violin part before the concert, acting perhaps as an advisor to Beethoven. Another doubtful detail of the story says that Clement interrupted the performance of the Concerto between movements to show off his virtuoso skills. His motivation for this would have been to prove what he was capable of when able to rehearse a piece. As we can see above in the poster for the premiere this had been previously included in the programme, albeit with the same intention, as a ‘Sonata on a single string played with the violin upside down’.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61 Autograph Manuscript.. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
Only in November 1806, a few weeks before the premiere, did Beethoven start the first full scale writing down of the work in his autograph manuscript, which is part of the Music Collections of the Austrian National Library. There is a digital version which can be seen in full on their website.
The dedication to Clement contains a humorous pun pleading the violinist to show his clemency to the composer. Particularly in the last movement, we find signs of how hurried the creation of this masterpiece was.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f 104v. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
The violin part was written six staves from the bottom, under which we have the cellos (when they are not playing ‘col bassi’) and the double basses. The last three staves are left blank but interestingly in several passages they show alternative melodies for the violin. The variants in darker ink in seem to have been added after the premiere.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f.122. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
What was the immediate cause for these revisions? At least in part they were carried out because of a music publisher from London, eager to publish some of Beethoven works, took a somewhat tangential interest in the Violin Concerto.
The Italian-born English composer, pianist and music publisher Muzio Clementi met Beethoven in 1807 as a partner of the firm Clementi, Banger, Collard, Davis & Collard. He managed to obtain the English publishing rights of six works, among which was the Violin Concerto. Clementi was probably aware of its frosty reception the previous year and wanting to reap its commercial potential asked Beethoven to create a piano version. The composer obliged and an agreement was signed in April 1807.
Autograph manuscripts are often too messy for engravers to use as a reference against which to prepare the plates that produce a printed score. For that matter a copyist is employed to transcribe the work by hand from the original to a more legible document. We call this a manuscript copy. One such manuscript was prepared in mid-July 1807 for the first printed edition. The resulting document is held in the British Library, coming into our Music Collections almost 65 years ago as part of the Meyerstein Bequest. For the sake of clarity we’ll adopt Alan Tyson’s terminology and call this manuscript the ‘Meyerstein Copy’ from now on.
Rondo, bars 77-82. Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f 104. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
After it was completed, the Meyerstein Copy was returned to Beethoven who added corrections, mainly in pencil which were subsequently inked over by the engraver. There are several additions by Beethoven in characteristically Red Rottel, however not all of these are in the composer’s hand. Almost exclusively these rectifications concern expression, dynamics, phrasing and accidentals. No notes are modified by Beethoven. This makes evident that between both manuscripts there was at least one more document where both the solo violin (especially for the first and third movements) and its piano transcription took their final form. Since this document hasn’t survived the Meyerstein copy has the significant value of being the primary source for the solo parts of one of the most highly regarded Violin Concertos.
Beethoven’s skills at the piano are beyond dispute, but whether he was skilled at the violin is not well documented. As proposed above, it is plausible that a violinist would have advised him during the composition of the Violin Concerto. In the Meyerstein Copy there are signs of a similar collaboration. Franz Clement is, of course, a possible candidate. However, at the end of the Meyerstein Copy we find the message in French (not in Beethoven’s hand) “Pössinger Pressant [Urgent]”, perhaps a clue that the violinist and personal friend Franz Alexander Pössinger was also involved in these revisions.
A clear instance of a violinist’s advice in the final form of the solo part is evident on several long slurs –seemingly unplayable- which appear in the autograph manuscript. In the Meyerstein Copy these have been split into bar-long segments.
Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, ff. 11,11v. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538
It is through the composer’s association with another violinist, George Bridgetower, that the British Library Music Collections holds one of its most fascinating items: Beethoven’s tuning fork. You can read more about it in another post of this blog.
The business relationship with Clementi’s firm wasn’t the best: Beethoven didn’t receive payment for almost two years. War in Europe was partly to blame. The Violin Concerto and its piano arrangement were instead printed first by the Viennese publisher Bureau des Arts et de l'Industrie around 1808/1809.
One of the signs that the Meyerstein copy was used as the Stichvorlage (engraver’s copy) are the brackets in red crayon (not by Beethoven) that appear throughout the score. These mark the page ends of the printed parts of the first edition:
The Pianoforte staves with a number 23 bracket. Beethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, f.81v. Add MS 47851
Viennese first edition (piano arrangement). Beethoven, L, (1807) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. Piano part, p.23 Hirsch IV.301
A few mistakes that survived from the Meyerstein Copy through to the first edition provide evidence of the direct relationship between these documents. They also show that Beethoven and his collaborators weren’t the most diligent proof readers.
In bar 301 of the allegro, Beethoven adds the marking “Espressivo”. However the writing is not clear and the engraver understood sempre fortissimo, which is what was published in the first printed editions
A 1822 reprint of the Vienna first edition shows the mistake corrected. The image featured below is taken from a rather special score that belonged to Ferdinand David. He was a violinist who worked with Felix Mendelssohn in the composition of his own Violin Concerto. There are numerous bowing and fingering indications annotated in his handwriting throughout the score, reflecting performance practice of the mid-nineteenth century.
Another instance of not-so-careful proofreading appears in the second violin part of the first edition. If we look closely there is a 5/4 bar! Can you find it?
The Violin Concerto remained in relative obscurity until a crucial performance took place during the Philharmonic Society Concert on the 27 May 1844 in the Hanover Square Rooms in London, with the 13-year-old virtuoso Joseph Joachim making his debut as the soloist. The orchestra was conducted by no other than Felix Mendelssohn himself, who composed his own Violin Concerto in E minor op.64 shortly after his return from London.
By 1844, musical tastes had changed and audiences were more receptive to the scale and melodic qualities of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The tremendous success of Joachim’s performance steered the piece into the musical repertoire, helping it to be recognised as the masterpiece we consider it to be today.
Many thanks to Andrea Harrandt and Peter Prokop from the Austrian National Library for kindly granting us permission to feature images from the autograph manuscript on this blog post.
1. Wiener Theater-Zeitung, 8 January 1807
2. Carl Czerny, Pianoforte-Schule op.500, Part IV, p117
- Autograph Manuscript: Musiksammlung, Austrian National Library (Vienna) Shelfmark Mus.Hs.17538 MUS MAG
Available online: http://data.onb.ac.at/rep/10040AE1
- Meyerstein Copy: British Library Shelfmark Add MS 47851
Available online: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_47851
- Viennese first edition (Piano arrangement): British Library Shelfmark Hirsch IV.301
- London first edition (Orchestral parts only): British Library Shelfmark 383.a.(1.)
Tyson, A. (1962). The Text of Beethoven's Op. 61. Music & Letters, 43(2), 104-114. London : Oxford University Press British Library Shelfmark P.P.1946.bd.
Beethoven, L.; Clarke, R (ed) (2007). Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major = D-Dur : Op. 61 / London: Eulenburg. British Library Shelfmark: D.856.j./30
Beethoven, L, & Del Mar, J (ed). (2010). Konzert in D für Klavier und Orchester : Nach dem op. 61. Kassel: Bärenreiter. British Library Shelfmark h.383.vv./1-3
Stowell, R. (1998). Beethoven: Violin concerto (Cambridge music handbooks). Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. British Library Shelfmark YC.1999.a.2995
31 October 2017
Have you recently started a PhD in Music? Alternatively, are you Master's student thinking of going on to study at doctoral level? If so, the British Library's doctoral music open day on 8 December 2017 is for you.
The music collections at the British Library are unparalleled in their scope and diversity, providing a wealth of material to aid and inspire researchers and performers. The Library’s holdings of written musical sources (printed music and music manuscripts) and related literature (books, journals, concert programmes) encompass all genres and countries from the Middle Ages to the present day. Equally valuable for researchers is the rich body of private papers, correspondence, and business archives relating to composers, performing musicians, music publishers and performing institutions. Our sound and moving image collection is similarly extensive, covering commercial discs, pop videos and ethnographic field recordings from across the globe, as well as radio sessions, interviews, documentaries and live performances. These materials are relevant to students in music and many other disciplines.
With this amount of material on offer, it can be difficult to know where to start, which is where our open days come in.
Comments from last year include:
“The day was excellent and demystified the British Library. ”
“It was not just about the library but also gave me lots of ideas. Very inspiring. Thank you.”
“Not to belittle the excellent and useful sessions, but the (carrot) CAKES!!!!”
We look forward to seeing you there!
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