08 November 2022
On 15 November 1950 the RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana) Third Programme broadcast I due timidi, an ‘opera radiofonica’ composed by Nino Rota to a libretto by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, for the first time. It had been commissioned by the Italian public broadcasting company, which aimed to create an original repertoire exclusively intended for radio. It was the beginning of a remarkable journey: over two decades the opera would be performed across different media, languages and cultures, ranging, with appropriate adjustments, from the darkness of radio to the limelight of the stage and television, constantly reshaping to adapt to new contexts, while keeping its own poetic, aesthetic, dramatic, and musical substance. This is indeed a fascinating story, with a relevant chapter unfolding in Britain during the 1950s, which documents preserved in the British Library allow us to reconstruct.
Nino Rota (1911-79) and Suso Cecchi d’Amico (1914– 2010) were invited to create a new opera for broadcasting in late 1949. They had been close friends since their youth, sharing from different sides the exciting adventure of Italian post-war cinema. Rota, a talented pupil of Ildebrando Pizzetti and Alfredo Casella, was successfully making his way as a composer of both classical and applied music, and was already known in England as the author of the score for films such as The Glass Mountain. Cecchi d’Amico, the daughter of eminent scholar Emilio Cecchi and painter Leonetta Pieraccini and the wife of the distinguished music critic Fedele d’Amico, was successfully making her way as a screenwriter, the co-author of the script for Vittorio De Sica’s film The Bicycle Thief.
Working together in perfect harmony, in a few months they conceived and created an original story that takes place over a single day in a lower middle-class apartment block in an unnamed city – a recurring setting in Italian movies at the time. A young man, Raimondo, and a young woman pianist, Mariuccia, who are in love with each other from a distance but have never met, have settled close to each other, hoping to be able one day to declare their mutual love. Raimondo lives in a boarding house held by a mature landlady, while Mariuccia resides in a modest flat with her mother, gracefully practising the piano to Raimondo’s delight. However, fate has different plans for them. An accident and a subsequent misunderstanding cause each of them to declare their love to the wrong person, which turns out to be fatal: both Raimondo and Mariuccia are too shy to express their true feelings in order to put right the difficult situation. In an elliptical, bittersweet finale, set two years later, we hear an exhausted pianist practising at night-time – it is Mariuccia, now the wife of an elderly doctor, mother of two kids - and an angry male voice: Raimondo, now the landlady’s husband and the landlord of the boarding house, who is manifestly annoyed by that disturbing noise.
I due timidi in the UK
I due timidi received a special mention at the Prix Italia 1950, where its immediate expressiveness and the fresh quality of its soundscape were greatly appreciated, including by delegates from the BBC. Within a few months the BBC Third Programme broadcast the Italian production of the opera and the operatic department at the BBC produced an English version, first aired on 5 March 1952, again on the Third Programme, under the title The two shy people. A few days later, on 17 March 1952, the opera received its world stage premiere at the Scala Theatre in London, a production of The London Opera Club in association with the Arts Council of Great Britain.
The intense British life of I due timidi during the 1950s is retraceable in detail from documents kept in a folder preserved at the British Library (MS Mus. 1743) presumably collected by David Harris, the BBC Opera Manager who was the producer of the opera’s BBC broadcast and the author of the English version of its libretto. The folder is rich in press cuttings related to the 1952 radio performance and to a new production, also curated by Harris and broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 1 April 1957, whose typewritten opening and closing announcements are preserved. The folder additionally contains a considerable number of reviews of the stage premiere, but no press cuttings referring to the BBC production of the opera for television, which adopted the English version by Harris and was first broadcast after his death, on 30 March 1961.
The vocal score
The core of the folder lies in the musical material. The vocal score of the opera, a diazotype copy of a non-authorial manuscript of the original version signed by Harris on the cover and by the whole cast of the 1952 production inside, has Rota’s autograph dedication to Harris inscribed on the front page. The playbill flyer of the stage premiere is pasted on the inside cover.
The score clearly testifies to the work undertaken to make the opera more intelligible to a British audience. The English translation is added in red ink in exact alignment with the Italian text and carefully notes slight alterations to the original version, such as the addition of a 25-bar prologue before the original opening (using the same music as the closing 25 bars of the opera) followed by a brief spoken description of the scene.
Recordings and UK revival
It is especially interesting to look at the musical material while listening to the recordings of the 1952 (Product note 1LL0011884-95) and 1957 (Product note 1LL0011487-1LL0011499) BBC broadcasts, which are kept in the Library and available for listening as audio files. There is still uncertainty over the exact identity of the recording of what seems to be a studio performance of the English piano version (Product note 1LL0012460-73, presumably dated 19 February 1961).
The documents as a whole prove to be an invaluable source to allow a close examination of the opera in its multiple versions and to integrate with the precious autograph material relating to the opera preserved in the Fondo Nino Rota at the Fondazione Cini, Venice.
I due timidi received its Italian stage premiere on 19 January 1971 at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari – a city in the South, where Rota was the director of the local Music Conservatory for almost 30 years. From that moment on, it was gradually included in the opera repertoire. Seventy years after the world stage premiere, the opera returns to the London stage, presented by the Guildhall School’s Opera Department at the Silk Theatre. We would like to imagine that Nino Rota, who had a special affection for London and was happy to have some of his operas staged by students in academic institutions, would be delighted to be together with his dearest friend Suso Cecchi d’Amico in the audience.
Prof. Angela Annese
Conservatory of Music “Niccolò Piccinni”, Bari
Pier Marco De Santi, La musica di Nino Rota (Roma-Bari, 1983).
[BL Shelfmark: General Reference Collection LB.31.b.4190]
Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Storie di cinema (e d’altro); raccontate a Margherita d’Amico (Milano, 1996; Milano, 2002).
Francesco Lombardi (ed.), Fra cinema e musica del Novecento: il caso Nino Rota (Firenze, 2000).
Veniero Rizzardi (ed.), L’undicesima musa: Nino Rota e i suoi media (Roma, 2001).
Richard Dyer, Nino Rota: Music, Film and Feeling (London, 2010).
[BL Shelfmark (2nd edition, 2019): General Reference Collection DRT ELD.DS.550948]
Francesco Lombardi (ed.), Nino Rota: un timido protagonista del Novecento musicale (Torino, 2012).
Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Suso a Lele: lettere (dicembre 1945 – marzo 1947), a cura di Silvia e Masolino d’Amico (Milano, 2016).
[BL Shelfmark: General Reference Collection YF.2019.a.15133]
Nino Rota: I due timidi (original radio production, 1950), Twilight Music TWI CD AS 06 27 (2006)
Nino Rota: La notte di un nevrastenico / I due timidi (live recording, Rieti, Teatro Vespasiano, 2017), Dynamic DVD 57830 (2018)
Nino Rota: La notte di un nevrastenico / I due timidi (live recording, Rieti, Teatro Vespasiano, 2017), Dynamic CDS7830.02 (2019)
07 March 2022
We are pleased to announce a number of new additions to our Music e-resources offer this year:
Medici.TV is a world-leading classical music channel, offering access to live performances and classical music programmes to viewers worldwide. More than 150 live events are broadcast each year, in partnership with the world's most prestigious venues, opera houses, festivals and competitions. Their platform also features over 3,000 programmes, including: concerts and archived historical concerts; operas; ballets; documentaries, artist portraits; educational programmes and masterclasses, which are available to stream in HD.
Medici.TV is currently available in our reading rooms and can be accessed via the Find Electronic Resources webpage.
RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals (Full text) and RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals (Full text)
RIPM (Répertoire international de la presse musicale) offers online access to thousands of European and North American music periodicals from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. This includes articles in music journals, daily newspapers, literary periodicals, theatrical journals, and magazines, constituting a remarkable documentary resource to music historians.
We now subscribe to the full-text versions of both RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals and RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals, which can both be accessed in our reading rooms via the Find Electronic Resources webpage.
Music Online: Classical Scores Library Volumes I-IV
This multivolume series contains more than 53,000 titles of the most important scores in classical music, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. More than 4,600 composers are included, from traditionally studied composers such as Mozart and Tchaikovsky to contemporary artists including Kaija Saariaho, Peter Maxwell-Davies, and John Tavener.
Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music
Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music is the first comprehensive online resource devoted to music research of all the world's peoples. More than 9,000 pages of material and 300 audio recordings, combined with entries by more than 700 expert contributors from all over the world, make this the most complete body of work focused on world music.
Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries
Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries is the largest and most comprehensive streaming audio collection of world music. With nearly 3,000 albums and more than 40,000 individual tracks of music, spoken word, and natural and human made sounds, this collection includes the published recordings owned by the non profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label together with the archival audio collections of the legendary Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels.
You can browse the full range of Music e-resources available in our reading rooms and/or remotely via the Find Electronic Resources webpage:
For any enquiries on how to access and use our e-resources please contact our Music or Sound & Vision Reference Teams.
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
28 April 2017
To celebrate her 70th birthday on 28 April 2017, we are taking a closer look at the career and influences of composer Nicola LeFanu, and highlighting two of her works held within the music manuscript collections at the British Library.
Photograph ©Michael Lynch
Nicola LeFanu was born in England in 1947 to librarian William LeFanu and composer Elizabeth Maconchy. She studied composition with Jeremy Dale Roberts, Alexander Goehr, Goffredo Petrassi, Humphrey Searle and Thea Musgrave. She has been most strongly influenced by her mother, her husband David Lumsdaine (also a composer), her first tutor Jeremy Dale Roberts and by Korean-American composer Earl Kim.
Her first large orchestral work, ‘The Hidden Landscape’, was commissioned by the BBC for the 1973 Proms. In an article for The Guardian, LeFanu describes the absorption required when composing for orchestra and the thrill of the first rehearsal when she heard the piece come to life exactly as she had imagined it in her head.
The British Library holds a dyeline copy of the composer’s manuscript score of this work, annotated by Norman Del Mar, who conducted the first performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 7 August 1973. With the score is a letter from LeFanu to Del Mar dated 10 December 1975 along with a list of her alterations. These were produced in preparation for a recording of the work in January 1976.
Nicola LeFanu: ‘The Hidden Landscape’. British Library MS Mus. 1820
One of LeFanu’s particular strengths is in writing dramatically for voice. Among the many works she has written for soprano is the 1981 monodrama ‘The Old Woman of Beare’, which is among her personal favourites. The libretto is based on a 9th- or 10th-century Irish poem about a courtesan woman who has entered a convent in her old age. Here she reflects on her life, her sexuality and her aging body.
The work is notable for its passion, the integration of sea and sexuality, the wide range of the vocal part and the instrumentation, which is like an orchestra in miniature. LeFanu deepens the passion of the poem by mixing the singing with spoken passages and by integrating imagery of the sea.
Nicola LeFanu, ‘The Old Woman of Beare’ for soprano and thirteen players
© 1984 Novello & Co.
Reproduced by permission of Novello & Company Limited
British Library E.1500.r.(3.)
After studying at Oxford and the Royal College of Music, LeFanu won the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1972 and was a Harkness Fellow at Harvard from 1973 to 1974. She was then Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1975 to 1977, followed by almost twenty years teaching at King’s College London. LeFanu became Professor of Music at the University of York in 1994, a post she held until 2008.
Nicola LeFanu is featured as ‘Composer of the Week’ on Radio 3 from 24 to 28 April 2017. Information about her works and recordings can be found on her website. Many of her scores and recordings are available at the British Library and some of her works can be heard on SoundCloud.
Photograph © Michael Lynch
Head of Content and Metadata Processing South (and former Curator of Music Manuscripts)
23 August 2016
The British Library's World and Traditional Music section supported ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, on a field trip to record music in Iraq-Kurdistan over June/July 2016. This is his report.
It is hot. No, it is extremely hot. Today the temperature is 45° Celsius; the air is bone-dry, no trace of wind. I am in Sulaimani, the second urban centre in Iraq-Kurdistan. This part of Iraq belongs to the Kurds and is de-facto an independent state run by a Kurdish government.
Traditional singers and musicians have gathered in the Zardosht Café. Zardosht is the Kurdish term for Zoroastrianism, an age-old religion known in the wider region. Since the coming of the Islamic period, it has become a minority religion, often frowned upon. These days the Zardosht belief is making a kind of come-back. Here in Kurdistan the faith is essentially Kurdish and promotes traditional folk music.
Listen Zardosht Cafe Group
The group starts to play: The zarab (goblet drum) player provides rhythm while the Korg keyboardist adds harmonies and melodic phrases. Occasionally the saz (plucked lute) virtuoso contributes drone and melodic sounds. But the musical highlight is the charismatic lead-singer Ata Azizy; he alternates – or even competes – with the balaban player, Jowanro, in expressing intricate melodic lines. A balaban is a traditional single-reed wood instrument; it is very similar to the Armenian duduk. Its sound is soothing and exciting at the same time. Their way of singing and playing, including the guttural stops, is possibly what makes the music “typically” Kurdish.
With the support of the British Library's World and Traditional Music section, I was able to visit Iraq-Kurdistan and record traditional music during live events and in pre-arranged recording sessions. I was curious: how does a new country treats its rich traditional music culture?
I stay for the ‘after-party’ at the Zorgasth Café. Here the singer, Rafat Germiany, and the same balaban player perform howrama. Though this musical genre is remotely connected to Zoroastrianism, it is known as a typical Kurdish vocal style. The voice and the wind-instrument alternate again.
Listen Zardosht Cafe Howrama group
For me the most remarkable thing is the large, mainly young crowd (only men). They watch the performance with increasing anticipation. It shows that the music is still meaningful to a younger audience and therefore has a future. One participant told me that this café was the only public space where a female singer was allowed to perform these days.
Everybody mentions the traditional vocal style called heiran from the Erbil region, Erbil being the country’s capital and the other urban centre. Mr Delzar, a friend, invites me to his home village far from Erbil, just below the Qarachokh mountain range. Today his ‘village’ consists of several farm-houses managed on a part-time basis and re-created only recently. The original Kurdish villages of this region were destroyed by Iraqi troops, the last time by Saddam Hussain in 1988. Only in the last few years – the region was only recently secured by the Peshmerga (Kurdish liberation army) – have some of the original villagers and their descendants come back to farm again.
A seasoned Kurd arrives at Mr Delzar’s farm-house and immediately starts singing. Mr Mahyadin Sherwani is a farmer and self-taught heiran singer. He explains to me that the songs of the heiran genre describe the rugged countryside of Kurdistan and its people.
I first experienced traditional Kurdish vocal music many years back in the Kurdish region of eastern Turkey. I listened to the always slightly over-amplified and highly reverberated recordings from cassettes played on the crackling PA-system of a local bus. There, listening to this music and viewing the hills flying past, I imagined how this music was born in the Kurdish countryside. I have the same feeling today, listening to this talented singer in this Iraq-Kurdistan village.
I have already mentioned the saz. During my last week in Iraq-Kurdistan I was invited to a performance in the heart of Erbil of the saz player and musical instrument shop owner, Bakr Sazvan. He has his shop just below the ancient citadel set on a mound towering over the city. He played a number of electrifying pieces, setting his business aside for a full hour.
The saz is a pear-shaped plucked instrument, with five or six strings organised in three courses. For the Kurds the saz is an essentially Kurdish instrument though it is also used by Turkish and Iranian musicians.
Especially intriguing is how Bakr Sazvan plays, combining melodic phrases played on the higher pitched strings, and striking the lower pitched strings in order to create the accompanying drone sound.
As I pack my bags for the return journey to London I ponder about Kurdish traditional music: in comparison with many other regions of the world I’ve visited, the music of the Kurds is still alive and kicking! As these people are very keen to demonstrate traditional music and to preserve their culture, they invited me to come again for a much longer stay. I happily accepted.
(with thanks to the musicians, interpreters, fixers and friends who assisted on the trip)
The recordings made during this project will be added to the Rolf Killius Collection (C815). Some of Rolf's recordings from rural India are online on BL Sounds.
03 June 2016
As part of an AHRC Cultural Engagement project grant awarded to City University and partially funded by the National Folk Music Fund, ethnomusicologist Andrew Pace, has engaged in a project to catalogue thousands of paper and photographic files from Peter Kennedy’s collection of British and Irish folk music held at the British Library.
This month we have launched a unique website - www.peterkennedyarchive.org - in which listeners can retrace the chronology and geographical routes of Kennedy's extensive field recording activity. In the text below, Andrew describes the project and walks us through the website's main features.
Peter Kennedy was one of the most prolific collectors of British and Irish folk music and customs from the 1950s up until his death in 2006. Working closely with other collectors of his generation, such as Alan Lomax, Sean O’Boyle and Hamish Henderson, he recorded hundreds of traditional performers ‘in the field’, including Margaret Barry, Fred Jordan, Paddy Tunney, Harry Cox, Frank and Francis McPeake and Jack Armstrong. In 2008 his collection came under the care of the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library.
I’ve been working on Peter’s sizeable collection periodically since 2010, cataloguing thousands of audio tapes and photographs of traditional performers and uploading some of this material to Sounds. In fact, just this month an additional 500 photographs and 70 audio recordings from Peter’s collection have been added to the existing collection available online.
However, Peter’s paper files, comprising song texts, scores, contracts, draft manuscripts and a large amount of correspondence between himself and performers, collectors, institutions and enquirers, hadn’t been catalogued. This is the task that I’ve been undertaking since January. All of these papers will be uploaded to the Library’s catalogue in due course.
Amongst these papers I discovered 31 reports written by Peter for the BBC’s ‘Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme’, a project on which he was working during the 1950s. Across 180 typewritten pages, Peter describes his daily itinerary recording traditional performers around the UK and Ireland between 1952 and 1962. Full of anecdotes and insightful information about the musicians he recorded - including confirmation of when and where he recorded them - these documents reveal a great deal about Peter’s fieldwork during this period.
I decided to use these reports as the basis for a new website which brings these narratives together with all of the audio recordings and photographs from Peter’s collection that have been digitised so far: www.peterkennedyarchive.org.
These reports feature ‘hotspots’ placed over the names of the more than 650 musicians that Peter recorded during these trips. Clicking on the name of a performer reveals any sound recordings or photographs taken of them by Peter on that particular day that are available to view and listen to on Sounds. Additionally, links to entries in the British Library’s catalogue are provided for any related material that hasn’t yet been digitised, such as Peter’s tapes or BBC transcription discs.
What makes this website unique is the way it contextualises recordings and photographs of performers with Peter’s own notes about them. Whilst the British Library’s catalogue is useful as a search tool, it doesn’t reveal how a collection was formed and developed – and it doesn’t tell us very much about who created it. This new website gives us a better idea of what’s in this collection by refocusing attention on Peter as a recordist and reconstituting his material into a form that better resembles how he created it.
I hope www.peterkennedyarchive.org will prove useful to researchers and musicians alike and encourage more people to explore Peter’s collection at the British Library. As more of his field recordings are digitised and attached to the site, it should become an increasingly valuable resource
- Andrew Pace
Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.
07 March 2016
On the 7th March 2016 ‘Time upon Time’, an exhibition of field recordings from Bengal curated by The Travelling Archive, opens at the Nandan Gallery in Santiniketan. The exhibition focuses on the work of the ethnomusicologist Arnold Adriaan Bake (British Library collection C52), and includes materials from the archives of the British Library, alongside materials from the University of Leiden, ARCE, Rabindra Bhavan, Visva Bharati and the private collections and field recordings of The Travelling Archive.
Moushumi Bhowmik describes the exhibition in this guest blog:
In the early twentieth century, a time when the discipline of ethnomusicology was still in its infancy, Arnold Bake (1899-1963) was among the first of the researcher-collectors who found their way to South Asia. Trained in Sanskrit and Indology at the Dutch universities of Leiden and Utrecht, Bake took up residency at Santiniketan in 1925 in order to study Damodar Misra’sSangitadarpana for his doctoral research. In addition, his love for folk music led him to making recordings of the folk music of Bengal, of which the baul and kirtan traditions in particular appealed to him. Furthermore, Bake worked closely with Rabindranath Tagore, in an attempt to study, collect, preserve, and distribute his songs and poetry. Between 1925 and 1956, Bake lived for extended periods of time in the Indian sub-continent, the first decade mostly in and around Bengal; he also travelled widely and made extensive recordings of music and dance from across many other parts India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Bake’s work very much constitutes the creation of an archive. The Travelling Archive, a project created by singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik and sound recordist Sukanta Majumdar involving field recording in Bengal and its dissemination, first encountered Arnold Bake’s recordings in the archives of the British Library in 2003, and have remained connected to his work ever since. ‘Time upon Time’, an exhibition of field recordings from Bengal, explores the nature and depth of this connection. There are large overlaps between Arnold Bake and The Travelling Archive’s areas of work, both from a topographical and an archival perspective. This exhibition is an attempt to unravel the threads of archival material to demonstrate how past, present and future are intertwined.
The exhibition also draws attention to the future of archiving by commenting on the very concept of the archive. With support of the IFA through their Archival and Museum Fellowship, and a Scaliger Fellowship from Leiden University, the exhibition explores resources from several archives within India and abroad, including British Library, ARCE-AIIS, SOAS and Rabindra Bhavan. In so doing, the exhibition strives to layer archive upon archive as a way to examine the way archives are constructed. Furthermore, by employing the language of art, this exhibition is also a venture into some of the ways in which archival material can be used and interpreted. Finally, this exhibition is not only about Arnold Bake but also about the time in which he lived, people who surrounded him, their sounds, and silences, too. It is also about this present time when we are trying to listen to him and, in him, listen to the ‘future of our past’.
Thus, ‘Time upon Time’ is meant to be an interactive experience of a work in progress. The Travelling Archive is interested in studying sound and image as historical material. Seeing and listening can trigger memory and thus lead to the further unravelling of history. Therefore, visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to contribute their own memories and experiences to The Travelling Archive. Words, voices, sounds, images, and other contributions will be recorded on site by The Travelling Archive in their ‘studio’ set up within the space of the exhibition.
7-15 March 2016. Nandan gallery, Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. (Closed on Wednesday and Thursday)
The event opens with a presentation by Tagore singer Chitralekha Chowwhdury, recorded by Arnold Bake in 1956.
Recording reference: C52/NEP/70
For further information please visit: www.travelling archive.org
01 July 2015
The British Library is celebrating 30 years of collaboration with WOMAD.
The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD is nearly as long as the festival's existence. Since 1985, missing only 3 years, we have been present at WOMAD's major annual summer event in the UK. Each year a small team of staff from the Library has spent an enjoyable weekend making documentary recordings of as many of the performances as possible. We try to cover all the stages and often record artists several times as they deliver different performances, including workshops and interviews, over the weekend. The concentration in one place of so many diverse and talented musicians allows us to document musical traditions from around the world right here on our doorstep. And it's not just a case of keeping a record of each performance for listening at the archive, but also a way of documenting for the long term a significant event on the ‘world music’ scene.
The British Library now has recordings of a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since their appearance at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal (first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991), Thomas Mapfumo (1990) and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1985), to cite only a few.
Our first WOMAD recording (on 20 July 1985 at Mersea Island, near Colchester) was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country.
In total we hold over 2000 hours of music recorded at WOMAD, backed up digitally for preservation and onsite access.
WOMAD is the only music festival that has this incredible relationship with the British Library, and to celebrate we are collaborating to offer one lucky winner a pair of tickets to this year’s festival at Charlton Park (24th-26th July) and an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the British Library Sound Archive in London for four people. For more information click here.
Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme
Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad
Music blog recent posts
- Nino Rota’s I due timidi - an opera for radio transmission
- New Music E-resources
- Welcome to Discovering Music
- Nicola LeFanu at 70
- Passionate music from a hot country: a musical visit to Iraq-Kurdistan
- Peter Kennedy Archive
- Once upon a time in Bengal....
- The British Library at WOMAD
- Musical Journeys to Oman, Qatar and Kuwait
- Directory of UK Music Sound Collections