02 October 2018
Welcome to Discovering Music
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.
Claude 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:
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
21 March 2018
Carry On to the Finland Station: The Russian Revolution in Music Hall Comedy
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.
Sickert’s ‘Gallery of the Old Bailey’ (1894-5) from Baron, Sickert
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
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