24 October 2018
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.
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.
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!
11 April 2017
Imogen Holst, who was born on 12 April 1907, is well-known, among her many accomplishments, for her folk-song and folk-dance arrangements. Many of these published volumes, written for a variety of educational and recreational purposes, are available in the printed music collections here at the British Library.
Recently, however, we have come across a collection of Imogen Holst's folk-dance arrangements in her own hand which never made it into print. The manuscript, along with related correspondence, is contained within our recently-acquired Boosey & Hawkes archive, and gives further insight into Imogen Holst’s editorial approach to folk-song and dance, as well as her tireless commitment to the promotion of British music.
Newly-discovered Imogen Holst folk-dance arrangements in the British Library Boosey & Hawkes Archive. Reproduced with permission of the Holst Foundation
In June 1944, while she was busy running the music course at Dartington Hall, Imogen Holst received an invitation from the music publisher Boosey & Hawkes to edit and arrange two volumes of British folk-songs and dances for piano. She accepted with enthusiasm - ‘I cannot tell you what pleasure your suggestion gave me’ - and within 6 weeks had completed the manuscripts for both volumes.
The intention of Boosey & Hawkes was to promote the works internationally, capitalizing on pro-British sentiments in countries ‘where everything British will be much more appreciated after the war’. Imogen Holst replied that this was ‘a practical piece of internationalism that appeals to me very strongly’. Proofs for the first volume of folk-songs, complete with French and Spanish (but notably, not German) translations, were ready by January 1945, and publication followed in 1947.
However, the second volume of folk-dances remained in manuscript form. Languishing in the Boosey & Hawkes archive ever since, it contains piano arrangements for around 35 folk-dances from around the British Isles, along with handwritten introductions to both volumes. Imogen Holst had clear ideas about how folk-song and dance should be presented and was assertive about these in her correspondence with the company: ‘I feel very strongly indeed that most editions of traditional tunes are cluttered up with a lot of “expression” marks which might be all right in elaborate “composed” music of the 19th and 20th centuries but which are hopelessly out of place in simple tunes that sing themselves’.
Her keen stylistic sense, along with her understanding of traditional dance forms, also comes across in the introduction to the folk dances: ‘In the following piano arrangements the left hand has to supply the light, rhythmical accompaniment of the missing drum. Instead of providing solid harmonies it must let in the air between each rise and fall of the phrase, lifting the imaginary dancers off their feet’.
The related correspondence in the Boosey & Hawkes archive does not indicate why this second volume was never published. In 1951 Imogen Holst returned the volumes of folk-songs loaned to her by the publisher for the purposes of the project and a rather formal reply from Dr Rosen denied all knowledge of the current state of play regarding her work. By then Imogen Holst was set to leave Dartington and, after a period of travel in India, would soon become assistant to Benjamin Britten. Her subsequent dealings with Boosey & Hawkes were mostly concerned with this new creative partnership.
Emma Greenwood, Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer, British Library
Imogen Holst, composer, conductor, writer, and administrator, was born on 12 April 1907 and died at Aldeburgh on 9 March 1984. Her archive is held at the Britten-Pears Library and has recently been catalogued as part of the Holst Archive Project. Please note that cataloguing of the Boosey & Hawkes archive at the British Library is ongoing and that access to the archive is limited until the project is complete.
22 February 2017
Earlier this month, British Library staff held a special open day aimed at doctoral music students.
Attendees at the 2017 music open day browsing music manuscripts with Head of Music Collections, Richard Chesser
If you're a doctoral music student and missed the open day, or if you are new to music research at the British Library, help is still at hand. Our presentations on digital research support at the British Library and on digital musicology can be accessed below.
In addition, there's a wealth of information on the various music sources available at the British Library on our music subject page. You can also ask the music enquiries team or browse the library experts page for further advice.
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.
Rolf Killius (firstname.lastname@example.org and www.rolfkillius.com) 09/08/2016
(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
- Music Doctoral Open Day - 4 December 2018
- Music Open Day 8 December 2017
- New folk-dance arrangements discovered
- Introducing British Library Music Collections
- 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