Sound and vision blog

11 posts from August 2017

09 August 2017

Frederick Grinke and the sound of English music

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Fiona Richards, Senior Lecturer in Music at the Open University

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Gloucester Cathedral (Saffron Blaze [CC BY-SA 3.0] )

Evocative little photographs of 1956 show the violinist Frederick Grinke (1911–1987) alongside Vaughan Williams, rehearsing for a performance of The Lark Ascending in the marvellous acoustic space of Gloucester Cathedral. Grinke had a close and enduring relationship with Vaughan Williams and his music. He recorded the Violin Sonata and the Concerto Accademico as well as The Lark Ascending, and, along with David Martin, gave a performance of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor at the composer’s funeral. Grinke’s association with Vaughan Williams was not his only contribution to English music. He commissioned and premiered works from Arnold Bax to Edmund Rubbra, and was a champion of many other British composers such as William Walton.  Here is a short extract from Bax's Legend with Joseph Weingarten at the piano.

Bax Legend extract

Here is another short extract of Bax's Violin Concerto (1938) with Adrian Boult and the BBC Orchestra from a live broadcast of March 1945.

Bax Concerto extract

A lifelong lover of English music, I’ve always been drawn to its advocates. My early work on John Ireland led me to Grinke, who worked closely with that composer and recorded much of his chamber music. As a current Edison Fellow of the British Library, I’m delighted to have access to numerous recordings of Grinke, both as a soloist and as an orchestra player, and to have the huge pleasure of spending time listening to and analysing them. In particular, I’m looking to find ways of capturing Grinke’s distinctive sound and performance style in words.

So what is it that makes Grinke such a special and much-loved violinist? Listening to the surviving recordings of him as soloist and orchestral leader reveals an extraordinarily distinctive and intense tone quality. Reviews of his time as a student at the RAM saw Grinke commended countless times, whether it was for his ‘sweet, pure tone’ or his ability to lead a string quartet ‘with rare spirit’. Grinke was also a regular concerto soloist at the RAM, a performance of Brahms’s Concerto eliciting the comment that he showed ‘remarkably good tone, flexible and warm yet free from sentiment’. This sweet pure tone is perhaps what most distinguishes Grinke as a violinist, heard for example in this recording of the finale of Mozart’s Concerto No.5.

Born in Winnipeg, in 1927 Grinke was awarded a scholarship to leave Canada to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was one of the winners of the prestigious annual violin bow competition. One of the RAM’s stars from the outset, Grinke devoted his subsequent career to working as a soloist and chamber musician, and, for ten years, as an orchestral leader. As an ensemble player, he founded his own Grinke Piano Trio, with cellist Florence Hooton and pianist Kendall Taylor.

Grinke Trio

Grinke Trio (photo courtesy Paul Grinke)

His first significant professional role saw him playing for six years with the Kutcher Quartet, and indeed his work with this ensemble dominated his early career.

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Photo courtesy Paul Grinke

Grinke was also the longest serving and most distinguished leader of the Boyd Neel Orchestra. He took over as concert master in 1937 and remained in that role for 10 years. From the outset, the inexperienced but dedicated conductor Boyd Neel described the venture as a ‘communal effort’ to bring to a listening public a vast repertoire of music for strings which was at that time virtually unknown in the concert hall. Peter Pears, in his own tribute to this extraordinarily prolific and successful band of string players, described Neel’s real genius as attracting and keeping the right people: ‘They were a very good lot – Freddy Grinke, David Martin, Max Gilbert – all first class musicians, and devoted to him. They followed him like an eagle’. With this orchestra Grinke recorded solo parts in numerous works, including Bach’s ‘Brandenburg’ concertos and Handel’s concerti grossi, and I’ve been able to listen to his leadership of this band during my time as an Edison Fellow. Undoubtedly he brought to it an intensity of sound, and under his leadership it became one of the most distinctive small orchestras of the period. Vivacity, commitment and an emphasis on melody characterise so many of the orchestra’s recordings, such as the Abel Symphony in E flat recorded in 1940.

Abel Symphony

Zest, boldness, richness of sound are all features of the BNO under Grinke, playing either on his instrument by J. B. Rogerius of 1686, or on a 1718 Stradivarius loaned to him by the RAM.

During the Second World War Grinke was a member of the RAF Symphony Orchestra, playing alongside the members of the Griller Quartet, the Blechs and the Brains. David Martin, now Sgt Martin and married to Florence Hooton, was also a member. The orchestra toured the UK and played in National Gallery concerts. Grinke is seen below leaning on the piano.

RAF SO

Photo courtesy Paul Grinke

In 1947 the Boyd Neel Orchestra travelled to Australia and New Zealand. This eighteen-week tour was quite an undertaking. In 1947 the journey to Sydney by plane took 9 days, flying via San Francisco with a number of changes: Dublin-Shannon-Gander, Newfoundland-New York-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Honolulu-Canton Island-Fiji-Sydney. Advertisements for their tour appeared in newspapers in the autumn of 1946 and into 1947. There were concerts in many cities and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a number of these, including the opening event. This took place in Sydney Town Hall. The great critic Neville Cardus was in the audience and wrote a long, highly appreciate article. Cardus was equally besotted with the subsequent concerts, very taken with the discipline, unity and vitality of the orchestra, and particularly drawn to Grinke, ‘who always plays like a man possessed’. Of the leader’s lively appearance as soloist in Bach’s E major concerto he wrote:  ‘even the passages of rapid figuration were made melodious…we were given a Bach of free and creative energy, abounding in ideas and emotions…Such playing as Mr. Grinke’s has seldom been heard here; and the orchestral texture into which the solo was consummately woven was without a flaw’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1947, p. 6).

After his departure from the BNO, Grinke continued to work as a soloist and teacher. He had joined the staff at the RAM in 1939, and after considerable service to that institution was appointed Fellow there. In the early 1960s he also taught at the newly-formed Menuhin School. He coached the violins of the National Youth Orchestra and acted as judge at international competitions. He appeared many times as soloist at the Proms and was created a CBE in 1979. Grinke was not only an inspirational player and teacher, but also a family man.

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Photo courtesy Fiona Richards

Next to his wife Dorothy, he is buried in the church of St Mary, Thornham Parva, Suffolk, not far from his little cottage, Frog’s Hall, in the tiny hamlet of Braiseworth.

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Photo courtesy Fiona Richards

I’m looking forward in my writing to trying to do justice to this remarkable and much-loved musician.

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

07 August 2017

Recording of the week: Gay UK - falling in love with peace

This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

The Second World War saw women take on roles that they had not been expected to undertake before. Women moved from the home into factories, ship yards and pivotal roles in war administration. In one of the earliest recordings used in the British Library’s Gay UK exhibition, Mary Wilkins (born 1909) remembers her war experience and reflects on how it informed her identity.

Mary describes how her emotional feelings towards women developed during her childhood. She remembers making a promise to herself, while working as an ambulance driver during the Second World War, to join a peace organisation. She also describes listening to the pacifist and suffragist Sybil Morrison give a speech in Coventry and falling for her ‘hook, line and sinker’.

Mary Wilkins on falling in love_C456/066

This interview extract is part of the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive which is part of the British Library's Sound Archive. It is a collection of 113 oral history interviews relating to lesbian and gay experience in Britain, and, together with the Hall Carpenter physical archives held at London School of Economics, is one of the largest resources for studying gay activism in the UK. The British Library’s current Gay UK exhibition uses over a dozen oral history extracts from the Hall Carpenter collection to tell the varied stories of a broad range of gay people throughout the twentieth century.

GayUKWhatsOn

The Hall Carpenter Memorial Archive was established in 1982 and grew out of the Gay Monitoring & Archive Project, which collected evidence of discrimination and police arrests in the UK. The archives were named after lesbian author Marguerite Radclyffe Hall and writer and early gay rights activist Edward Carpenter. In 1985 the archives employed Margot Farnham to coordinate an oral history project documenting the life experiences of lesbians and gay men in Britain. Farnham worked with volunteers who located interviewees, carried out interviews, and helped produce documentation such as summaries and transcripts. In 1989, an anthology called ‘Inventing Ourselves – Lesbian Life Stories’ was published based on the interviews with lesbians.

HCALesbianCover

You can find out more about the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive and our other oral histories of sexuality in our collection guide.

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty is a free exhibition in the entrance hall at the British Library until 19 September 2017.

Follow @BL_OralHistory  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

03 August 2017

Tesco: an Oral History

Tesco: An Oral History provides a historical overview of how a company which started from a barrow in the East End of London became one of the most dominant retailers in the world. Over 200 hours of oral history from the National Life Stories project are now available on British Library Sounds.

TIN_composite1Front cover of The Tesco Story: From Barrow to Beijing CD, 2008 © Tesco plc

Thirty-nine in-depth interviews with employees from checkout to Chairman were collected between 2005 and 2007. In this first extract from the CD produced to celebrate the project in 2008, Shirley Porter remembers going to Petticoat Lane where her father Sir John Cohen (who was always known as Jack) had the stall that started it all.

These interviews are life-story recordings, covering all aspects of an individual’s life but with a focus on working life. The oldest interviewee was 82, the youngest 39; and some like Kevin Doherty had spent over forty years with Tesco.  The full 400 hours of recordings were archived with the British Library Sound Archive in 2007 and the archived recordings were used extensively in the book The Making of Tesco by Sarah Ryle. In this extract Mike Darnell remembers a tussle between Jack Cohen and Leslie Porter over a pair of underpants – which proved how well they were made!



Recordings were conducted by Niamh Dillon and Deborah Agulnik either at the interviewee's home, or often at their workplace. While several of those included were retired, the majority were still working and so had to manage the pressure of time against the interview process.  Each interviewee was selected collaboratively by National Life Stories staff and Tesco to cover the chronology of the company from its origins, and for their insights into particular developments.

1960s storeTesco store, 1960s, © Tesco plc

Special thanks must be given to each of the thirty-nine people who took part; often thinking it would take a few hours at most, only to find the tape recorder still running after 10 hours. In these extracts, David Malpas describes the changes in society which led to the growth of out-of-town stores, while Sir Terry Leahy explains the more recent shift towards the company stocking non-food ranges in these big stores.

This was a fascinating time to be recording a history of Tesco and we are fortunate to have had access to those who shaped that process.  Much has been written about Tesco, and many opinions expressed, particularly in the last twenty years, but this is the story told in the words of those who experienced it on the inside. These last two extracts show how Tesco worked at the store level. Lynda Walford remembers how she felt towards her manager when she started out as a cashier in Wales, while Joe Doody recounts how he became a manager thanks to some quick thinking and a very kind head cashier called Flo.

The extracts from the CD provide a quick introduction to the Tesco project and are now available in the Oral History Curator's Choice package while the full-length interviews can be found in the wider Food package. You can find out more about food oral histories more generally in our food industry collection guide.

Tesco: an Oral History forms part of the wider Food: From Source to Salespoint project, which charts the history of the food industry in Britain from the perspective of producers, manufacturers and retailers.  Over the last twenty years, this unique project has gathered life story recordings with people working at every level of the sector. Interviewees include those in the ready-meal, poultry, sugar, meat and fish sectors, employees of Northern Foods, Nestle, Unilever, Sainsbury and Safeway and key cookery writers and restaurateurs.