Sound and vision blog

4 posts from September 2022

26 September 2022

Recording of the week: Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

This week’s post comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

Photo of Mahatma Gandhi in 1931

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (‘Great-souled’) Gandhi, led India’s campaign to rid itself of British rule.

In October 1931, during his fifth and final visit to London, Gandhi was invited by the Columbia Gramophone Company to make a record.

Columbia LBE 50 disc label

He declined to speak about politics but offered instead to speak on spiritual matters, in particular Hinduism, which he said was ‘the religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me’.

Listen to the voice of Gandhi

Download Gandhi transcript

Gandhi’s talk had appeared previously in print, in slightly longer form, in his weekly journal Young India (Vol. X, No. 41, Thursday, 11 October 1928) under the title ‘God Is’.

20 September 2022

Recording of the week: The Rite of Spring

This week’s post comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Photo of Columbia LX 119 disc label

The following post is inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s famous work, The Rite of Spring. The audio featured below is an excerpt from a 12” 78 rpm disc from our archive, released on Columbia Records in 1929. Stravinksy himself conducts the Symphonic Orchestra of Paris.

I was drawn to this recording after recently going to see a revival of Pina Bausch’s 1975 staging of The Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. This was performed by a company of dancers from African countries.

Pina Bausch (1940-2009) was a German dancer and choreographer who was enormously influential in the fields of dance and performance. She worked in the tradition of ‘Tanztheater’ (literally ‘dance theatre’), which marries many different creative skills.

The performance was not very long; it ran for about 45 minutes with no interval. While I was watching it, I kept thinking about the meaning of the title, and its association with the spectacle I was seeing. I found I was often unsure of what exactly I was looking at or whether there was an explicit plotline to follow. It looked to me like a metaphor of seasons passing, of a romantic relationship, but mostly, of an emotional battle framed through an erotically charged dance performance.

The colour red was used throughout the production. Red is the colour of tension, of a bullfight, or, perhaps, of sensual attraction. The pure aesthetic of the movements, and their role in narrating the plot, are probably the things I remember the most. The whole performance revolves around the intrinsic, entangled relationship between two disciplines: theatre and dance.

Ultimately, Bausch’s choreography tells a story of sacrifice. The woman with the red dress is hunted to death by the other men and women on stage.

There is a pervasive emotional tension that is difficult to evade. Whilst the recording we are posting today is not the version used in the stage performance, it relays that said emotional tension, which connects the two works of Bausch and Stravinsky.

Listen to The Rite of Spring (excerpt)

Pina Bausch’s legacy resides in her conception of a new language of dance. She is remembered as one of the most innovative choreographers of all times. Since her death in 2009, her works continue to be performed around the world. It is a testament to Bausch’s interpretative abilities that her choreography for The Rite of Spring continues to reach new audiences, spanning several decades and several continents in the process.

12 September 2022

Recording of the week: Childhood memories of D. H. Lawrence

This week’s post comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer, Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photo of D H Lawrence in 1912

One of the most exciting things about exploring the sound archive is all the unexpected things you stumble across. While researching the Nottinghamshire dialect, I listened to this recording of Mr Arthur Sharpe (British Library reference: C707/190).

Arthur Sharpe was a Co-op grocery manager, recorded for an oral history project in 1971. The Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 project made recordings of speakers from a range of backgrounds talking about their memories from the late 19th and early 20th century.

Most of the interviews in the collection follow the same structure: with questions about parents, home life, school and employment. They provide a lot of insight into life at the time, plus plenty of linguistic interest too. However, on the final tape with Mr Sharpe the interviewer goes off-topic to ask him directly about something alluded to in some of his earlier answers: how did you know D. H. Lawrence?

What follows is a personal description of his connections with the Lawrence family, with D. H. Lawrence being his close neighbour and sometime teacher. In the clip you can hear Arthur’s anecdote about a disagreement with a schoolmate, which D. H. Lawrence calmly resolved.

Listen to Arthur Sharpe

Download Arthur Sharpe transcript

Somewhat sadly, recordings of this kind are as close as we are going to get in terms of audio documentation of D. H. Lawrence himself. Despite his living well into the era of recorded sound, it seems there are no extant recordings of his voice.

The Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 collection - often known as ‘The Edwardians’ - was a pioneering project co-ordinated by Paul Thompson, Thea Thompson (who also published as Thea Vigne) and Trevor Lummis at the University of Essex.

Over 500 audio interviews were conducted across all of the UK with people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and occupations. The collection provided the source material for Paul Thompson’s 1975 classic book The Edwardians: the Remaking of British Society, and Paul then became one of the pioneers of oral history both in the UK and internationally.

All of the recordings in this collection are available at the British Library, and transcripts can also be consulted at the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex.

The Spoken English and Oral History archives are full of ordinary people telling their extraordinary stories - so I look forward to discovering and sharing more hidden gems in the future!

05 September 2022

Recording of the week: Oskar Nedbal (1874-1930)

This week’s post comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Photo of the Czech Quartet

Above: The Bohemian Quartet in 1895. Left to right: Karel Hoffmann (1st violinist); Hanuš Wihan (violoncellist); Oskar Nedbal (violist); and Josef Suk (2nd violinist). Photographer unknown.

A name rarely heard today, Oskar Nedbal was a talented musician who excelled in many areas of musical life. He first focused on the violin at the Prague Conservatory from 1885 to 1892, where he also studied composition with Dvořák, before moving to viola. He was the founder member and violist in the Bohemian (later Czech) Quartet where Josef Suk was the second violin.

The Bohemian Quartet raised the standards of quartet playing to an international level and Nedbal sometimes played the piano in the group. They first performed in London in 1897 and upon their return a year later were described by one critic as ‘beyond all praise’. However, Nedbal had to leave the Quartet in 1906 as he apparently absconded with the wife of the first violinist Karel Hoffmann.

Nedbal was also a conductor of repute and from 1896 to 1906 was one of the first conductors of the famous Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He became renowned outside of his homeland, touring as a guest conductor.

Photo of Oskar Nedbal

Above: Oskar Nedbal, 1901. Portrait by Šechtl and Voseček studios. From Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Rendered here in b&w rather than RGB colour.

In addition to his instrumental and conducting activities, Nedbal was a popular composer and many of his operettas and ballets written before the First World War met with great success not only in Vienna and Berlin, but throughout the world. At the 1898 London concert mentioned above, Hoffmann and Ilona Eibenschütz played Nedbal’s Violin Sonata. His orchestral works continued to be performed in London in the early years of the twentieth century.

Nedbal settled in Vienna in 1907 where he founded the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester. He made two sides with them for Deutsche Grammophon in 1910. He also recorded as a solo violist in the same year. A few years later, around 1913, he made four more recordings with the Tonkünstler-Orchester for the Anker label including the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. He also recorded two waltzes by Johann Strauss, one of which, Wiener Blut, you can hear below.

Photo of Anker disc label

Listen to Wiener Blut

Nedbal returned to Prague in the early 1920s after the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic but his style of composition was viewed as dated and out of fashion. He continued to visit London, conducting the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, accompanying violinist Jan Kubelik in 1921.

During the 1920s, Nedbal was Head of Opera at the Slovak National Theatre and worked for Radio Bratislava. Unfortunately, he fell into financial difficulties and committed suicide by jumping out of a window of the Zagreb Opera House in 1930.