THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

12 posts categorized "Americas"

05 November 2018

Recording of the week: the song of the Montezuma Oropendola

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This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds. 

The sound archive is home to over 250,000 wildlife recordings from all over the world. Over 100,000 of these are recordings of birds. As a curator it’s impossible to have a favourite when surrounded by so many choice examples, however I do find myself returning to certain recordings time and time again.

One of my ultimate favourites is the song of the Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma). This central American songbird inhabits lowland forests and plantations from Mexico to Panama. Individuals congregate in basket-like nests which hang down from the canopy like baubles on a Christmas tree. The male song is an increasingly excitable stream of gurgling notes, produced as part of an acrobatic mating display. Male birds deliver their song from a favoured perch while flipping upside down and waving their tail feathers in the air. Some have been known to get so carried away that they've actually fallen off of their perch. Embarrassing. 

The following song was recorded in Heredia Province, Costa Rica on the 2nd March 1985 by Richard Ranft.

Montezuma Oropendola song (BL reference 15868) 


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Photo credit: J. Amorin on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, this recording has been digitised and preserved for the nation as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. And if you'd like to hear more weird and wonderful wildlife sounds, pay a visit to the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds

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

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

15 October 2018

Recording of the week: Montserrat Volcano Observatory

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This week's selection comes from Emme Ledgerwood, Collaborative Doctoral Award student with the British Library's Oral History department and Leicester University.

“I think great science comes from this natural curiosity”

This recording for #EarthScienceWeek comes from Stephen Sparks, a volcanologist who describes how the Montserrat Volcano Observatory advised the government of Monserrat during the eruption of the island’s volcano in 1995. In this clip he reflects on the relationship between science, policy and decision-making, and the value of curiosity-driven science when providing scientific advice.

Stephen Sparks: the social benefits of volcanography (C1379/89) 

021I-C1379X0089XX-0003A1

This clip is featured on the Voices of Science website. The website draws clips from the National Life Stories Oral History of British Science project which includes over 100 life story interviews with scientists and engineers.

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

11 September 2018

Stephen Farthing's memories of 9/11

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Cathy Courtney, Project Director and interviewer for Artists' Lives writes about her interview with Stephen Farthing and his memories of 9/11.

Painter Stephen Farthing was recorded for National Life Stories’ oral history project, Artists’ Lives. Because the recordings are life stories, they set each person’s career within a biographical account and capture a great variety of material, often of broad social history significance.

Stephen_FarthingStephen Farthing (Sourced from Wikipedia)

Here, Stephen recalls being in Manhattan on September 11 2001, the day New York’s World Trade Towers were hit by the two planes hijacked by terrorists, causing the towers to collapse with terrible loss of life.

Stephen’s account captures the shock of the attack but also an initial reflex attempt to carry on with the business of the day as if nothing had happened. It contrasts with the way many people worldwide watched the news unfold. Through extracts from the recording, one senses the need for those nearby to take time to understand what had happened.

In September 2001, Stephen was Executive Director of the New York Academy of Art. On September 11, he and a colleague were using rooms in a bank (MBNA) on New York’s 57th street to interview candidates for a job at the Academy.

Stephen Farthing describes the day of September 11 2001 (C466/298/37)

A later extract captures the first gathering of the New York Academy of Art students after the attack.

Stephen Farthing describes the first gathering of students after 9/11 (C466/298/36)

A local detail from Stephen’s recording illustrates how Manhattan was changed by the 9/11 attacks and the later financial crisis.

Stephen Farthing describes New York City after 9/11 (C466/298/37)

This recording is from Stephen Farthing's interview in the Artists' Lives collection. Artists' Lives is an ongoing National Life Stories project to document the lives of individuals involved in British art, including painters, sculptors, curators, dealers and critics. Full life story interviews from the collection can be listened to online at British Library Sounds.

03 September 2018

Recording of the week: adrift on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean

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This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940) was a British physician, medical missionary and humanitarian, who worked on the Newfoundland and Labrador coast, Canada for over forty years.

In 1908, on his way to operate on a child, he travelled from St Anthony on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula on a sledge drawn by dogs, and found himself stranded overnight on an ice floe drifting in the Arctic Ocean. He survived this potentially fatal mishap and was rescued the next day.

Grenfell_DrSir Wilfred Grenfell, his sledge dogs and the bronze tablet at St Anthony Hospital he had made to commemorate the dogs that saved his life. (Images from the 1910 edition of Adrift on an Ice-Pan. Shelfmark: 10460.cc.20.)

Grenfell wrote a short book narrating his near-death experience entitled Adrift on an Ice-Pan (1909) which is now in the public domain. It’s an interesting read illustrated with photographs of him and his sledge dogs, which he calls ‘his team’. Regretfully he had to sacrifice three of his beloved dogs to avoid freezing to death that night.

This audio recording of Grenfell himself narrating the incident is a short version of his book. It was issued by the HMV label in May 1911.

Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean (BL shelfmark 1CL0029069)

Grenfell755rePostage stamp dedicated to Sir Wilfred Grenfell issued on the year of his death. (British Library Universal Postal Union Collection. Photo: Paul Skinner, Lead Curator, Philatelic Collections).

Through his career Wilfred Grenfell campaigned and raised funds for the building of hospitals, orphanages, schools and the improvement of living conditions for Labrador and Newfoundland fishermen and their families. He wrote several books of his travels in the area to promote it to the general public.

His legacy has inspired authors like English travel writer Bruce Chatwin and US novelist Saul Bellow. There was even an Adrift on an Ice Pan comic version published by True Comics in 1941, which you can also read online.

Further reading: Grenfell, Sir Wilfred Thomason by Ronald Rompkey. Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news

21 August 2018

The Bernstein Centenary

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Leonard_Bernstein_-_1950s
Leonard Bernstein in the 1950s  (Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Leonard Bernstein was born 100 years ago this month.  During the second half of the twentieth century he was the one figure that brought classical music to the general public in a way never before attempted.  In the early 1950s he used the new medium of television to disseminate his passion for and knowledge of music to the widest possible audience.  Indeed, a whole generation of Americans grew up with a love and understanding of great music thanks to Bernstein.

Between 1954 and 1958 eight live broadcasts introduced by Alistair Cooke encompassed a broad range of music including classical, jazz, musical comedy and the art of conducting posing such questions as ‘What makes opera grand?’  The first programme on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is especially fascinating as Bernstein reveals the composer’s earlier ideas and sketches giving his own explanation for their deletion.  The opening page of the score is printed large on the studio floor with members of the orchestra standing on their appropriate staves.

However, it was Bernstein’s series of 53 televised Young People’s Concerts that opened up the wonders of music to a whole generation.  While the British Library has in the collections his later television appearances which were commercially produced (mainly by his record label at the time, Deutsche Grammophon), over previous years I have made an effort to obtain all of Bernstein’s early television material.

DVD box set
1DVD0010176 (BL Collections)

In 1959 the US State Department sponsored a tour of the New York Philharmonic which included 50 concerts in 17 countries.  Filmed records of the visits to Moscow, where Bernstein is seen with Shostakovich and Boris Pasternak, and Venice were available on DVD in Japan and can be seen at the British Library.  The tour ended on 10th October 1959 when Bernstein and his orchestra gave a concert at the Festival Hall in London, parts of which were recorded directly to tape from the live radio broadcast in excellent sound by a private individual, Dr. Schuler, whose son donated his collection to the British Library in 1999.  The Times review was headed ‘Like burnished copper – New York orchestra’s fine tone’ and referred to Bernstein as ‘that paragon of brilliance and versatility.’  Here is an excerpt from the Second Essay by Samuel Barber.

 Barber Second Essay 10101959 extract

Bernstein and the New Yorkers returned to London in February 1963 and Dr Schuler recorded the Symphony No. 7 in D minor by Dvorak and Elgar’s Cockaigne overture, an extract of which can be heard below.

Elgar Cockaigne 13021963 extract

A selection of Bernstein video materials at the British Library

Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts 1DVD0005845

Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts Volume 2 1DVD0010018

The Unanswered Question - Six talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein 1DVD0009993

Archive of American Television presents Leonard Bernstein Omnibus 1DVD0009994

The Love of Three Orchestras 1DVD0010180

Historic Television Specials Moscow; Venice; Berlin; The Creative Performer; Rhythm 1DVD0010176

The Joy of Sharing - The last date in Sapporo 1990 1DVD0010178

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

01 June 2018

The voice of Jack Johnson - heavyweight boxing champion of the world

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By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

360px-Jack_Johnson_boxer_c1908Jack Johnson c.1908

The legendary Jack Johnson (1878-1946) is remembered as the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, a title he held from 1908 to 1915.  At a time when race relations were extremely volatile in the United States, Johnson caused a sensation not only by beating all white challengers in the ring, but by consorting with white women and marrying three of them.

Johnson was arrested in 1912 for violating the Mann Act, a 1910 Federal law criminalizing the transport of any girl or woman across the state line for ‘immoral purposes’.  He was convicted a year later by an all-white jury, sentenced to a year in prison, but fled the country for seven years before returning to serve his time in 1920. For some years, Mike Tyson and John McCain campaigned to get him pardoned and recognised as one of the United States greatest sports legends, but it was not until last week that President Donald Trump gave Johnson a posthumous pardon.

Burns-Johnson_boxing_contest _December_26th_1908_photographed_by_Charles_KerryFight with Tommy Burns 26th December 1908, Sydney, Australia

For those of us who have a fascination with the earliest recordings, Johnson’s heyday fortunately coincided with the invention and development of film and sound recording.  Because he was a superstar and his fights were so popular they were filmed as early as 1908 (albeit silent) to be shown at a later date to fee paying audiences in theatres.  Indeed, the fight that took place on Boxing Day 1908 in Sydney Australia where he gained the title is extant.  His status meant that record companies requested his services for discs of him speaking on training, his views on physical culture, and descriptions of his most famous fights.  The discs are rare today.  Indeed, only two of three parts of the recording he made for Columbia in the United States in 1910, My own story of the big fight, have turned up.

When Johnson visited England in October 1911 for a fight at Earl’s Court he also toured the music halls where crowds flocked to see him.  A film, preserved by the BFI, was taken of him visiting the Manchester docks and leaving the Regent Theatre in Salford.

Edison Bell Peckham-page-001Jack Johnson and wife Lucille at the Edison Bell Studio in Peckham (Sound Wave August 1914, BL collections)

Johnson defeated Frank Moran on 27th June 1914 at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris then traveled to England to record for Edison Bell’s popular Winner label on the 30th June.  The two sides, titled Physical Culture, were recorded at their studio in Glengall Road, Peckham.  In his exemplary book Lost Sounds: Blacks and the birth of the recording industry 1890-1919, Tim Brooks devotes a chapter to Jackson and his handful of recordings and illustrates it with photos acquired from the British Library.  The main message of the lecture is that we should all drink more water – Johnson could hardly have imagined that a hundred years later nearly everyone could be seen with a plastic bottle of water in their hand or bag.

Disc labels-page-001Disc loaned by Mr Gray

The Edison Bell recording is also an extremely rare disc, but in 1993 a Mr Gray brought his copy of it to what was then the National Sound Archive for a dubbing to be made.  Mr Gray had found it in a junk shop in Edinburgh in 1986.  I remembered seeing this on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and years ago discovered a photograph of the disc labels in a drawer at the Sound Archive’s previous premises in Exhibition Road.  Today, after a little searching, I have discovered that photo so the disc can be seen and heard again more than one hundred years after it was recorded.

 Physical Culture

Johnson’s career from the beginning of the twentieth century is documented for us in a way that is given to few from that period.  His was also an important chapter in social history, one still resonating today with the President’s pardon.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

09 May 2018

Lady Speyer - a forgotten violinist

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Lady_Speyer_by_John_Singer_SargentLady Speyer by John Singer Sargent

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Leonora von Stosch was born in Washington D.C. on the 7th November 1872. Her father had been born in Germany but immigrated to the United States as a young man where he married an English woman.  Leonora first studied music in Washington with Joseph Kaspar, and at the age of sixteen, she and her mother went to Brussels where Leonora studied under Cornelis at the Conservatory of Music.  Upon graduation two years later, she played for the great Joseph Joachim in Berlin and at nineteen continued her studies in Paris with Martin Pierre Marsick (1847-1924) whose pupils included Carl Flesch, Jacques Thibaud and George Enescu.  Leonora also studied under Arno Hilf in Leipzig.  At this time she performed the Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Arthur Nikisch.  She was already twenty-seven years of age when she first played in London in 1899. The Morning Post wrote of her performance, ‘Saint-Saëns’ Andante and Rondo Capriccioso for violin was played with much lightness and vivacity by Madame Leonora von Stosch, a remarkably clever performer, who ought to make her mark.’ 

Leonora had one daughter by her first marriage to American Louis Meredith Howland but the marriage failed and in 1902 she married wealthy banker Edgar Speyer.  She was thirty, he was forty.  After her second marriage, Leonora did not perform much in public and took up poetry, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for her book of poetry Fiddler’s Farewell.  However, the list of famous musicians who visited the Speyer’s new home in Grosvenor Street, where Edgar had converted two houses into one, was impressive.  The music room was graced by a portrait of Lady Speyer by the greatest portrait painter of the day, the American John Singer Sargent, and the visitors included Percy Grainger, Richard Strauss and Edward Elgar.  In 1906 Grieg visited England to receive an honorary degree from Oxford University and stayed for a few days with the Speyers at Grosvenor Street where the elderly Norwegian composer was greatly impressed by their home and hospitality. 

In January 1910 when Elgar dined at Grosvenor Street, Leonora and Elgar read through the slow movement of the new violin concerto he was writing.  She was the first to play it (albeit in private) and during May she and the composer rehearsed the first movement.  Robert Newman had founded the Queen’s Hall Orchestra and the Proms but by 1902 was getting into financial difficulties resulting in bankruptcy.  Edgar Speyer offered to underwrite the losses and by 1914 had invested £26,000 in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra Company Ltd.  Speyer also financed the premiere of Elgar’s Second Symphony and enticed Debussy to visit London in 1908 and 1909.  He invited Richard Strauss to London to conduct the first performance of his great tone poem Ein Heldenleben in 1902 and three years later Strauss dedicated his opera Salome to Speyer.

It was in 1909 that Leonora made some discs for HMV.  As far as I know, these have not turned up on LP or CD anthologies of violin playing, particularly The Recorded Violin (Pearl 1990) or The Great Violinists 1900-1913 (Testament). It is probable that her husband paid for the recordings as Leonora was by this time not performing much in public and the discs would not have sold well. Indeed, they are rare today and of the three published sides, the British Library holds only one.  Leonora had two sessions for HMV, at their pre-Hayes location, not far from the British Library in City Road probably playing one of the two famous violins owned at the time by the Speyers - either the 1699 Stradivarius, known as the ‘St. Vallier Sikorsky’ which the Speyers owned from 1903-1911, or the 1742 Guarneri, the ‘Lord Wilton’, which they owned from 1902-1921.  At the first session on 26th March 1909, of the five sides recorded, only one was issued – the Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor by Brahms arranged by Joseph Joachim. 

Brahms label

Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dance in G minor

The second session was on 18th May 1909 when she recorded four sides (three being repetitions from the previous session) and two of these were published.  The Brahms title was issued from this second session replacing the previously released one from the first.  The Library holds the recording of this work from the first session.  The other published side has been loaned to the Library for digitisation by Jolyon Hudson.  The repertoire here is curious:  the label has Capriccio all‘antica and Capriccio by Bohm. 

Bohm label

Carl Bohm (1844-1920) was a prolific German composer of unabashed restraint whose vast output runs to nearly 400 works with opus number and many more besides, some of which contain a large body of works – his Op. 326 contains 143 songs while Op. 327 comprises 78 pieces.

The first work on the recording is actually not by Bohm but the Capriccio all‘antica Op. 25 No. 2 by Italian composer and mountain climber Leone Sinigaglia (1868-1944).  The second piece is indeed by Bohm but has been hard to track down.  The only Capriccio by Bohm I could find in the Music Library is from Op. 314, subtitled Papillon and it is not this work.  It sounds very much like the popular violin showpiece L’Abeille (The Bee) by Francois Schubert (1808-1878, no relation to the famous Franz Schubert) - No. 9 of his 12 Morceaux detachés for violin and piano, Op. 13 - but the key is wrong (G minor instead of E minor) and although the beginning is very similar, it is evidently not the same work.  It turns out to be the fourth movement from Bohm’s Suite in G minor which is titled Capriccio, but is also subtitled The Bee, The Gnat or La Mouche and therefore looks like pure plagiarism of the Schubert piece.

Sinigaglia and Bohm

In 1914 Leonora gave three evenings of violin sonatas (presumably at her home) by Fauré and Richard Strauss.  In each case she was accompanied by the composer.  The Speyers were then caught up in the catastrophe of the First World War and moved to the United States with their four daughters.  Edgar, born in New York to German parents, had become a British citizen in 1892.  He was responsible for the expansion of the London Underground system in the early years of the twentieth century and donated large sums of money to many charitable causes.  Although he was created a baronet and member of the Privy Council, anti-German sentiment and political intrigue in Britain during the First World War meant that in 1921 an investigation decided he was to be struck off the Privy Council list and have his British Nationality revoked. 

The Grosvenor Street house was sold in 1923 and the family lived in Washington Square in New York.  Edgar died in Germany in 1932, where he was on a visit, at the age of 69.  Leonora died in 1956 at the age of 83 but their daughters returned to England to live.

A forgotten name in the history of violin playing, Lady Speyer was not a celebrated public virtuoso but preferred the role of hostess in London's musical circles and wife to her illustrious husband.  Nonetheless, it is fascinating to be able to hear someone whose life touched so many important musicians at the turn of the twentieth century, notwithstanding that of her unfortunate, more famous husband.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

23 March 2018

Linguistics at the Library – Episode 5

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PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell write:

This week is a bumper episode because Andrew and Rowan are joined by Rosy Hall, who completed her PhD placement at the British Library in 2017! We discuss island communities and why these are linguistically interesting, before hearing about Rosy’s own research on the island of Bermuda in the north Atlantic.


Follow Rosy on Twitter: @RosyHall

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

BBC Voices Recording in Knowle West, Bristol. BBC, UK, rec. 2005 [digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/07/02. Available: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/BBC-Voices/021M-C1190X0007XX-0201V0

Further reading:

Schreier, D. & K. Lavarello-Schreier. 2011. Tristan da Cunha and the Tristanians. Portland: Battlebridge Publications.

Wagner, S. (ed.). [forthcoming]. Varieties of English in the Atlantic: Small Islands Between the Local and the Global (Benjamins Varieties of English Around the World series)

Wolfram, W. & N. Schilling-Estes. 1997. Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks: The Story of the Okracoke Brogue. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hill. J. 1995. Mock Spanish: A Site For The Indexical Reproduction Of Racism In American English. [Online]. Available at:: http://language-culture.binghamton.edu/symposia/2/part1/

Linguistics at the Library Episode 5