Sound and vision blog

99 posts categorized "Classical music"

10 August 2021

Discovery of a rare Bettini cylinder recording

Richard Copeman with cylinder editRichard Copeman with his Bettini cylinder (photo © Jonathan Summers)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

In February 2020, just before lockdown, collector Richard Copeman contacted me about a concert cylinder he had just purchased in Paris.  He wondered if we would like to make a digital transfer of it for the British Library Sound Archive. 

Concert cylinders are not common, although I previously wrote a blog about one here which gives details about these larger forms of cylinder produced in the early 1900s.  The cylinder Richard Copeman has is in its original green box with a hand written title on the label, but it has lost the label from the lid. 

Box imageImage of box label (photo © Jonathan Summers)

The date of 1899 is hand written in blue pencil on the bottom of the box.  The title also appears engraved into the edge of the cylinder. 

Inscription on cylinder edgeInscription on cylinder edge (photo © Jonathan Summers)

We know what the work is – Concertino in E flat Op. 26 for clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, and the performer’s name is announced at the beginning.  However, the name of the recording company is not – Edison, and many others, always included the name of the company in the announcement.

Another avid collector came to the rescue in the form of David Mason who had facsimile copies of Bettini catalogues.  In one of these he found ‘Rouleaux de Concert a Grand Diametre’ and listed there was the cylinder of the Concertino with the performer’s name - Henri Paradis.

Henri Paradis

Henri Paradis was born in Avignon in 1861 and at the age of nineteen won the Premier Prix for clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire.  His teacher was the delightfully named Chrysogone Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) who had been consulted by composers Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod on the technical capabilities of the clarinet.  Rose was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1900. 

Bettini June 1901 pp. 16-17 Edit

Bettini catalogue June 1901

As can be seen in the catalogue, Paradis plays his teacher’s version of the Weber composition published around 1879 in Paris.  After a period in L'Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, Paradis joined the orchestra of the Paris Opera in 1890 and did not retire from his post until 1932.  He was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1935 and died in 1940.  From 1906 he was clarinetist in Le Double Quintette, eight of whose early recordings can be heard on BL Sounds here.  The full title of Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Cordes et à Vent was shortened to Société du Double Quintette de Paris; for the disc labels they became Le Société du Double Quintette. Mostly born in the 1860s, the group consisted of ten players plus Georges de Lausney on the piano.  The personnel were Pierre Sechiari (first violin), Marcel Houdret (second violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Jules Marnoff (cello), Paul Leduc (double bass), Louis Bas (oboe), Ernest Vizentini (bassoon), Francois Lamouret (french horn), Henri Paradis (clarinet) and Adolphe Hennebains (flute).

Paradis’s affiliation with the Garde Républicaine and Paris Opera are mentioned in the spoken introduction on the cylinder which begins with a pitch identification, something important with early primitive equipment.  Paradis plays a highly abridged version of the score but the clarity and quality of the recording are extraordinary for something over 120 years old.

Weber Concertino Henri Paradis mp3

But what of Bettini, the producer of the cylinder?  Early recording is dominated by Thomas Edison in the United States and the Pathé brothers in France – both working on various other inventions concurrently.  Bettini was a fascinating, if relatively unknown, figure from the dawn of recorded sound. 

Gianni Bettini 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)Gianni Bettini in 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)

Born in Novara, Italy in 1860 Gianni Bettini was a gentleman inventor who had a salon at 110 Fifth Avenue, New York in the late 1890s where he made private recordings of great singers and other famous people including Mark Twain.  He was then based in Paris operating as the Société des Micro-Phonographes Bettini, 23 Boulevard des Capucines and although he brought his master recordings to Paris at the turn of the century, these were all destroyed during the Second World War.  A Wikipedia article states that Bettini cylinders are rare and that ‘only a few dozen are known to exist’.  This makes the discovery of this Paradis cylinder all the more exciting.  Not only is superior sound achieved with the larger concert cylinder, but Bettini invented some improvements including the ‘Spider’ whereby the stylus was attached to the recording diaphragm by multiple legs, hence its name.  Of course, the fact that this cylinder is not worn and in excellent condition also makes a great difference to the sound. It would appear that the cylinder was recorded right at the end of the nineteenth century, but it is not certain that the date stamped on the box is the date of recording.  It appears in the 1901 Bettini catalogue. 

It was the more widely circulated recording (both on cylinder and disc) that Bettini made of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) which has survived and kept his name alive in the annals of the history of recorded sound.  Like Edison and the Pathé brothers, Bettini worked on a motion picture camera.  He died in San Remo in 1938.

Thanks to Richard Copeman for discovering it and allowing it to be shared through this blog.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

23 July 2021

Persian choral album surfaces after four decades in limbo

Choral Music from Persia CD coverCD cover courtesy of Persian Dutch Network

Guest blog by Pejman Akbarzadeh

In 1973, the Empress of Persia, Farah Pahlavi, commissioned the choral conductor Evlin Baghcheban to establish a conservatory of music for orphaned children. In this school, Baghcheban organised a choral group called the Farah Choir. The group gave regular concerts throughout the country and in the autumn of 1978 went to Austria to record their debut album. A number of fascinating Persian folk songs were recorded in Vienna, with a plan to release them in Tehran. However, the victory of the Islamic Revolution disrupted all plans, the choir was dissolved, and its conductor went into exile. 

The master tapes of the 1978 recording session remained silent at Baghcheban's house for decades. The name of the choral group 'Farah' was a reference to the name of the former queen of Persia, so releasing an album under her name was out of question in post-revolutionary Iran. However, shortly after the death of Baghcheban the tapes were transferred to Holland, where they were restored and released by the Persian Dutch Network.

This recording has a key historical value for Persian choral music. It features the first attempt, by Ruben Gregorian (1915-1991), to arrange Persian folk songs for a Western-style choir. Gregorian published the scores of his arrangements in Tehran in 1948, but recordings of his work were not previously available internationally. In his arrangements, he tried to be as faithful as possible to the original melodies, with no intention of changing or developing any part. The rest of the songs in the Farah Choir's recording were arranged by one of the next generation of Persian composers, Samin Baghcheban (1925-2008), husband of Evlin. His style is very different, showing more interest in the use of folk melodies as a starting idea, then developed using various compositional methods. He uses imitation and drone in his arrangements as well.

The British magazine Songlines has featured a four-star review for the recording and Empress Farah has expressed delight that the 1978 recording has been preserved and become available after four decades. The album "Choral Music from Persia" plays a crucial role to raise public awareness of a little known genre in music.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

 

 

05 July 2021

‘Violence, shock, life’: the sounds of Pierre Boulez’s formative years

Pierre Boulez (1968)Pierre Boulez (1968)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Dr Caroline Potter

Pierre Boulez was one of the most important musicians of the 20th and early 21st centuries. His own music is often considered forbiddingly cerebral, not least because musicologists have tended to focus on its construction, but I contend that the French literary and broader intellectual context was at least as important to the composer as musical techniques such as serialism. My research project, generously supported in 2020-21 by a British Library Edison Fellowship, uncovers the crucial impact of this context on Boulez, enhancing our understanding of his work and leading towards a more visceral, emotional response to his work.

Boulez’s reputation as the ‘angry young man’ of European modern music followed him for the rest of his long life. He was angry because music mattered hugely to him. Of course, this anger sprang from his rejection of the conservative French musical culture of his youth, from a desire to wipe the slate clean after the horrors of World War II, and surely also from his rejection of senior male role models, including his father who wanted him to train as an engineer. But, more profoundly, this violence and anger has striking parallels in Parisian artistic culture of the 1930s and 40s, and specifically from artists broadly connected with surrealism.

Antonin Artaud 1926Antonin Artaud (1926)

 One of the most important figures in Boulez’s artistic evolution was Antonin Artaud (1897-1948). He is best known today for writings including The Theatre and its Double, but for Boulez, Artaud was not primarily a cultural theoretician, but a performing artist whose work only truly existed live. It was Paule Thévenin, Artaud’s friend and later his literary executor, who introduced Artaud’s work to Boulez (she later also edited a collection of Boulez’s writings). Artaud’s final public performance took place at the Galerie Loeb in Paris in July 1947, where he read some of his texts surrounded by an exhibition of his drawings. This was an intimate space; ‘Boulez and his friends had to sit in front of the first row of chairs, and they found themselves almost ‘under’ the voice of Artaud when he was reading.’[1] Being within spitting distance of Artaud, still a charismatic performer despite his much reduced physical condition, was an experience that Boulez never forgot. Towards the end of his life, he recalled that Artaud’s performance ‘made an impression on me because what initially seemed to make no sense suddenly made sense very strongly.’[2]

Few Artaud recordings survive: there are copies of Aliénation et la magie noire (1946) and Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947) in the British Library. In Pour en finir… Artaud pushes his voice to its very limits;

Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947) extract

through the extremes of expression, register and dynamics, he sought to transcend the limitations of human utterances. Listening to Artaud’s vocal performance alongside the final movement of Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata played by Maurizio Pollini, with its aggressive performance directions such as ‘pulvériser le son’, shows that they both inhabit a sound world where no holds are barred.

Boulez Piano Sonata No.2 extract

In the 1920s, Artaud was briefly associated with André Breton, the self-appointed leader of the surrealist movement. The French surrealist circle was a pluridisciplinary environment whose members had wide-ranging artistic and intellectual interests. Often these coexisted in one publication, as in the reviews Documents and Minotaure, whose pages provide a complete portrait of contemporary surrealism, from psychoanalytical studies of delirium to images provoking new ideas through incongruous juxtapositions. And Breton himself frequently combined photography, autobiography and fiction in a single publication; he also had a strong interest in ethnography and amassed an impressive collection of non-Western and esoteric objects.

One obvious connection between Breton’s stories – one that was particularly resonant for Boulez – is the recycling of the last phrase of his novella Nadja (1928), ‘La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas’ (Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not be). At the end of ‘La beauté sera convulsive’, a short story published in Minotaure in 1934, we read this extension: ‘La beauté convulsive sera érotique-voilée, explosante-fixe, magique-circonstancielle ou ne sera pas’ (Convulsive beauty will be erotic-veiled, exploding-fixed, magic-circumstantial or it will not be).[3] Convulsive beauty is a physical shock, an instant unmediated reaction which has the power to reunite supposed opposites. It provokes profound sensations instantaneously which according to Breton, ‘could not come to us via ordinary logical paths.’

‘La beauté sera convulsive’ is illustrated by a photo by Man Ray captioned ‘explosante-fixe’: a female dancer wearing a full skirt and sleeves, perhaps a flamenco dancer in a trance, captured in a freeze frame with her arms, sleeves and skirt suspended in mid-whirling motion. This fleeting instant captured on film exemplifies ‘convulsive beauty.’ Images, it is suggested, are superior to words as conduits of convulsive beauty, provoking as they do an instant, unmediated reaction. And moving beyond Breton, I contend that music has an even stronger power to convey convulsive beauty. Music can only exist in time and in sound; its action on our senses is literally ‘moving.’ Unlike Breton, the Belgian composer André Souris, a friend and early supporter of Boulez, understood the unique power of music; he believed that ‘the language of music was more apt than any other to faithfully relay the deepest feelings’ and that music was ‘perhaps the medium most suited to surrealist expression.’[4]

The impact of surrealism on Boulez has been underplayed: most obviously, he used a Breton fragment, …explosante-fixe…, as the title of several related works in the 1970s-90s, and this fusion of apparent opposites – explosion and stasis – is a highly apt metaphor for his music. A recording of an early version conducted by Boulez at the Proms on 17 August 1973, when compared with later versions, shows that its musical identity remained remarkably stable. This extract was recycled in later iterations of …explosante-fixe…, including the offshoot Mémoriale (1985).

Explosante Fixe (1973) extract

In a letter to Souris written in 1947, Boulez wrote that his music was about ‘violence, shock, life’ and he believed ‘this is what is most lacking, it seems to me, in every work by the serial “school”.’[5] In the work of Artaud and Breton, Boulez discovered the ‘violence, shock, life’ which is the defining characteristic of his first compositions.

[1] Sarah Barbedette, ‘Différentes façons d’être voyant’ in Barbedette (ed.) Pierre Boulez [exhibition catalogue]. Paris: Actes Sud, 2015: pp. 23-37, at p. 25: ‘Boulez et ses amis doivent s’asseoir devant le premier rang de chaises, et c’est presque « sous » la voix d’Antonin Artaud qu’ils se trouvent lorsque celui-ci profère ses poèmes.’

[2] François Meïmoun, Pierre Boulez: La Naissance d’un compositeur. Paris: Aedam musicae, 2010, p. 59: ‘[…] ce qui n’avait initialement aucun sens prenait d’un coup un sens, et un sens très fort.’

[3] André Breton, ‘La beauté sera convulsive’, in Minotaure, 5 (May 1934): pp. 8-16, at p. 16.

[4] Cited in Robert Wangermée, André Souris et le complexe d’Orphée. Entre surréalisme et musique sérielle, Liège, Mardaga (1995), p. 6; ‘la matière musicale était plus propre qu’aucune autre à épouser fidèlement les mouvements intérieurs […] [la musique constituait ‘peut-être le moyen le plus conforme aux démonstrations surréalistes.’

[5] Wangermée (1995), p. 272; ‘Boulez disait ensuite ce qu’apportait sa propre musique: la violence, le choc, la vie. “C’est ce qui manque le plus, me semble-t-il, à toutes les œuvres de ‘l’école’ atonale”, ajoutait-il.’

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

 

 

17 May 2021

Recording of the week: The first recording of a complete piano concerto

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Lockdown has given us the chance to listen to music while working from home and revisit well known recordings that we may not have had the opportunity to hear for a while. Recently I listened again to the first complete recording of a piano concerto – Beethoven’s famous 'Emperor', recorded for HMV in April 1922 by Frederic Lamond (1868-1948) with the Royal Albert Hall and conducted by Eugene Goossens.

photograph of Frederic Lamond
Frederic Lamond in 1898

Lamond was a pupil of the great Franz Liszt, studying with him in Weimar during the last few years of Liszt’s life. I actually wrote the notes for a CD reissue of this recording on the Biddulph label way back in 1998. What strikes me now is not so much the poor quality of the acoustic recording, but the rhythmic drive of the performance and particularly the orchestra; Goossens’s youthful energy is evident throughout the recording.

Eugene Goossens
Eugene Goossens

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), born just down the road from the British Library in Camden Town, was not even thirty when the recording was made. He was from a family of Belgian musicians who began his musical life as a violinist. His grandfather conducted the first English performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 1882 while Eugene gave the British premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in June 1921 with the composer present. Quite a feat for a novice conductor in this first year! Ten months later he made this recording.

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 5, op. 73, E flat (Emperor) (BL REF 1CL0029360)

Lamond gives a majestic performance, full of power, virility, nobility and authority. The rudimentary recording process, whereby the players had to gather around a recording horn that collected the sound waves in the room, has managed to capture a good deal of detail without any use of electricity. One hundred years after the event, we can still enjoy the vitality and informed performance of the greatest musicians.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage@BL_Classical@soundarchive for all the latest news.

15 December 2020

Robert Cox and The Golden Fleece

Robert Cox photoRobert Cox

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Robert Ferdinand de Lesseps Cox was born into a family of gelatine and glue manufacturers based at Gorgie Mills in Edinburgh where they established their company in 1725.  Robert was born in Edinburgh on 12th June 1884.

Cox's glue posterFrom Whitaker’s Red Book

He was named after his godfather Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894) a friend of his father.  Lesseps was a French diplomat and developer of the Suez Canal and, as head of the Franco-American Union, presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States and attended the dedication ceremony in October 1886.

As a boy Rossdhu House Scotland

Robert Cox as a boy at Rossdhu House, Scotland

Robert’s father, Robert J. Cox (1845-1899) was Liberal Unionist MP for South Edinburgh from 1895 to 1899.  However, his son Robert did not enter the family business or politics but spent time as a musician, primarily a conductor and composer for the musical stage.  He made his London debut at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Emmerich Kallman’s hugely successful operetta The Gypsy Princess (Die Csárdásfürstin) in May 1921.  It had premiered in Vienna in 1915 and on Broadway in 1917.  Cox’s wife was a niece of the great singer Dame Nellie Melba who wanted to attend Robert’s debut, but she was performing in Paris at the time.

Gipsy Princess London poster V&APoster of Gypsy Princess (Victoria & Albert Museum)

Cox began to compose at the age of fifteen when he was at Winchester College and whilst at St John’s College, Oxford, he wrote the music for a student dramatic society’s production of Measure for Measure.  Further musical studies took him to Dresden, Rome and the Royal College of Music in London.

Cox composed a Quartet in E flat, and between 1907 and 1919 wrote a handful of light piano pieces and a few songs.  Most of his output was for the musical theatre including The Love Girl, The Purple Lady, which toured the provinces for thirteen weeks, and The Magic Sword.  In 1923 Cox published a musical play in two acts, The Rose and the Ring, based on the book by William Makepeace Thackeray.  It is rather confusing as two previous works with the same title based on the same Thackeray work exist – by Walter Slaughter from 1891 (‘founded on Thackeray’s fireside pantomime’), and by American Caryl B. Rich in 1914.  There was also a light opera by Christabel Marrillier from 1928.

Rose and the Ring title pageTitle page of The Rose and the Ring (BL Collections)

Cox spoke many languages including Swedish and German and spent time in Sweden during the Second World War.  He was a member of the Bath Club during the 1930s, but it was bombed by the Germans in 1941.

From his first marriage Cox had three children - Robert Charles an aeronautical engineer, Susanna Winifred, a dancer, and Elizabeth Nicholas, a reporter and travel writer whose most well-known book is Death be not Proud about seven young women who served with the French Section of the Special Operations Executive who were betrayed to the Germans and eventually captured and murdered.

Score Overture editScore of the Overture to The Golden Fleece (BL Collections)

I received a donation last year from Susannah Baker, a relative of Robert Cox’s second wife, the artist, Ethelwyn Baker, via Cox’s granddaughter Jacqueline Shaun Cox Nervegna.  A hand written score of his composition Overture and Suite to The Golden Fleece was accompanied by an off-air recording of the only broadcast of the Overture given on 28th November 1937 by the BBC Orchestra under Joseph Lewis (1878-1954).  The Suite of four movements was broadcast on 23rd September 1938 by the same forces.  The Overture is a fine, well-crafted work, reminiscent of Elgar and Vaughan Williams.

Disc labelDisc label (BL Collections)

Radio Times listing 28 November 1937Listing in the Radio Times for 28th November 1937

Here is the off-air recording made more than eighty years ago.

Overture to The Golden Fleece

Robert Cox died 30th December 1951.  

Thanks to Jacqueline Shaun Cox Nervegna for information and the use of family photographs.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

27 October 2020

Eddie South – Dark Angel of the Violin

(Portrait_of_Eddie_South _Café_Society_(Uptown) _New_York _N.Y. _ca._Dec._1946)_(LOC)_(5435818573)

Eddie South in 1946 (The Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For Black History Month in previous years I have written about classical musicians such as Dean Dixon and Cullen Maiden who had to leave the United States for Europe in order to get work as classical musicians.  This year I have been investigating the violinist Eddie South who could have had a career as a classical violinist had he been born in a different era.

Edward Otha South was born in Louisiana, Missouri in 1904. He studied at Chicago Music College with Petrovich Bessing from where he graduated in the early 1920s.  Classically trained, South could only get work in the United States as a jazz performer so during the 1920s he earnt his living performing in orchestras and groups in Chicago – with Charles Elgar’s Creole Orchestra and as first violin in Erskine Tate’s Theatre Orchestra.  In the late 1920s South formed his own group, the ‘Alabamians,’ making records for Victor for whom he continued to record in the 1930s with his ‘International Orchestra.’

In 1928 South travelled to Europe where he studied for a while at the Paris Conservatoire, and a visit to Budapest made a great impression on him.  South returned to Depression Era Chicago in 1931 and again could only get work as a jazz violinist.  Obviously drawn to Europe for its musical and work opportunities, on another trip to Paris in 1937 South recorded with Django Reinhardt and one of the most famous jazz violinists Stephane Grappelli but, although he made many recordings, he never made it into the front rank of jazz violinists like Grappelli and Joe Venuti. 

Perhaps this was because South played as much popular music as jazz and even some classical material, albeit lightly swung.  An album he made for Columbia in 1940 titled Eddie South – Dark Angel of the Violin includes the Praeludium and Allegro by Fritz Kreisler and Hejre Kati, a Hungarian melody arranged by violinist and composer Jenő Hubay (1858-1937) published as No. 4 of his Scènes de la czárda Op. 32. 

Eddie South album front cover

The influence of gypsy music that South heard in Budapest and the sweet tone of Kreisler, the greatest classical violinist of his day, can be heard in South’s recording of Hejre Kati, even though he only plays the first slow section and not the czardas. Recorded 10th June 1940, South is accompanied by David Martin on piano, Eddie Gibbs on guitar and Ernest Hill on bass.

Hejre Kati played by Eddie South

 

Disc label Columbia 35636

South continued to record, perform and make radio broadcasts many which have survived.  He died at the age of 58 in 1962.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

28 September 2020

Recording of the week: Discovering Sibelius

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Working at home has allowed me to listen to a lot more music than I normally would. One advantage is the opportunity to get to know areas of classical music that are unfamiliar. For me, one of those was the symphonies of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Robert Wilhelm Ekman's painting Lemminkäinen at the Fiery Lake
Lemminkäinen at the Fiery Lake, Robert Wilhelm Ekman, c. 1867

It is extraordinary to think that Sibelius as conductor could have recorded his own works in the stereo LP era as he did not die until 1957. However, he withdrew from life and stopped composing during the mid-1920s after completing his Seventh Symphony and a few other orchestral works.

The first complete recording of the Symphonies to be released was made in 1952-1953 by Sixten Ehrling and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, but more famous is the cycle recorded for Decca by Anthony Collins and the London Symphony Orchestra between 1952 and 1954. This mono set is still held to be one of the best interpretations on disc. Other complete sets I have enjoyed recently are those by Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Many of the symphony cycles have other orchestral works as fillers such as Night Ride and Sunrise Op. 55, The Oceanides Op. 73, and the Lemminkäinen Suite Op. 22. Sibelius was a patriot, especially during the Russian occupation when his music became a rallying cry for his people with works such as the famous Finlandia. The Lemminkäinen Suite is based on Finnish folk legends (subtitled Four Legends from the Kalevala) and is a suite in four movements, the second of which is the famous Swan of Tuonela. The last movement is the thrilling Lemminkäinen’s Return Home.

Sir Thomas Beecham made a famous recording of the movement in October 1937, but he also performed the Suite at a Queen’s Hall concert on 27th February 1936. This Royal Philharmonic Society concert included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, Walton’s Viola Concerto with William Primrose as soloist, a Schubert Symphony and the Sibelius Suite. A recording of Lemminkäinen’s Return Home exists in the Kenneth Leech collection (C738) at the British Library.

Having died in 1957 Sibelius is still in copyright so here are three short extracts which show the drive, power and excitement Beecham could bring to a live performance, encouraging the players of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play at their virtuoso best.

In the first extract, you can hear Beecham shout at the climax.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 1

The articulation of the strings and brass is particularly noticeable in this next extract.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 2

The final extract is of the closing pages of the work.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 3

 

Follow @BLSoundHeritage@BL_Classical@soundarchive for all the latest news.

21 September 2020

Recording of the week: My family and other tapes

This week’s selection comes from Nick Morgan, classical Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

The British violinist Derek Collier (1927-2008) enjoyed a long and successful career as an orchestral leader, soloist, broadcaster and teacher. He recorded four commercial LPs but left a much larger legacy of broadcast and private recordings, which his daughter kindly donated to the British Library in 2011 (in 2012, Sound Archive curator Jonathan Summers wrote about them in this blog). Some months ago, I was assigned the Derek Collier collection to catalogue for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage – and I felt like Gerald Durrell, magically transported back to youthful years spent with a menagerie of soon to be extinct specimens.

Philips magnetic tape boxPhilips magnetic tape box

Philips tape boxes of the 1960s (left) and 1970s (right) from the Derek Collier Collection

Only, this isn’t Corfu and they’re not pelicans, seagulls, scorpions or tortoises – they’re tapes. One problem with tapes is that they all look a bit the same. Some have pretty boxes and some have funky spools, yes, but most don’t tell you very much about themselves. Unless, that is, you’ve spent your formative years working with them. Starting as a radio producer more than three decades ago, I learned the Tao of tape hands-on at a Studer or a Telefunken, herding take-up spools and snipping raw takes with chinagraph pencil, razor blade and splicing sticky.

So it was a nostalgia trip to be reunited with these long-lost friends thanks to Derek Collier. Collier broadcast extensively for the BBC over nearly half a century, and his collection contains all the kinds of tapes used in radio production, and more. There are rehearsal tapes, including one with the Black American conductor Dean Dixon – very short, sadly (Jonathan Summers also wrote about Dixon in this blog). There are session tapes: a sequence of pieces recorded in the studio, with false starts, mistakes, retakes and ‘patches’, from which a ‘studio manager’ (engineer) and producer spliced together the best bits – it’s rare to be able to compare unedited recordings with edited versions, but the Derek Collier Collection makes it possible. There are ‘insert’ tapes, containing just the edited music for a broadcast, to which spoken presentation was added either in a studio or live on air – the collection even includes one insert tape for a programme which was never transmitted.

There are ‘clean-feed’ tapes: sometimes, at pre-recorded broadcast concerts, a presenter was in the hall, announcing the music as if live, but a separate tape without the presenter’s voice was also recorded. There are listening copies: tapes sent to Derek Collier as a courtesy by producers. One small spool, often used for short BBC news reports and trails, has the standard BBC label I myself stuck on countless spools, standard coloured ‘leader’ I myself spliced onto countless tapes – yellow at the start and between items, red at the end – and with it a note on BBC letterhead I sent to countless contributors, listing three items Derek Collier had recorded for Steve Race’s Invitation to Music on Radio 4 but hadn’t managed to record off air.

spool of tape and letter from BBC
Complimentary BBC copy tape from the Derek Collier Collection

Talking of which, there are lots of off-air recordings – Derek Collier had a recorder at home and taped his broadcasts from the radio. But he also used it to record himself practising and rehearsing, bringing us closer to the starting point of his interpretations, before a piece was ready for the concert hall or the studio. And, as a bonus, there are examples of several of these types of tapes from his teacher Alfredo Campoli, complementing the collection donated in 1995 by Campoli’s widow.

C1475-185 frontC1475-185 back

Two items from 1966 LP DECCA ECLIPSE ECS 639, recorded by Alfredo Campoli in Japan, from the Derek Collier Collection

Derek Collier broadcast a lot of music by modern composers, so for copyright reasons it’s not possible to sample all the species in his tape zoo on this blog – but we can play an extract from a work which Collier premiered in the UK and which turns up several times in his collection. Boris Blacher’s Violin Concerto Op.28 was composed in 1948 and introduced to Britain by Collier in 1963. Among his tapes are an undated private practice recording of the solo part, an off-air tape of the premiere, and an unedited session recording from 1976, plus the edited broadcast recorded off air the following year. But from 1965, here’s the end of this exciting, vivacious Concerto in another broadcast performance by Derek Collier, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and none other than Dean Dixon:

Boris Blacher Violin Concerto Op.28 (end)

Derek Collier gave public solo recitals until shortly before his death in 2008, and he continued to record them, on cassettes, in the venues themselves, capturing the atmosphere and practices of the thriving musical life of Essex, where he’d retired. And he went on adding new types of tape, recording duplicates on different machines (for safety?), creatively copying ‘master’ cassettes to correct technical problems, recording rehearsals, and making mix-tapes of previous performances, seemingly as sample programmes for concert organizers or interpretation guides for new recital partners.

C1475-228
Compilation for 2004 programme rehearsal purposes, from the Derek Collier Collection

Making sense of this extended family of recordings has been an absorbing and rewarding task, and thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund it has been preserved for visitors to the British Library’s website and reading rooms to explore and enjoy in future.

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