THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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94 posts categorized "Classical music"

27 October 2020

Eddie South – Dark Angel of the Violin

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(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

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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

 

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21 September 2020

Recording of the week: My family and other tapes

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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.

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

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18 May 2020

Recording of the week: Don't try this at home!

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

Joseph Sussman (1920-2013) was surrounded by music – literally: his house and garage were crammed full of 78s, LPs, CDs, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes and videos. They vied for space with stacks of printed music and books, on composers, performers, schools and teaching, as well as on Jewish history, thought, art and music. The sheer numbers, breadth and depth spoke eloquently of Mr. Sussman’s long, busy life as a music teacher, organist and choirmaster, listener, scholar and collector, husband and father. After his death, his daughters generously offered his collection to the British Library. Curator Jonathan Summers spent several days appraising it, and I went along as a volunteer helper in selecting recordings in all formats.

In 2019 I was lucky to join the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project as a cataloguer. By chance, my first assignment was a collection of 50 reel-to-reel tapes recorded by Mr. Sussman in the late 1950s and 1960s and retrieved by us six years earlier. Most of the tapes contain BBC Radio broadcasts which haven’t survived elsewhere: talks on music and its history, composition and performance (not only classical), live and studio concerts and recitals. They reflect his wide interests and expertise, especially in Jewish music – notably, the works of the Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch.

On a few tapes, Mr. Sussman himself plays the piano or accompanies his wife and very young daughters in touching songs and recorder pieces. Music-making was part of the Sussman family’s everyday life, and at its heart was the piano, as it had been in countless households from the mid-nineteenth century on. So deeply rooted was this hundred year-old ‘piano culture’ that, as one of Mr. Sussman’s tapes reveals, in the early 1960s BBC Radio producers still took it as a basis for broadcasts to a wide audience.

In 1961 the BBC’s popular Light Programme broadcast ‘Valerie Tryon at the piano’, a fifteen-minute recital by the British-born pianist, then in her twenties but already a seasoned radio artist – she had been on air since 1954. The music she played whisks us back to a middle-class parlour around 1900: a Mendelssohn Song without Words, a Beethoven Bagatelle, a Chopin Waltz… with only a Poulenc Mouvement perpétuel, written at the end of World War I, to remind us that the ‘long nineteenth century’ had ended in the trenches.

portrait of Valerie Tryon

Another reminder of past tastes and attitudes is the programme’s presenter (he’s not identified – do you recognize his voice?), sounding as if perched avuncularly over Valerie Tryon’s piano. He starts engagingly, welcoming us into the fellowship of active pianists: ‘Miss Tryon is going to play pieces that many of us have tried, probably, at some time or another, to learn to play ourselves.’ The Chopin Waltz, though, brings out a critical streak: ‘Many an aspiring pianist has probably been guilty of somewhat cavalier treatment of the music of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Schumann, but poor Chopin has probably suffered more than most.’ And if the cavalier pianist isn’t sufficiently chastened, a parting shot puts amateurs firmly in their place:

BBC Light Programme, 24 July 1961 (BL REF C1644/11 S2 C7)

Many of the BBC presenters on Mr. Sussman tapes sport a similarly supercilious air, though one suspects they felt freer to talk down to some audiences than others. Still, this broadcast, and many others preserved by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, remind us how much classical music the Corporation offered audiences fifty years ago across all channels and all manner of formats, moods and ‘brows’. The BBC’s offerings ranged from Valerie Tryon’s salon favourites on the Light Programme, through repertoire familiar and not so familiar, such as Bloch’s works – which were aired surprisingly often on the Home Service – to the didactic earnestness of ‘Study Session’ on the unsung Third Network and, finally, the rarefied reaches of the Third Programme. Thanks to Mr. Sussman and other home-taping enthusiasts, by visiting the British Library’s reading rooms you can relive this almost vanished era, when classical music enjoyed a place at the heart of Britain’s homes and public life.

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

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02 March 2020

Recording of the week: Sir George Henschel

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

German born British musician Geroge Henschel was born in 1850 and became a close friend of Brahms whom he met in 1874 when the composer was 41 years of age. A multi-talented musician, Henschel was a baritone, pianist and conductor. In 1877 Henschel took part in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the composer conducting while in 1881 he became the first conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was also a friend of Moscheles and Tchaikovsky. Remarkable then, to have a recording of him conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1927.

Sir George Henschel
Portrait of British baritone, conductor, and pianist Sir George Henschel (1850-1934) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Here he is directing a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21, recorded at London’s La Scala Theatre in December 1926 and February 1927. It is Henschel’s only orchestral recording and was the first of a complete recording (by different conductors) of all the symphonies made to commemorate the centenary of the death of Beethoven in 1927 while this year we celebrate 250 years since the great composer’s birth.

Beethoven Symphony No. 1

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

24 February 2020

Recording of the week: Elgar's Introduction and Allegro

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This week's selection comes from Lucy Armstrong, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

This is an extract of a recording of Introduction and Allegro by Edward Elgar from 1940. Like many recordings in the Stuart Pollard Collection, it is an off air recording of a performance by Arturo Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra. The piece is well known but that is not what made it get stuck in my head. Even from the first couple of seconds I recognised it and it triggered memories from my earlier life as a musician. I had not listened to the piece in nine years but it instantly felt so familiar again, hearing it in this new context, as part of this collection.

This piece featured prominently in my life during my final school year when I was 17–18 years old. This was a year of lots of change and stress but the constant in my life was my involvement with the local music trust and especially the chamber orchestra. We rehearsed Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro almost every week during that year and played it in several concerts in the UK and then Finland. The piece became so familiar to me that I formed a love-hate relationship with it. It was one of the most challenging pieces I had played at that point in my career. Despite the intense training at the music trust, I still felt insecure with particularly challenging parts of the piece such as passages in which semiquavers were passed intricately between both violin sections. I especially remember some delicate moments regarding those semiquaver passages at the Temppeliaukion Church (Rock Church) towards the end of our tour in Finland.

Temppeliaukio_Church
The Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, Finland. Copyright  Matthew Duncan. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

A particular memory comes to mind when hearing this piece. I had innocently turned up to the first rehearsal of the year with my viola but on arrival I was told ‘wrong instrument’ and was shocked to find that without knowing it I had been appointed as principal second violin. I had to play the conductor’s violin on that day and the sudden change of plan made finding the concentration to sight read the Elgar very difficult. Being principal second violin added new pressures such as responsibility for starting the fugue. This became one of my least favourite parts of the piece and I was often very stressed by it because of the challenge of setting a good foundation for this part of the piece and for stopping everyone from rushing. Memories of my experience with Introduction and Allegro were triggered instantly on hearing the recording in the Stuart Pollard Collection but they intensified on hearing the fugue so that is why I selected an excerpt of the fugue to share this week.

Fuge excerpt from Elgar Introduction and Allegro C353-61_S2_C1

Having changed careers by gaining work experience and studying to become an archivist over the past three years, my time as a musician can start to feel distant. I had a great commitment to music so it can feel strange to no longer have such close connections with it. However, working at the British Library is a positive experience because discovering pieces like Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro in the collections of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project enables me to link what I am doing now to the childhood hobby that gradually took over my life.

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26 November 2019

A tribute to Stephen Cleobury by Jessica Duchen

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Portrait photograph of Stephen Cleobury

Sir Stephen Cleobury, photo credit: King's College, Cambridge

I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sir Stephen Cleobury last week, on the evening of - appropriately enough - St Cecilia’s Day. It was a great privilege to spend several days with this legendary musician at his home in York earlier this year, interviewing him in depth for National Life Stories at the British Library.

Sir Stephen was already terminally ill, and our sessions inevitably were punctuated by the need for rest. Yet to sit and remember the details of his musical journey through some of the finest religious institutions of the UK seemed to infuse him with remarkable vigour, despite his undoubted suffering.

From his childhood experiences as a chorister at Worcester Cathedral to his early posts at Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral and thence to the music directorship of King’s College, Cambridge, there seemed an infinite number of anecdotes to tell; and we spent some valuable time exploring the development and inner workings of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast annually live from King’s.

Stephen Cleobury on the tradition of choosing the solo choirboy for FNLC at the last moment (C464/99/09)

Our interview also encompassed Sir Stephen’s lucid explanations of musical techniques that are potentially in danger of disappearing - species counterpoint and the realisation of a baroque figured bass. We discussed his assessment of the personal qualities required to be a good organist and a sensitive choral conductor; and how to deal - or how not to - with a large group of excitable youngsters on a choir tour. There is much more besides.

As a music student in Cambridge in the 1980s, starting there only a few years after Sir Stephen began his music directorship at King’s College, I was aware of him and his work almost every day, though our paths crossed rarely (I was at a different college and I can’t sing!). The presence of King’s College Chapel at the heart of town and gown, the pervasive influence of the English choral tradition upon which he built so strongly, and my own sense of not quite belonging to this exquisite and rarified world all got under my skin. Talking to him this year was moving and cathartic on the personal level; and I hope that the interview recording will serve as a valuable memorial in perpetuity, and one that will inspire others as it inspired me.

My profound thanks to his wife, Emma, for her help and forbearance during the recording sessions and to King’s College, Cambridge for funding the interview.

Jessica Duchen interviewed Stephen Cleobury for the 'National Life Stories: General Interviews' collection. The interview can be listened to at the British Library in St Pancras or Boston Spa and found by searching C464/99 at sami.bl.uk

01 October 2019

Classical Podcast No. 4 Feodor Chaliapin with Simon Callow

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Chaliapin in the 1930sChaliapin in the 1930s

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Welcome to another in the occasional series of podcasts showcasing treasures from the classical collection of the British Library Sound Archive.

Actor and author Simon Callow shares his passion for the great Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) whose recordings convey much of his unique stage presence and charisma. 

We discuss Chaliapin's early years working with his compatriot Rachmaninoff.

Chaliapin and RachmaninoffChaliapin and Rachmaninoff

We also talk about and hear him in some of his famous roles including Boris Godunov and Salieri.

Chaliapin as Boris GodunovChaliapin as Boris Godunov

Chaliapin as SalieriChaliapin as Salieri

Cartoon by ChaliapinCartoon by Chaliapin of Sergei Diaghilev (Simon Callow collection, used with permission)

Thanks to Ward Marston and Marston Records for use of the recordings.  All images in the public domain except where noted.

Previous Classical podcasts can be heard here.

For all the latest news follow@BL_Classical