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129 posts categorized "Music"

30 December 2019

Recording of the week: Wax cylinder recordings of Nigerian music

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Northcote Whitridge Thomas
Northcote Whitridge Thomas

The Library’s World and Traditional Music collections include some of the world’s earliest ethnographic recordings, made on wax cylinders. Amongst these is a collection of recordings made between 1909 and 1915 by the colonial anthropologist, Northcote Whitridge Thomas, during his work in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone. To learn more about the recordings and to engage researchers and original community members with the sounds, the Library has partnered with the ‘Museum Affordances’ project, funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council and led by Paul Basu at SOAS University of London.

As part of the project, Samson Uchenna Eze, musicologist and lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, chose some of Thomas' recordings to explore through transcription of the lyrics and music, and through engaging musicians in Nigeria to re-record them.

The song Igbo bu Igbo (Great Igbo) [NWT 417; C51/2277], is a call to Igbo people to remember their identity and ‘return to [their] truthful ways’. Prof. Eze writes: ‘In this song the female singer repeats the phrase [Great Igbo (all Igbo), come and hear the truth] several times and improvises in the internal variation section, calling on neighbouring villages to come and hear the truth’.

Listen to Igbo by Igbo (BL shelfmark C51/2277)

[Re:]Entanglements is the website of the Museum Affordances project. Prof. Eze has written a blog showcasing some of his work with the recordings.

Follow @reentanglements, @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 December 2019

Recording of the week: PTOOFF!

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This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

Apologies, this may be our shortest ever 'Recording of the Week'. It does however provide an excuse to highlight a colourful product of the late 1960s countercultural arts scene centred in and around Ladbroke Grove, London.

PTOOFF! was the debut album by The Deviants, a bluesy psychedelic rock band led by singer Mick Farren (1943-2013). Our copy of the LP came to the Library in 2013, as part of the Barry Miles collection. Miles, as he was usually known, helped found the influential underground newspaper International Times, to which Farren also contributed. In the 1970s, Farren became a regular staff writer for the weekly New Musical Express, and then a novelist and also non-fiction writer. He continued to pursue music on the side throughout his life.

The LP was released independently on the band's own label, Underground Impresarios. It was distributed by mail order through adverts in International Times, and by underground retail outlets.

PTOOFF! album cover art

The vividly coloured cartoon sleeve (by ‘Kipps’, aka Pete Broxton) unfolds to become a six-panel poster. Our copy is the original issue, with brown ink used for the inside print (subsequent issues used blue ink). Reissues of the album shouldn't be hard to find but for copyright reasons we can provide only a short audio excerpt here.

So please enjoy the first five (sardonic) seconds of a true underground classic.

Listen to the first few seconds of the LP

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

02 December 2019

Recording of the week: Kagura - dancing for the Gods

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This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

The origin of dance in Japan can be traced back to the age of the gods and the Japanese kagura can be considered a prototype of all Japanese rituals. 

Kagura combines dance with music and theatrical elements; it is both a ritual and an artistic expression for the kami (Japanese Gods) within the mythical narrative. [1]

Dance was a central element in many Japanese rituals and ceremonies, both within the courts and rural areas; especially in the latter, dance was the predominant element of folk religious festivals.

The heavenly kagura originated in northeastern Japan, in Iwate prefecture, and represents the origin of most genres of dance. Kagura is a collective term which refers to different schools of performing arts; it embodies a shamanic tradition in which the gods come dancing to infuse divine energy on people. The group figure of 12 performers also embodies a symbolic significance:

Thus, the kagura group of 12, with all these layers of meanings so typical of Shugendo systems, symbolically constitutes the whole universe and the whole of existence: Time, Space, Heaven, Earth and Humanitiy, based on Shintō, Taoist and Buddhist thought[2]

Photograph of Shinto mask performancePhotograph of Shinto mask performance (courtesy of Etnografiska Museet via Europeana)

The performers travel around the countryside bringing their blessing of prosperity and protection to the local people. Dance is therefore seen as a way to communicate and perpetuate religious tradition; in particular, the emphasis is on the aesthetic aspect of the dance.

Kagura (BL shelfmark 1LP0157766)

Kagura, a flower-hat dance, lion dances and masked dances [3] played a central role in the theatrical arts during the Muromachi period (1333-1615), a time characterized by emperor rivalries. Despite its turbulence, the Muromachi period was a time of great musical potential; a material and psychological build up for a flood of activities that was soon to burst upon the artistic world in a torrent of color and sound[4]

The first kagura ceremony can be traced back to the year 1002 and falls into the category of shamanistic practice[5].  We can divide Kagura into two subcategories: mi-kagura, the court music formal part of Shinto functions, and sato-kagura, which was mainly folk music.

The dance style of kagura consists of performances of approximately 15 mins, and a bamboo pipe (kagura-bue) is one of the common instruments used during such performances; kagura can also be intended as a proper musical genre. [6]

The study of the kagura focus on both the artistic side and religious aspect of this practice. As religion may differ from one culture to another, also a definition of dance as performative art only can lead to a simplistic approach.

It should be remembered that the Japanese view all their traditional performative, theatrical, dance and ritual forms as springing from the same source: the original kagura performance in Heaven[7]

 

Bibliography

1. Averbuch, Irit. (1995). The gods come dancing : A study of the Japanese ritual dance of yamabushi kagura. (Cornell East Asia series ; no. 79). Ithaca, N. Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University. BL shelfmark 11110.cc.39/79

2. Ibid, p. 58

3. Malm, W. (1990). Japanese music and musical instruments. Charles E. Tuttle, 249. BL shelfmark HUS 789.2956

4. Ibid, p. 33

5. Ibid, p. 42

6. Karpati, J. (2008). Typology of Musical Structures in the Japanese Shintō Ritual Kagura. Asian Music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music., 39(2), 152-166. BL shelfmark 1742.701000

7. Averbuch, Irit. (1995), p. 27

Special thanks to Lyrichord for granting us permission to feature this recording.

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

19 November 2019

Recording of the week: the pampapiano of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe

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

Although that was not their primary intention, it was the Europeans who first brought the pampapiano to Peru’s Andean region of Cusco. Music was seen as an important component of evangelisation, but churches in the mountainous areas of Peru lacked the hefty pipe organs that accompanied mass and other religious functions back in Europe. So, they imported small and portable organs to fill the recently-built churches of those remote Andean communities with music. Variably called pump organs, reed organs or harmoniums, those pedal-pumped, free-reed instruments had only four or five octaves and a very limited set of timbres or stops. But they did the job.

Time passed, and as grander organs were brought into the churches, those earlier, smaller models were gradually dismissed. They were, however, adopted by the local population, who started using them outside the church to play religious music but also secular local styles. It was then that this locally-repurposed instrument got its new name. The melodio, as it was known in Spanish, became the pampapiano, from the Quechua word pampa, which means ‘land’ but also ‘ground’ and ‘floor’. Having left the church, the pampapiano could be played almost anywhere in the land. You just had to place it on the ground and start pedalling.

Pictured below is the pampapiano of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe, a professional musician living in San Jeronimo, a very religious village eight miles south-east of Cusco. It is a foldable model that can be carried around by the handle, not unlike a bulky suitcase. It is also an old and quite battered model, with many of the keys worn out by repeated use.

Photograph of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe's pampapianoThe pampapiano of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe, photographed by Peter Cloudsley. Judging by the marks on the keyboard, it seems that Rafael’s repertoire was mostly in G and D major.

A small plaque on Rafael’s pampapiano (not visible in the picture) says: ‘Piano made by Stevens, Kentish Town, London NW5’, and I wonder what tortuous routes brought this instrument from North London to a small village located at over 3,000 metres high up in the Andes.

Rafael was about 55 years old at the time of this recording, and his hearing was seriously compromised. This did not stop him from performing regularly at weddings, birthdays and baptisms with a group that also included harp, violin and quena (a notched flute). He played entirely from memory, although he was able to read music.

Photograph of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe at his house in San JeronimoRafael Achomccaray Quispe at his house in San Jeronimo, photographed by Peter Cloudsey.

Rafael’s repertoire included sacred music but also huaynos, marineras, yaravís and other secular styles. In this week’s recording, made by Peter Cloudsley in San Jeronimo on 12 February 1981, Rafael plays an instrumental yaraví titled Kusco (the clatter of the pedals and keys of the pampapiano is clearly audible throughout).

Kusco played on the pampapiano by Rafael Achomccaray Quispe (C9/16 C3)

Many thanks to Peter Cloudsley for allowing us to share his recording and for providing the pictures that accompany this post.

The Peter Cloudsley collection at the British Library holds many more recordings of Rafael’s pampapiano, including songs sung in Quechua, Spanish and Quechuañol (see shelfmarks C9/13, C9/14, C9/15, C9/16). For a short interview with the musician, see C9/19. A recording of a pampapiano being played during Easter mass inside Cusco Cathedral is also part of the collection (see C9/28 and C9/29).

The Peter Cloudsley collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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14 October 2019

Recording of the week: Dr John interviewed by Charlie Gillett

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This week's selection comes from Andy Linehan, Curator of Popular Music.

Charlie Gillett, in his later years best-known as a World Music broadcaster, spent many years investigating the roots of rock music. He hosted Honky-Tonk on BBC Radio London in the 1970s where many of his guests were influential figures in the history of rock that Charlie traced in his book The sound of the City.

This excerpt is from an interview Charlie conducted with legendary New Orleans musician Dr. John, who describes a recording session in London where he had to find musicians at short notice – luckily he had some good contacts that resulted in some well-known names coming to his aid. The sessions were eventually issued on his album The Sun, Moon & Herbs.

The entire interview takes place in the back of a taxi driving through New Orleans with all the background noise that entails plus the occasional interruptions of a small child who is also in the cab. It probably wasn’t good enough quality for broadcast use but does provide first-hand testimony about Dr John’s relationship with his fellow musicians and management and the problems they encountered with the stresses of touring and recording.

Excerpt from Charlie Gillett interview with Dr John (C510/46-48)

Open reel tape containing Charlie Gillett's interview with Dr John (C510/46-48))Open reel tape containing Charlie Gillett's interview with Dr John (C510/46-48)

The Charlie Gillett collection contains interviews and broadcasts from both his early work as a presenter and writer specialising in the history of rock’n’roll and his later interest and influence on the development of the world music scene in the UK. He died in 2010 and his collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

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

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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

25 September 2019

Sounds from Bohemia: exploring the Bohemian Quartet’s recordings of Dvorak and Smetana

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Bohemian Quartet drawingBohemian Quartet (Tully Potter collection)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Rosalind Ventris, a concert violist and teacher of viola and chamber music at the Royal Irish Academy of Music

Listen to these two examples of the opening of Smetana’s String Quartet No.1 in E minor ‘From my life’. First, the Bohemian Quartet recorded in 1928

01 Smetana mvt 1 opening

and now the Pavel Haas Quartet

Here we have two interpretations by Czech quartets separated by almost ninety years, each passionate and invigorating, but how different they sound!

I first became aware of the Bohemian Quartet (or Ceské Kvarteto) in a fascinating talk Robert Philip gave at the IMS Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music in 2013, in which he played their recording of Dvořák’s American Quartet. This initial encounter made a strong impression on me and I have since spent time at the British Library as an Edison Fellow delving into the Sound Archive's collection of early recordings of Czech quartets playing Czech repertoire. The Bohemian Quartet’s recordings are especially revealing, and exemplify an approach to expressivity and ensemble that differs markedly to some performance styles today. In particular, their use of variation in bow technique, portamento, vibrato, tempo and rhythm all stand out as noteworthy. Perhaps surprisingly, performance practice of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Czech music has received less scholarly attention than other national schools, and the work that has been done in this field is not often reflected in performance today.

A particular interest in Dvořák led to my proposing his lesser-known quartets for a recording cycle with my former string quartet (the Albion) for Signum Classics. One of the CDs also features Josef Suk’s short Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn 'St Wenceslas' for String Quartet, Op. 35a. Two discs coincided with initial visits to the British Library. The Edison Fellowship has since provided a valuable opportunity to dig deeper into questions that arose when listening to the Bohemian Quartet and recording Czech string quartets.

Experts in historical recording are united in their praise of the Bohemian Quartet, and particular for their achievement of a genuine equality across the four players. Chamber music specialist Tully Potter describes them as ‘by common consent, the first great modern chamber ensemble’ (liner notes to The Czech Quartet Tradition, Biddulph), and Robert Philip calls them ‘the string quartet acknowledged as the first modern “ensemble of equals”’ (Robert Philip Performing Music in the Age of Recording, 21). Celebrated violin pedagogue Carl Flesch first encountered the Bohemians in 1894, writing in his Memoirs:

Hitherto, one had been accustomed to see in quartet ensembles chiefly a foil for the dominating leader, as was the case above all in the Joachim Quartet... here for the first time one heard ensemble playing by four congenial individualities who were on the same technical level. (Philip Performing Music in the Age of Recording, 122-123)

Their career spanned forty years of chamber music making from the early 1890s to the 1930s, with few changes of membership in that time. By the time the ensemble reached its tenth birthday they had already performed a thousand concerts, and they kept up this pace for most of the quartet’s existence. They toured extensively throughout Europe and collaborated with the likes of clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (1906), violist Lionel Tertis (1906 and 1929) and many other illustrious musicians. Great composers such as Elgar and Janáček were among their many admirers. On hearing them rehearse his String Quartet Elgar exclaimed, ‘The reason I have lived so long is so as to experience your performance’ (Tully Potter, unpublished chapter). Czech composer Janáček was similarly enthralled by their playing, writing to his muse Kamila Stösslová, ‘I’ve not yet heard anything so magnificent as the way the Bohemian Quartet played my work’ (Tully Potter unpublished chapter). When Czechoslovakia came in to being in 1918 the group changed their name to the ‘Czech Quartet’, although in practice the name ‘Bohemian’ stuck.

Bohemian Quartet 1895The Bohemian Quartet in 1895  Karel Hoffmann, Hanuš Wihan, Oskar Nedbal, Josef Suk

The quartet’s members knew Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) personally and were closely associated with the music of Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884). When the violinist Antonín Bennewitz (1833-1926) became Director of the Prague Conservatory in 1882 he, alongside the cello professor Hanuš Wihan (1855-1920), began encouraging more chamber music at the institution. In 1891, at Wihan’s suggestion, the Bohemian Quartet was formed. The original membership consisted of violinists Karel Hoffmann (1872-1936), Josef Suk (1874-1935), violist Oskar Nedbal (1875-1930) and cellist Otakar Berger (1873-1897). The upper three were pupils of Bennewitz, and Berger studied with Wihan. After Berger’s illness and early death he was subsequently replaced by Wihan, who then became the group’s cellist for the bulk of their career.

The quartet’s teachers were also closely connected to Dvořák and Smetana. Both professors worked alongside Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory (Dvořák later succeeded Bennewitz as Director). Bennewitz gave the public premiere of Quartet No.7 Op.16 in A minor (29th December 1878, Prague). Wihan premiered the ‘Dumky’ Trio with the composer himself at the piano, and was the dedicatee of Dvořák’s B minor Cello Concerto, the arrangement of Silent Woods for cello and piano, and the Rondo in G minor. The Bohemian Quartet’s original members also all had close personal relationships with Dvořák. Three of the group’s founders: Suk, Nedbal and Berger were also Dvořák’s composition students, and Suk was also his son-in-law. The quartet gave the world premiere of Dvořák’s G major quartet Op.106 (9th October 1896), having given the first Prague performance of the A flat Quartet Op.105 earlier in that year on 21st January.

Bennewitz premiered Smetana’s Trio in G minor, and was a founder of the Kammermusikverein in 1876, a chamber music society whose nationalist principles spurred Smetana to write his first string quartet later that year. In the British Library Archive there is a very interesting radio programme from 1995 (H5456/2) by Duncan Druce on ‘From my life’, in which he talks of the initial resistance to this piece in some quarters. The Bohemians, however, made it their own: they first performed it in 1892, and so it was part of their repertoire from the beginning. Nedbal’s delivery of the opening viola solo— turning round to face the audience and playing it from memory— was much commented on by many illustrious witnesses, such as Sir Arnold Bax and Eric Coates.

By the time the Bohemians made their recordings in the 1920s, Hoffmann and Suk were still in the group, but in rather acrimonious circumstances in 1913 Wihan had been replaced by the younger Ladislav Zelenka (1881-1957) and Nedbal by Jiří Herold (1875-1934). (Happily, though, the British Library also has a couple of short recordings of Oskar Nedbal. Nedbal’s departure caused a scandal as he ran off ran off with first violinist Karel Hoffmann's wife in 1906!)

Given its members’ personal connections to Dvořák, the Bohemian Quartet’s recordings should clearly be a starting point for anyone interested in performance practices for this repertoire. With their pedigree it is perhaps particularly striking that the expressive devices that this group used—with one foot still firmly rooted in the nineteenth century—have largely been overlooked, especially when we think of the interest in period performance and the rise of this with regard to the music of nineteenth-century composers. Dvořák seems to have been particularly neglected. As Martin Jemelka has commented in a recent article (‘Antonin Dvořák’s Music made on period instruments’ Czech Music, 2012), only a small handful of chamber music discs of this repertoire touch on historically informed stylistic awareness.

Although the Bohemian Quartet’s recordings date from the 1920s, they clearly embody a fundamentally nineteenth-century performance style. They played on gut strings throughout their careers, there is considerable flexibility in their approach to tempo and use of rubato (they are far from metronomic), ensemble is less tight, rhythms are more gestural than exact, and obviously portamento is much more audibly prevalent than vibrato. There are some lapses of intonation in these recordings, which perhaps should be put down to the players’ advancing years. Since vibrato and portamento have been discussed in studies of historical recordings elsewhere, albeit not greatly in relation to this repertoire, I would like to draw attention here to some different features—those involving the players’ use of the bow.

In a sense it is surprising that the bow has received so little attention, since any string player would agree with Louis Spohr’s proclamation that the bow is the ‘soul of playing’ (Milsom Theory and Practice in late 19th-century violin performance, 34). Robert Philip provides some clarity as to the Bohemian Quartet’s general style, and comments that the

old ‘German’ way of playing extended far beyond Joachim’s direct influence. Different versions of it can be heard in recordings of the Rosé, Bohemian, Capet and the original Budapest Quartet. . . . The so-called German school was therefore not just a narrow group associated with Joachim, but a wider culture of violin playing, which, for a time, resisted the trend towards more powerful and assertive styles. Its preference for a broad style of bowing, and little vibrato, was a continuation of early nineteenth century practice. (Philip Performing Music in the Age of Recording 192-3)

Earlier Philip describes the old German grip 'with the low elbow, the fingers are close together, and roughly at right-angles to the bow.' 

Articulation markings seem to carry implications for bowing that are not exemplified in performances of this repertoire today. Where staccato dots are marked, the stroke is much more varied and often on the string (which is to say that the bow is not lifted off the string at the end of the note, as would be more common in modern performance). Moreover, any figure marked with a dot at the end is sometimes stopped rather than lifted. There are many examples of this in the Bohemian recordings, such as in the second movement Polka from Smetana’s Quartet No.1.

02 Smetana Polka BQ opening

In the score all the un-slurred notes are marked staccato. In this clip these are definitely more on the string before loosening up at the very end of the recording in bar 11.

We can compare the Bohemians with another contemporaneous version available in the British Library, which is similar in its approach to articulation.

03 Smetana Polka Sevcik Lhotsky opening

This recording is by a slightly younger Czech group—the Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet—which was made just a year after the Bohemian Quartet’s own. Again we hear the more on-the-string style that we encountered with the Bohemians. In the Ševčík-Lhotský’s rendition occasionally the bow will be thrown as an effect (e.g. violin 1 second movement bar 11), whereas the Bohemians were a little more controlled here.

Similarly, in the opening of the ‘American’ quartet of Dvořák both Hoffmann and Herold from the Bohemians prefer a more ‘on-the-string’ approach.

04 Dvorak mvt 1 BQ opening

This prevalence for more on-the-string strokes might in part be a result of the old ‘German’ style of bow-hold described above, lending itself more to these kinds of on the string strokes. Clive Brown (in Classical and Romantic Performing Practice 1750-1900) and David Milsom (in Theory and practice in late nineteenth-century violin performance) have also both commented that in the nineteenth-century German school the upper-half of the bow was used more frequently for off-the-string strokes.

It is also noticeable that the Bohemians are not always consistent with their strokes: they sometimes vary articulation on a repeated passage on a second hearing. Often this is clearly for musical variety, but there are also examples where differences in articulation could be down to age. This is illustrated in the accompaniment in the first movement in this passage in the Dvořák ‘American' Quartet.

05 Dvorak mvt 1 BQ acc fig

Clearly Hoffman’s bow control is not the same—or perhaps this could also be put down to different priorities. If you listen again to the very start of the movement in the previous extract you can audibly hear Hoffmann put the bow to the string and the sound is slightly shaky.

It is worth pointing out that the Bohemian’s articulation and right-hand choices often link to emphasising rhythmic shapes and gestures. For instance, double-dotting is apparent in the extracts above in the first movement of the Dvořák ‘American’ and the Smetana ‘From my life’ opening. In the Smetana Polka we heard earlier the ‘quasi Tromba’ theme is double-dotted in the viola and violin, and is particularly striking when it reaches the first violin in terms of rhythmic gesture: the first two quavers of the bar are marked slurred with a dot under the second, and Hoffmann and Herold play with the beat-placement here to make the rhythm particularly dance-like.

06 Smetana Polka BQ rhythm

Hear the opening of third movement of the Dvořák ‘American’ for the same effect

07 Dvorak mvt 3 BQ rhythm

In fact, wherever there are a couple of repeated rhythmic values together they are often played with a lengthening of the first of the group. One good example is the evocative harmonic turning point in the first movement of the Dvořák ‘American’

08 Dvorak mvt 1 BQ flex (2)

Often this rhythmic flexibility will be led by the first violinist, and there are many examples of this throughout the recordings. For me, the Bohemian Quartet’s rendition of the second movement of the Dvořák ‘American’ offers a masterclass in rhythmic flexibility.

In line with nineteenth-century practice the group significantly slows down into more restful passages of music and then rushes through more excited bits: listen again to the opening of the polka extract from the Smetana ‘From my life’ second movement above, and here again is a fuller version of the last extract to show how the group first pushes through, followed by an extreme winding down into the second theme.

09 Dvorak mvt 1 BQ winddown

Portamento is used by the players to emphasise the dissipating of energy in this passage—a device which is used with similarly effective results elsewhere.

The Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet also use rubato and portamenti in the manner of the Bohemians. As a final example, listen to this beautiful, swooping rendition of Osakar Nedbal’s Valse Triste played by the Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet recorded on 28th May 1929.

Disc label Valse TristeDisc label (1CL0074346 BL collections)

10 Nedbal Valse Triste 1CL0074346

Although the Ševčík-Lhotský Quartet clearly had their own very different interpretations of Czech masterpieces, the fact that they also used similar expressive devices as the Bohemians bolsters the argument that these were fundamental to the character of this repertoire and not just the product of an unusual idiosyncratic ensemble.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways in which the time spent with these recordings during this Fellowship has influenced my approach to this repertoire in my playing. I am looking forward to building on the work undertaken during my Fellowship with a Research trip next month to Prague, as a recipient of the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s Amplify Grant. This visit will then feed back into my chamber music teaching at the RIAM, to help the students develop a performer-oriented understanding of stylistic traits and broaden their expressive palettes.

I am very grateful to the British Library and to Jonathan Summers for his guidance throughout this Fellowship, and to Tully Potter for sharing his fascinating materials and insights into the world of the Bohemian Quartet with me.

During my fellowship I also wrote an article on Ševčík’s teaching for The Strad magazine.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical