Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

25 April 2024

Beyond the Bassline: Two-tone

The Specials live in Montreux
The Specials live in Montreux 1980 © Adrian Boot /

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Two-tone merged the sounds of Jamaican and UK popular music, most importantly Jamaican ska and punk rock. The genre’s name and history is directly linked to the 2 Tone label.

2 Tone Records was formed in Coventry in 1979 by the Specials’ Jerry Dammers as an independent imprint of Chrysalis Records. Dammers struck a deal with the label that allowed him to not only release the Specials’ own work but also sign other bands and artists who would become major representatives of the two-tone genre. Bands like the Beat and Madness left the label after the release of just one single.

The label’s visual identity is carried by monochrome designs. Its logo is instantly recognisable with its black and white checkboard element and iconic rude boy figure Walt Jabsco. Dressed in a black suit and tie with pork pie hat and loafers, he was inspired by a photograph of Peter Tosh and the Wailers, used on early reissues of their Studio One debut album The Wailing Wailers.

The Beat had their own icon, the so-called ‘Beat Girl’, which was based on an iconic photograph of transwoman Brigitte Bond, who was a ska singer and cabaret performer.

Jamaican ska was not only a major musical influence on the genre, it also provided a repertoire of songs that was frequently covered by two-tone artists. Cuban-Jamaican ska pioneer Rico Rodriguez released two albums on 2 Tone and collaborated with bands such as the Specials, most famously on their cover of Dandy Livingstone’s ‘Rudy A Message To You’.

The 2 Tone label was relatively short-lived and had a strong focus on the release of singles. It officially stopped operating in 1986. Reissues and compilations continue to be released under the label.


Records as displayed in the exhibition, from top left to bottom right:

1 Various, Dance Craze, 2 Tone Records, 1981, 1LP0013542.

2 Various, This Are Two Tone, 2 Tone Records, 1983, 1LP0131516.

3 Bad Manners, Ska 'N' B, Magnet, 1980, 1LP0096772.

4 Bad Manners, Lip Up Fatty, Magnet, 1980, 1SE0034458.

5 The Special AKA, Nelson Mandela, 2 Tone Records, 1984, 1SE0008537.

6 The Apollinaires, The Feeling's Gone, 2 Tone Records, 1982, 1SE0050502.

7 Rico, Jama Rico, 2 Tone Records, 1982, 2LP0066925.

8 The Specials, The Specials, 2 Tone Records, 1979, 1LP0131511.

9 Rico, That Man Is Forward, 2 Tone Records, 1981, 1LP0261583.

10 The Special A.K.A. Featuring Rico, Too Much Too Young, 2 Tone Records, 1980, 2SE0038681.

11 The Beat, I Just Can't Stop It, Arista, 1980, 1LP0086612.

12 Akrylykz, J.D., Polydor, 1980, 2SE0018287.

13 The Beat, Mirror In The Bathroom, Go-Feet Records, 1980, 2SE0043877.

14 The Selecter, Too Much Pressure, 2 Tone Records, 1980, 2LP0084393.

15 The Bodysnatchers, Easy Life, 2 Tone Records/Chrysalis, 1980, 1SE0110512.

16 The Specials, Do Nothing, 2 Tone Records, 1980, 2SE0027890.

17 Rhoda with The Special A.K.A., The Boiler, 2 Tone Records, 1982, 2SE0027891.

18 Madness, Embarrassment, Stiff Records, 1980, 2SE0012491.

19 The Beat, Tears of a Clown, 2 Tone Records/Chrysalis, 1979, 1SE0110526.

20 The Specials, Ghost Town, 2 Tone Records, 1981, 1SE0110541.

21 The Specials, Rat Race, 2 Tone Records/Chrysalis, 1980, 1SE0110514.

22 The Bodysnatchers, Let’s Do Rock Steady, 2 Tone Records, 1980, 2SE0027888.

23 The Special A.K.A, Gangsters, 2 Tone Records, 1979, 2SE0038686.

24 The Selecter, On My Radio, 2 Tone Records/Chrysalis, 1979, 1SE0110515.

25 The Specials Featuring Rico, A Message To You Rudy, 2 Tone Records, 1979, 2SE0038680.

26 Dandy, Rudy A Message To You, Ska Beat, 1967, 1SE0110538.

27 Prince Buster, Madness, Blue Beat, 1963, 1SE0110502.

28 Madness, The Prince, 2 Tone Records, 1979, 1SE0110545.


Beyond the Bassline: Roots reggae

Aswad on the street in Brixton 1981
Aswad in Brixton 1981 © Adrian Boot /

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Ska and reggae groups started to emerge within the UK in the late 1960s, not long after reggae surfaced in Jamaica. Bands such as Symarip, the Cimarons and Greyhound were signed to labels like Trojan Records. Eddy Grant and Lambert Briscoe’s short-lived Torpedo is an early example of a UK label focusing on the release of British reggae artists in 1970.

With the rise of roots reggae and its popularity in the UK, the 1970s saw a surge of British reggae groups and artists. The genre struck a note with young Brits from various ethnic backgrounds, who were fed-up with corrupt policies, racial discrimination and social issues effecting the working-class population. Roots reggae was at its height during the second half of the 1970s and British bands like Steel Pulse, Aswad and Misty in Roots gained wider recognition. The next decade saw British reggae develop in various directions and gain frequent chart successes, particularly with a more pop-influenced reggae. Aswad’s 1988 number one hit ‘Don’t Turn Around’ was a milestone for the band. Stylistically, it had little in common with their roots reggae beginnings.

UK reggae labels such as Greensleeves and Fashion Records or Mad Professor’s Ariwa and Count Shelly’s Third World were significant for the production and distribution of British reggae and often directly connected to sound system operators. Dub labels like those of Jah Shaka were instrumental for the development of a UK specific dub sound, which would come to influence later Black British genres such as jungle.


Records as displayed in the exhibition, from top left to bottom right:

1 Black Roots, Black Roots, Kick, 1983, 1LP0092808.

2 Undivided Roots, Ultimate Experience, Entente/Ruff Cutt Music, 1987, 1LP0007150.

3 Natural Ites And The Realistics, Picture On The Wall, CSA Records, 1985, 1LP0016476.

4 Pato Banton, Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton, Ariwa, 1985, 1LP0056314.

5 Tippa Irie, Hello Darling, UK Bubblers, 1986, 1TH0028691.

6 Simaryp, Skinhead Moonstomp, Trojan Records, 1980, 1LP0130627.

7 Aswad, Aswad, Island Records, 2013 [1976], 1LP0226454.

8 Aisha, High Priestess, Ariwa, 1987, 2LP0002844.

9 UB40, Labour of Love II, DEP International, 1989, 2LP0005794.

10 Creation Rebel, Close Encounters, Hitrun, 1978, 1LP0260998.

11 Misty in Roots, Live at the Counter Eurovision, People Unite, 1979, 1LP0111405.

12 Greyhound, Black And White, Trojan Records, 1971, 1LP0214102.

13 The Cimarons, In Time, Trojan Records, 1974, 1LP0130536.

14 Smiley Culture, Police Officer, Fashion Records, 1984, 1TH0028263.

15 Maxi Priest & Caution, You're Safe, 10 Records, 1985, 2LP0066628.

16 Delroy Washington, I-Sus, Virgin, 1976, 1LP0136471.

17 Matumbi, Point of View, EMI, 1979, 1LP0097563.

18 Saxon Studio International, Coughing Up Fire, UK Bubblers, 1984, 1LP0001945.

19 Macka B, Sign of the Times, Ariwa, 1986, 1LP0056316.

20 Musical Youth, Pass the Dutchie, MCA Records, 1982, 2TH0018644.

21 Pablo Gad, Trafalgar Square, Burning Sounds, 1979, 1LP0261076.

22 Dread And Fred, Warriors Stance, Jah Shaka Music, 1989, 1TH0081870.

23 Capital Letters, Smoking My Ganja, Greensleeves Records, 1978, 1TH0081859.

24 Vivian Jones, Good Morning, Third World, 1980, 1TH0081869.

25 Steel Pulse, Nyah Luv, Anchor, 1977, 1SE0110536.

26 The Hot Rod All-Stars, Pussy Got Nine Life, Torpedo, 1970, 1SE0109719.

27 Black Slate, Sticks Man, Slate, 1976, 1SE0042498.

28 Aswad, Don't Turn Around, Mango/Island Records, 1988, 2


Beyond the Bassline: Lovers’ rock

Image of Janet Kay singing into a microphone
Janet Kay © Tim Barrow /

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Following the tradition of Jamaican genres like roots reggae, lovers’ rock was introduced to its audiences by UK sound systems. Its mix of reggae sounds with elements of pop and Black music genres from across the Atlantic, such as soul and R&B, was inspired by audience demand.

The first distinct lovers’ rock releases surfaced in London in 1975. Louisa Mark’s ‘Caught You in a Lie’, produced by sound system operator Lloyd Coxsone and released on his Safari Records, is seen as a crucial moment for the genre’s recording industry. Mark, only fifteen at the time, was somebody the young and predominantly Black British female audience could strongly identify with.

The Lover’s Rock label, founded by Dennis Harris in 1977, gave the genre its name. Dennis Bovell was a key producer and became a crucial influence of the lovers’ rock sound. From the late 70s a trend for so-called reggae disco mixes started, which led to a spike in the production of 12’ singles by labels such as Santic Records or Dennis Brown’s DEB Music. Mad Professor and his Ariwa label played a big role in the production and release of the genre from the mid-1980s.

Lovers’ rock was mostly sold off the high street, by stores whose numbers did not contribute to the official UK charts. Although singles of the new British genre frequently topped the UK Reggae charts, only a small number made it onto the official UK singles chart, most notably Janet Kay’s number 2 hit ‘Silly Games’ in 1979.

Contrary to roots reggae, lovers’ rock was dominated by female voices. The genre also enabled male artists to portray themselves in a softer light, challenging perceptions of masculinity.


Records as displayed in the exhibition, from top left to bottom right:

1 Peter Hunnigale & The Night Flight Band, In This Time, Street Vibes, 1987, 1LP0004833.

2 Marie Pierre, Love Affair, Trojan Records, 1979, 1LP0130617.

3 Kofi, Black…With Sugar, Ariwa, 1989, 1LP0011138.

4 Sandra Cross, Country Life, Ariwa, 1985, 2LP0042560.

5 Carroll Thompson, Hopelessly In Love, Carib Gems, 1981, 1LP0258130.

6 Deborahe Glasgow, Deborahe Glasgow, Greensleeves Records, 1989, 1LP0012797.

7 Sylvia Tella, Spell, Sarge, 1981, 1LP0260999.

8 Louisa "Markswoman" Mark, Breakout, Soulgramma/Bushranger, 1981, 2LP0044577.

9 Toyin, Love 'N' Leather, Criminal Records, 1989, 1LP0261077.

10 Mike Anthony, Short A Nothing, Gussie P Records, 1992, 1LP0261079.

11 15. 16. 17., Black Skin Boys, DEB Music, 1978, 1TH0081635.

12 Tradition, Alternative Routes, RCA, 1978, 1LP0190280.

13 Beshara, Men Cry Too, Mass Media Music, about 1981, 1TH0081867.

14 Jean Adebambo, Paradise, Santic Records, 1981, 1TH0081932.

15 Donna Rhoden, It’s True, Santic Records, 1981, 1TH0081933.

16 Lorna Gee, Gotta Find A Way, Ariwa, 1985, 1TH0025482.

17 Investigators featuring Michael Gordon and Lorenzo Hall, Investigators Greatest Hits - The Rare Grooves, Sweet Freedom Records, 1991, 1LP0261078.

18 The Instigators, Let’s Make Love, Love Birds, about 1980, 1TH0081866.

19 Cassandra, If You Are Not Back In Love By Monday, Lover’s Rock, 1977, 1SE0110507.

20 Victor Romero Evans, At the Club, Epic, 1981, 1SE0110504.

21 Carolyn Catlin, Peaceful Woman, Lover’s Rock, 1977, 1SE0110511.

22 Simplicity, Feeling is a feeling/Been In Love, Music Force/Student, about 1977, 1TH0081930.

23 Janet Kay, Silly Games, Scope/Atlantic, 1979, 1SE0110508.

24 John McLean, If I Give My Heart To You, Ariwa, 1987, 1TH0002969.

25 Ginger Williams, I Can't Resist Your Tenderness, Paradise, 1975, 1SE0110510.

26 Louisa Mark, Caught You in a Lie, Safari Records, 1975, 1SE0110503.

27 Brown Sugar, I'm in love with a dreadlocks, Lover’s Rock, 1977, 1SE0110506.

28 Black Harmony, Don't Let It Go To Your Head, Laser, 1979, 1SE0083165.


24 April 2024

Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music

Beyond the Bassline banner image for email
This Friday sees the opening of the British Library’s new exhibition ‘Beyond the Bassline’. Charting 500 years of history, it’s the first major exhibition about Black music in Britain.  

The exhibition presents over 200 exhibits, including original records and nostalgic film footage from the sound and vision archive, charting everything from jazz, afroswing and reggae to jungle and grime. These are positioned alongside artefacts like letters from 18th-century composer Ignatius Sancho, glittering props and outfits of carnival performers, images from acclaimed photographers and the equipment that Jamal Edwards used to start SB.TV, the industry-defining YouTube channel dedicated to Black British Music.

Woven into this curated narrative, visitors can also experience specially commissioned soundscapes, artworks and film installations produced by artists and collectives across the UK.

The exhibition has been curated by the British Library’s Dr Aleema Gray in collaboration with Dr Mykaell Riley from the University of Westminster. Aleema Gray says:

It represents a timely opportunity to broaden our understanding of Black British music and situate it within a historical conversation. Black British music is more than a soundtrack. It has formed part of an expansive cultural industry that transformed British culture.

Beyond the Bassline celebrates more than music. It’s about the places where these sounds were born: the clubs, the carnivals, the stages, the kerbside auditoriums. It is the voice of community, resistance, culture and joy. It is a celebration of the trailblazers and innovators that brought new music to the UK, and the layered Black experiences that have birthed a thriving musical culture and history.

About the exhibition Mykaell Riley adds:

Beyond the Bassline is both a celebration and a starting point, spotlighting the rich legacy of African and Caribbean influences in British music. Yet, this is just the beginning. There's much more to uncover in our ongoing quest to understand and honour the depth of Black British music's impact, on British musical heritage.

Tickets are available online now.

02 April 2024

Sound Heritage Today: British and Irish Sound Archives event in Glasgow on 9-10 May

Close up of a turntable stylus

Do you work with or hold sound collections? Would you like to find out more about how to preserve audio recordings, make them more accessible, and engage different audiences with them? Could you contribute to conversations about how we can collaborate across relevant sectors to better support sound heritage? If any of these questions provoke a positive response, check out the programme for BISA 2024: Sound Heritage Today in Glasgow on 9-10 May. 

Sound & Vision staff from the British Library look forward to joining others involved in—or interested in becoming more involved in — sound heritage work at what will be a practical, inspiring and useful gathering. To book your ticket, visit EventBrite. We hope to see many of you there! 

25 January 2024

Sound and Vision update

Image of a reel on a white background
The British Library is continuing to experience disruption following a cyber-attack. As with other departments, access to the sound archive’s resources, and the services we are able to offer, have been affected. Most online systems, such as the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and the Sounds website, are currently unavailable. At present, we do not have any information that suggests material archived in the sound archive has been affected.

Teams across the Library are working hard to restore our systems and services and we will be making regular updates on our recovery via our temporary website, the Knowledge Matters blog and our social media channels. Please follow @BritishLibrary for updates. 

The Library buildings are still open as usual, and Wi-Fi is now available again at both sites. The Sound and Vision Reference Team are open for your enquiries, but are not currently able to offer any access to our material through the Listening and Viewing service. Please use the email address given at the foot of this post. 

What is currently available? 

Visitors to our London site may enjoy the Sound Gallery on the Lower Ground Floor. This resource features a range of recordings drawn from all areas of the sound archive, including music, poetry and prose, oral history, accents and dialects, and animal sounds and natural environments. 

Our SoundCloud account is still live and features a selection of 1000+ spoken word, wildlife and music recordings including our podcast series ‘Classical Music at the British Library’. 

The British Library Sound Archive programmes archived on the website of online radio NTS feature hundreds of wildlife and world and traditional music sound recordings from our collection.

The True Echoes web site showcases the recordings and research undertaken between 2019 and 2022 for the True Echoes research project. This project sought to reconnect a rich archive of early sound recordings of Oceanic cultures with the communities from which they originate. 

Contacting us 

You can contact us by emailing [email protected]. We’ll do our best to answer your queries but please bear with us. This inbox is reviewed from 08.30 to 16.30 Monday to Friday. We’re experiencing a high volume of enquiries so it may take us some time to respond. We’ll get back to you as quickly as we can. 

We would like to thank all our friends, users and partners for your continued patience and understanding. 

30 October 2023

Recording of the week: Things that go howl in the night

Illustration of a gray wolf, 1912
public domain

With Halloween creeping up on us, I asked our wildlife curator to share with me her favourite spooky sounds. I’ve heard screeching barn owls. Hissing rattlesnakes. My favourite though: the chorus of howling wolves, recorded in Ontario, Canada in 2000.  

Listen to howls of the Gray Wolf

There’s something both serene and terrifying about the howl of a wolf. The wail floats on the edge of liminality: being both from the human world, yet also otherworldly. The calls mesmerise you – drawing you in, whilst making you want to retreat at the same time. They’re the epitome of the sublime.  

On this recording, I particularly liked how bird song is seamlessly dispersed among the howling at the beginning. You can almost picture dusk falling over the forest with the last birds of the day fleeing, before the creatures of the night ascend their sylvan thrones.  It conjures up that cinematic image of a majestic wolf pack in silhouette against a full moon. Contrary to popular imagination though, our wildlife expert informs me that it’s pure myth that wolves howl at the moon!  

As foreboding as the howls may be to the human ear, for the wolves, they’re a chorus of unity as they call out to their fellow pack-mates to prepare for their nocturnal hunt. Even the pups can be heard with their squeaky howls joining in with their parents.  

You can listen to a longer version of this recording on our sounds website

This week’s recording of the week was chosen by Elliot Sinclair, Web Editor.  

27 October 2023

Listening to Clara Schumann through her pupils: A pianistic orchestration of tones and rhythms

Franz_Hanfstaengl_-_Clara_Schumann_(1857)Photograph of Clara Schumann by Franz Hanfstaengl 1857

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Yanran Li

            I was fortunate to obtain a fellowship at the British Library last fall. As a pianist, given my interest in Robert Schumann, I was delighted to be able to take advantage of the many unusual recordings of Clara Schumann’s students., a number of them becoming famous in their own right. Mr. Jonathan Summers afforded me access to the rich collection of these audio recordings. He also made available contemporary interviews with musicians, as well as the archive of newspaper reviews of both Clara’s and her students’ concerts in the possession of the British Library.

            As one of the most prominent pianists and educators of the 19th century, Clara Schumann (1819-1896) has made immense contributions to the evolution of modern and contemporary piano performance. Her musical sphere is familiar to a broad range of music practitioners and enthusiasts, creating an entire generation of remarkable pianists. By analysing the surviving musical recordings, one can discern the multifaceted interpretations that these pianists have gained from her teachings. This, in turn, broadens our understanding of how Schumann's piano music can be performed.

            Within a single pedagogical framework, students of the revered educator naturally develop unique styles. Examining diverse interpretations by musicians connected to Schumann’s musical world offers a rich tapestry of insights. This analytical approach aids contemporary musicians in understanding Schumann's piano music by identifying commonalities and differences among Clara Schumann's students, providing profound insights into his compositions.

            Before delving into my in-depth study of performances by several of Clara's students, like many pianists, I was already familiar with some of Clara's teaching principles, particularly her emphasis on touch. Indeed, among numerous concert reviews of her solo and chamber performances that I found in the Newspaper Archive, the most prominent praise often centered on the kaleidoscopic tonal qualities she elicited by her touch on the keys. Additionally, in Nancy Reich's renowned biography of Clara, there are multiple references to the influence of her father, Friedrich Wieck, demanding absolute uniformity in touch, cultivating a fine touch. Clara would use this touch to construct incredibly smooth and nuanced musical phrases.

            As Robert Schumann entered the creative realm of the 1830s, deepening his relationship with Clara, he nearly exclusively envisioned and styled his compositions based on Clara's performance manner. One of the most conspicuous resultant stylistic traits was Schumann's pursuit of orchestral expression on the piano, a direct and passionate tribute to Clara's rich tonal palette. It is the intricate inner voice-leading and counterpoints, which are the most distinctive compositional characteristics in Schumann's piano works, that are closely related to Clara's keeping of her fingers close to the keyboard. From a technical standpoint, this was a consistent feature in both Clara's and her father's techniques. Even when playing demanding passages or powerful chords requiring substantial force, they employed the method to produce sound. According to Clara’s pupils, she often explained the method as playing the instrument through "pressure rather than percussion”, which is a rather unusual concept for a modern pianist like myself.  With access to the Library's resources, I have been able to systematically compile Clara's piano-playing principles, refining them through comparisons of Schumann's piano solo recordings by pianists directly connected to her, resulting in the following insights.

            Edith Heymann (1872–1960), an English pianist who visited Clara Schumann's home in Frankfurt in 1894, provided valuable insights into Clara's approach to piano touch. According to Heymann, Clara was known for her soft, warm touch, particularly in her mastery of intertwining melodies, exhibiting a super legato touch without exaggerating tone or tempo, and she rarely used the pedals except for chords. Clara's technique emphasized sensitive fingers, resulting in a fine tone, and phrasing through subtle tone gradations. Many biographies of Clara highlight her dedication to achieving an even touch and cultivating a refined sense of the use of soft pedal and tone quality in her teaching.

            However, as I explored reminiscences of Clara by pianists like Fanny Davies, Adelina de Lara, and Carl Friedberg, it became evident that Clara Schumann's emphasis on touch had a deeper purpose – transforming the piano into a fully symphonic instrument. Adelina de Lara (1872-1961), in her Farewell Lecture and concert at Wigmore Hall in 1956, recalled Clara Schumann's insistence on treating piano solo works as if they were orchestral compositions. Clara believed that, just like in an orchestra, every minute phrase in piano music could be seen as a separate instrument. Clara encouraged her students to develop "visions" of the music, granting individual life to each musical element within a piece and imagining orchestral effects to enhance the piano's timbre.

            In this context, Clara's requirements for pressing the keys (rather than striking them), which resulted in consistent touch and flawless legato, align with the requirements for flexible and relaxed arm and wrist movements. This approach facilitated seamless coordination between the pianist's key touch and their sensitivity to sound nuances. Such training undoubtedly laid the foundation for executing and distinguishing more intricate and nuanced tonal qualities with pianists’ fingers.

            Not only a solid foundation for the execution of a diverse tone quality is essential, but the idea of timing in piano playing is also crucial to ensure the accomplishment of an orchestral-sounding piano which was mutually desired and pursued by Clara and Robert Schumann. Clara, as documented in the Pearl Collection of her pupils and in Adelina's interviews, emphasized the rejection of mechanical or rushed playing.  Whenever the student was rushing through transitional segments, Madame Schumann would point out agitatedly, ‘No Passages!’, from the other side of the room. Viewing musical elements as individual instruments, each with an irreplaceable role, Clara expected her students to master timing – both the overall tempo selection and the precise timing of each musical element's entrance. Upon examining recordings by Clara Schumann's students, I observed distinct timing styles that breathe vitality and a full orchestral dynamic quality into the piano. Subsequent passages will elaborate on these observations.

            One of the most influential pupils of Clara Schumann, Fanny Davies (1861-1934), has demonstrated a most notable rhythmic interpretation through the way she handled the pronounced independence of the middle voices and her creative phrasings. An exemplary instance can be found in her 1930 recording of Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze. Davies's interpretation resonates with the distinctive style of Robert Schumann and aligns with the principles emphasized in Clara Schumann's teaching. In this recording, during the first ritardando, where the melodic line leans on an E flat major chord borrowed from the parallel minor key, G minor, Davies pays special attention to the concluding note, F sharp. She sustains it with a string-instrument-like quality while complementing the fermata effect with a series of arpeggio chords in the left hand. Subsequently, she continues the sustained left-hand note, F natural, from the preceding F sharp, thus weaving a melodic line that traversed F sharp – F natural – E – D – C – E – D – B. This intricate approach intertwined the upper-voice melodic line with the middle voice, infusing it with vibrant tonal colours, especially as it progressed into the "Im Tempo" section.

Fig.1_Davies no.1

Fig.1 Davidsbündlertänze: Movt. 01 Lebhaft: Lively (Vivace), G major, Florestan and Eusebius, mm. 16-21

Davidsbundlertanze 01 Lebhaft

            Another instance can be found in the second piece, “Innig”, from the same work. Schumann's notation suggests a rhythmic pattern ambiguously involving a parallel existence of three and two groupings per measure. Davies enhances the audibility of the middle voice, G, by slurring the second and third eighth notes, E - G, in each measure. Consequently, not only does the small slur of E - G become an independent musical unit, adding another viola-like tonal layer to the sonority, but it also serves as a complement to the high-register melodic line, C sharp - G.

Fig.2_Davies no.2

Fig.2 Davidsbündlertänze: Movt. 02 Innig: Intimately (Con intimo sentimento), B minor, Eusebius, mm.1-6

Davidsbundlertanze 02 Innig

            In the final movement of the first section of Davidsbündlertänze, No. 9, “Lebhaft," Davies demonstrates another unexpected phrasing technique. This section comprises two groups of four measures forming an eight-measure long phrase. When the low bass melody, outlined by octave intervals in the left hand, first appears in measures five to eight, Davies not only allows the low B flat to slightly precede the right-hand melody, disrupting the straightforward 3/4 rhythm established in the first four measures but also elongates the rhythmic gap between G – D – B in measure six. This guides the listener's ear to the left-hand melody and makes them momentarily forget that it's a repetition. As the music enters a new phrase, she similarly hastens the left-hand F sharp in measure twelve, ensuring a seamless transition of the melodic line to the left hand. The combined effect of tonal variation and the timing of different layers' appearances illustrates one of the key technical approaches in revealing the tonal structural complexity in Schumann's piano compositions.

Fig.3_Davies no.9-1

Fig.3 Davidsbündlertänze: Movt. 09 Lebhaft: Lively (Vivace) (2nd edition), C major, Florestan, mm.1-8

Fig.4_Davies no.9-2

Fig.4 Davidsbündlertänze: Movt. 09 Lebhaft: Lively (Vivace) (2nd edition), C major, Florestan, mm.12-14

Download Davidsbundlertanze 09 Lebhaft

            Fanny Davies' unexpected phrasing in her performances often integrates precise timing of the lower bass notes, creating an independent yet cohesive effect in the low registers, which Clara Schumann highly valued. What is notable in her performance is her interpretation of Schumann’s rhythmic notation, which incorporates characteristic variations within an unchanging rhythmic pattern.

            The nuances of voice layering and timing intricacies shine through in Adelina de Lara's performances, particularly in her rendition of Schumann's polyrhythm. These instances are abundant in her playing, with the most representative example being her 1951 recording of the second movement, "Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch," from Kreisleriana. In this passage, measures cease to adhere to a rhythmically uniform structure; instead, they suggest opportunities for breath and expression. De Lara's interpretation allows for a freer, more flowing sense of rhythm. Both the left and right-hand melodies maintain relatively independent rhythms, and the appearance of triplets and sixteenth notes in the bass melody after the double bar carries an improvisational quality, unburdened by rigid rhythmic divisions. De Lara's approach to ornaments is equally intriguing. These inherently rhythmically complex elements offer a broader canvas for Schumann's polyrhythm. De Lara's fingertips evoke a sensation akin to playing the cello, with the resonance produced by the bow's friction on the strings and subtle rhythmic delays contributing to the overall experience.

Jacob_Hilsdorf_-_Carl_FriedbergCarl Friedburg

            The flexibility of tempo serves as a potent expressive tool in Carl Friedberg's musical interpretations. Friedberg (1872–1955), who met Clara Schumann and maintained a close connection with Brahms, has left a limited body of recorded material. However, Mr. Allan Evans compiled and published a set of two CDs about Brahms in 2015, which includes precious recordings of Friedberg's performances. This album even features a remarkable performance segment of Brahms' Piano Trio in C minor by the Trio of New York in 1939. Among others, one of the most impressive recordings is a brief excerpt on Disc 2, less than two minutes long, featuring Friedberg's rendition of Schumann's Arabeske.

            In Minore 1, in e minor, of Arabeske, Friedberg demonstrates a flexible sense of rhythm. This enables him to delineate layers within what initially appears to be a straightforward eighth-note melody. First, there's the slightly impulsive melodic line of B – C – B – F sharp – G. Then, he lingers briefly on the highest note of the melody, transforming the descending scale in the second measure of every two measures into an inner voice that enriches the upper-register melody’s colour. His musical consideration also makes the arrangement of every three harmonies in a small phrase more musically sensible and natural to the listener's ear.

Fig.5_ArabeskeFig.5 Arabeske op.18, mm.40-48

Arabeske Friedberg

            Having written above, a significant moment during the entire fellowship experience was the discovery of recordings by Australian pianist Elsie Hall (1877-1976). Her farewell concert at the age of 90 not only showcased the highly infectious musical expression and extraordinary technical prowess of a mature and eminent pianist but also embodied the soul of the Schumann era and a unique personal touch. Originally from Australia, Elsie Hall relocated to Germany at the age of 11 to pursue her piano studies. Following a performance by the young Elsie in England, Fanny Davies encouraged her to play for Clara Schumann. In 1896, Elsie had the opportunity to perform for Clara Schumann. This encounter did not directly propel Elsie's performing career, and they did not show much mutual interest - Clara's remark, as later recalled by Hall in interviews, was that she “…is much too delicate ever to be a concert player…hasn’t got the particular stamina for it.” Though the meeting with Madame Schumann was not entirely harmonious, the Classical musical world of the late 19th century definitely left an indelible mark on Elsie Hall's musical journey. Not only did she receive patronage from Marie Benecke, Felix Mendelssohn's eldest daughter, Elsie Hall also once mentioned that she gained the most musical inspiration and advice from Joseph Joachim, the Hungarian violinist, an intimate friend, and collaborator of Clara and Brahms. Hall's ability to seamlessly combine the nuances of phrasing, timing, and an extensive palette of tonal colours resulted in a continuous and captivating musical narrative. Her musical style perfectly aligned with Clara Schumann's emphasis on orchestral quality and her insistence on “no passages.”

            Even though Elsie publicly stated (multiple times on various occasions) that she “did not like the Schumann coterie at all”, during her farewell concert, she gave Schumann's Fantasie, op. 17 a prominent place. She performed the first and third movements of the piece. The performance was grand and impactful, exuding orchestral tonal qualities and volume. The separate treatment of the left-hand bass and right-hand melody, both in terms of tone and rhythm, maintains their independence while interweaving with each other, a characteristic performance style emblematic of the 19th-century era. Furthermore, Elsie Hall's meticulous handling of internal layers ensures that not a single note goes unnoticed. For instance, in the first movement, when “Adagio” transitions back to “Im Tempo”, falling into a C major chord, she carefully leads dynamics from piano to fortissimo over six measures, assigning each note of every chord a distinct position. Her attention to detail is equally evident in the opening passage of the third movement with chromatic signs. Hall’s interpretation does not overly indulge in any of the chromatic signs, neither rhythmically nor sonorously, yet she thoughtfully incorporates every harmonic colour outside of C major, capturing the audience's attention. The most sublime musical treatment is in the ritardando of the third movement. Her ritardando is executed with an absolute legato while preserving the individuality of inner and outer voices. The rhythmic complexities, such as two against three, presented her with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate her mastery of polyrhythm.


Fig.6 Fantasie op.17, mm. 272-278

Elsie Hall Schumann Fantasie extract

            Concluding this discussion with admiration for Elsie Hall is a deliberate decision. My immense gratitude to Mr. Summers and the British Library for providing this enlightening and educational opportunity. This research journey, initiated with profound respect and curiosity for Clara Schumann, has illuminated diverse facets of the 19th-century classical music universe. The Geist, or spirit, embedded in this music continues to inspire generations, a testament to Clara Schumann's steadfast training methods, the harmonious collaboration of musicians from varied backgrounds, and the relentless pursuit of artistic excellence worldwide. And all these precious spiritual experiences and artistic insights are transmitted vividly and directly to our ears through precious historical recordings, through the medium of sound, almost two hundred years later, continuing to fascinate musicians, inspiring us to explore tradition and the progressive evolution of musical expression.