THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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5 posts categorized "Music"

15 August 2019

Gerasim Lebedev, a Russian pioneer of Bengali Theatre

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Whilst browsing through a list of inhabitants of Calcutta in the 1790s one particular entry caught my attention.  In June 1794 a Russian musician by the name of Gerasim Lebedev was listed as a resident of Calcutta.  As it seemed unusual to find a Russian in India at that time, I was intrigued to learn more.

List of European Inhabitants in Calcutta June 1794IOR/O/5/26 – Gerasim Lebedeff’s entry in a list of European Inhabitants in Calcutta, June 1794 Noc

Lebedev was born in Yaroslavl Russia in 1749, the eldest son of a church choirmaster.  The family later moved to St Petersburg where Lebedev sang in the choir, performed in theatre and began to learn English, French and German, also teaching himself to play violin.

In 1792 Lebedev accompanied the new Russian Ambassador to Vienna as part of a musical group.  However he left this employment shortly afterwards and began to tour Europe, earning a living as a violinist.

By February 1785 Lebedev was in England.  He sailed for India aboard the East India Company ship Rodney, arriving in Madras in August 1785 where he obtained the patronage of the Mayor, Captain William Sydenham, and earned a living putting on musical programmes.

In August 1787 Lebedev moved to Calcutta where he was to live for the next ten years, and where with the support of a Russian doctor he was able to establish himself as a musician.  Lebedev was interested in Bengali language and music and he is considered to be the first person to perform Indian music on western musical instruments.

In 1791 Lebedev was introduced to a teacher named Goloknath Das who taught him Hindi, Sanskrit and Bengali.  He used his new language skills to translate plays into Bengali and in 1795 he opened the first drama theatre in Calcutta.  The two plays he translated were Love is the Best Doctor by Molière, and The Disguise by M. Jodrelle.  They were performed on 27 November 1795 and again on 21 March 1796, with music composed by Lebedev himself and lyrics from a Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray.

Poster advertising Lebedev’s first performances of his plays on 27 November 1795Poster advertising Lebedev’s first performances of his plays on 27 November 1795. Image taken from Wikimedia (Public Domain)

The shows were very well received and Lebedev received great encouragement from Calcutta society, including the Governor-General Sir John Shore.  The performances are today considered to be the first performances of modern Indian Theatre.  But Lebedev’s success was short lived as his theatre burned down shortly afterwards.

Lebedev was also involved in several disputes with both the British administration and one of his former employees and was asked to leave India in 1797.  Lebedev returned to London where he set about publishing works on the Indian Languages including A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed Indian East Dialects in 1801.

Lebedev returned to St Petersburg shortly afterwards and was still working there on publications on Indian languages in 1817 when he died at his printing house on 27 July 1817.

Plaque erected in Calcutta in 2009 to mark the location of Lebedev’s theatrePlaque erected in Calcutta in 2009 to mark the location of Lebedev’s theatre. Image taken from Wikimedia. Attribution: By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0

In 2009 the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the Cultural Department of the Russian Federation Consulate in Kolkata erected a plaque in Ezra Street, Kolkata to commemorate the site of the pioneering theatre Lebedev had opened there in 1795.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed East Indian Dialects, by Herasim Lebedeff (London, 1801) V4516.  (The introduction pp. i-viii gives a summary by Lebedev of his life up until the publication of this work.)
IOR/O/5/26 List of European Inhabitants in Calcutta, June 1794.

21 December 2018

Hey for Lubberland!

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Before the end of the 19th century, catching a sight of cheap ballad-sheets, broadsides, chapbooks, and almanacks is how most people in England came into contact with the printed word.

A 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’A 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’. BL Shelfmark C.20.f.8.(226)

Ballads often blended strands of traditional fable, myth and lore into topical themed entertainment.  In the 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland,’ a ship’s captain and crew spread news of a far-off land, an English version of the medieval legend of a Land of Plenty, known throughout Europe as ‘Cockaigne’.  This utopia of gluttony and idleness has also been known in northern Europe as Luilekkerland (‘Lazy Luscious Land’) or Schlaraffenland (‘Sluggard’s Land’).

Verses from the ballad 'An Invitation to Lubberland'Verses from the ballad tell of ‘streets are pavd with pudding-pies,’ and ‘hot roasted pigs’ that ‘run up and down, still crying out, Come eat me’. ‘The rivers run with claret fine, the brooks with rich canary’. ‘Hot custards grows on eery tree, each ditch affords rich jellies’. BL Shelfmark C.20.f.8.(226)

The word Lubberland in part comes from the Swedish word for lazy.  ‘Lubber’ is popularly associated with the salty, derogatory language of nautical folk.  It is maritime characteristics that are found in this ballad from the English tradition.  An island status necessarily means that such an earthly paradise can only be reached by voyaging the sea.

Entry for ‘Cocagna, as we say Lubberland’ in Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes, or most copious and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English. 1598 ‘Cocagna, as we say Lubberland’ perhaps the first printed mention of the English variant of the earthly paradise in Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes, or most copious and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English. 1598. BL Shelfmark 1560/4535

Elizabethan poets frequently repeated the spirit of the classics, nostalgically longing for perfect conditions that might be found on the ‘Fortunate Islands’ or the ‘Isles of the Blessed’.  Cheap ballads, chapbooks and broadsides represent a less sophisticated and more popular literature. Lubberland appealed to many an ‘ordinary’ person faced with the all-too-often grim reality of life.

 ‘The Mapp of Lubberland or the Ile of Lasye’ - men laying underneath a tree ‘The Mapp of Lubberland or the Ile of Lasye’. An English print (ca. 1670) which is a take on Pieter Breugel the Elder’s ‘Interpretation of Land of Cockaigne’ (1567) ©Trustees of the British Museum.

It’s not always possible to be precise when tracing the use, reception and meaning of particular ballads.  Many are thematically ambiguous, dubious or have multiple meaning and intent.  Of course the land where ‘rocks are all of sugar candy’ and a person is ‘paid fourteene pence a day for snorting’ and lazing around is the stuff of nonsense and make-believe but it does reflect peoples’ dreams.  The necessities of food, shelter, clothes and a pleasant environment are all satisfied in the Land of Plenty, but there are also subversive traces in Lubberland:

‘There is no law nor lawyers fees. all men are free from fury, For eery one dos what he please, without a judge or jury’.

A hankering for justice, freedom and better conditions is projected to far-off lands.

William Hawkins’ play Apollo Shrouing where' fourteene pence a day' can be earned in LubberlandWilliam Hawkins’ play Apollo Shrouing where' fourteene pence a day' can be earned in Lubberland.  BL Shelfmark C.34.d.59

The ballad must surely be mocking such wishful thinking; a life of ease where, ‘They have no landlords rent to pay, each man is a free-holder’ must be just a tall tale – the colourful yarn of sailors!

Just a bit of Lubberland fun in Poor Robin Almanack , 1720Just a bit of Lubberland fun in Poor Robin Almanack , 1720. BL Shelfmark  P.P.2465.

Lubberland is commonly depicted as a land of fools and n’er-do-wells, an unreal place, a place of ‘child’s geography’.  The term becomes employed to denigrate, ridicule or satirise political outlooks that seek to change society.  Walter Scott described Napoleon as, ‘A Grand Elector, who was to be the very model of a King of Lubberland’, and in 1784 Benjamin Franklin insisted, ‘America is a land of labour, not what the English call Lubberland’.

The Topsy-Turvydom of Lubberland seems not simply to be just a bit of fun.  Subversive emotion and impulses which carry the tradition of Cocagna can be seen in other cheap printed literature from the period, like in the tale of  Lawrence Lazy.

Title page of The History of Lawrence Lazy ca. 1750The History of Lawrence Lazy ca. 1750.  Lawrence Lazy, put on trial in Lubberland for casting spells on tradesmen which force them into instant slumber. Lawrence is acquitted by the Jury after supplicant apprentices testify that Lawrence gained them respite from being worked to death by their masters. BL Shelfmark 1079.i.14.(16)

The British Library was pleased to host recently The London Sea Shanty Collective singing sea songs from our collections, including a reinterpretation of ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’ with the assistance of the historian and author, Oskar Cox Jensen. 

The London Sea Shanty Collective singing at the British Library, Summer 2018.The London Sea Shanty Collective singing at the British Library, Summer 2018.

There are thousands of ballads to be found in the British Library’s printed heritage collections.  A new guide is available.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Theresa Bane, Encyclopedia of Imaginary and Mythical places (2014)
Leslie Sheppard, The History of Street Literature (1972)
The London Sea Shanty Collective @LondonShanty

 

20 February 2018

‘Conceal yourself, your foes look for you’: revealing a secret message in a piece of music

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At the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles Stuart (later Charles II) unsuccessfully tried to reclaim the throne lost through the execution of his father Charles I. He was forced into retreat to avoid capture, and whilst on the run from Cromwell’s New Model Army he stopped at Boscobel House. When the patrols came looking for him, Charles concealed himself in the nearby woods by hiding in a tree, known today as The Royal Oak.

A manuscript newly acquired by the British Library claims to be a coded message passed to Charles at Boscobel by an unnamed lady, warning him of his imminent danger. A small sheet of music which, when folded correctly, reveals the message ‘Conceal yourself your foes look for you’ (Add MS 89288).

Manuscript sheet music, folded and tattyAdd MS 89288

The manuscript ended up in the hands of John Port, who said he came into possession of it through his wife, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. Port lived out his life in Portland, Dorset after losing the family fortune and left the manuscript in the hands of his landlord, William White.

Also in the British Library is a 19th-century copy of this message (Add MS 45850, f. 68). This manuscript names the author of the message as Jane Lane, who helped Charles escape England by disguising him as her servant.

Music stave showing the deciphered messageAdd MS 45850, f. 68

However, this is not the only story of this code’s origin. Elsewhere, the same cryptograph is said to have been passed to other historical figures.

Walter William Rouse Ball, a mathematician at Trinity College, Cambridge, used a version of the message in his book ‘Mathematical Recreations and Essays’ as an example of a cryptograph.

Sample musical cryptograph from Ball's bookW. W. Rouse Ball, Mathematical Recreations and Essays, 4th Edition (MacMillan and Co., 1911), p. 403 ( 8507.e.35.)

He reports that this was a message to Prince Charles Edward (also known as The Young Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie) after the Battle of Culloden, although the author points out, ‘…of the truth of the anecdote I know nothing, and the desirability of concealing himself must have been so patent that it was hardly necessary to communicate it by a cryptograph’.

Another version of this code was apparently given to Napoleon Bonaparte ‘At a period when the Emperor was surrounded by Spies & pretended Friends who had combined with his enemies to betray him’.

Printed facsimile of another music score cipherh.127.(1.)

Published in 1830, this facsimile purports to be reproduced from the original held by the Emperor’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt. It claims, when presented with the note, Napoleon ‘…with his usual penetration instantly solved the Enigma & carelessly remarking “Tis pretty Air to caper to” immediately removed to a place of safety’. Why a French soldier would present the French Emperor with a coded message in English we are not informed.

Whilst it may not be possible to verify the true origins of this message, all these items are now available to be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms for you to make up your own minds.

Stephen Noble
Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

Readers of this blog may be interested in this forthcoming publication, which discusses the cryptograph: Nadine Akkerman, Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)

21 December 2015

The Singing Bookbinder: Roger de Coverly

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The bookbinding career of Roger de Coverly (1831-1914) seems to be characterised by a desire to leave it!  His apprenticeship with the flourishing firm of Zaehnsdorf’s was so “colourless and humdrum” that he petitioned for time off to study the violin. His name recalls a 17th century English folk dance but his passion was for music, not dancing, and this sustained him throughout his life.

Coverly image1

The British Book Maker vol V, no 6 Feb 1892 p179 Noc

 

Roger completed his apprenticeship (but left early albeit with Zaehnsdorf’s agreement).   He decided to try bookselling and applied to Mr Lilley of Pall Mall who could not offer employment but strongly recommended that Roger stuck with binding!  After assisting in a stationer’s shop, Roger rededicated himself to his original trade.

His next employment at John and James Leighton’s of Brewer Street provided more fun.  His fellows there shared Roger’s love of chess, which they played during their lunch-break and at meetings of the Bookbinders’ Amateur Chess Club founded c1852. Music was not neglected and Roger’s solo performance for the Battersea Vocal Association was commended in the Music Times of 1 March 1861.

When Roger established his own workshop (in Leicester Square and later 6 St Martin’s Court and 91 Shaftsbury Avenue), there was little time for the extra- curricular activities he loved.  As a one man band, he had to ‘forward’ and ‘finish’ the bindings himself.  His wife Elisabeth contributed financially by opening a school for young ladies.  Slowly, however, the bindings business began to flourish.  It was patronised by aristocrats, noted writers (for example T E Lawrence) and artists.  His style was rather conservative and retrospective but the good quality materials used and his stated goal, to bind “excellently rather than cheaply” made up for lack of originality, for some at least.

  Coverly image 2
British Library c108d11 Noc

 

William Morris wrote to the poet Swinburne in April 1882; “I am sending you by parcels Delivery, the North's Plutarch I spoke of: it is a very pretty edition, I think the first. Item, the bookbinder I told you of really rejoices in the name (or says he does, which is the same for our purpose) of Roger de Coverly: his address is 6 St Martins Court. He is not a man of any taste … but is careful, & will do what you tell him, & is used to dealing with valuable books”. (Incidentally, birth records indicate that De Coverly was baptised Edward Roger.)

Despite this lukewarm opinion, Morris’s friend T. J. Cobden-Sanderson chose to serve a short apprenticeship there from 1883-4. He later became one of the most influential binders in England.

Fortunately, Roger’s sons Edward, Arthur and William proved adept at bookbinding and bookselling.  By 1892, Roger was able to confess in an interview that “he does not now give his whole attention to his binding business, having besides one or two hobbies; he is an enthusiastic amateur musician and collector of old music … ; he has founded  two or three glee and madrigal societies and loves above all to take part in orchestral concerts or string quartets, varied with glee singing. He is a member of the Royal Choral Society".

The connection between the name of de Coverly and bookbinding lasted into the 1960s when H[orace] A. de Coverly was known to have bound, taught and written about the subject.  An example of his work can be seen in the Library’s online image database of bookbindings.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources Cc-by

Further reading;
Richard Ovenden, ‘An edition binding by Roger de Coverly for Alfred de Rothschild’ in Book Collector 47:1  1998 pp.79-82
The British Book Maker vol V, no 6 Feb 1892 p179-80.

 

 

11 October 2015

The Coronation of George II and Queen Caroline

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On 11 October 1727 George II and his wife Caroline of Ansbach were crowned King and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. The ceremony at Westminster Abbey was preceded by a magnificent procession.

GEOIIimage1-george II procession1

GEOIIimage2-george II procession2

  Part of an engraving of George II’s coronation procession, artist unknown, reproduced in Parliament Past and Present by A. Wright and P. Smith (London, 1902). 9502.dd.2. Noc

The leading composer of the day, George Frideric Handel, was commissioned to write four coronation anthems, including the mighty ‘Zadok the Priest’. 

GEOIIimage3-r.m.20.h.5_f002v]

G.F. Handel: ‘Zadok the Priest’. R.M.20.h.5. Noc

The original manuscripts of all four coronation anthems are preserved in the British Library and can now be seen on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

‘Zadok the Priest’ has been sung at coronations ever since. Here is a vintage recording from the coronation of George VI  in 1937, courtesy of the CHARM project at King’s College London.

Another document in the British Library reveals a more personal aspect of the ceremony for George II and Queen Caroline.  This account describes the moment that the Queen was anointed with oil and crowned:

There is a little handkerchief which the bedchamber-woman in waiting gives to the mistress of the robes, to wipe of any Oyl that might fall on the face. The Queen retires into St Edwards Chapel to offer her Crown and then the Mistress of the Robes assisted by the Bedchamber women pin on the Fine Crown appointed for her Majesty.

GEOIIimage4-coronation of queen caroline

Account of Queen Caroline’s coronation. Add MS 22627. Noc

Sandra Tuppen

Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1601-1850