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We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

08 November 2022

Nino Rota’s I due timidi - an opera for radio transmission

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On 15 November 1950 the RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana) Third Programme broadcast I due timidi, an ‘opera radiofonica’ composed by Nino Rota to a libretto by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, for the first time. It had been commissioned by the Italian public broadcasting company, which aimed to create an original repertoire exclusively intended for radio. It was the beginning of a remarkable journey: over two decades the opera would be performed across different media, languages and cultures, ranging, with appropriate adjustments, from the darkness of radio to the limelight of the stage and television, constantly reshaping to adapt to new contexts, while keeping its own poetic, aesthetic, dramatic, and musical substance. This is indeed a fascinating story, with a relevant chapter unfolding in Britain during the 1950s, which documents preserved in the British Library allow us to reconstruct.

The work

Nino Rota (1911-79) and Suso Cecchi d’Amico (1914– 2010) were invited to create a new opera for broadcasting in late 1949. They had been close friends since their youth, sharing from different sides the exciting adventure of Italian post-war cinema. Rota, a talented pupil of Ildebrando Pizzetti and Alfredo Casella, was successfully making his way as a composer of both classical and applied music, and was already known in England as the author of the score for films such as The Glass Mountain. Cecchi d’Amico, the daughter of eminent scholar Emilio Cecchi and painter Leonetta Pieraccini and the wife of the distinguished music critic Fedele d’Amico, was successfully making her way as a screenwriter, the co-author of the script for Vittorio De Sica’s film The Bicycle Thief.

Working together in perfect harmony, in a few months they conceived and created an original story that takes place over a single day in a lower middle-class apartment block in an unnamed city – a recurring setting in Italian movies at the time. A young man, Raimondo, and a young woman pianist, Mariuccia, who are in love with each other from a distance but have never met, have settled close to each other, hoping to be able one day to declare their mutual love. Raimondo lives in a boarding house held by a mature landlady, while Mariuccia resides in a modest flat with her mother, gracefully practising the piano to Raimondo’s delight. However, fate has different plans for them. An accident and a subsequent misunderstanding cause each of them to declare their love to the wrong person, which turns out to be fatal: both Raimondo and Mariuccia are too shy to express their true feelings in order to put right the difficult situation. In an elliptical, bittersweet finale, set two years later, we hear an exhausted pianist practising at night-time – it is Mariuccia, now the wife of an elderly doctor, mother of two kids - and an angry male voice: Raimondo, now the landlady’s husband and the landlord of the boarding house, who is manifestly annoyed by that disturbing noise.

Flyer for the world stage premiere of I due timidi
Flyer for the world stage premiere of I due timidi. BL MS Mus. 1743

I due timidi in the UK

I due timidi received a special mention at the Prix Italia 1950, where its immediate expressiveness and the fresh quality of its soundscape were greatly appreciated, including by delegates from the BBC. Within a few months the BBC Third Programme broadcast the Italian production of the opera and the operatic department at the BBC produced an English version, first aired on 5 March 1952, again on the Third Programme, under the title The two shy people. A few days later, on 17 March 1952, the opera received its world stage premiere at the Scala Theatre in London, a production of The London Opera Club in association with the Arts Council of Great Britain.

A page from the typescript libretto of The two shy people
Typescript libretto of The two shy people

The intense British life of I due timidi during the 1950s is retraceable in detail from documents kept in a folder preserved at the British Library (MS Mus. 1743) presumably collected by David Harris, the BBC Opera Manager who was the producer of the opera’s BBC broadcast and the author of the English version of its libretto. The folder is rich in press cuttings related to the 1952 radio performance and to a new production, also curated by Harris and broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 1 April 1957, whose typewritten opening and closing announcements are preserved. The folder additionally contains a considerable number of reviews of the stage premiere, but no press cuttings referring to the BBC production of the opera for television, which adopted the English version by Harris and was first broadcast after his death, on 30 March 1961.

Signed vocal score of I due timidi
Signed vocal score of I due timidi


The vocal score

The core of the folder lies in the musical material. The vocal score of the opera, a diazotype copy of a non-authorial manuscript of the original version signed by Harris on the cover and by the whole cast of the 1952 production inside, has Rota’s autograph dedication to Harris inscribed on the front page. The playbill flyer of the stage premiere is pasted on the inside cover.

The score clearly testifies to the work undertaken to make the opera more intelligible to a British audience. The English translation is added in red ink in exact alignment with the Italian text and carefully notes slight alterations to the original version, such as the addition of a 25-bar prologue before the original opening (using the same music as the closing 25 bars of the opera) followed by a brief spoken description of the scene.

Vocal score of I due timidi showing English additions in red
Vocal score of I due timidi showing English additions in red


Recordings and UK revival

It is especially interesting to look at the musical material while listening to the recordings of the 1952 (Product note 1LL0011884-95) and 1957 (Product note 1LL0011487-1LL0011499) BBC broadcasts, which are kept in the Library and available for listening as audio files. There is still uncertainty over the exact identity of the recording of what seems to be a studio performance of the English piano version (Product note 1LL0012460-73, presumably dated 19 February 1961).

The documents as a whole prove to be an invaluable source to allow a close examination of the opera in its multiple versions and to integrate with the precious autograph material relating to the opera preserved in the Fondo Nino Rota at the Fondazione Cini, Venice.

I due timidi received its Italian stage premiere on 19 January 1971 at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari – a city in the South, where Rota was the director of the local Music Conservatory for almost 30 years. From that moment on, it was gradually included in the opera repertoire. Seventy years after the world stage premiere, the opera returns to the London stage, presented by the Guildhall School’s Opera Department at the Silk Theatre. We would like to imagine that Nino Rota, who had a special affection for London and was happy to have some of his operas staged by students in academic institutions, would be delighted to be together with his dearest friend Suso Cecchi d’Amico in the audience.

Prof. Angela Annese

Conservatory of Music “Niccolò Piccinni”, Bari


Further reading

Pier Marco De Santi, La musica di Nino Rota (Roma-Bari, 1983).

[BL Shelfmark: General Reference Collection LB.31.b.4190]

Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Storie di cinema (e d’altro); raccontate a Margherita d’Amico (Milano, 1996; Milano, 2002).

Francesco Lombardi (ed.), Fra cinema e musica del Novecento: il caso Nino Rota (Firenze, 2000).

Veniero Rizzardi (ed.), L’undicesima musa: Nino Rota e i suoi media (Roma, 2001).

Richard Dyer, Nino Rota: Music, Film and Feeling (London, 2010).

[BL Shelfmark (2nd edition, 2019): General Reference Collection DRT ELD.DS.550948]

Francesco Lombardi (ed.), Nino Rota: un timido protagonista del Novecento musicale (Torino, 2012).

Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Suso a Lele: lettere (dicembre 1945 – marzo 1947), a cura di Silvia e Masolino d’Amico (Milano, 2016).

[BL Shelfmark: General Reference Collection YF.2019.a.15133]


Further listening

Nino Rota: I due timidi (original radio production, 1950), Twilight Music TWI CD AS 06 27 (2006)

Nino Rota: La notte di un nevrastenico / I due timidi (live recording, Rieti, Teatro Vespasiano, 2017), Dynamic DVD 57830 (2018)

Nino Rota: La notte di un nevrastenico / I due timidi (live recording, Rieti, Teatro Vespasiano, 2017), Dynamic CDS7830.02 (2019)

12 October 2022

Happy Birthday Vaughan Williams

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Happy 150th birthday to Ralph Vaughan Williams!

Born on Saturday 12 October 1872, ‘RVW’ remains one of the towering figures of music in Britain in the first half of the 20th century. His wide-ranging works continue to be well-loved and frequently performed in many countries around the world; and his legacy, both through the music itself and through the support he gave to future generations of musicians (and continues to give, thanks to the work of the RVW Trust) is an enduring one.

Photographic portrait of Ralph Vaughan Williams, taken in 1903
Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1903. Photo credit: Vaughan Williams Foundation


Vaughan Williams manuscripts at the British Library

Vaughan Williams, along with Elgar and Handel, also takes a central position in the British Library’s music collections. In the years since his death in 1958 our manuscript holdings related to RVW have grown to become one of the most comprehensive for any composer represented here. Looking through our departmental files, it seems it all started in 1959 with the purchase of the autograph full score of the composer’s Fourth Symphony (Add MS 50140) – a work famously at odds with the perceived sound world of the composer’s music.

The next year saw the start of a series of generous gifts from Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer’s widow. First was a series of letters and postcards to Vaughan Williams from Maurice Ravel (Add MS 50360). These date from between 1908, immediately following the period that Vaughan Williams spent studying in France, and 1919. The correspondence ranges from discussion of particular works (such as RVW’s song cycle, On Wenlock Edge), or particular performances (including of Ravel’s ballet, Daphnis et Chloé), through to the train times between Newcastle and King’s Cross.

Postcard written by Maurice Ravel and sent to Ralph Vaughn Williams
Postcard sent by Maurice Ravel from Newcastle, to Ralph Vaughan Williams. 1911. BL Add MS 50360, f. 13

Later in 1960, following an enormous effort to bring all the material together in conjunction with Vaughan Williams’s various publishers, Ursula presented what was described by the Keeper of Manuscripts at the time as: “one of the largest collections of music of a single composer ever offered to the Museum”. Accessioned as Add MS 50361-50482, these 122 volumes include autograph scores and some sketch and draft material for most of Vaughan William’s major works, from the small scale to colossal works like his ‘Sea Symphony’.

Opening page of Vaughan Williams's 'A Sea Symphony'
'A Sea Symphony', first performed in 1910. Part of the opening with the text: 'Behold, the sea itself!'. BL Add MS 50365A. © The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by permission.


Further donations from Ursula Vaughan Williams

Over the next 48 years another five collections were presented to the BL by Ursula, alongside a number of individual items. All the material is described in our online catalogue, both at the level of the volume (which may contain several items, depending how things have been grouped) and at the level of the collection as it was presented. The links below will take you to the collection level description for each of these and from there you can choose ‘Browse this Collection’ to explore the collection hierarchy in a separate window – or select ‘See Contents’ from within the catalogue description. Alternatively you can search for a particular work in the search field to see what material the BL holds.

Picture of bound volumes of Vaughan Williams manuscripts on the shelf at the British Library
Some of the Vaughan Williams manuscripts at the British Library


Add MSS 54186-54191. Music manuscripts of Ralph Vaughan Williams (6 volumes)

Presented 1967. This collection includes Vaughan Williams’s earliest composition, written in 1878 at the age of 6. This collection also includes a series of notebooks used to write down the folk songs he heard in different parts of the country between 1903 and 1926. These are all digitised and available to view via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library’s website, alongside the manuscript material they hold and details of the songs and tunes written down.


The first known composition by Vaughan Williams, called 'The Robin's Nest'
'The Robin's Nest': Vaughan Williams's first known composition. 1878. BL Add MS 54186. © The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by permission.

Add MSS 57265-57295. Vaughan Williams Manuscripts (Second Collection) (37 volumes) 

Presented in 1971. This collection includes a number of smaller and occasional pieces as well as a volume of his compositions from his time as a student at the Royal College of Music and some miscellaneous sketchbooks.

Add MS 71476-71493. Supplementary Vaughan Williams Manuscripts (18 volumes)

Presented in 1994. This collection includes a number of unpublished works, such as the music for the masque ‘Pan’s Anniversary’, with music by Vaughan Williams and also arrangements of 16th century dances by his good friend, the composer Gustav Holst.

MS Mus. 153-165. Supplementary Vaughan Williams Manuscripts (13 volumes) 

Presented 1995. Vaughan Williams’s orchestral arrangement of the song cycle ‘On Wenlock Edge’ appears in this collection (MS Mus. 153), as well as a wider range of types of material, such as correspondence, awards, certificates, copyist manuscripts and annotated proofs. It also includes the so-called ‘Seatoller’ log book – a record of a reading holiday in Cumbria that RVW took around Easter 1895 with some of his fellow Cambridge students, including George Trevelyan (later a famous historian), Maurice Amos and Ralph Wedgwood. The volume includes contributions from all of them, in them of stories, jokes, drawings and more.

Front cover of the 'Seatoller' log book
'The log book - Seatoller'. BL MS Mus. 163.

MS Mus. 1714. Papers of Ralph and Ursula Vaughan Williams (135 volumes) 

Bequeathed by Ursula Vaughan Williams, this material arrived at the British Library in 2008. The majority of the collection is made up of letters, but it also contains a large number of photographs and other papers, related to Vaughan Williams’s family history for example. It also contains items shedding more light on Ursula’s life too, both in her tireless work to continue Ralph's legacy, but also in her own work as a poet too.

A large selection of RVW’s letters were included in Hugh Cobbe’s 2008 collection, published by OUP, and they have since been joined by many, many more in the online Vaughan Williams Letters database. This freely accessible database is both endlessly fascinating and incredibly useful - with all of the letters conveniently transcribed for those of us who would otherwise struggle to read the composer’s notorious handwriting.

Beethoven’s tuning fork

This tuning fork, which is said to have belonged to Beethoven and then given by him to the violinist George Bridgetower, featured in our Beethoven exhibition last year (there is a bit more about it here). Less well-known is that, having been in Bridgetower’s family for a number of years, then passed to several other musicians, it then apparently ended up with the composer Gustav Holst in 1921. In turn, Holst gave it to Vaughan Williams, and then Ursula presented it to the British Library in 1992.

Material from other sources

The larger collections listed above are just one aspect to the variety of materials here at the British Library. Other items have entered the collections by other routes and from other owners. These include things like the autograph manuscript of the ‘London’ symphony, presented by Sir Adrian Boult in 1963 (Add MS 51317). Or, more recently, the draft vocal score for the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, which was among the material donated by Joyce Kennedy in memory of her husband, Michael Kennedy (MS Mus. 1752/1/5). We are still acquiring Vaughan Williams material as well: earlier this year, a poem written by Vaughan Williams in the early 1950s to Eva Hornstein was generously donated by the dedicatee (MS Mus. 1870). And watch this space for another RVW acquisition announcement a bit later this year…

Poem by Vaughan Williams, written for Eva Hornstein
Poem by Vaughan Williams, written to Eva Hornstein. BL MS Mus. 1870. © The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Reproduced by permission.

The only known manuscript for what must be Vaughan Williams’s most famous work, The Lark Ascending, is another item in this category (Add MS 52385). This was donated in 1964 together with some letters of the violinist Marie Hall, who gave the first performance of the work (the letters are from earlier in her career however). The manuscript is actually primarily a copy, and in the version for violin and piano, however there are many alterations and pasted over corrections in Vaughan Williams’s hand too, showing the often extremely detailed changes he continued to make to the piece. 

Lark Ascending title page
Title page, mostly in RVW's handwriting, for a manuscript copy of 'The Lark Ascending', in the version for violin and piano. Mostly in a copyist's hand, but with autograph annotations and corrections. BL Add MS 52385. © Oxford University Press.


RVW in context

It would be difficult to describe the Vaughan Williams materials here at the British Library as an archive as such, having been collected together from many different sources over a long period of time. But the end result is certainly archival in character, in its wide-ranging types of content and in the rich detail those items can provide about the life and work of a composer. And of course, this blog post has only focused on the manuscript materials here at the British Library: that material is further enriched by study of it alongside published sources, recordings and broadcasts.

What's more, neither Ralph Vaughan Williams nor the collection of material relating to him exist in isolation: as part of the wider British Library music collections the context in which he lived and worked is also represented - be it other composers, performers or musical institutions. While it would be impossible to collect on the same scale for every musician and composer, we nevertheless attempt to capture a representative cross section of music making at different times; to attempt to capture a sense of the breadth of what was going on.

More RVW...

On Monday 14 November we are holding a Study Day at the British Library Foyle Visitor and Learning Centre to celebrate his anniversary further. More information and details on how to book a place can be found on our What's on pages. There will also be a small display of his manuscripts in our Treasures of the British Library gallery in December (until then, you will be able to see the autograph manuscript of the Pastoral symphony in the main music display case, alongside Beethoven's tuning fork which he also owned). 

Bust of Vaughan Williams outside the Rare Books & Music Reading Room
Vaughan Williams (2nd from the right), in the company of Handel, J.S. Bach and Virginia Woolf - at the entrance to the Rare Books & Music Reading Room at the British Library

21 April 2022

Beethoven's legacy

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As we come into the final few days of our Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon exhibition, open until Sunday 24 April, we are concluding our series of Beethoven blog posts with a blog dedicated to Beethoven’s legacy.

Join us also for our last events celebrating Beethoven on Friday 22 April at 19.00: Beethoven in concert, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Bach Choir and on Saturday 23 April at 19.30: Late at the Library: The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble.

Drawing from the rich collection of Beethoven material kept at the Library, the objects on display have given visitors a unique opportunity to experience the composer’s manuscripts, published scores, notebooks, letters, and personal belongings in the flesh. The immediacy of Beethoven’s chaotic handwriting shows his creative imagination at work, his personal notebooks reveal an individual troubled by progressive hearing loss, and his letters show that Beethoven was as much an astute businessman as a composer. But whilst the intimacy of these objects gives us access to Beethoven the individual, it remains difficult to gain a single perspective on the composer.

Beethoven’s image

It is the often-ambiguous image of Beethoven that carries his influence through music, literature, and the visual arts; to frequent adaptations and reinterpretations in popular culture; and that has allowed his music to be appropriated by diverse (often conflicting) political movements since his death. Beethoven’s image was elusive even during his lifetime. Prints of the composer circulated widely in Europe, and likenesses were contested by his contemporaries and even by Beethoven himself. The exhibition features several depictions of Beethoven that show the changing image of the composer in his life, death, and legacy.

Photograph of British Library Beethoven exhibition billboard

The title image of the exhibition recreates a portrait of Beethoven by Carl Jager (1870). The painting was completed over 40 years after Beethoven’s death. It shows a highly Romanticised image of the composer with a thoughtful look and swept-back hair. After its completion, an engraved version was printed and distributed by major publisher Frederick Bruckmann who traded in Berlin, Paris, New York and London.

Johann Peter Lyser’s sheet of Beethoven sketches (1833) include a full-length image of Beethoven in a top hat and coat and one of his head in profile. Although Lyser had never met Beethoven, the lithograph was considered a good likeness and was popular throughout the 19th century. Lyser produced the image from written descriptions of Beethoven but implied its authenticity visually by writing ‘Created after an original drawing’ below the image and including a copy of Beethoven’s signature. The British Library’s copy of the print made its way to England via Ignaz Moscheles, co-director of the Philharmonic Society in London, who included it in his autograph book.

Johann Peter Lyser’s sketches of Beethoven
Johann Peter Lyser’s sketches of Beethoven in Ignaz Moscheles’s album. Zweig MS 215, f.7r

One of the most striking moments in the exhibition are the sketches made by Austrian painter and lithographer Josef Teltscher who attended Beethoven at his deathbed. The two images show a rough sketch of the deathbed scene (right) and a touched-up version (left). Teltscher’s depictions sit on the boundary of Beethoven’s life and legacy. The rough sketch on the left shows a stark representation of Beethoven’s death, departing life with fists clenched, hair dishevelled, and face grimaced, whilst on the right we are presented with an image of Beethoven at rest, his softened facial features and pillow detail remarkably peaceful in contrast. Between these two images we see the Romanticisation of Beethoven in process: the immediate observations of the artist’s preliminary sketch followed by the idealised reconstructed image, perhaps ready for reproduction in paint or print.

Josef Teltscher’s sketch of Beethoven on his deathbed Josef Teltscher’s sketch of Beethoven on his deathbed
Josef Teltscher’s sketches of Beethoven on his deathbed. Zweig MS 207, f.1v-2r.

At the centre of the final section of the exhibition on Beethoven’s legacy sits a bust of Beethoven, copied from one sculpted by Johann Nepomuk Schaller (1777-1842). The bust presents the Romantic image of Beethoven in full swing. His swept back hair, classical attire, and piercing look form one of the most recognisable images of the composer today. The bust was donated to the Philharmonic Society in 1870 and has featured at every Society concert since 1871. The Society have adopted this image of Beethoven as 'a symbol of enduring musical excellence', and use the image for their prestigious gold medal.

Photograph of a plaster bust of Beethoven
Plaster bust of Beethoven from one sculpted by Johann Nepomuk Schaller (1777–1842). ©British Library Board, BLWA 43. Photography by Justine Trickett

Since the production of contemporary prints, the deathbed sketch, and Schaller’s iconic bust, Beethoven’s image has become ubiquitous in popular culture, reimagined in the screen prints of Andy Warhol (1987) and in Terry Adkins’ Synapse (2004) as part of his Black Beethoven series.

Legacy section

The legacy section of the exhibition provides a glimpse of the myriad ways Beethoven has influenced art, politics, and popular culture over the past two hundred years. Visitors are invited to contemplate the adoption of Beethoven’s music by a diverse range of political movements, his influence on countless composers, writers, and visual artists, and how his music and image have frequently found their way into popular culture.

A pamphlet of Wartime Songs from the BBC (1944) broadcast to Nazi-occupied France sees Beethoven’s music playing a part in the V for Victory campaign during the Second World War; May Byron’s romanticised fictional account of the composer’s daily life (1910) show his image being adopted into popular literature; Charles Schulz’s yearly celebration of Beethoven’s Birthday in his Peanuts cartoons brought Beethoven to a younger audience; and the Voyager Golden Record sees Beethoven’s music sent drifting out into deep space.

A page from Charles Schulz's It’s a Dog’s Life, Charlie Brown. A New Peanuts book highlighting Beethoven’s birthday
Charles Schulz highlighting Beethoven’s birthday in It’s a Dog’s Life, Charlie Brown. A New Peanuts book (1962). X.429/1504
Image of the Golden Voyageur record
The ‘Golden Record’ which included the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the ‘Cavatina’ movement from the String Quartet in B flat major (opus 130). 1ss0013021

There are only a few days left to experience this Beethoven material on display, until the exhibition itself becomes part of Beethoven’s legacy. But the items on show only scratch the surface of the Beethoven material available at the library, and readers will be able to explore Beethoven through the rich physical and digital collections that have made this exhibition possible.

Dominic BridgeCollaborative PhD student, University of Liverpool and British Library