Oliver’s Choice: Cosi Fan Tutte

Librarian Oliver Witkin has chosen to display in the library small exhibition cabinet a facsimile reproduction of Mozart’s original manuscript score for Cosi fan Tutte, one of a number of facsimiles of Mozart’s late operas which are held in the Jerwood Library’s reference collection. These facsimiles offer a unique insight into Mozart’s working methods [REFERENCE FACSIMILE COLLECTION: MOZ]


Conventional wisdom in respect of this opera has been kinder to Mozart than it has to his librettist, Da Ponte. Cosi fan Tutte, the third and final collaboration between the two and the only one which is not based on a singular literary source, has historically been perceived as an opera of sublime music that is, to a greater or lesser extent, spoiled by its libretto.photo of library exhibition case

While not much is known about the earliest performances of Cosi fan Tutte following its premiere in 1790, the notion that its libretto is frivolous and even immoral was widespread throughout the 19th century and into the early years of the 20th. A number of eminent figures such as Beethoven and Wagner joined the chorus of disapproval. Performances were heavily revised and edited to appease the sensibilities of the times and it was only towards the middle of the 20th century that the opera found a much surer footing in the concert repertoire in its original and unexpurgated form.

While few people today would object to the play on moral grounds, even for a modern audience the relationship between the music and libretto seems puzzling. Mozart’s joyful but occasionally dark and melancholy music appears as the backdrop to a seemingly trivial comedy. This raises certain questions as to the intent of both composer and librettist. If there is a mystery here, it is not one which we can resolve by looking back at contemporaneous accounts of the opera – which might offer some clues as to how the work was conceived – they simply don’t exist.

The theme of the opera concerns the lovers’ expectations of sexual fidelity. The experiment, set up as a play within a play. is designed to test the truth value of this moral order and to reveal the true character of human nature. Behind it, one can sense the growing insecurity of the moral order in the modern world. This is perhaps reflected in some of the sadness that can be discerned in Mozart’s music. What appears, then, to be a trivial story, at odds with the music, is in fact a much more significant drama which is illuminated by it. Irony runs throughout the whole of this work. People are not what they appear to be in the eyes of others.

There is yet another aspect of the play; this concerns the relationship between men and women. It could be argued that there is something peculiarly modern about this, too. Women are shown to have passions and desires which are comparable with men, undermining the prevalent attitudes towards relations between the sexes in the society of Mozart and Da Ponte’s time. The audience is led, through a gentle comedy, to consider these aspects of a changing world.

It’s possible to see this opera as existing on more than one level. You can take it at face value and appreciate it as a light-hearted comedy, or you can look beneath the surface at the way in which it subtly challenges and undermines the moral certainties of the traditional order.

 

Chuck Berry

1926-2017

It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of singer, guitarist, songwriter and general rock ‘n’ roll legend, Chuck Berry. For anyone interested in pop, rock ‘n’ roll, American culture, song-writing and guitar playing Chuck Berry was a seminal figure.

He started playing rhythm and blues, i.e. music made by and aimed at black people, and perhaps his most important contribution was the realisation that by combining the story-telling traditions of American country & western and folk music (music associated with white America) with the sexual energy and drive of rhythm and blues he could produce a music that would transcend America’s fairly entrenched racial divide.

Photograph of Chuck Berry

Of course that realisation would not have amounted to much if he was not then able to produce the most entertaining and inventive insights into American life, considered so perceptive by the designers of NASA’s Voyager mission that they included a recording of his song Johnny B Goode on a record designed to communicate something of Earth’s culture to any (record player-owning) aliens encountered along the way.

There was a great deal of warmth and affection in the atmosphere created in his songs – completely at odds, it seems, from the personality of the man. In this lovely couplet from Memphis Tennessee  you also see his inventiveness with words and phrases, here substituting hurry-home drops for tears:

Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye
With hurry-home drops on her cheeks, that trickled from her eye

He also more or less defined the way electric guitar should be played in pop/rock music: the catchy guitar lick introducing the song (later brilliantly adapted by the Rolling Stones and others); the style of thickening the sound of electric guitar by playing two strings at once for his leads and solos which enabled him to maintain a rhythmic drive in his solos that was quite new. This way of playing was a huge influence on later players such as Jimi Hendrix and can be heard brilliantly on the afore-mentioned Johnny B Goode; which is, for all we know, being enjoyed at this moment at a party on OGLE-TR-56b.

Chuck Berry; 18 October 1926 – 18 March 2017. Rest in peace.

Chuck Berry in the Jerwood Library:
We only have one CD in our collection but it gives a very good overview:
The Blues Collection, (Orbis, 1993) which can be found in the Blues CD section: BLUES:BER

We also have his autobiography which recounts the development of the music and other aspects of his life (including a couple of spells in prison) in his inimitable and very readable style:
Chuck Berry: The Autobiography (New York, Fireside, 1988); classmark: 786.91 BER

Photo Credit: flutnace Flickr via Compfight cc

Helen’s choice…New Orleans, birthplace of jazz

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The Old Jelly Rollers in New Orleans (photo used with permission)

Inspired by the success story of Trinity Laban’s student group Old Jelly Rollers heading off to New Orleans during CoLab, and vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett, winning seats on the British Airways VIP party flight celebrating the airline’s new route, synchronising with our excellent volunteer Genia Browning completing yet another large chunk of indexing work on the Dan Pawson collection, it seemed a good moment to showcase some of the New Orleans music items held here in the Jerwood Library.

The items in the small display cabinet refer to the ‘birthplace of jazz’ and also show the range of materials in Dan Pawson’s collection some of which featured in a Jerwood Library exhibition of jazz materials mounted in 2013.

Was New Orleans the birthplace of jazz?  The New Orleans Official Guide Online (1) states:

“Some will say that Jazz was born in 1895, when Buddy Bolden started his first band. Others will say 1917, when Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first Jazz record, Livery Stable Blues. However, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton also said, “It is evidently known, beyond contradiction, that New Orleans is the cradle of Jazz, and I myself happen to be the inventor in the year 1902”.

Collier (2) acknowledges that despite various claims that jazz arose in in other places in America, most give New Orleans as its birthplace. He doubts that Buddy Bolden was the originator, as contemporary reports describe his music as a blues-tinged mix of ragtime and popular songs. Collier suggests that a groups of ‘Creoles of color’ played a significant role, with their music having ‘a rhythmic snap akin to the “swing” of jazz.’

Whether it was Buddy Bolden, “Jelly Roll” Morton or the Creole band, New Orleans seems to be the place where it all happened.

The selected recordings in the cabinet feature, in particular, some recordings by cornet player Nick LaRocca, born 11th April 1889 in New Orleans and died 22nd Feb 1961 in New Orleans. Writing in the Grove Dictionary of Jazz,  Sudhalter (3) suggests

“It is beyond dispute that LaRocca’s energy and ambition were the driving force behind the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. His style impressed Bix Beiderbecke, who became a lifelong admirer, and the steady drive and rhythmic freedom of LaRocca’s playing on the band’s recordings of 1936 demonstrate this affinity. LaRocca also co-wrote such standards as At the Jazz Band Ball and Clarinet Marmalade”.

The author of the New Orleans website (1) also notes that “it’s both possible and probable that Nick LaRocca heard, and was influenced by Buddy Bolden, who had the most popular black band at the turn of the century.”

The library has some of LaRocca’s recordings, for example the Original Dixieland jazz band : jazz originators Vol.4 (re-issues by Jazz Collector, JEL21 of recordings made in ca.1918/1919), First jazz recording 1917: the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (issued by Philips, BBE 12488), and the CD re-issue entitled New Orleans: Where Jazz was born (issued by Jazz Roots, CD 56021) [this last has been loaded into the juke box in the North Library for quick listening].

Collier (2) notes that “the  Original Dixieland Jazz Band was an enormous success, and its February 1917 recordings for Victor were the first jazz recordings. These became hits, and by the end of 1917 jazz was becoming a nationwide phenomenon with a large, primarily white, audience”.

Finally on the display shelves in the library there are related vinyl LPs (library listening only), and loanable CDs and books on the New Orleans topic, other LaRocca-related LPs, and of course, thanks to  Genia’s hard work, a catalogue search will reveal still more of the library’s resources.

_______________________________________________________________

(1) New Orleans Official Guide online: http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/music/musichistory/jazzbirthplace.html.

(2) James Lincoln Collier. “Jazz (i).” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 28, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J223800.

(3) Richard M. Sudhalter. “LaRocca, Nick.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, accessed February 27, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J259200.

The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola – An exhibition on Lionel Tertis

 

photo of Lionel Tertis

Lionel Tertis, c.1903

Currently on display in the Jerwood Library are highlights from the large collection relating to the renowned viola virtuoso Lionel Tertis (1876-1975), collected by his biographer John White, and now held in the library archives. Throughout his long career Lionel Tertis worked tirelessly towards raising the status of the viola to a solo recital instrument on a par with the violin and cello. To this end he inspired and performed many new works for the instrument, was a prolific arranger of works originally written for other instruments and even produced his own design for the Tertis-model viola, in pursuit of a stronger, more sonorous tone. The Tertis-White collection comprises Tertis’ manuscript arrangements and annotated copies of music he owned, along with photographs, correspondence, concert programmes and other memorabilia. It was the life’s work of the much-respected violist John White whose definitive biography of Tertis was published in 2006: Lionel Tertis: The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola. 

photo of John White

John White, Tertis’ biographer. ©Melanie Strover

 

TERTIS AND TRINITY LABAN

Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music (then Trinity College of Music) played a formative role in the development of Lionel Tertis’ career. He studied piano, harmony and violin at the college on an ad hoc basis between 1892 and 1894. On leaving the school Bradbury Turner, principal at the time, wrote to congratulate Tertis with the words ‘Remember, study is unending’.[1] Much later, at a dinner given in his honour in 1962, Tertis spoke of the ‘benefit and musical enthusiasm’ he had received during his studentship at TCM.[2] In 1966 the college awarded him an Honorary Fellowship and, after his death in 1975 his widow Lillian Tertis donated an important collection of Tertis’ scores to the college library, including many of his manuscript arrangements. Now, with the accession of John White’s archive – generously donated by his widow Carol –Trinity Laban holds the largest collection of Lionel Tertis material publically available anywhere.

Lionel Tertis also has a living connection with Trinity Laban through the professors of viola Roger Chase and Rivka Golani. It was Rivka who made the premiere recording of Tertis’ arrangement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, the CD of which can be found in the Jerwood library here.

roger-chase

Professor Roger Chase playing Tertis’ 1717 Montagnana Viola. ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010

And it is Roger Chase who can be seen in the photo above playing Tertis’ 1717 Montagnana viola. Moreover, Roger’s teacher Bernard Shore, Tertis’ student and friend, would occasionally take him to Tertis’ house for lessons with Tertis himself. This 17 1/8” viola is the instrument that Tertis used at the height of his career and helped provide the inspiration for his later development of the Tertis-model viola, seeking to find something of the deep sonority of the Montagnana but in a form more manageable for smaller hands.

LIFE

When Tertis began his career he had to work hard in order to overcome public prejudice against the viola as a solo instrument. In his autobiography, Tertis mentions overhearing someone remarking to their neighbour at one of his first solo concerts: ‘I believe a viola is a peculiarly-shaped brass instrument’, such was the lowly status of the instrument at the time. He goes on to implore the ever-increasing number of violinists choosing to take up the viola: ‘strive to enlarge the library of solo viola music, by fair means or foul. Cajole your composer friends to write for it, raid the repertory of the violin, cello or any other instrument, and arrange and transcribe works from their literature suitable for your viola’ – advice that Tertis himself followed throughout his life with the single-minded dedication that was reportedly so characteristic of him.[3] Representing this dedication to enlarging the viola repertoire with arrangements, on display in the exhibition is the original manuscript in Tertis’ hand of his arrangement of Delius’ Violin Sonata no. 2, pictured below.

The original manuscript of Tertis' Viola arrangement of Delius' 2nd Violin Sonata

Excerpt from the original manuscript of Tertis’ Viola arrangement of Delius’ 2nd Violin Sonata

Tertis was a prolific letter writer and on display are a selection of some of the more well-known correspondents from the large collection of letters in the archive. There’s a letter from Edward Elgar discussing and expressing his approval for the viola arrangement Tertis had made of the composer’s much-loved Cello Concerto; a letter from William Walton expressing his thoughts on Tertis’ retirement; an invitation to dinner from British Prime Minister Edward Heath; a note from Ralph Vaughan-Williams apologising for being too old and deaf to conduct a piece for Tertis; a letter from famous pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and a note from Fritz Kreisler, warmly expressing his friendship.

A particular highlight of the collection, and representative of the important role Tertis played in inspiring new repertoire for the instrument, is his copy of the score of Walton’s Viola Concerto, complete with his markings and a note of thanks to Tertis from the composer: ‘[…]for all you’ve done for this work’. The piece was written for Tertis in 1929 at the suggestion of Sir Thomas Beecham, and although Tertis was to become a strong advocate and regular performer of the piece, his initial reception of it was decidedly lukewarm. In fact, it was actually Paul Hindemith who gave the premiere. As Tertis writes in his autobiography:

One work of which I did not give the first performance was Walton’s masterly concerto. With shame and contrition I admit that when the composer offered me the first performance I declined it. I was unwell at the time; but what is also true is that I had not learnt to appreciate Walton’s style. The innovations in his musical language, which now seem so logical and so truly in the main-stream of music, then struck me as far-fetched. It took me time to realise what a tower of strength in the literature of the viola is this concerto.[4]

Many other British composers also wrote pieces especially for Tertis, among them John McEwen, Arnold Bax, Benjamin Dale, York Bowen, Frank Bridge and Harry Farjeon, Vaughan Williams and Arthur Bliss,[5] all of which are represented in the archive.

 

TERTIS-MODEL VIOLA

Tertis also spent much of his life thinking about the ideal shape and size of the viola. If it were built in proportion to the violin or cello it would be too large to play under the chin, yet this smaller size means a compromise in sonority. Tertis’ tone was big, beautiful and powerful and he insisted on playing an especially large viola to help achieve this. In particular it helped produce his desired rich and resonant C-string sound, bordering on the quality of a cello. He had no time for small, nasal sounds from small violas. Seeking to solve this problem for the viola in general, Tertis began a collaboration with the violin and viola maker Arthur Richardson, aiming to develop an instrument large enough to produce a strong, sonorous tone, yet not so unwieldy that it was too difficult to handle. He entered this quest for the perfect size and sound with the kind of single-minded enthusiasm that characterised much of his life, sending plans to makers all over the world and leading to the production of hundreds of instruments built to the specifications he originally developed with Richardson.[6] On display in the exhibition are a selection of plans, diagrams, photographs and correspondence all relating to his famous Tertis-Model Viola.

Although some violas made to the Tertis pattern are still in professional use, in many ways the Tertis-Model has been relegated to an interesting historical development. Many of today’s players get a great sound from violas of various shapes and sizes, giving the player a degree of choice unthinkable in Tertis’ time. Nevertheless, the effort Tertis put into his model has created a huge amount of interest in the whole question of viola size and shape, and has led to the opening up of many new paths of development for the instrument.[7] It is just one of the many ways that Lionel Tertis has left a deep and lasting legacy in the history and development of the modern viola.

 


 

[1] White, John. Lionel Tertis: The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola. (Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2006), 3

[2] Quoted in: White. Lionel Tertis, 264

[3] Tertis, Lionel. My Viola and I. (London: Kahn & Averill, 1991), 161

[4] Ibid., 36

[5] Watson Forbes, ‘Tertis, Lionel’ in Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online, <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/27716&gt; (accessed January 23, 2017)

[6]  White. Lionel Tertis, 160

[7] Ibid., 169

Edith’s Choice: 15 years of the Jerwood Library

Display cabinet containing items related to the official opening of the Jerwood Library in 2002 (programme, invitiation, photos and a poem read at the event)

Library display commemorating fifteen years of the Jerwood Library

15 years ago today on 9 January 2002, the official opening of the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts took place, which makes the library officially fifteen years old today. I’ve chosen to highlight this anniversary with a small display in the library this month.

I spoke about the library’s move to Greenwich with Walter Cardew, the only current member of library staff to have worked in both the TCM Library and the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts, and David Butler, who now works in the Jerwood Library but in 2002 was studying for a BMus at Trinity College of Music (now Faculty of Music, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

What was it like moving the whole library to Greenwich?

Walter: When I started here in Nov 2000 we knew the move was coming, and things kicked off in earnest when a new head librarian Rosemary Williamson started in 2001. We visited King Charles Court to see the space the library would be in and got an opportunity to explore the building including the attic spaces and even going out on the roof. Everyone was fascinated by the exposed wooden roof beams. I’ve heard various stories about their origins, including that they were timbers retrieved from sunk Spanish Armada ships, though I’m not sure that holds up to scrutiny…

Rosemary gave me the task of planning how the library stock would be packed and then organised in the new space. I had to plan in great detail and I devised an enormous spreadsheet mapping every single shelf in the old library to a specific shelf in the new library.

How did the new library compare to the old one?

David: Like King Charles Court as a whole, the new library was a lot more accessible for the students than the old one. The old building was a complete rabbit warren and the library was across three floors. The sequence of shelves didn’t feel logical, but the Jerwood Library has the whole collection in one space and all in sequence. I remember the old library having a few computers in the basement which were always busy and not the easiest place to study. I definitely used the library more after the move!

Walter: Because of the three floors staff had to put returned items for shelving in boxes and carry them up and down stairs so we were glad to move to one level. It also made it much easier for students to borrow items and get help from us as we weren’t tucked away on the top floor. The new library had closed stacks for our growing special collections including the Almeida Collection which we’d recently acquired and was a big addition to the library. 

The old buildings in central London were cramped and had been added to piecemeal as the institution grew. There were even some staff offices that could only be accessed from the rest of the site via a rooftop walkway! The move to a single building was unifying and we appreciated having a bit more office space too.

Were you at the official opening?

Walter: Yes, all the library staff were invited. My abiding memory is the actor Timothy West CBE reciting a poem he’d written commemorating Greenwich and the opening, which was very impressive. There was also a commissioned jazz piece performed by Iain Ballamy and others with poetry by Matthew Sweeney.

Representatives from the Jerwood Foundation were there too – the library was renamed the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts when we moved, in honour of the generous grant they made towards setting up the library in Greenwich.

Hawksmoor and Wren, come back
to see your palace now.
Look at its new inside –
this library we are celebrating,
tables where beds were,
the original beams overhead
but with a raised, sunlit ceiling –
all is light now, all light

Excerpt from Black Beams by Matthew Sweeney, commissioned by the Jerwood Foundation for the opening of the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts.

How has the library space changed since 2002?

Walter: The refurbishment was done to a high standard except it turned out no-one had thought about ventilation in the summer months. The library’s skylight windows couldn’t be opened and on a couple of occasions it got so hot we had to close the library completely. Fitting ceiling fans and a remote-controlled mechanism for opening the windows soon fixed that, to everyone’s relief.

David: The computers have shrunk in size and the shelves have filled up quickly! There were lots left empty when the library first opened but now there’s not a lot of free space and we’re squeezing in more shelving wherever we can…

Animated gif showing installation of new shelving in the Jerwood Library, summer 2014

New shelving being installed in the library in summer 2014

Thanks to both Walter and David for sharing their memories of the Jerwood Library’s first year with us.

A display is in the small cabinet in the library showing the programme from the official opening, Timothy West’s poem Ode to Greenwich and other related materials from the TCM Archive, housed at the Jerwood Library.

We’re delighted to have served the students and staff of the Faculty of Music for the last fifteen years and look forward to many more!

David’s choice – Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

Monday 21st November 2016 marks 69 years since the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, gave the world premiere of Symphony no. 5, op. 47 by Dmitry Shostakovich.

‘Shos 5’ (as it’s often referred to) is one of my all time favourite pieces of music. I feel like I know it very well (and not just the cello part!), having rehearsed it at length and having performed it several times over the years. The first time I performed it, and probably the most memorable for me, was with my youth orchestra, the Lancashire Students Symphony Orchestra (LSSO for short), as it was known then, under the baton of Malcolm Doley. What an amazing experience. Aged 15, we went on tour to Tuscany in Italy and performed this incredible symphony several times over the 10 days that we were away, in some amazing places. Also in the programme was another one of my favourite pieces, Elgar’s concert overture ‘Cockaigne’.

Concerts in Italy didn’t start till 9.30pm and Shostakovich symphony no. 5 is around 50 minutes long and was always in the 2nd half of the concert. Therefore, concerts didn’t finish till very late indeed! I do remember closing my eyes briefly one evening, during the 16 minute ‘Largo’,  letting the still, calm yet desolate sounds wash over me…….and then struggling to open them again! (I think anyone who has been on any sort of residential youth orchestra course/tour will empathize with this!) There was no danger of dozing however in the fierce and powerful fourth movement, using full bows on each fortississimo quaver for a whole of the last page or so of music! (See image of score below). Referring to this ending, Erik Levi explains in the CD sleeve notes to Vol. 22, No. 8 of the BBC Music Magazine CD, “Whether this resolution is genuinely optimistic remains an open question given the music’s lugubrious tempo”.

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (minature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (miniature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

It is interesting to listen to various and vastly different interpretations of the end of the fourth movement and hear the massively contrasting speeds this passage is taken at and how this affects the whole mood of the final movement. Personally, I prefer the slower tempo for the end of the symphony, closer to the actual metronome mark of ‘quaver = 184’ as shown in the example above. This is expertly demonstrated on a live recording, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the LSO in 2005, (shelved at ORC: SHO in the library). This contrasts considerably with the 1969 LP recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, (LP no. 167d in the library)

Prior to the composition of his 5th Symphony, it was a difficult time for Shostakovich. He’d had a couple of unfavourable editorials, one of which was entitled, ‘Muddle instead of Music’, and subsequently decided to pull his 4th Symphony on the morning of the premiere. There was a lot resting on the 5th Symphony, which Shostakovich composed in a short space of time, between April and July 1937. He went back to the conventional 4 movement structure for the first time since his 1st Symphony and reduced the orchestra to a more conventional size, only adding celesta and piano, rather than the huge additional forces which were needed for the 4th Symphony.

It is interesting to note how well received the 5th symphony actually was. As Roy Blokker puts it in his book, ‘The Music of Dimitri Shostakovich – The Symphonies’, (shelved at 789 SHO), “In 1937 they did not want tragedy in art, yet the Fifth is tragic…..The Soviet leaders wanted folk music and nationalistic ideas; the Fifth contains none. The second movement is a grotesque dance based upon themes from the still unperformed Fourth Symphony that had parodied the very critics who had ostracised the composer in 1936. Yet the score was such a massive tour de force that it melted away all the opposition”

“The première of the Fifth Symphony on 21 November 1937 was the scene of extraordinary public acclamation. There was open weeping in the slow movement and a half-hour ovation at the end”. Grove Music Online.

It was clear that the audience at the premiere had identified the ‘tragic struggle’ in the music and how this paralleled their own daily struggles at the time.

november-item-of-the-month-2016-shostakovich-cabinet-photo

Library display cabinet showing – ‘David’s choice’ –  Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

For students and staff who want to find out more, why not start with Quicksearch, for articles, recordings, reviews and much more. Why not have a read of ‘Testimony: the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov’ which you can find at 789 SHO or check out the DVD of ‘Testimony : the story of Dmitri Shostakovich’ shelved at DVD / FILM : TES

 

Roy Blokker with Robert Dearing, The Music of Dimitri Shostakovich, The Symphonies London : Tantivy Press, (Rutherford : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1979)

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (minature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

David Fanning and Laurel Fay. “Shostakovich, Dmitry.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, (accessed November 9, 2016) http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/52560pg3.

 

 

Claire’s Choice: on an autumnal theme!

conkers

As the mornings grow colder and squirrels are to be seen hoarding conkers for the winter, what better for “Claire’s Choice” than to highlight two songs in the Jerwood Library collection celebrating the venerable chestnut tree.

village-blacksmith

 

Written in 1840 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poem The Village Blacksmith was set to music in 1854 by the English composer and celebrated bass singer Willoughby Weiss. It starts “Under a spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands…” and continues to describe the blacksmith’s daily life. Weiss offered the copyright of the work to a firm of publishers for the sum of 5 pounds, but when his offer was turned down, he decided to publish it on his own account. As luck would have it, it went on to become a hugely popular Victorian parlour song, earning him and his family a considerable income!

 

Moving forward into the 20th century, the second song The Chestnut Tree, with words and music by Jimmy Kennedy, Tommie Connor and Hamilton Kennedy, was composed in 1938. This popular novelty song was also inspired by Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith. However rather than focussing on the virtuous, hard-working, church-going, qualities of the blacksmith, it centres on the blacksmith’s daughter and “the spreading chestnut tree”, the goings-on under which certainly didn’t appear in Longfellow’s poem!

But this was only one aspect of the song. In fact, the writers had been specifically commissioned to come up with something that was going to take dance halls by storm. Indeed the inspiration behind selecting The Village Blacksmith as inspiration came from a photograph of King George VI at a boy scout jamboree in which his, and all the scouts’, hands were held to their heads. Further research unearthed that this was part of a performance in which the scouts recited The Village Blacksmith. With assistance from Adele England (who had choreographed The Lambeth Walk) they devised some steps to go with their song, which are illustrated in the printed edition. It became a huge hit, selling over 10,000 copies per day.

This edition comes from the Jerwood Library’s Rita Williams popular song collection. Rita Williams sang with the Billy Cotton Club, among other groups, and was an avid collector of popular songs. The overall collection comprises some 3000 individual songs dating from Victorian times to the 1970s. It is handlisted here. Do get in touch with us if you’d like to see any other hidden gems in the collection.

Items from the Jerwood library collection:

Weiss, W.H. “The Village Blacksmith”. In The Songs of England, volume 1, edited by J.L. Hatton, 245-249. London: Boosey & Co, 1910

Kennedy, Jimmy, Tommie Connor and Hamilton Kenny, The Chestnut Tree. London: Peter Maurice Music Co, 1938

Exhibition: Experimental Scores from 1950s New York

cabinet-2One of the things that strikes me about the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff and Earle Brown in the 1950s is how uneasily it might sit in the library of a conservatoire of music. It represents attitudes to sound, composition and value-judgements like skill, quality, or success and failure which seem to me to be at odds with those of the mainstream of western classical music history. And this seemed to me a good reason to drag it out and examine it under the lights of the library display cabinets.

But first things first – why does this music tend to be grouped together and described as ‘experimental’? Attempts at naming and defining a musical movement seem to me to be doomed to exceptions and over-simplifications, intended as they are to take in the work done by a range of different personalities over a vaguely-defined period of time. Yet, they have their uses. Something new really did seem to happen in the way people were creating and thinking about music in New York City, beginning in the 1950s, and calling this new music ‘experimental’ seems reasonable. At least, John Cage seemed to think so:

“The word ‘experimental’ is apt, providing it is understood not as descriptive of an act to be later judged in terms of success and failure, but simply as of an act the outcome of which is unknown.”  [written in 1955][1]

Cage is the composer most associated with the inception of this new music, but the work of all four men has a further attitude in common; they were all writing music which was at one remove from the person who made it, and thus somewhat distanced from their own tastes and prejudices in favour of a more objective approach to sound. Michael Nyman, in his book on experimental music, also adds that it is music which is somehow distinct from the ‘well-trodden but sanctified path of the post-Renaissance tradition’ of avant-garde composers such as Boulez, Xenakis, Kagel, Berio, Stockhausen, Birtwistle, Bussotti.[2] I’ll come back to that.

John Cage’s famous ‘silent’ piece 4’33’’ was composed and premiered in 1952 and is often the place to start off any discussion about experimental music. Consequently, I almost cringe talking about this piece. It seems to have been picked over again and again, endlessly. However, one of the reasons this is the case is that it’s just such a good example in the way in encapsulates many aspects of the new attitude towards music that began to emerge in the work of a number of composers around the same time in the same place.

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John Cage at a drinks reception at the Cage/Cunningham Residency at the Laban Centre, July 1980.  Photo by Peter Sayers (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cage’s piece grew directly out of his realisation that sounds surround us always, even in the quietest of places, and if we attend to them, and accept both intended and unintended sounds into composition, a new attitude to making and listening to music is born – ‘Happy new ears!’, as he put it.[3] His move was to simply provide a time-frame (the duration of which was generated by chance) in which an audience could attend to all the sounds that surround them. And although 4’33’’ is the idea taken to its logical extreme, the emphasis in this new attitude was not the traditional one of prescribing a defined time-object, the materials and structuring of which were calculated and specified in advance. Instead, these composers were more interested in outlining a certain situation in which sounds then occur. It was an attitude of acceptance rather than craftsmanship; an effort to distance one’s self from the composition; and an attempt to bring art and life closer together:[4]

“When a composer feels a responsibility to make, rather than accept, he eliminates from the area of possibility all those events that do not suggest at that point in time vogue of profundity. For he takes himself seriously, wishes to be considered great, and he thereby diminishes his love and increases his fear and concern about what people will think.

 

There are many serious problems confronting such an individual. He must do it better, more impressively, more beautifully, etc. than anybody else. And what, precisely, does this, this beautiful profound object, this masterpiece, have to do with Life? It has this to do with Life: that it is separate from it. Now we see it and now we don’t. When we see it we feel better, and when we are away from it, we don’t feel so good. Life seems shabby and chaotic and disordered, ugly in contrast.”[5]

Describing pieces like the graph pieces of Morton Feldman, in which only the number and relative placement of pitches (high, middle, low) are specified within a time-grid, Cage said that ‘the composer resembles the maker of a camera who allows someone else to take the picture.’[6]

“What is, or seems to be, new in this music? One finds a concern for a kind of objectivity, almost anonymity – sound come into its own. The ‘music’ is resultant existing simply in the sounds we hear, given no impulse by expression of self or personality” [7]

It should already seem quite clear how this attitude is very different from that of the European-classical canon, including the work of the avant-garde at the time. In that tradition the responsibility for managing and calculating all of the musical parameters is laid squarely at the feet of the composer. The emphasis there is on integration, organisation and control as opposed to the impersonal techniques used for merely ‘setting sounds in motion’, in which any possibility of drawing events into some kind of pre-calculated image is impossible because so much is left open until the moment of performance. And indeed, it was the uniqueness of the moment, rather than the uniqueness of something preserved, that interested the experimental composers.

So this brings me to the place experimental music might occupy in a conservatoire of music. After all, it’s here that performance students come to hone an extraordinarily refined skill-set over a period of at least 4 years, with the emphasis being on replicating certain unique and preserved master-pieces. It’s hard-work, and success and failure are very real categories. So it seems understandable that the presence of this different attitude to music-making might sit a little uneasily here – who needs a degree when all you’re doing is ‘projecting sounds in time’? How do you accurately rate the performance of a piece that sounds completely different every time it’s performed?

However, my feeling, for what it’s worth, is that music is not just one thing, and students should be able, if so inclined, to take advantage of their time here to explore it in all its variety. Surely, this is one of the main things the library is here to facilitate. Whether this music seems exciting to one person or empty to another depends ultimately on their temperament, but either way, having it in the collection increases its scope. After all, let’s not forget that this music is hardly ‘new’. In fact, it’s now just about old enough to qualify for a free bus pass.

It’s refreshing that people tend to find the arch-modernist style-police amusing for the vitriol with which they denounced anyone who didn’t plow their particular furrow in the mid-twentieth-century, and this opening-up and moving away from an unhealthy obsession with style can only be a good thing. I know that when I learnt about what was happening in 1950s New York for the first time it opened my ears to new ways of thinking about and listening to music. It didn’t stop me practicing my scales, but it did give me a different take on listening to all the sounds that we normally do our best to ignore; or wondering whether we can, or why we might want to, remove our tastes and prejudices from the things we make. Being exposed to a diversity of values and approaches to music only enriches things.

However, as a final thought, I’ll leave Morton Feldman to muddy the waters. For all this talk of a diversity of approaches, perhaps this supposedly brand-new attitude wasn’t really all that separate from the mainstream avant-garde after all? It seems a good example of how parts of a culture that seem unconnected at the time, when seen in perspective can shed light on each other in interesting ways. All the more reason to welcome this kind of music into the conservatoire library, I’d say.

“What rhapsodizes in today’s ‘cool’ language is its own construction. The fact that men like Boulez and Cage represent opposite extremes of modern mythology is not what is interesting. What is interesting is their similarity. In the music of both men, things are exactly what they are  – no more, no less. In the music of both men, what is heard is indistinguishable from its process. In fact, process itself might be called the zeitgeist of our age.”[8]

 


 

[1] John Cage, Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), 13

[2] Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 1

[3] John Cage, A Year From Monday: Lectures and Writings (Marion Boyars: London, 1968), 30

[4] Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 4

[5] John Cage, Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), 130

[6] John Cage, Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), 11

[7] Christian Wolff, quoted in Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 30

[8] Morton Feldman, Give my Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman ed. B.H.Friedman (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 2000), 109

James’ Choice: Antonio de Almeida’s score of Iannis Xenakis’ Metastasis

a photograph of Antonio de Almeida's copy of Xenakis' Metastasis

Antonio de Almeida’s markings on Xenakis’ Metastasis

This month the library item I’ve decided to highlight is the score for Iannis Xenakis’ (1922-2001) Metastasis from the printed music collection of the conductor Antonio de Almeida (1928-1997), complete with his performance markings. There are a number of reasons for my choice. As well as being a landmark piece of twentieth-century modernism, it’s a visually-striking score on account of its size and intricacy. Moreover, Antonio de Almeida’s pencil markings are a fascinating insight into the practical considerations required for performing a piece like this. It’s also an excellent example of Xenakis’ unique approach to composition, and one with a very explicit connection to his work as an architect.

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Written in 1953-4, and premiered at the Donaueschingen Festival in 1955, Metastasis is Xenakis’ first major work after the completion of his studies with Olivier Messiaen. In this piece, Xenakis lays down the foundation for many of the approaches and attitudes to music composition that were to occupy him for the rest of his career. The work combines an idiosyncratic system for controlling pitch material and an approach to sound best described when he says ‘the sonorities of the orchestra are building materials, like brick, stone and wood […] The subtle structures of orchestral sound masses represent a reality that promises much’.[1] In this piece, each orchestral player has a separate part, and Xenakis combines, on the one hand, the continuous evolution of enormous glissando structures and, on the other, the discontinuous permutation of pitches.

 ‘I was interested in two things in those years. One: I wanted to write a kind of dodecaphonic music with the help of computation – a music whose macroform emerges from a few basic principles. In Metastasis I made computations based on the permutations of intervals, with the help of the axiomatic approach known in mathematics.

Two: I was interested in the continuous changes of chords. […] How to make that change a continuous one? So long as one remains in the same scale, the only solution is a glissando. […] That was the basic idea.’[2]

 

Metastasis is also the first work in which Xenakis’ compositional planning for the piece involved using a two-dimensional projection. Here, time is on the x-axis and pitch on the y-axis, and ruled straight-line paths are bent into curved surfaces.

Composition sketch for Xenakis metastasis showing the basis for the hyperbolic paraboloids of the Philips Pavillion

Image scanned from Bálint András Varga, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), 74

Xenakis also employed this technique in later compositions (such as Stratégie and Syrmos), but it’s particularly fascinating how it was also translated directly into his work as an architect. The connection is immediately obvious with how these curves built from multiple straight-line paths (hyperbolic paraboloids) were incorporated into the distinctive shape of his design for the Philips Pavilion for the 1958 Brussels Exposition Universelle, built during his time working in the office of Le Corbusier. Incidentally, the pavillion had another connection to musical modernism in that it formed the setting for performances of Edgard Varèse’s Poème électronique.[3]

expo again

Image by Wouter Hagens, accessed from http://www.archdaily.com/157658/ad-classics-expo-58-philips-pavilion-le-corbusier-and-iannis-xenakis, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The score on display was plucked from the personal printed music library of Antonio de Almeida, housed in the Jerwood Library’s special collections. Consisting of 5,456 volumes, including scores acquired by him from the collections of Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, it’s a wide-ranging collection, reflecting his own diverse musical interests. Alongside the Xenakis score, the collection ranges from other leading lights of twentieth-century modernism, via more mainstream orchestral repertoire of the 19th and 18th century, to composers such as Carlos Chavez, André Grétry, Howard Hanson, Hans Pfitzner and Henri Serpette. Not to mention works by Offenbach and Boccherini, in whom de Almeida had a particular interest. Described by Grove as ‘a conductor of elegance and fastidious detail’, he was also awarded the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Légion d’Honneur.[4]

 


 

[1] Iannis Xenakis quoted in Peter Hoffmann, ‘Xenakis, Iannis’ in Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/30654&gt; (Accessed August 25th, 2016)

[2] Iannis Xenakis quoted in Bálint András Varga, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), 72.

[3] Peter Hoffmann, ‘Xenakis, Iannis’ in Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/30654&gt; (Accessed August 25th, 2016)

[4] Noël Goodwin, ‘Almeida, Antonio (Jacques) de’ in Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/00643&gt; (Accessed August 23rd, 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity College of Music Archive Online

Following many months of dust, sweat, and toil, we are pleased to announce that the archive of the former Trinity College of Music (TCM) has been catalogued online and is now fully accessible to researchers for the first time. Thanks to special funding from Trinity Laban and former principal Derek Aviss, we had six months to sort out a lot of boxes…

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These boxes were all held in storage, unlisted, and were therefore inaccessible to researchers. We appraised and arranged all the records in a sensible order before describing them on the Archives Hub. Finally, everything was moved into the library’s closed-access storage area, and re-housed in nice new boxes…

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The archive covers the period from the foundation of the college in 1872 to 2005 (when TCM merged with the Laban Dance Centre). Records relating to the administration of local examinations and diplomas are included up until 1992 when Trinity College London was established as a separate company. Materials include minutes of meetings, student records, calendars and prospectuses, photographs, concert programmes, and much more…

20160825_16234620160825_15374820160825_162459 (2)Concert programmes re-housed in archival-standard enclosures

Anyone is welcome to view material from the archive, but please bear in mind that some records are closed in accordance with legal requirements. Please contact us in advance of your visit to make an appointment.