Celebrating Florence Price

Image of Florence Price

By The New York Times courtesy of University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Trinity Laban recently announced the Venus Blazing initiative, which aims to increase the representation of women composers in large-scale public performance programming to 50% during the 2018/19 season. Following on from our recent feature on Ethel Smyth and the Suffragette movement, this month’s small exhibition cabinet showcases another female composer, Florence Price (1887-1953).

Born into an African-American family in Little Rock, Arkansas, Florence Price studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston, then from the 1920s onwards lived in Chicago. Price holds the distinction of being “the first black American woman to have an orchestral work performed by a major American orchestra”[1], following the performance of her Symphony in E minor by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. (please note: links to recordings and articles in this blog post will allow TL students and staff direct access when on site only)

As well as orchestral works, Price wrote piano and organ music, solo songs and choral works. In addition to her classical composition training, Price’s musical style often draws inspiration from the spirituals and juba dance rhythms of her African-American heritage[2]. Price also wrote music for radio adverts, under the pseudonym Vee Jay[3].


Online and audiovisual resources
Venus Blazing logo

As well as the printed music items currently on display, there is plenty more information about Florence Price to be found in Trinity Laban’s online resource collections. Florence Price’s entry in Grove Music Online is an excellent place to start for biographical information and a list of her compositions. Price is featured in several of the online reference works on Alexander Street Press, and you can also find further references to journal articles and dissertations via QuickSearch.

If you would like to listen to some of Florence Price’s music there are many recordings available on our audiovisual streaming platforms – for example this recording of the celebrated Song to the Dark Virgin on Naxos, or this recording of the Violin concertos via Alexander Street Press.


References

[1] Brown, Rae Linda, ‘Price [Smith], Florence Bea(trice)’ in Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000048286> (accessed May 15, 2018)

[2] Brown, Rae Linda. ‘William Grant Still, Florence Price, and William Dawson: Echoes of the Harlem Renaissance’, in Black music in the Harlem renaissance: a collection of essays, ed. Floyd, Samuel A. Jr. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990. 71– 86.

[3] Walker-Hill, Helen. Piano music by black women composers: a catalog of solo and ensemble works. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.


 

 

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From the Library of Julian Bream – An Exhibition of his Scores and Manuscripts

We are delighted to have added to our special collections the personal music library of guitarist Julian Bream. The scores in the collection reflect every aspect of his long career as one of the world’s greatest guitar players, and many items contain an abundance of markings from his performances and recordings of the pieces.

photo by S.Hurok (public domain)

Bream’s tireless work in expanding the guitar’s repertoire is reflected in both original manuscript copies of his arrangements, as well as copies of works specially-commissioned by Bream from leading twentieth-century composers, including Benjamin Britten, Peter Maxwell-Davies, Lennox Berkeley and Hans Werner Henze, among others.

 

Bream’s Life & Legacy

It’s hard to overstate Julian Bream’s contribution to the classical guitar. Through his long career of performances, recordings and arrangements, it seems fair to say that no-one since Andrés Segovia has done so much to increase both the reputation and the repertoire of the classical guitar. As Graham Wade puts it:

“Bream’s stature as one of the greatest masters of the guitar has been established for many years. The deep intensity of his playing, the sheer beauty of his tone control, and his profound empathy with a great range of music, have enabled him to achieve a radical extension of the guitar repertory and to reach the widest possible audience for half a century.”[1]

Some of Bream’s arrangements on display

Something that makes Bream’s achievements all the more remarkable is that his guitar technique was ‘home-made’, as he puts it. After initial lessons with his father, he did later attend the Royal College of Music with a full scholarship, but he did so as a student of cello and piano, as guitar wasn’t taught at the college at the time. Beginning with a debut at the Wigmore hall in 1950, Bream soon began to play a significant part in changing the status of the guitar with recitals throughout Britain, followed by European, then North and South American concert tours in subsequent years.

It was around the time of Bream’s first guitar recitals that he also picked up the lute and, as Diana Poulton remarks in her book John Dowland, as early as 1951, ‘astonished everyone with the brilliance of his musicianship and his complete technical mastery of the lute’.[2] Again, as with the guitar, his achievements are all the more exceptional in light of his position as a self-taught pioneer of the instrument:

”When I began playing the lute, in 1950, there were not too many lutenists around. I had to work hard, writing out music in museums and libraries. […] And I had just picked up the lute, adapted my guitar technique to it and went from there.”[3]

A few years later, in 1959, he formed of the Julian Bream Consort, a period-instrument ensemble with Bream as lutenist. The group was initially put together simply in order to play Morley’s First Book of Consort Lessons, but their subsequent success did a lot to stimulate the popularity of early consort music in general.

Another important element of Bream’s career is his extensive back catalogue of recordings. His prolific recording output covers the whole spectrum of repertoire for guitar and lute, including his large catalogue of iconic RCA recordings, television masterclasses and his ‘¡Guitarra!’ documentary, wherein he explored the whole history of the vihuela and guitar in Spain, playing specially-commissioned historic instruments for the project.

Expanding the Repertoire

Julian Bream commissioned, performed and recorded works by some of the twentieth-century’s leading composers. On display from the Jerwood Library’s new collection are pieces from Peter Maxwell-Davies, Stephen Dodgson, Reginald Smith-Brindle, Joaquín Rodrigo and Benjamin Britten, all containing gracious notes and dedications to the guitarist. Other well-known composers that Bream inspired to write for the guitar include Malcolm Arnold (Guitar Concerto, Fantasy), Michael Tippett (The Blue Guitar), Leo Brouwer (Concerto elegiaco, Sonata), Lennox Berkeley (Guitar Concerto, Sonatina, Theme and Variations), Richard Rodney Bennett (Guitar Concerto, Impromptus, Sonata), Alan Rawsthorne (Elegy) and William Walton (Five Bagatelles).[4] Bream’s efforts in this area made great strides in expanding the horizons of the twentieth-century guitar beyond its previous limits as an almost exclusively Spanish art form—as it was in the hands of older composers like Pujol, Torroba, Mompou & Rodrigo—to a more eclectic range of international styles and approaches.

Bream’s copy of the final page of Britten’s Nocturnal

In particular, Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal After John Dowland, op.70—written for and premiered by Bream—is widely considered to be a crowning jewel of the twentieth-century guitar repertoire.  The Nocturnal takes the form of an unorthodox set of theme and variations, with each of the work’s eight movements coming gradually closer to Dowland’s Come, Heavy Sleep from his First Book of Songs, which is eventually quoted in full at the conclusion of the work. Included in the collection is Bream’s 2nd working copy of the piece, with many interesting differences in fingering from the original published copy.

A selection of Bream’s hand-written transcriptions of works by Weiss, Tárrega and Cimarosa

As well as commissioning new work, Bream made great strides in increasing the breadth and depth of the music available for guitar through his work as an editor and arranger. Included in the exhibition are a selection of the guitarist’s own handwritten arrangements of pieces for the solo guitar, including works by Tárrega, Weiss, Cimarosa, Albéniz and Granados. His recordings and performances of pieces like these went a long way to establishing many of them as staples of the guitar repertoire.

For anyone interested in learning more about Julian Bream’s fascinating career, an excellent place to start is the feature-length DVD ‘Julian Bream: My Life in Music‘ (available in the library at the DVD class-mark PER: BRE).

Accessing the Collection

The collection is held in closed access, but specific items of interest can be retrieved by library staff. The contents are currently being catalogued to item level on the Jerwood Library catalogue and may be browsed by choosing ‘Julian Bream Collection’ from the ‘Source’ option. Items of particular interest can also be browsed via the collection handlist. Viewing specific items in person during library opening hours is by appointment via jlpa@trinitylaban.ac.uk.


[1] Peter Sensier and Graham Wade, ‘Bream, Julian’ in Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, <https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.03900> (accessed 26/4/18)

[2] Diana Poulton. John Dowland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982),447

[3] Allan Kozinn, ‘Julian Bream Sets off in  New (Old) Direction’, The New York Times Online (accessed 19/4/18)Ibid.

[4] Peter Sensier and Graham Wade, ‘Bream, Julian’ in Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, <https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.03900> (accessed 26/4/18)

Deeds not words: from Ethel Smyth to Venus Blazing

Library display case titled Deeds not Words showing items relating to Ethel Smyth, suffragettes and Venus Blazing at Trinity Laban

We’re nearly at the end of Women’s History Month, and our current display highlights the history of women in the UK who fought for the right to vote over 100 years ago, finally winning a partial victory in 1918. The display, ‘Deeds not Words’, highlights Ethel Smyth, a renowned composer born in Sidcup, southeast London, who put her burgeoning musical career on hold for two years to join the suffragettes’ struggle for the vote.

John Singer Sargent Dame Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth by John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ethel Smyth’s suffragette activism led to a sentence of two months’ imprisonment for breaking a window. One day she memorably conducted her rousing The March of the Women anthem for the movement from her cell window brandishing a toothbrush as a baton: sadly no photo exists, so in our display we have settled for an image of Smyth supporting her dear friend Emmeline Pankhurst when the police came to arrest her outside Smyth’s home.

Smyth showed an early appetite for direct action, going on ‘strike’ as a teenager when her father refused permission to study at the Leipzig Conservatory, eventually confining herself to her room and refusing to attend meals or social occasions until her father relented.[1]

Her persistence paid off with a long and successful career as a composer, conductor and broadcaster which TL students and staff can read about in Ethel Smyth’s entry in Grove Online, penned by none other than Dr Sophie Fuller, Programme Leader of Trinity Laban’s Masters programmes![2]

VB_Logo_FINAL_explosion_SQUARE_1080x1080px

We’re delighted that the motto ‘Deeds not Words’ rings true to this day amongst many people and organisations working towards equality. Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing initiative for 2018/19 is an example of taking action: at least half (by duration) of the works in TL’s large-scale performances will be by women composers. The name comes from a violin concerto by TL composer Deirdre Gribbin which can be listened to via the library’s listening station.

The library has recently purchased a number of works by women to develop our collection – thanks to a generous financial donation from former Trinity Laban Board member Esther Cavett – a number of which are on display on the new items shelves in the library.

Four shelves showing items purchased by the Jerwood Library to support Venus Blazing

As the Jerwood Library’s systems librarian, I’ve been working on improvements to our catalogue to make these works easier to track down and these are close to fruition: watch this space…

[1] Bexley Civic Society article on Ethel Smyth. 23 Mar. 2018. http://www.bexleycivicsociety.org.uk/ethel-smyth.

[2] Fuller, Sophie. “Smyth, Dame Ethel.” Grove Music Online. 23 Mar. 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000026038.

Trinity Laban Faculty Composers: DARREN BLOOM

New work Five Brief Lessons to be premiered on Saturday 15th July at Cheltenham Music Festival – read on for more details.

The Jerwood Library’s twin display cabinets currently feature a display featuring Darren Bloom: composer, conductor, producer and educator.

Darren studied composition with Edwin Roxburgh, Brian Elias and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and conducting with Neil Thompson, Edwin Roxburgh and Christopher Austin. He was awarded a DipRAM and the Manson Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Music as well as recently being appointed an Associate of the RAM. In 2015 he commenced an AHRC funded PhD in Composition at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Richard Causton.

In 2016 he won the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize and has been commissioned to write a new chamber work for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival

We are particularly fortunate to be able to include in this display materials lent by the composer revealing some of the processes behind his composition, including various stages of sketches, and pages of the very recently finished work for the Piatti Quartet, Five Brief Lessons, which will receive its premiere on Saturday 15th July at the Cheltenham Music Festival (more details here). The concert will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio3’s Hear and Now.

His recent chamber symphony Dr. Glaser’s Experiment was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra for their 2016 Futures Festival.
Darren’s chamber work Strange Attractors was selected by the UK panel of the International Society for Contemporary Music to represent the UK, and his chamber opera KETTLEHEAD was created as part of his second year of residence with the London Symphony Orchestra as a member of the LSO Soundhub Scheme.

trinitylaban2016_427

Darren Bloom working with the Composers’ Ensemble at Junior Trinity
Photo credit: Belinda Lawley

Darren is a founding member and conductor/creative producer of the Ossian Ensemble with whom he has given the premieres of dozens of new works over the past decade. Other conducting highlights include a performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Five Klee Pictures in the presence of the composer, recording music for BBC4 documentaries, directing several youth new music ensembles, including the Composers Ensemble at Junior Trinity, and making his third annual appearance as a conductor for the LSO Soundhub Scheme.

Darren Bloom in the Jerwood Library collection:

Eve
by Darren Bloom
for soprano and chamber ensemble
Shelf mark: 782.99 BLO

Strange Attractors
by Darren Bloom
for piano, alto flute, bass clarinet, percussion, violin, violoncello
Shelf mark: 782.99 BLO

Dr Glaser’s Experiment
by Darren Bloom
for chamber orchestra
Shelf mark: 782.99 BLO

Under the twinkle of a fading star, we whisper together, part 1
by Darren Bloom
for violin, piano and sampler
Shelf mark: 782.99 BLO

CD: Tangled Pipes by Consortium5 featuring Consorts by Darren Bloom
NONCLASS008
Shelf mark: WOODWIND/CHAMBER: CON

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.

 

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

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.

cage

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

Without Any Apologies for Their Sex: A Celebration of Women at Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music

We are pleased to announce the launch of our latest exhibition which celebrates the contribution of women to Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music since its inception in 1872. The display runs from 15 January – 24 March 2016 and can be found just inside the entrance to the library. External visitors: please contact the library in advance to arrange access. This blog post summarizes the exhibition for those unable to visit in person.

Student Edith Bird with her piano teacher Gordon Saunders, ca.1907-1912. In the early days of the college women overwhelmingly studied either piano or singing. TCM 15/4.

When Harold Rutland wrote his 1972 centenary history of Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music), he filled its pages with the names and faces of men. At that time, women were absent from senior management roles and their impact in other areas was marginalized. However, take a closer look at the archives held here in the Jerwood Library and a different story emerges. As students, teachers and examiners, women contributed in innovative and pioneering ways to the success of the institution. This exhibition recovers their voices from the obscurity of the historical record. It is the story of how women made Trinity Laban the institution it is today.

Students

Trinity College of Music was initially set up in 1872 as a training college for church music. As such, it focused on choral singing and organ playing, both areas then dominated by men. But the college soon expanded to cover other aspects of music education, and a programme of local examinations was initiated. These were extremely popular with young ladies around the country and led to growing numbers entering the college as students. In 1900, just over half of matriculated students were women. Yet women students were not fully integrated into the life of the college: they were taught in special ‘ladies’ classes’ and successful women diploma candidates were listed separately from their male counterparts. Women’s musical studies were also overwhelmingly limited to theory classes, piano and singing. Violin was studied only by a handful of women, in keeping with contemporary norms.[1]

TCM prog 4 Dec 1924

TCM concert in 1924 shows an even gender balance among string-playing students. TCM 6/6.

The taboo associated with women instrumentalists was, however, about to break. A concert programme from 1924 is striking in its gender balance across all string instruments, including Jessie Mason on double bass. Women also began to study wind instruments. In the 1950s scholarships were awarded to Michelle Croll, Anne Boyce, Mary Brenchley, Jane Alderson, and Beatrice Hussey on flute, Barbara Graham and Jean Titcombe on oboe, and Sylvia Thomas on clarinet.

In spite of this growth in accomplished female instrumentalists, opportunities in professional orchestras were limited. Henry Wood recruited six female string players to his Queen’s Hall orchestra in 1913 but other UK orchestras were slow to appoint women to permanent posts. The LSO remained resolutely all male until the late 1970s.[2]

By the 1980s women students were on an entirely equal footing with their male counterparts at Trinity. Scholarships, prizes and performance opportunities were all split equally between genders. Women were also represented across all instruments, including on brass and percussion, two areas which had previously been little studied by women.

Staff

In common with other conservatoires, women were largely excluded from teaching positions at Trinity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although they were prominent as local music teachers. In 1880, only two women professors were employed by the college: Alma Sanders on piano and Kate Steel for singing. Sanders was also a composer and in 1884 won the college’s chamber music prize competition and ten guineas for her piano quartet. By 1900, the numbers had expanded slightly and Doris Dalton had been appointed to teach violin, in spite of the continuing prejudice towards women violinists. In 1897 a reviewer had described Dalton, rather patronizingly, as a ‘clever young violinist’ after a recital at St. James’ Hall, a large and grand concert hall then in Piccadilly.[3]

Finzi Bagatelles cover

Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles was written for Pauline Juler, professor of clarinet at TCM. 781.3 FIN.

During the first half of the twentieth century, numbers of women professors steadily increased. One of these was Pauline Juler, a clarinettist who had studied at TCM and was now making a name for herself, against all odds, as a chamber musician and recitalist. As The Musical Times noted, she was undoubtedly a good clarinettist ‘without any apologies for her sex’.[4] In 1943 Juler recorded Harold Ferguson’s Octet with leading musicians of the day including horn player Denis Brain, and the year later Gerald Finzi wrote his Five Bagatelles for her. Finzi also had Juler in mind for his clarinet concerto but Juler’s performing career had meanwhile come to an abrupt end on her marriage (though she did continue to teach into the 1960s).

By 1980 the college had begun to resemble the modern institution it is today. The corporation included two women members and the teaching staff were represented on the college board by Lettice Stuart, a long-standing teacher in the junior department. Administrative staff included a female librarian and welfare officer. As professors, women were still not represented evenly across all instruments (they were notably absent from the brass department) but were particularly prominent as singing teachers, as indeed they had always been. Valerie Cardnell, for instance, taught singing at the college for around twenty years from 1965. She was also an active member of the Society of Women Musicians, an institution founded in 1911 in reaction to the (then) male-only Society of British Composers.

Valerie Cardnell 1972

A stately-looking Valerie Cardnell leaving Westminster Abbey after a service of thanksgiving to mark TCM’s centenary in 1972. Note how she is surrounded by men in this picture: women were still in the minority among professors and senior management at this time. VC 6.

Examiners

With growing numbers of women achieving music qualifications, and with limited professional outlets for them as musicians, some Trinity women were recruited by the college as examiners. At first the numbers were small; between 1874 and 1900 only three out of 144 public examiners were women. But the numbers grew and women examiners came to play a crucial role in cementing the global reputation of the college. Examining was not, however, an easy option. The rapidly expanding network of examination centres meant that examiners had to travel extensively across the globe for long periods of time. As Jay Thomas reported after her first examining tour of India in 1967, ‘I have lived seven years of experience in seven weeks’.[5]

Women travelled all over the world examining for the college. Data compiled from TCM Bulletins, 1965-1969.

Women travelled all over the world examining for the college. Data compiled from TCM Bulletins, 1965-1969.

Mary Tweedie was one of the earliest women to gain recognition for her examining work. She toured the world many times over during fifteen years as an examiner in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, at one point taking charge of an administrative crisis at the Johannesburg centre. The local secretary in New Zealand deemed her to be ‘the finest ambassador Britain ever had’.[6] She also represented the college at prize givings in her native Scotland, distributing awards and giving the address on at least two occasions. After her death in 1963 a correspondent to The Times wrote:

She had a mind steeped in music, literature and poetry, and an exceptionally retentive memory with an imaginative skill as a story-teller which enchanted old and young alike … A host of friends throughout the world will mourn the loss of a warm-hearted, endearing and unique personality.[7]

In the 1960s, perhaps owing in part to the success of Mary Tweedie, the proportion of women examiners rose quite dramatically from around eight per cent in 1960 to twenty-five per cent in 1970. One of these was Marjorie Jaco, an organist, choirmaster and conductor who claimed to be the first woman to conduct at the Royal Festival Hall. Over the course of her examining career she travelled three times around the world, lecturing in Canada, Sri Lanka, India and the Antipodes, and broadcasting programmes in Canada and New Zealand, alongside her examining commitments.

Women examiners 1968

The proportion of women examiners rose considerably in the 1960s. Marjorie Jaco, Sonia Melville and Mavis Walker all joined the ranks in 1968. TCM Bulletin May 1968.

Junior Department

Trinity’s junior department, the first of its kind in the UK, began in 1906 with a partnership between the college and London County Council. It was initially run by John Warriner but after his death in 1934 Gladys Puttick was appointed to lead the department. She was already director of music at Queen’s College, Harley Street and had a private teaching practice in Wigmore Street teaching musicianship and piano. Puttick had an innovative approach to creative musicianship, something she had developed from her mentor Dr Yorke Trotter at the London Academy of Music. She remained head of the junior department for forty-two years and her influence was deep and long-lasting. Jane Daniels recalled ‘without Gladys Puttick, I probably would never have become a professional musician’. Similarly impressed was the conductor Barry Wordsworth who has said,

‘She was quite simply extraordinary … without her I cannot imagine how things would have gone’.[8]

In 1976 Puttick was succeeded by Lettice Stuart who maintained the ethos of Puttick’s teaching. Musicianship classes remain a core strength of the department to this day.

Gladys Puttick TCM 16.2.3

Gladys Puttick teaching a musicianship class to junior students in 1963. Note the roughly even gender balance among her pupils. Photograph © Michael Ward. TCM 16/2/3.

Current Situation

Today, there is a good gender balance across Trinity Laban. The latest equality statistics reported a roughly equal split among staff overall, as well as among senior post holders. There is also an even gender balance among music students. At Trinity College London (the exam board which separated from TCM in 1992), 103 out of 240 music examiners are now women (as of November 2015), a respectable legacy for the likes of Mary Tweedie and Marjorie Jaco .

Individual music faculty women also continue to blaze a trail for gender equality. In 2013, composition teacher Errollyn Wallen became the first ever female recipient of the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music. Dr Sophie Fuller, programme leader for the MMus and MFA courses, researches gender and sexuality in music and is the author of the Pandora Guide to Women Composers. And as part of last year’s International Women’s Day, two female jazz students, Rosie Turton and Nubya Garcia, were featured in London Jazz News.

But gender imbalances still prevail in the wider music profession. In the 2015 BBC Proms season women accounted for only 30% of instrumental soloists, 36% of living composers, and just 4% of conductors. Meanwhile, the majority of UK music teachers are female — a recent Making Music report put the figure at 71% of all teachers preparing students for ABRSM or TCL examinations. Women, therefore, continue to occupy the lowest paid, lowest profile jobs in the music profession, while men dominate on the public stage.

References

[1] Cyril Ehrlich, The Music Profession in Britain since the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), p. 157. On the broader history of women in music see also Lucy Green, Music, Gender, Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) and Tick, Judith, et al. “Women in music.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online (Oxford University Press) <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/52554pg2> [date accessed: 18 September 2015].

[2] Richard Morrison, Orchestra: the LSO. A Century of Triumph and Turbulence (London: Faber, 2004), p. 187.

[3] ‘Concerts and Recitals’, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, 38, 651 (1897), p. 316.

[4] ‘London Concerts’, The Musical Times, 78, 1137 (1937), p. 991.

[5] ‘News and Views of our Examinations Overseas’, TCM Bulletin, 7 (1968), 11-16 (p. 16.).

[6] Harold Rutland, Trinity College of Music: the First Hundred Years (London: Trinity College of Music, 1972), p. 38.

[7] ‘Miss Mary Tweedie’, The Times, 4 October 1963.

[8] Cassal, Anne, Junior Trinity: 100 Years, 1906-2006 (Ann Cassal, 2006), p. 30.

 

New Exhibition: Facsimile Scores in the Jerwood Library

Brand new for the start of the autumn term is our latest exhibition Facsimile Scores in the Jerwood Library, running from 10 September until 11 December. This display has been curated by library assistant James Luff, and is based on his popular blog post ‘The delights of handwritten scores‘.

The exhibition showcases facsimiles of manuscript scores held by the Jerwood Library. One cabinet displays a selection of beautiful and distinctive handwritten scores from twentieth-century composers, showing a range of particularly striking and individual approaches to the calligraphy of more-or-less conventionally notated music. The other cabinet highlights the writing styles and working methods of many of the old masters.

When not working in the library, James composes music himself so brings an insider’s perpective to the subject of composers’ manuscript scores. You will be able to read more about James when he appears later this month in our Who’s Who series.

The exhibition space is located just inside the Jerwood Library, opposite the issue desk. For any visitors who may wish to view the exhibition, please contact us in advance to arrange access. Everyone is welcome!

Singers of the Golden Age

One of the strengths of the large sound recordings collection we have at the Jerwood Library is the large number of CD reissues of historic recordings of singers from the early days of recording. We have been lucky to receive several significant donations of these CDs and are proud to have finally finished cataloguing and making them available on the shelves for staff and students to browse through and borrow. So it was with some excitement that we heard that the Vocal Department planned to invite Martin Lindsay, singer and voice teacher from the State Music Conservatory in Cologne to give a presentation on just these kinds of historic recordings. Here was a perfect opportunity for us to promote this aspect of our collection, to hit, as it were, a few high Cs of our own. In the course of one of his preparatory visits for this session, Martin visited the library to discuss the contents of our planned supporting display Singers of the Golden Age and while he was with us we quizzed him a little about his enthusiasm for these historic recordings.

Q.  Martin, you’ve been singing and teaching professionally for 25 years, what is your main musical area of activity?

ML I work primarily in the field of contemporary music – it’s a great passion. But my other great passion is the human voice in all of its facets.

Q. Who would you choose as your Top 5 favourites among the Golden Age singers?

ML …My favourite 5 singers… (a very difficult choice!)… if pushed, they would be:

  1. Rosa Ponselle
  2. Ebe Stignani
  3. Toti dal Monte
  4. Giuseppe Anselmi
  5. Conchita Supervia

Q.  Which Golden Age singer would you say has been your greatest influence?

ML  Rosa Ponselle – for the absolute mastery and seamlessness of technique, combined with a sure interpretative and emotional instinct.

Q.  How did you get into listening to these great singers of the past?

ML I started listening to the old recordings on the instigation of my then singing teacher, Peter Harrison, who was of the opinion that the most perfect and technically pure singing was to be heard in the singers of this period. After the first examples I was hooked, fascinated by the voices and vocal personalities, and the insights the old recordings gave me into the workings of the voices I was hearing.

Q.  How have these insights influenced your professional work?

ML Those years were crucial in the forming of ideas I was later to develop in my own teaching, and these singers played an integral part in that process. I am looking forward to introducing these recordings to the young singers at Trinity Laban!

Singers of the Golden Age

For our Singers of the Golden Age ‘lending’ display[1], Martin has selected recordings made in the first couple of decades of the last century. These demonstrate all the voice ranges and, as he suggests, offer insights into the technical aspects of singing – phrasing, breath control, choice of tempi and other expressive techniques – employed by singers of that ‘Golden Age’.

Glimpses into the past….

Listening to and comparing performances is always a fascinating activity – BBC Radio 3, after all, devotes a good chunk of its Saturday mornings to just that activity in its CD Review programme – and using recordings of other musicians in this way is now common practice for student performers. Among the rewards of listening to very early recordings are the tantalising glimpses of how performances might have sounded in the late 19th century, although, as Steane points out (1974, p. 4-12) these glimpses must be treated with caution. How many of us have longed to time-travel back to the premières of the great works of the Bachs, Mozarts and Beethovens of yesteryear to hear how the music really sounded and what the concert-going experience was really like? These historic recordings are able to provide some tiny pointers as they preserve, often imperfectly, the voices of many of the singers who sang in the premières and worked with the composers of the major operatic works of the late 19th century. An example: Puccini’s choice for the ‘coveted’ role of Cavaradossi in Tosca was not Caruso, but the older and more experienced singer Emilio De Marchi (1861-1917) and his voice is preserved in two scratchy cylinder recordings[2] of excerpts from that opera (Trinity Laban staff and students can listen to those here[3]) and reissued as Creator Records, vol. 1: Puccini and Mascagni (1891-1926) by Symposium Records (SYMP1379).

What about vibrato?

Students of ‘historically informed performance’ have started to mine early recordings for evidence in the argument over the now ubiquitous use of vibrato in both vocal and instrumental performance, suggesting that, as recordings in the first decade of the 20th century appear to demonstrate a more restricted use of vibrato, this must have been normal performance practice in earlier times (Day, 2000, 184-5). Discussions have been heated on this topic, and Katz (2004, 85-98), for example, offers a convincing argument in relation to the violin for what he terms the ‘phonograph effect’ on the rapid development of violin vibrato during the early years of recording. He suggests that violinists used vibrato to counteract on the one hand the technical insensitivity of the recording machines to their instruments and on the other the loss of the visual element in performances. Vibrato also provided a means for players to differentiate their own violin sound from that of other players. All very interesting ideas, which may be tested by careful listening and comparison of recordings.

Divas on record

Alongside the Singers of the Golden Age display, we have also pulled out some dozen of our CD recordings featuring a single aria – Bellini’s Casta diva (from Norma) to form a ‘Divas on record’ display (pun intended!). The selected CD tracks range in date from Celestina Boninsegna’s 1904 recording through to Reneé Fleming’s of 1999, and include four Callas recordings (1937, 1949, 1957, 1961). Listeners can therefore not only compare different performances of the aria, but, in the case of the Callas recordings, study a single performer’s development in a role. So why not come up to the Jerwood library and have a look at (and listen to) the displays? To paraphrase the advertising cliché, hearing a recording is worth a thousand words!

(Very) Select bibliography

Day, T. 2000. A century of recorded music: listening to musical history. New Haven: Yale University Press

Katz, M. 2004. Capturing sound: how technology has changed music. Berkeley & London: University of California Press

Steane, J. B. 1974. The grand tradition : seventy years of singing on record. London : Duckworth

[1] ‘lending display’ – that’s a display of library materials you can borrow, not just look at!

[2] Opera Arias – PUCCINI, G. / MASCAGNI, P. (Creator Records, Vol. 1) (1891-1926)

[3] available to TL staff and students via: http://www.naxosmusiclibrary.com/catalogue/item.asp?cid=SYMP1379