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

eStream at Trinity Laban – the Jerwood Library perspective

Just in case you have yet to find your way to the eStream links on Moodle, we thought you might like to know a bit more about what eStream is and to have a bit of an introduction to some of its more obscure corners.

1st imageMany of you will already have uploaded video content for assignments, class teaching and so on. However, you may still be unaware that eStream is also where we keep the recordings we take off-air under the terms of our educational recording licence. This allows us to build up a permanent collection of useful programmes broadcast by the BBC and Channel 4. Programmes are scheduled for recording onto eStream by staff at the Laban and Jerwood libraries. In the case of the Jerwood Library selections, which is what this post is mainly about, the programmes selection is largely made by library staff with welcome suggestions received from Faculty staff, and, hopefully in the future, an increasing number of students.

What programmes do we choose? The criteria are broad, including documentaries about aspects of music and music makers, performances – especially première performances – programmes featuring Trinity Laban staff and students, and performances of unusual repertoire. There is a mixture of radio (audio only) and TV (video) recordings and the archive is growing continually.

If you know of an upcoming BBC or Channel 4 programme you think we should record, for instance, it features you and/or other Trinity Laban folks, or you would find it especially relevant to your studies, let us know. Similarly, if you have just seen or heard an interesting programme – and this often happens with the ‘magazine’ type programme (e.g. Radio 3’s In-tune) where the content is not listed in detail in the scheduler but you heard a useful snippet you think others would be interested in – let us know. Bear in mind that we have a window of about a week (like iPlayer) in which we can capture past content.

How do you search for eStream off-air r2nd imageecordings?

Lurking at the bottom of the library links tab on Moodle, there are the on-site and off-site links to eStream. Make sure you choose the appropriate one for where you are!

You can type keywords into the search box on the eStream homepage and then filter your search by various things, including, under the ‘category’ tab, by TV / Radio 3rd imagebroadcasts. Your keywords match words in headings and descriptions.

Another way of finding the recordings scheduled by Jerwood staff is via the Jerwood Library catalogue. We catalogue the programmes, adding our usual subject terms and providing links through to eStream. These work in much the same way as the links to our ebooks and online journals. This means that when you are using the Jerwood catalogue for your music searches, relevant links to eStream broadcasts will also appear among your results. Easy!

So now for the fun bit – this is the moment for non-Trinity Laban staff and students to look away. Come back when we post our next blog entry!

Here are ten eStream off-air recordings to give you a concrete idea of what the collection contains. Clicking on the links below will generally take you to the eStream login page where Trinity Laban staff and students can enter their usual login details to listen to or watch the programme. (Please note, under the terms of the ERA licence these programmes are only available to Trinity Laban folks currently in the UK – apologies to anyone else reading this blog!)

  • First up Guitar heroes at the BBC, a compilation of performances featuring guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Peter Townshend […] broadcast on BBC FOUR on 16/11/14.
  • Next: Silk stockings, a Cole Porter-scored remake of Ninotchka in which a beautiful Soviet girl, sent on a mission to the West, falls under the spell of decadent Paris. Broadcast on BBC TWO on 25 October, 2014.
  • Then there is an inspirational documentary: New Congo calling: an African orchestra in Britain charting about the extraordinary story of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste broadcast on BBC FOUR on 16 November 2014.
  • Another interesting documentary deals with the role of the long-playing recording in shaping popular music: When albums ruled the world was broadcast on BBC FOUR on 3 December 2014.
  • On 16 January 2015 BBC FOUR broadcast a documentary about Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ (the Jerwood library full catalogue entry details the content).
  • The episode of Jazz Line-up broadcast on 7 February 2015 entitled Shakespeare Songs, featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard and pianist Guillaume de Chassey performing music inspired by Shakespeare at the 2014 London Jazz Festival.
  • Eighteenth century English soprano, Nancy Storace was the subject of Catherine Bott’s investigation into Mozart’s English soprano, broadcast on Radio 4 on 18 October 2014.
  • Do you remember that there was a Jonathan Dove world première at the 2014 BBC Proms but can’t remember the details? Searching the Jerwood catalogue using 4th imageskeywords like <premiere>, <Dove> brings back a list of results including this one for Gaia theory. Find the recording on eStream by clicking on the electronic access link in the Full description tab.
  • The regular Radio 3 Live in Concert programme yields gems like the concert by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group at the Wigmore Hall broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 24 February 2015 which included songs commissioned by John Woolrich and a world première of Gerald Barry’s Crossing the bar.
  • As a last example, and sadly the recording quality is poor, there is the episode of Radio 3’s In-tune of February 26 2015 which included a world première of Surface/Submerge by current Trinity Laban student composer, Will Handysides. This was commissioned for performance by the Conservatoire’s GMT Ensemble.

We would like feedback on the off-air recordings already in the eStream collection. Please note, we already know there is a problem with some of the Radio 3 recordings having interruptions and squeaks. The signal is problematic and we are working to improve that.

We hope you find the recordings useful, and as mentioned earlier, we welcome suggestions from Music Faculty staff and students for programmes to include. Remember we have a week’s window to schedule future or past programmes. Drop an email to Helen Mason (h.mason@trinitylaban.ac.uk) or speak to staff at the library issue desk.

Special Collections on CD!

Over the past year or so we have been closely involved with two fantastic recording projects, providing copies of works from our special collections and liaising with copyright holders. These have now been released in the shape of EM Record’s An Irish Idyll (a collection of piano works performed by Duncan Honeybourne), and Robert Still: The Four String Quartets released by the Villiers Quartet on Naxos.

Duncan Honeybourne, An Irish Idyll, EM Records, released 30 July 2014

At the heart of An Irish Idyll are a number of works by the Irish composer Archy Rosenthal (1874-1947) sourced from the library’s Rosenthal Collection. These include rare, out-of-print works and an unpublished manuscript written for the composer’s grandson (who kindly donated the collection to us). Rosenthal taught at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) for many years so we are especially delighted that these works are now available to hear for the first time.

Robert Still (1910-1971) was an English composer whose works shifted dramatically from folk-inspired melodic writing to avant-garde atonality in his later years, a shift which is strikingly represented in his four string quartets. The Villiers Quartet have not only recorded these quartets for the first time but have also edited a performance set from the manuscripts held in the British Music Society Archive. This will be published by Music and Media and we hope to have a copy in the library in due course.

Both recordings are now available to staff and students: An Irish Idyll is on the open shelves at PIANO : HON and the Still String Quartets are available online via our Naxos Music Library subscription or in hard copy on request (ask at the issue desk).

CDs GALORE!

Just some of the library CDs!

Just some of the library CDs!

The CD collection here in the Jerwood Library is expanding rapidly thanks to some recent generous donations. Once we checked the donations against what we already had, and what was already available through our online streaming audio collections, we then knew what we needed to keep and what we could pass on to students and staff. Our cataloguer Helen has been busy adding lots of these new CDs to the library catalogue. You can use our online catalogue to see a list of the most recent AV acquisitions. If you are in the library, here at the Faculty of Music, why not have a look at the new items display which is currently full of new CDs (pictured below) and then maybe browse the nearby CDs for sale for just £1 each! The proceeds are used to buy more sheet music, recordings and books for the library collection.

New items shelf full of new CDs!

Did you know that current Trinity Laban students can now borrow up to four CDs for a whole week? This is in part due to our rapidly expanding CD collection in the library, partnered with an ever increasing online streaming collection including Naxos Music Library, Naxos Jazz and Alexander Street Press (Music Online). Why not have a browse at what is available via our online streaming collections and much more by going to QuickSearch.

Digital scores and more from new Alexander Street Press subscriptions

We’re delighted to announce a significant expansion to our online subscriptions with the acquisition of the Alexander Street Press Music Online: Premium collection. This gives us our first collection of digital scores and greatly increases our streaming video collection.

Screenshot of Alexander Street Press showing a digital score.

What’s included?

On top of our existing audio and video subscriptions with Alexander Street Press which include Classical Music Library, Jazz Music Library and Opera in Video, we now have access to a number of extra resources:

  • Classical Scores Library volumes I & II (over 25000 digital scores including contemporary works)
  • Classical Music in Video (1500 performances, masterclasses etc) & Dance in Video (760 works)
  • Reference sources including Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Classical Music Reference Library (including Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians), and African American Music Reference.
    [These reference sources are currently accessible via music.alexanderstreet.com onsite; see the library catalogue for offsite links. In future these will move to the same interface as the other Alexander Street Press resources]

How do I access it?

  • Find onsite and offsite links to Alexander Street Press and the individual collections on the ‘Other Online Resources’ page of the Jerwood Library catalogue. From home, log in with your IT username and password.
  • We recommend using Internet Explorer or Google Chrome – Firefox currently has a few visual glitches.
  • It should soon be possible to search and access these scores and recordings via QuickSearch.
  • The search interface is geared towards music and lets you filter results by type of resource, composer, genre, publisher etc. Contact the library if you’d like any help.

Can I print the digital scores, and what can I do with them?

Good news! You can print whole scores or a page range (select A4 not letter size paper).

The licence for this collection allows you to use the scores for anything educational as long as the public is not given access, e.g.

  • Printing copies of whole scores or extracts for study or to distribute to students in class.
  • Printing a score to provide an examiner/competition judge with a second copy for a performance exam.
  • Printing a copy to play from (but not with public access i.e. not in any masterclasses or performance exams where visitors could be in the audience).
  • Linking to scores in Moodle. You can link to start at a specific section/page, or even make a ‘playlist’ combining clips from recordings and scores from the site and link to that.
  • Projecting scores in class.

They cannot be distributed to anyone outside Trinity Laban for any purpose.