New music for singers

The third phase of the library’s printed music strategy got underway this year. Having built up our collection of jazz, full scores, and opera, it was time to focus our attention on solo songs and collections. Look out for new works by contemporary composers such as Michael Finnissy, Giacinto Scelsi, Robin Holloway, Thomas Ades, Piers Hellawell, Tansy Davies, Roxanna Panufnik, Joanna Lee, Lynne Plowman, and Sally Beamish, as well as new additions from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern repertoires.

This year we are looking to develop our collection of music for violinists (solo music and accompanied), so if you have any recommendations please let us know. Requests for specific pieces – in any category – can be made by completing a purchase request form, available at the enquiry desk or on Moodle.

The library’s most recent printed music acquisitions are listed here, please keep checking for updates!

Cover images are reproduced with the kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes and Hal Leonard.

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

Ronald Stevenson: RIP

Photo of Trinity Laban's Karl Lutchmayer with Ronald Stevenson and his wife Marjorie Spedding

Trinity Laban’s Karl Lutchmayer with Ronald Stevenson and his wife Marjorie Spedding (October 2014). Photo used with permission from Karl Lutchmayer.

We at the Jerwood Library are saddened to hear of the recent passing of Ronald Stevenson.

Stevenson was a gifted pianist and prolific composer, mainly composing songs and keyboard works. He was inspired by Busoni, and also drew on influences from Scotland (where he lived for many years) and elsewhere in his work. Malcolm MacDonald, his biographer, writes in Stevenson’s Grove entry that:

[His work] simultaneously draws inspiration from the folk music of many countries and uses the most sophisticated Western techniques.

Trinity Laban lecturer and pianist Karl Lutchmayer was close to Ronald Stevenson, and most recently visited him in October 2014 (as pictured above). Thanks to Karl, the Ronald Stevenson Society made a very generous and comprehensive donation of Ronald Stevenson scores and sheet music to the Jerwood Library. This donation has been fully catalogued and can be found on the library’s shelves. Follow this link to view a full listing of our Ronald Stevenson sheet music, or search our catalogue for Ronald Stevenson as composer and limit by type to sheet music/score.

In addition we own several recordings which feature Ronald Stevenson’s playing or his music, including this CD which combines both in one recording: his own 1964 performance of the 80-minute Passacaglia on DSCH, possibly the longest single-movement piano work in existence.

Martin Anderson describes the genesis of this piece in his obituary of Stevenson for The Independent:

He began a series of variations on DSCH (in German notation Shostakovich’s monogram gives the four notes D, E flat, C and B) and found that the music kept flowing – rather as Bach built the Goldberg Variations on a little lullaby and Beethoven his Diabelli Variations on a cocky little waltz.

If you would like to learn more about Ronald Stevenson or purchase any of his works, visit the Ronald Stevenson Society website. We also have Malcolm MacDonald’s biography of Stevenson in the library shelved at 789 STE.