Travels to Titipu

“I see you’re away on holiday in August, where are you off to?” people asked. “A church hall in Gateshead!” I beamed, much to the bemusement of my colleagues. But this seemed a simpler answer than the reality – that I was going to be spending my holiday frolicking around the fictional town of Titipu in a black wig, rehearsing and performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado with the splendid Dauntless Theatre. Coming back to Cambridge last week and realising that my turn to blog was coming up, I decided to go for a ‘what I did on my holidays’ post!

Harrogate theatre. Copyright James Dhonau.

Harrogate Theatre. Copyright James Dhonau.

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Everything is awesome

WP_20150809_006For the first time in forever, my summer holidays have included a rather large proportion of very popular tourist attractions. Motivation was personal rather than professional, but while going through the experience of visiting I could not help but notice the importance and use of music in various shapes and forms so decided to have a quick look on our brilliant music resources to try to find out more about this phenomenon. Let’s have a look at what happened in the following types of attractions in France: palace, bridge, museum, theme park, tower.

For the same personal reason as going in the first place (i.e. working through a small part of the wish list of a seven year old), we started renting, or at least noticing, the use of audio guides, which were available at palace, bridge and museum. Audio guide critic, aged seven, had some very interesting comments which gave food for thought. Continue reading

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For education, entertainment, and inspiration : the world of documentary film

Alwyn's score for the atomic bomb section of the documentary short Approach to Science

William Alwyn’s score for the atomic bomb section of the documentary short Approach to Science
Copyright William Alwyn Foundation / Cambridge University Library

The summer of 2015 marks 70 years since the first atom bomb test took place at the Trinity site in the deserts of New Mexico, followed within a few weeks by the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thinking about this I was having a look for music related to the atomic age in collections at the UL, and came across a manuscript score for a film called Approach to Science. Composed by William Alwyn for the documentary short, the film looks at scientific advances in the mid-twentieth century, and ends with a vision that would haunt the rest of the century – a mushroom cloud flashing across the sky stopping a child at play.

Now, I’d love to be able to put up a video of this film for you to watch, and admire the music; but sadly that’s impossible, the film appears to be lost. Even the British Film Institute has just a little information compiled from a monthly film bulletin. So how can we know what the film was about? Well, we have the score… Continue reading

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Dutch signs at the Pendlebury Library: a collection of librettos printed by Abraham Wolfgang

Summer … at least in theory. Just a few students around. Very quiet time at the Pendlebury Library. As promised in my previous post blog (More on Pendlebury hidden collections), I can carry on undisturbed my treasure hunting among the rare books held in the library. This time I was looking for something different from the usual scores, a new format to take on. My eyes fell on a small collection of 12 tiny librettos (5.1 inches) shelved provisionally among some equally small sized treatises and scores.

All the librettos have been printed in Amsterdam between 1684 and 1692 by the printer Abraham Wolfgang, not mentioned in the title page but recognizable by the printer’s device featuring a fox looking into the trunk of a tree as bees fly away with the motto “quaerendo” (“seeking”).

Abraham Wolfgang's device

Abraham Wolfgang’s device

They are pirated copies (sometimes wrongly attributed to his cousin and successor, Antoine Schelte) “Suivant la copie imprimée, a Paris”, two of them printed originally by René Baudry, Imprimeur (ordinaire) du Roi (et de l’Académie royale de musique), the remaining fruits of the labour of the Ballard family who still held exclusive royal privilege for printing music in France (they had obtained the privilege to print «toute sorte de musique tant vocale qu’instrumentale» in 1553).

Other features that characterized all the librettos are: a) the fact that neither the author nor the composer are mentioned; b) the title pages report only the title, a generic “representée par l’Academie Royale de Musique”, the words “Suivant la copie imprimée, a Paris” and a date;

Johannes van den Aveele's frontispiece

Johannes van den Aveele’s frontispiece

and c) all the librettos are embellished with engraved frontispiece-titles, three of them by the Dutch engraver Johannes van den Aveele; the others are unsigned.

Some very curious tail-pieces are printed throughout these librettos.



By far the most common (besides the numerous tail-pieces featuring birds or the traditional sort of floral or vegetal design) is a spider and three bees on a rose, appearing eight times, followed by a monkey-like creature and a fox tail-piece (appearing three times each).

The most represented librettist of this collection is Philippe Quinault who worked with Jean-Baptiste Lully (who unquestionably dominated the opera scene in the court of Louis XIV), over a period of 14 years (from 1673 to 1686 with a brief interruption from 1677 to 1680 due to Quinault’s temporary exclusion from the court) and adapted for him more than ten texts. Quinault’s works in this collection are Persée (PEN XRc.463.16B.Q1) and Cadmus et Hermione (both after Ovid’s MetamorphosesPEN XRc.463.16B.Q2]), Alceste ou le triomphe d’Alcide (after Euripides’ Alcestis – PEN XRc.463.16B.Q5), Les fêtes de l’amour et de Bacchus (a pastiche of excerpts from Lully’s and Molière’s comédies-ballets La pastorale comique, George Dandin, Les amans magnifiques and Le bourgeois gentilhomme; the libretto is actually by Philippe Quinault, Isaac de Benserade and the Président de Périgny – PEN XRc.463.16B.Q3) and Le triomphe de l’amour (a ballet with choreography by Isaac de Benserade – PEN XRc.463.16B.Q4).


Philippe Quinault’s Cadmus et Hermione

During the interval of Quinault’s disgrace, Lully composed, among others, the music of the tragedy Psyché; the libretto is a reworked version of Molière’s Psyche (performed on 17 January 1671 – PEN XRc.463.16B.C1) by Thomas Corneille, brother of the more famous Pierre, and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle.

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle is also the author of two other librettos in the Pendlebury collection, Thetis et Pelée (a lyric tragedy performed for the first time on Januay 11, 1689 at the Palais Royal in Paris – PEN XRc.463.16B.F1) and Enée et Lavinie (this work, performed for the first time on November 7, 1690, was a flop – PEN XRc.463.16B.F2). Both these two texts were set to music by Pascal Collasse, Lully’s secretary before becoming assistant music master of the Royal Chapel in 1687.

To Pascal Collasse is also attributed the tragedy Astrée (PEN XRc.463.16B.L1) on Jean de La Fontaine’s text and premiered in November 1692; unfortunately the tragedy encountered little success and had a short life on the stage.

The remaining librettos are two works attributed to Michel Duboullay, the opéra-ballet Zephire et Flore (PEN XRc.463.16B.D1) and the tragedy Orphée (PEN XRc.463.16B.D2) and the ballet Le palais de flore with a libretto by the abbot Charles-Claude Genest (PEN XRc.463.16B.G1). The first text by Duboullay was set on music by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully, sons of Jean-Baptiste and had a moderate success; the second one, composed by Louis Lully, was hissed at its first performance.

Michel Duboullay's Zephire et Flore

Michel Duboullay’s Zephire et Flore

The ballet Le palais de flore, performed for the first time on January 5, 1689 at the Grand Trianon, Versailles, had choreography by Pierre Beauchamp and music by Michel Richard de Lalande.

Searching for information to catalogue this collection properly has been without any doubt exciting and rewarding even if sometimes my eye sight has been put through the wringer :-)


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The Twilight of Twaddle: Hans Keller’s Wordless Functional Analysis

September 7th 1957 was to prove a watershed for music analysis. Onto the innocent listeners’ ears that evening courtesy of the BBC Third Programme, burst an entirely new concept: a way to make plain the unity lying behind the diversity of a composition without the need for words of explanation. Its developer, Hans Keller, called it Wordless Functional Analysis, or FA for short (a neat parallel here with his other passion – football – but in no way connected of course – although perhaps you, dear reader, know better…). This broadcast, its first demonstration, took Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor K.421 as its subject.

Final section of Keller's FA No.1, Mozart's String Quartet in D minor, K.421. [Add. MS 9371/12] © Cambridge University Library. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

The opening of Keller’s FA No.1, Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K.421. [Add. MS 9371/12] © Cambridge University Library. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

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Libraries past and future

As I near the end of my six months working here, it seems that the time since I started last January has vanished all too quickly. The maze of shelves, stacks, hidden corridors and collections that the UL and the Pendlebury have made all so familiar will, at the end of the month, be another memory. Now, as my role as one small cog in the enormous machine of the university comes to an end, I begin again to reflect on my time here in Cambridge and look toward my own future as an undergraduate and reader rather than a fetcher (the other side of the issue desk!). Continue reading

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Introducing… A Musical Feast

The relationship between music and food goes back a long way. Whilst music has often been inspired by such lofty themes as love, war, royalty, and so on, it is indicative of music’s presence in everyday life that there have long been musical compositions celebrating food and drink. In our new exhibition in the Anderson Room (from 24th July) we will be showcasing some of the tastiest examples from our collections. Music and food 1

To whet your appetite, take a look at our menu of culinary  performances! Continue reading

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