Roberto Gerhard

Title page of an autograph copy of Gerhard’s Capriccio for solo flute

Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) settled in Cambridge in 1940, after the Spanish civil war. Although main recognition of his achievements came perhaps later in his career, he has long been widely acknowledged as a key figure in the development of music at the time. His compositions contain both Catalan and European, folkloric and modernist dimensions and from the 1950s onwards Gerhard contributed significantly to serialism and electronic composition, which he described as “sound composition”.

The Roberto Gerhard Archive is therefore one of the most significant music archives held at Cambridge University Library; it contains music manuscripts, correspondence, papers and diaries, programmes and reviews, photographs, sound recordings and books and scores from Gerhard’s library. Continue reading

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Brothers in arms

The calm before the storm.
A production of The Tempest performed in the opening days of the First World War for a local charity at Leintwardine House, Herefordshire.
Kennard Bliss (back row, far right) plays Ferdinand, and Arthur Bliss (front row, middle) Caliban.
A week later Arthur Bliss would be at war.

As I mentioned in last week’s MusiCB3 post this week we’re going to be looking at a very personal experience of war; that experienced by Sir Arthur Bliss and his family. Bliss was just about to have his 23rd birthday when war was declared in 1914. The afternoons of August 6th-7th were spent taking part in an outdoor performance of The Tempest. Bliss played Caliban, and his much loved younger brother, Kennard, was Ferdinand. A week later, as Bliss recalled in his autobiography, As I remember, (M501.c.95.92), he had joined up and was assigned to a “dockers battalion” before being switched abruptly to the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps.

Both Arthur and Kennard studied at Cambridge. Arthur was fortunate enough to meet both Vaughan Williams and Busoni “during his bearded period” in his time here, before going on to the Royal College of Music, where he was studying when war broke out. Kennard followed his brother to Rugby School, before winning a scholarship to read Classics at King’s. Both brothers loved life at Cambridge. Arthur was a member of a composers’ group calling themselves “the Gods”; while Kennard, appropriately enough was a member of the Apostles at King’s. He graduated in December 1914, and joined the Artists Rifles shortly afterwards, before being moved to the Royal Field Artillery.

It was to be a grim war for the Bliss’ family. Kennard was killed in 1916, Bliss himself would be wounded and later gassed. The memory of the war was to stay with him for the rest of his life, and would influence his music. Here, principally in his own words, is his experience. Continue reading

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The singing will never be done

The manuscript of Everyone sang by Siegfried Sassoon, held in St. John’s College library.

A week Sunday will mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. Commemorative events will be taking place across the world from Buenos Aires to Bristol. In next week’s MusiCB3 post, we’ll be examining how the war affected one musical family, but this week, inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, Everyone sang, a look at the music inspired by the horrors of 1914-18.

Most of Sassoon’s archive is held here in Cambridge University Library.  The manuscript of Everyone sang is also in Cambridge at St. John’s College library (Miscellaneous/Box 15/ SA4/9).

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Black Bear Music Club Autumn Season 1789 now open for booking

The Black Bear Inn, Market Street. Demolished in 1848

As the summer of 1789 gives way to autumn gales and the good folk of Cambridge settle into the Michaelmas Term, their collective eye may well have been caught by a little announcement in the Cambridge Chronicle which might have run something like this: “John Scarborough and Charles Hague beg leave to inform the Nobility and Gentry of the forthcoming Season of Concerts for autumn of this Year of our Lord, 1789, of the Black Bear Music Club, to be held as usual at the Inn of that name on Shoemaker’s Row.”  Continue reading

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Discovering music collections

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As this year’s welcome to our new students, I would like to touch very briefly on ways of discovering and exploring music collections in Cambridge and beyond. Some of this might sound familiar to those of you who have recently attended either the undergraduate Music Maze or music graduate Library skills and databases sessions.    Continue reading

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Francesca Vella, In Search of Voice

The Festival of Ideas event around Jenny Lind at which Dr. Vella will be presenting builds on the partnership between Cambridge University Library and the Wisbech & Fenland Museum, which holds Jenny Lind and Otto Goldschmidt materials as part of its Townshend manuscript collection. A highlight of the Wisbech collections is I villande skogen, a Swedish folk song handwritten by Jenny Lind, which will be performed by library staff at the event.

Music @ Cambridge: Research

One of the big frustrations the modern opera scholar experiences when approaching the subject of nineteenth-century singers is that the large majority of their voices are lost. No matter how deep you dig into the extant materials—press reports, biographies, lithographs, signature songs and so forth—that unique essence that (we’re told) defines us as individuals can’t, before the age of sound recording, be recovered.

Jenny Lind as Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, c. 1850

That’s one of the impasses I ran into as I was researching the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind (1820-1887), one of the greatest nineteenth-century musical celebrities. Following her training and early career on the continent, she caused a furore at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where she debuted as Alice in an Italian translation of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable in 1847. She then performed a variety of bel canto roles, building her reputation as an extraordinary coloratura…

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Autumn at MusiCB3

Cambridge has turned a bit autumnal lately. After the ridiculously hot summer, I’m finding chilly cycle rides a bit of a shock to the system! However, Autumn in Cambridge is an exciting time as it means that the beginning of Michaelmas term is almost upon us. People come back from their holidays, rehearsals and concerts are back in full swing, we welcome new faces and welcome back familiar ones, the academic year creaks into gear once again. In between preparations for the start of term, I managed to find some autumnal title page illustrations in the Victorian sheet music collection…

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