The joy of mistakes

Reproduction of Alwyn's manuscript, as used for the premiere of the first symphony. Card indicates cuts made by Sir John Barbirolli. Wallpaper was originally used!

Photocopy of Alwyn’s manuscript, as used for the premiere of the first symphony.
Card indicates cuts made by Sir John Barbirolli, who originally used wallpaper!
MS.Alwyn.1.2.51

A few weeks ago I attended a music librarians’ conference. Among the many interesting talks was a panel discussion on issues around music digitisation. One of the items raised made me think about digitisation in a completely new light. A panellist from a prominent UK music publisher commented that with the rise of easily available digitisation, music was arriving at the publisher in an almost completed state. Gone are the days of waiting around for copyists to do their work, or trying to figure out whether the composer really meant to put that accidental where s/he appears to have put it, gone are the crossings and rubbings out. This must be a good thing surely with music arriving at the publisher fully polished,  produced more quickly and easily, and becoming rapidly more accessible. But are there any drawbacks to this improvement?

For some years I’ve been looking after the William Alwyn Archive in the University Library, and thinking about that collection alone, I’m relieved that William never discovered digitisation.

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The world’s most boring festival?

Hollyhocks.

Maru-ni-mitsuba’aoi (“Circle Around Three Hollyhock Leaves”)
Wikipedia

May 15th is the festival of Aoi Matsuri (officially known as the Kamo Festival), once referred to as “the world’s most boring festival“. As you may remember from an earlier MusiCB3 post, the staff of the Anderson Room also provide support in the East Asian Reading Room (the Aoi), so of course we had to bring this festival to your attention.

Aoi Matsuri is one of three major festivals that take place in Kyoto. The name of the festival comes from the hollyhock leaves used as decoration throughout the celebration. These leaves were once believed to protect against natural disasters. (Aoi means both hollyhock and blue (or a greeny blue) in Japanese – hence the decor in the reading room). Continue reading

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An evening with the Black Bear Music Club: May 8th 1809

Programme for the concert given on 8th May 1809. Cambridge University Library

Programme for the concert given on 8th May 1809. [Cam.a.789.1]
© Cambridge University Library

It’s been a long time since we visited my friends at the Black Bear Music Club. High time to put that right and see what they were up to once again, so, setting aside my work on the Hans Keller archive for a moment, I thought we would have a look at their concert of May 8th 1809 – a benefit night for George Nicholls, one of their two regular flautists, and the very last programme we have in our collection. Let’s first fortify ourselves with a jug of good ale before going upstairs, having paid our 5/- [shillings] (and making sure that, as a lady, I am suitably accompanied by a gentleman member), to take our seats and see what’s on the programme. Continue reading

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Musings on music resources

CC0 Public Domain/ Pixabay

CC0 Public Domain/ Pixabay

Once upon a time, when there were no online library catalogues or online library resources, music students and researchers would go to the library and browse through card catalogues and many printed reference works to find the answer to what we now consider to be basic questions. Online data in general and “big data” in particular open new ways of doing research, enabling us to find a relatively quick answer to questions that 20-odd years ago could have taken up most of a research career. Those of us who remember these not so ancient times will appreciate how easy it is nowadays to find information just one little click/swipe/touch away.

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The use of music in Shakespeare

Orpheus' lute was strung with poets' sinews,  Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,  Make tigers tame and huge leviathans  Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands. (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 3.2.79-82)Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto

Orpheus’ lute was strung with poets’ sinews,
Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,
Make tigers tame and huge leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.

(The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 3.2.79-82)
Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto

Music and the theatre share an intimate and faceted connection, and the artistic links between the two are no less prevalent in the plays, sonnets and narrative poems of Shakespeare than the works of any other poet. When first performed on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, Shakespeare’s plays were accompanied by a variety of “noises, sounds and sweet airs” which, like modern film scores and sound effects, enhanced the dramatic totality of the performance.

Shakespeare’s notoriously sparse stage directions in the Folios and Quartos give little indication of the nature of the music on stage at the time, yet the dramatic importance of music to each play as a work of art cannot be understated; consider the effect of the regal trumpet “flourishes” that accompany the entrances and exits of his regal characters (in Macbeth, the placement of these in relation to Duncan, Macbeth, and Malcolm masterfully introduces shades of dramatic irony), and in many of the plays the ‘hautboy’ (a harsh and thin sounding early-modern ancestor of the oboe) was employed by Shakespeare to significant dramatic effect as a musical omen of portentous action.

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Easter at Elgar’s

Elgar statue at the Elgar Birthplace Museum.Copyright Nelly Crane

Elgar statue at the Elgar Birthplace Museum.
Copyright Nelly Crane

After spending Easter with family in Worcester, it seemed as though I had been away from Cambridge a long time when I got back on Sunday. It is good to be back!

Wanting to make the most of the sunny weather in Worcestershire, my sister and I thought we would visit the Elgar Birthplace Museum, which is about three miles outside Worcester, in Lower Broadheath. It was somewhere we had been for outings when we were younger, but neither of us had been for about ten years, and so ended up improvising slightly – we chose a bus going in what we decided was about the right direction and hoped for the best. The chatty bus driver assured us that we were indeed on the right bus and said he would let us know when we got to the right stop ‘if he remembered’ thus lending a pleasing air of unpredictability to our adventure… Continue reading

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At the event: Musical time-travel

King Richard III passing through Market Bosworth en route to Leicester. Copyright Margaret Jones

King Richard III passing through Market Bosworth en route to Leicester.
Copyright Margaret Jones

On Sunday 22nd March I was in Market Bosworth, watching King Richard III’s cortege on its way to his reburial at Leicester Cathedral. It was a wonderful day memorable for many reasons – the skill and dedication of the volunteer army of helpers, the atmosphere,the colourful banners, the half-muffled peal of bells summoning the crowd like medieval pilgrims to the centre of the town, and the sometimes surreal historical costumes – everything from medieval merchants to refugees from nativity plays and Georgian milkmaids.

Music, as usual, was a problem. Why does no-one ever seem to get this quite right? Medieval was evidently considered too “odd” for modern ears, so we got Bach instead. A strange musical anachronism, with 200 years separating Bach’s birth from the Battle of Bosworth. So what, and who, would Richard, and his nemesis Henry Tudor, have been listening to in 1485?
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