The Strongest Man on Earth

Alec Hurley, born on this day (probably!) in 1871, is mostly remembered for being Marie Lloyd’s second husband. He was also a music hall performer in his own right, however, and I recently stumbled across a song of his in the MusiCB3 stacks.

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Meet…Meg Webb

What has your road to librarianship been?

I’ve wanted to be a collections specialist since my first year of undergrad, whether that was manuscripts, early printed books or music. I’m hopefully taking up a PhD in medieval musicology this autumn and I’m sure I’ll garner a lot of helpful specialist knowledge during my studies, but I’ve also done a Master’s in Library & Information Studies and spent a lot of time working in libraries to gain really valuable practical and vocational experience.

Before working at the Pendlebury, where have you been?

All over the place – I’ve been in Legal Deposit, Reader Services and Exhibitions at the University Library, the Architecture and History of Art Library, the Old Library at Queens’ College, and the Parker Library at Corpus Christi. Up until October of last year I was completing my MA in Library & Information Studies at UCL, and before that I studied music here at Cambridge.

What do you like most about the music collections?

I love the early music facsimiles in the Dent Room. Although it’s not quite the same as working with the real thing, some of them are incredible replicas of the original manuscripts, from the shimmering gold leaf to the feel of the parchment-imitation leaves.

Do you speak any foreign languages?

I’m currently studying hard on a German course specifically designed for academic research, and slowly working on my Latin as well. Sadly I’m not fluent in anything yet!

Best day at work?

Need I say more?

Worst day at work?

When nobody brought in a packet of biscuits to replenish the biscuit tin.

Favourite composers/types of work?

An incredibly difficult question! As a singer and an early music fanatic I adore early sacred choral music (Palestrina Canticum Canticorum, Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah, anything for double choir by Victoria, Monteverdi Vespers, Schutz’s Musikalische Exequien to name but a few….), but I also can’t enough of the early 20th century chamber music by Debussy and Ravel – Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor is one of my absolute favourites. The final movement is just marvelous.

That being said, I think if I really did have to choose my one, desert island composer, it would always, always be Bach.

Do you play any instruments?

I’ve played a little bit of double bass here and there, but I’m a choral singer through and through really!

What do you like about working in Cambridge most?

Cambridge has been my home since I started studying here in 2017, so it’s nice to be working somewhere that’s very familiar to me. It’s a wonderful place to be as a musician as well, there’s always great opportunities to get involved with.

Any hidden talents?

I make the best roast chicken in the entire world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Grandfather’s Clock

Where does a MusiCB3 blogger go on holiday? To visit a musically significant piece of furniture of course!

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“I do not like to play my own compositions”: Rachmaninoff 150, part I

Sergei Rachmaninoff

This year, I am delighted to say, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s birth. He will, I suspect, by a certain generation be forever associated with the film Brief Encounter starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. Classic stuff! And I am sure that another work which will already have come to your mind is the “Rach-Pag Rhapsody”, that inspired work for piano and orchestra based on a theme by Paganini and from which we can all hum that wonderful slow 18th variation. Surely quintessential Rach? And his cello sonata always has me in pieces…

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Carry on Julius

Tomorrow evening (Saturday 25th February), I’m off to London for a performance by English Touring Opera of Giulio Cesare, impeccably timed to coincide with London’s Handel Festival. I was slightly bemused to discover that it was to be staged at that doyenne of music halls, the Hackney Empire, which does suggest more Carry on Cleo than Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. However that would be wrong, as not only is the Hackney Empire often acclaimed as London’s most beautiful theatre, and a key example of Victorian and Edwardian architecture (by no less a person than Nicholas Pevsner), Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto to give it it’s full title owes very little to Shakespeare, but rather to contemporary historians including Caesar himself, in this story of the Civil Wars of 47-48 BC, and Caesar’s journey to Egypt – told you that there was a hint of Carry on Cleo – which also followed the same route up (or should that be down?) the Nile.

Looking for something for this week’s MusiCB3, I did a quick search for musical anniversaries, and was delighted to discover that Saturday’s performance of Giulio Cesare lies very close to the anniversary of its premiere. In fact I will be watching it just a year short of its 300th anniversary. The libretto was written by Nicolo Francesco Haym, a frequent collaborator with Handel, who based it on an earlier libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani, whose libretto had been previously scored by Antonio Sartorio, 50 years earlier. Sartorio’s opera, premiered not long after he had gained a plum job in Venice was immensely popular. Judging by this aria, I can understand why it was so well loved.

Intriguingly much of Sartorio’s earlier career was spent in Hanover, where he was employed at the court of John Frederick, Duke of Brunswick. The Duke of Brunswick was the uncle of King George I, during whose reign Handel set up home in London. Could George I have heard the Sartorio musical? Perhaps he loved it for Sartorio’s Hanover connections? Might this be why Handel decided to ask Haym to use and adapt the libretto?

The King’s Theatre shortly after the Giulio Cesare premiere

Whatever the circumstances, the opera was premiered on 20th February 1724 at the King’s Theatre on the Haymarket. The theatre had started life as the Queen’s theatre during the reign of Queen Anne, before changing name on the accession of George I. Although the theatre on the current site is not the same building as that used for the premiere, it retains a form of its name, and has recently changed back from Her Majesty’s Theatre to His. The land on which the theatre stands is still part of the Crown Estate, hence presumably its regal title.

Handel’s Giulio Cesare was an instant hit, and continues to be one of the most performed Baroque operas. Castrato, Senisino, created the role of Caesar, while diminutive soprano, Francesca Cuzzoni played Cleopatra.

A caricature of a performance of Handel’s Flavio, featuring Gaetano Berenstadt on the far right, Cuzzoni in the centre and Senesino on the left.

Both were to fall out at a later stage with the notably irascible Handel, with Senesoni defecting to another company, where he became good friends with castrato superstar, Farinelli, while Cuzzoni, is remembered by posterity as (allegedly) the soprano that Handel threatened to dangle (or drop if some writers are to be believed!) from a window.

Handel had discovered at the start of his operatic career, that there was an excellent market in selling vocal scores to eager opera goers, and often used John Walsh to produce the scores. For Giulio Cesare, he decided to use the wonderfully named Cluer and Creake (“to be found at the Bible in Jermyn-Street”). Their vocal score was published in July 1724, just a few months after the premiere. However, the opera had proved to be so popular that a pirate version, probably backed by a disgruntled Walsh, was already out on the streets of London by May 1724. You can find the Cluer and Creake edition at the UL in a new collection of first editions held in the Rare Books Room (CCC.77.4). The Walsh / Daniel Wright edition, recognisable by its sub-standard printing, can be found at the Pendlebury – XRa.850.68H.X1 – The favourite songs in the opera of Julius Caesar. London : At the music shops.

The popularity of the opera can be gauged by the fact that a bit of musical piracy was going on amongst London publishers, but also it was revived multiple times during Handel’s life, with publications of excerpts from the opera eagerly bought up by keen amateur musicians. Following a private performance in France, where the opera received rave reviews from Italian opera goers, it was staged several times in Germany. The German version also included ballets with dancing Egyptians at the end of Act I, and eunuchs and concubines at the end of Act II. The Germans even put on a special production to celebrate the 68th birthday of George I in 1727, with additional music by Telemann, and an epilogue featuring the Thames and the dreaming spires of Oxford (Wot, no Cambridge?).

The 19th century was a fallow period for Handel’s operas, but Giulio Cesare was revived in 1922 in Gottingen, and swiftly became one of the most popular of Handel’s many operas. It is frequently performed. In the United Kingdom, Janet Baker, who will celebrate her 90th birthday this year, played no small part in the revival, most notably with this wonderful performance of Va Tacito from a 1984 ENO production. The interplay between voice and horn at the end remains totally mesmerising.

Changes in performance practice meant that earlier modern productions were largely dependent on transposition down an octave to a bass-baritone voice (counter-tenors remained firmly entrenched in the church tradition, but were little used outside it). Post-war, mezzo-sopranos were brought in to sing roles such as Caesar’s back at pitch. It was an unusual return to cross-dressing in performance, away from the boys performing as girls in Shakespeare, and on to girls performing as boys in 20th century Handel.

More recently the rise of the counter-tenor has meant a return (generally, though not always) to the gender specific casting of Handel’s time, with counter-tenors regularly cast in the former castrato roles of Caesar and Ptolemy. There is a helpful list of recordings and DVDs of productions with variant casting on the Giulio Cesare Wikipedia page.

While Handel’s music has lost none of its beauty or power, and with some stand-out performances from singers such as Janet Baker, many of the productions of the 20th century have been undeniably rather silly. One wonders what would Handel’s audiences have thought – did they too think their productions rather bizarre? Or is this purely a modern take on music that we love, but a theatrical ethos that we fail to understand?

One of my favourite productions is this one filmed in Copenhagen in 2005 with the inimitable Andreas Scholl. The production is undoubtedly slightly batty (note the audience’s reaction at the rise of the thrones), but you can cut the tension with a knife, and although batty it perfectly portrays the battle for supremacy between the would be conqueror and the Egyptian king. Watch out for Christopher Robson‘s performance as Tolomeo. He doesn’t sing or say a word, but there’s no mistaking his thoughts (and it’s not looking good for Caesar). Enjoy.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

LGBT+ History Month Spotlight: Dame Ethel Smyth

As we reach the mid-way point of LGBT+ History Month, it certainly feels like the right time to do a spotlight on one of the communities’ most significant female figures: Dame Ethel Smyth. During her lifetime she received critical acclaim for her music and her autobiographical and polemical writings, as well as striving for recognition for herself and other female musicians. Ethel Smyth stands out as a crucial figure not only in the history of women in music, but the history of women in Britain more widely, playing an essential, active role in the British suffragist movement. It was a joy to comb through our joint collections at the Pendlebury Library and Anderson Room and see what we could find.

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Music and St. Valentine

Who was St.Valentine?

There are two candidates for this saint. Both were early Christian martyrs. The first was a priest in Rome who cured a blind girl and then converted her family. The then emperor, Claudius II had him clubbed to death. In the 4th century the Pope built a church in his honour (more on the fabulous complex of San Valentino here).

The second one was a bishop from Umbria. A philosopher begged him to cure his son. The Bishop agreed, but on condition that the philosopher and his family converted to Christianity. The condition was accepted and the boy recovered. However when some high ranking members of Terni society started to convert following the miracle, local society was shaken, and Valentine was arrested and beheaded. (Rather gruesomely his relics can still be visited in a local church).

St. Valentine of Terni building his own basilica
A glamorised version of the Umbrian saint

St.Valentine’s day is now a day of romance but how did that come about? Well, it all began with birdwatching! Medieval bird watchers noticed that birds began to choose their mate around the middle of February and gave it an exact date – February 14th. Each day in medieval times (and indeed in more religious countries today) was given the name of a saint. For no particular reason February 14th was allocated to St. Valentine. So began the sending of Valentines. This was a tradition that was believed to have started with the first St. Valentine, that we mentioned, who inaugurated the tradition by sending a Valentine to his judge’s daughter, while imprisoned signed “From your Valentine”.

St.Valentine’s day became very popular in the 19th century; an era full of very sweet love songs. One that is still well known is Daisy Bell, a favourite of the music hall. Written by Harry Dacre, it was wildly popular and spawned a succession of songs based upon the original. (Anyone who came to the Daisy Belles’ concert last term will have heard a lot about this).

Here is one of the earliest recordings of the song:

Original 1894 recording.

Daisy had an important place in computer history, when in 1961 it became the first song to be sung using computer speech synthesis.

St.Valentine’s day is still popular in the 21st century, but musical tastes have changed. There are some pop songs that are just right for Valentine’s day, but there are some which are, well, erm… a bit slushy. Just think of Renee and Renato with Save your love for me or My heart will go on sung by Celine Dion. (Phenomenally successful the latter spent 22 weeks in the British charts, and won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy).

The ones I find most romantic are Can’t help falling in love, as recorded by Elvis (among many others – the original tune dates from 1784), and Roxette’s It must have been love.

For musical serenaders, such as restaurant violinists, St. Valentine’s Day is probably a peak day for enthusiastic customers, but whether you’re being serenaded, or just listening to some relaxing romantic music at home, do have a wonderful Valentine’s day.


Photo by How Far From Home on
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

1823 — 1963 — 2023 : William Henry Monk, Abide with me, football and rugby

In 2022 we celebrated the anniversaries of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Doreen Carwithen, and Caleb Simper. No doubt Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending will reappear in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame at Easter this year (it has appeared every year since the start of the Hall of Fame in 1996, and has topped the list multiple times). Those interested in church music will have spotted certain anniversaries coming up in 2023.

Indeed, the year has started with an anniversary already. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton, a parish priest of St. Peter and St. Paul, Olney, and a former slave-trader. It was used to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day 1773. It is not known if there was any music to accompany the text originally, so it may have been chanted by the congregation. The tune by which it is best known became joined to the words in 1835, when it was published in William Walker’s The Southern Harmony. It first appeared under its well-known title in Sankey’s Gospel Hymns II in 1877, and has been recorded multiple times since.

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Lent term at the Pendlebury Library of Music

Welcome back to Lent Term 2023 at the Pendlebury Library of Music.

Firstly, we welcome a new member of library staff – Meg Webb joins us as Senior Library Assistant.  Meg did her undergraduate degree here in Music, graduating in 2021 and also has a MA in Library and Information studies from UCL.  We are delighted to have her working with us, so do say hello if you are in the library.

We start the New Year with a display celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the congregational hymn “Amazing Grace”.  Its verses were first heard in public on the 1st January 1773 during a New Year’s Day Sermon given by the Reverend John Newton in the English town of Olney in Buckinghamshire.

Pendlebury Library Display Case at the entrance to the library – Amazing Grace – display by Meg Webb.

The hymn has gone on to find an important role within the American Civil Rights Movement during the 20th century, and was performed at the funeral of George Floyd and sung by President Barack Obama in 2015 during the funeral for the victims of the Charleston shooting

Back to what’s happening in the Pendlebury Library of Music.

Firstly, a reminder that if you are looking for any short loan books (marked as One Day Loans) that you need to look in the Reading Room. We now have a dedicated section pulling together all the print titles that feature heavily in Reading Lists for the Tripos courses. These are identified by the lecturers as being essential texts and are available as One Day Loans. We will always purchase an eBook if it exists for such titles, although inevitably there will be some titles that publishers have not made available in electronic format.

A quick reminder about eBooks. Some titles simply don’t exist as eBooks. Generally, eBook versions are most commonly available for publications printed in the last decade or two. Digitised books scanned by institutions are usually significantly older, to be safely out of copyright. This means that a great deal of 20th-century books in particular are not available except in print.

Some publishers provide eBooks for individual private purchase only because that model is the most effective for them financially. An eBook being available for you to purchase via Amazon, say, does not automatically mean that the library can buy a copy. We will always do our best to try to find an institutional copy to buy, but sometimes there simply will not be one.

Some publishers have not licensed their eBooks for sale in the UK market. In some cases it might be possible to purchase an institutional eBook in, say, North America, but not here (and the reverse is likely to be true too).

Our display stand for New Scores is just inside the Reading Room on the left as you enter. Take a look at what we’ve been purchasing in the last couple of months.

New Scores on display in the Pendlebury Reading Room, January 2023

For those of you who took advantage of our “Grab and Run” boxes last term – you will be pleased to know that these will again make an appearance midway through Lent term. Look out for information on the library noticeboards and an email nearer the time! As ever, it’s first come, first served, to help yourself to books and scores that are surplus to requirements, usually duplicates from donations received or items withdrawn from library stock. Everything is free to take, so you could find a hidden gem!

Queuing to find something exciting in the Grab and Run boxes


Metropolitan Opera logo
Metropolitan Opera logo

New e-Resource – Met Opera on Demand
We now have access to Met Opera on Demand for this academic year, so do try it out and let us have any feedback, which will add weight to us being able to continue our subscription.
Met Opera on Demand: student access for 5 simultaneous users.
Access it from the Music LibGuide (scroll down to Finding sound and video resources):


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Opening the “wardrobe of dots”: ChamberStudio Hans Keller Forum, Cambridge 4 – 6 January 2023

Hans Keller on viola. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust

The New Year couldn’t have got off to a better, more inspiring start. It was my great privilege to be given permission to go behind the scenes at the pre Lent Term Hans Keller Forum run by London-based ChamberStudio here at the Music Faculty in the first week of January. For those of you who haven’t come across ChamberStudio before, its purpose is to offer coaching and support to young professional chamber ensembles. The brain-child of violinist Richard Ireland, it was established in 2010 and is based at Kings Place in London. Happily for Cambridge, ChamberStudio has agreed to hold similar mentoring sessions here, generously supported by the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust, but for student ensembles, rather than those who have not long launched their professional careers.

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment