Don’t read the reviews

An unexpected costume for Violetta at the premiere of La Traviata.

March 6th is the anniversary of the premiere of Verdi’s La Traviata. The most popular of all his operas, Traviata had an unfortunate beginning. Based on the popular novel, La dame aux camelias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Verdi had attended a performance of the play in Paris, and came out of the performance with ideas for an opera whirling around his head. It wasn’t perhaps the best time to be contemplating a new work. Verdi had only just finished Rigoletto, and was currently working with two librettists with multiple plans for operatic projects, La Fenice in Venice was eager for a new Verdi work, but Verdi was worried following his experiences with Rigoletto, that the Venetian censors might not be happy with the storyline of Traviata, the tale of a high class courtesan and her young lover.

He was right to be concerned…

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Cristofori 290

Last month saw 290 years since the death of Bartolomeo Cristofori (4th May 1655 – 27th January 1731), the instrument maker who developed the gravicembalo col piano e forte, or “harpsichord with soft and loud” generally thought of as being the first ‘piano’. As a belated tribute to Cristofori, let us see what relevant things we can find at MusiCB3 and further afield…

Photo of a portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Slow moment with SW: Rachmaninoff – a brief encounter.

Rachmaninov in 1921

Scene: a railway waiting room somewhere in SE England in the 1930s. A man and a woman are sitting at a table over a cup of tea.

Celia: I say Trevor, must we, really?

Trevor: I’m afraid so, old thing, no other choice.

Celia: oh very well then, but why SW should think we know anything about Rachmaninoff is simply beyond me.

Trevor: But of course we do, don’t you remember? I had to get a nasty piece of grit out of your eye. Anyway, let’s see what we can do.

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Exploring online music resources

Cambridge University Libraries have over the past year worked very hard on extending access to online resources. If you are a keen follower of the eresources blog you will already have a fairly good idea of the fantastic content that has become available in recent months. Let me pick out some interesting resources for music.

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Game of queens (and composers)

My latest lockdown watching has been the recent Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit. Based on a novel by Walter Tevis, the show follows the story of chess prodigy, Beth Harmon. The popularity of The Queen’s Gambit has resulted in a flurry of interest in chess – apparently sales of chess sets were up rather dramatically just before Christmas! I was an inexpert but enthusiastic player as a child, and since I don’t have a chess set with me in Cambridge with which to join in the recent trend, I found myself reading various Queens Gambit-related articles instead. One article I stumbled across online happened to be to do with links between music and chess, which sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole… here are a few of my findings.

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Singing from the heart: Mario Lanza 1921 – 1959

Mario Lanza

Star of the 1951 MGM film The Great Caruso, Mario Lanza was perhaps, the first “superstar” of stage and screen. Renowned for his extraordinary tenor voice (described by Toscanini as “the voice of the century”) and classic good looks, he was idolised by his many fans, topped both the pop and classical charts and was lauded wherever he went. And yet, tragically, he succumbed to the insecurities and hedonistic life that can all so easily accompany such fame, dying of a heart attack at the age of only 38.

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Blue Monday

What with lockdown and miserable weather, it’s probably not surprising if you’re currently feeling blue. There might be another reason this week too, Monday January 18th was cited on several media outlets as “Blue Monday” the most depressing day of the year. This piece of pseudo-science has been doing the rounds for some time, and was originally used by a travel company, presumably to encourage its customers to make some cheery holiday bookings. Walls Ice Cream (other frozen dairy product suppliers are also available) did their own survey of the happiest day of the year, and rather unsurprisingly, came up with somewhere around the longest day so we’ve got five more months (it’s getting nearer!) to wait.

Many people use music to improve their mood. It may seem counter-intuitive but it’s not necessarily “happy” music that will make you feel happy. Indeed overly cheery music can sometimes have the opposite effect, while Blues can be surprisingly uplifting. So why do the Blues make you feel good, and is there more science to this than the claims of Blue Monday?

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Bring us sugar and tea and rum

Up until now, I had not been tempted to sign up to that most new-fangled of social media sites, TikTok. The latest craze on the site having just filtered through to me, however, I must admit it sounds more fun than I’d thought. A new craze for sea shanties has been sweeping the site, with a recent favourite song becoming so popular that the non-TikTok world has started to take notice. A video posted by Nathan Evans, a singer from Glasgow, of a New Zealand sea shanty called The Wellerman went viral, and soon had more plenty more vocal lines and instrumental parts added to it by fellow TikTokers wanting to contribute.

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Looking forward (and a little back)

New Year, new lockdown. Staying positive, MusiCB3’s fact checkers have been looking up 2021 anniversaries (in between turkey, Christmas pud, and the Queen), and have found plenty of lives to celebrate including…

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Beethoven 250: a rare interview with the master

 

As the Beethoven 250 year draws to a close, we here at MusiCB3 agreed that one final posting was in order. We had hoped to be able to assemble at least one physical exhibition and a number of other events, but circumstances have dictated otherwise. However, all is not lost – we are thrilled that our contributor SW was recently granted a rare interview with Beethoven to explore with him his desert island discs. Through the magic of the celestial Zoom connection to the Other Place we find him at his usual table in the Other Place Café, a glass of his favourite red wine beside him, quill pen in hand, a huge pile of MS paper on the table (he never mastered music notation software) and a precariously positioned bottle of ink beside him. In the background at another table we could see Mozart and Haydn in earnest discussion with Bartok and Schoenberg. Oh to have been able to eavesdrop on that! 

SW, of course, typed all her questions and thoughts.

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