The spitting image

Mr. W.J. Hill in costume for Song of the Onion (A1882.932)

Mr. W.J. Hill in costume for Song of the Onion (A1882.932)

Why do people use music collections? The reasons may be a lot more varied than you might imagine. Most want to use them for the standard reasons – musical research or performance; but increasingly they’re also used across other subject areas.

If you’re interested in social history, for example, the covers of popular music publications can provide a snapshot of fashion and other preoccupations of the period from sport to the latest health obsessions.

But what of the more unusual uses? Some years ago a reader appeared who was fascinated by Victorian songs which had been performed by a specific artist. Many songs published during the Victorian era not only give details of the composer and lyricist, but also of the music hall artist who popularised them. For example – “Song of the onion : humorous song from the popular comic opera of ‘Manola’ (Le jour et la nuit). Written by H.B. Farnie ; composed by Ch. Lecocq. As sung by Mr. W.J. Hill”, [A1882.932], and there, on the front cover, is a colourful illustration of Mr. W.J. Hill in costume for his role in the operetta.

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Curious music objects

Curious objects exhibition

Cambridge University Library: Curious objects exhibition

On the occasion of Cambridge University Library’s 600th anniversary exhibition on curious objects, I would like to introduce you to some of the music objects in our collections. As objects they may perhaps be not quite as unusual as some of the items on display in the exhibition, but each one of them comes with its own fascinating history and adds to the depth and variety of the music collections. The objects teach us about music, composition, performance, art, cultural and social history and the relations between the objects, music and the wider world. Continue reading

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Such sweet music

The Aurora Trio

The Aurora Trio

As many of you will know 2016 is the 600th anniversary of the founding of Cambridge University Library. In 600 years we’ve gone from owning three books about law to over 8 million items in a huge variety of languages, and of all shapes and kinds from Chinese Oracle Bones to ladies’ fashion magazines, from concert programmes to the music that shapes the concerts. There are photographs and maps, and of course books…lots of books!

During the 600th anniversary year there have been a variety of events to complement our diverse collections: library staff have been roaming the county giving talks in community centres and libraries about the work of the UL; there was an e-luminate event when the iconic tower was lit up, curator talks, trails around the library including the Encoding Music event, which was very popular, and then there’s the latest exhibition “Curious objects” which shows some of the truly weird things that have ended up in the University Library (ectoplasm anyone?).

It seems fitting therefore for the Music Department to have an event that is also unusual in terms of what is usually done in the library. So next Monday there is going to be a free chamber concert and talk in the Milstein Rooms celebrating the life and work of the composer, William Alwyn, whose Archive is held here. Continue reading

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“And during the interval, Hans Keller will…”: radio scripts in the Keller Archive

Hans Keller in the 1950s. Milein Cosman. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

Hans Keller in the 1950s.
© Milein Cosman. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

By the time of his retirement in March 1979, Hans Keller had become one of the most experienced radio broadcasters and talks producers of his generation. Not only had he delivered a prodigious number of talks for the BBC, but his services had also been engaged in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Israel…the list goes on.

Keller’s BBC career began with his appointment by the then Controller, Third Programme, William Glock as Head of Music Talks, and although he spent only a few months in the post, he never really fully stepped out of the role. One of his many inspired innovations as Music Talks Producer was the long-running series “In Short”. Here, a well-known figure in the music world would be invited to come into the studio and record a ten-minute talk on a topic of particular interest to them. Over time, the phrase “In short” became something of an in-house byword used by Keller and his colleagues in letters and memos when summing up a suggestion or matter for discussion.

More often than not, Keller would speak ‘on the hoof’, with no written script. Nonetheless, he had prepared meticulously beforehand mentally and knew exactly what points he would cover and – to the second – how long it would take. (When he did write a script in advance, exact timings are marked at key points in the piece). Such “extempore” talks were often given as lectures at festivals such as Aldeburgh or Cheltenham where they might form a pre-concert event recorded by the BBC for transmission as an interval talk and subsequently transcribed by the Telediphone Department.

A small, but significant number of transcriptions of Keller’s radio broadcasts (both in German and English) are held here in his archive at the University Library, records for which have just been created as part of the ongoing cataloguing project. They range from short, incisive continuity announcements to reviews of recent recordings, to deeply insightful and considered expositions on a range of subjects from his beloved Haydn Quartets to Schoenberg. Examples to whet your appetite include his 4 October 1971 interval talk on the first four notes of Haydn’s String Quartet op.76 no.2 [M320.d.95.144], nicknamed the “fifths” because the opening four notes are a sequence of two falling intervals of a fifth. Or what about his delightful little trailer for a performance of Berg’s Lulu [M260.c.95.37-] broadcast on 21 May 1975 – it begins “I want to make 3 points about Lulu, one highbrow, one middle-brow, one low-brow…”.

Typically, he would begin with a sweeping, challenging or off-beat statement which he would then develop, warming to his theme: “Our age has produced the notion of the neurotic artist…” (on Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony), : “Of Mozart’s string quintets, the ones in D major, G minor and C major are the greatest string quintets in existence…” (on the Mozart String Quintets), : “There is a definable sense in which Haydn can be described as the first and the last comprehensive master of the string quartet.” (on Haydn Quartets), : “The borderline between re-creation and creation isn’t always easy to find…” (on the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, whom Keller revered),: “The only music that exists for you is music you have experienced.” (On Britten’s String Quartets) : “…it is true to say about Beethoven that all he did was new, except that Haydn had done it before…” (From a series of four masterly talks given at Leeds University in 1973 on Beethoven’s String Quartet in B Flat, op.130). And so on….

He also recorded and broadcast discussions with major musical figures of the time such as that with William Walton on contemporary music broadcast on 19 Sep 1965 and with Max Rostal on the role of the virtuoso as a teacher broadcast on 22 June 1966. Perhaps the most extensive of these was  “Portrait of Schoenberg”. Broadcast on 6 November 1965, the programme explored the life and works of the composer  through interviews Keller recorded with a range of musicians and others who had known him such as Oskar Kokoschka, Karl Rankl, Sir Arthur Bliss, Erwin Stein and Dika Newlin. The programme was produced by Christopher Nupen and repeated on 1 December the same year.  The interviews were recorded over the course of the preceding two years and drawn from for the programme itself.

From a purely personal point of view, Keller’s most significant radio talk was surely his contribution to the long-running series “Time of my life”, in which a well-known figure would discuss an aspect of their life which was important to them, or had been a turning point. Keller, on 3 February 1974, with immense courage, decided to talk about his experiences in Vienna in 1938 when captured, held prisoner and tortured by the Nazis and of his subsequent escape to England with the help of his brother-in-law Roy Franey. The text of the talk was published in The Listener on 28 Mar 1974.

A selection of Keller's readio scripts from the CUL Kaller Archive.

A selection of Keller’s radio scripts from the CUL Keller Archive.
© Sarah Chapman. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

But let me finish with a favourite unearthed during the cataloguing process: a 15-minute interval talk for the Mid-day Prom broadcast on Friday 9 April 1971 at 13:05 entitled “Music, metaphysics and religion”. ‘Crumbs’, I thought to myself, ‘in 15 minutes??’. Shelves of learned tomes have been surely written on such subjects. But, the ears perk up at his opening sentence and are subsequently beguiled by Keller at his most quizzical:

“Ours is a secular age: God has moved into opposition, availing himself of all the advantages and disadvantages which the opposition leader’s post inevitably entails….” He continues: “God was sitting alone – except, that is to say, for the sound of the music of the spheres…Consider these facts, he said to himself, having nobody else to talk to on his level of responsibility since the birth of monotheism, Schoenberg and Stravinsky are the giants, the revolutionary leaders of the music of the twentieth century…The more radical they became, the more conscious did they become of their metaphysical mission, of the metaphysical essence of all great music. Moreover, they were hardly on speaking terms down there, but up here their polarity has resolved into meaningful counterpoint…At this point, contrary to professional etiquette, God got quite excited. Why, music down the ages hadn’t shown any fluctuations at all; the difference between sacred and secular music was simply that between the religious and the metaphysical spirit…And here God interrupted himself, for the music of the spheres had just started playing Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony – together with, of all things, the St. Matthew Passion, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Bruckner’s Ninth – in quadruple counterpoint….God closed his eyes as he listened to the final cadence of the Shostabrumabach. He’d had, after all, a good day – it was Good Friday, in fact, one of the best Friday’s he’d had in ages.”


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Halloween at MusiCB3

Dearest readers, All Hallow’s Eve will soon be upon us. In Cambridge the leaves are turning red and orange, the pumpkins are in the shops, and talk of Christmas is still just about being staved off by Halloween. Here at MusiCB3 we have been bravely searching the darkest and scariest corners of the music collections to bring to you today’s post. Read on if you dare, for a glimpse of our spookiest music…

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New CDs and DVDs at the Pendlebury

We are a few weeks into Michaelmas term now, and we’ve been keeping busy at MusiCB3 with plenty of library tours and user education sessions for new students. As freshers’ week becomes a distant memory and lectures, seminars, and rehearsals begin in earnest, there will be a lot to keep everyone occupied. Don’t forget to come and ask library staff if you have any questions about using the music collections either at the Pendlebury or the UL! And if you have a moment in between everything else, remember that there are plenty of things in the library besides your reading list books to explore. For example, here are some of the newest CDs and DVDs at the Pendlebury Library…

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To Celebrate, to Commemorate: Sir Neville Marriner

St Martin in the Fields c.1900

St Martin in the Fields c.1900

We were all very saddened at MusiCB3 to learn of the death of Sir Neville Marriner on 2nd October. He has been an integral and vibrant part of musical life not just in the UK, but globally for well over fifty years and will be much missed. Continue reading

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