A different track

This week, I have been busy laying out a small exhibition in the Anderson Room to commemorate the start of the Second World War.

I had a very clear idea in my head of what I was going to do – an exhibition based around some wartime favourites: There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover, Lilli Marlene, Moonlight Serenade, Bella Ciao, and the famous timpani version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – Morse code for Churchill’s Victory V, the sound of the BBC broadcasting to Europe throughout the war years.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, and reflecting wartime conditions, the exhibition ended up being rather different to my original intentions. It is though, I believe, perhaps a truer reflection of the times.

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At the Event: Hans Keller on Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, Op.130

Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, Op.130: four lectures by Hans Keller. London: Plumbago Books, 2019

Last Tuesday (29th October) it was my great pleasure to attend the launch of not one, but two, volumes of material drawn from the Hans Keller archive: the re-issue of his ‘Jerusalem Diary’ and  – this, the main focus (is that tautology?) of the evening – his November 1973 lectures given at the University of Leeds on Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, Op.130. The evening was hosted with his usual consummate eloquence by Christopher Wintle, currently Chair of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust and Director of Plumbago Books under whose imprint both titles are published via Boydell and Brewer. We were assembled in the gracious surroundings of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Rutland Gate. What, I asked myself, was not to like?

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“Spiders and Snakes and Cats…Oh my!”

What do spiders, snakes, and cats have in common? They are all things you would come across at MusiCB3 this Halloween (or at any time, to be honest!). Libraries are home to a surprising number of ‘animals’, and the music collections at the UL are no exception. Read on to discover our spookiest creatures!

Lions and tigers and bears

1939 … Lions and Tigers and Bears! OH MY! / James Vaughan via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Minstrels

Music can be a great resource for researching your family tree, especially if you have ancestors, who were involved in popular music. I was reminded of this the other day when I received an email from a reader, who was looking for music published in the Mohawk Minstrels Magazine.

The Mohawk Minstrels were formed in London in 1867. So called “Black-face” minstrelsy was hugely popular at the time, and was the first form of distinctively American entertainment to storm Britain. Audiences were thrilled by the seemingly exotic music and dances performed by the minstrels, and were also reassured that in a minstrel show, they could expect a rather more refined kind of music, inspired by the structures of classical music, and lacking the doubles-entendres, and suggestive lyrics, beloved of Music Hall audiences.

Some elements of this minstrel music owed at least something to the music of African-American slaves, most notably the banjo, which was developed from instruments devised by Caribbean slaves, drawing on their West African heritage. There was such an enthusiastic response that banjo tutorial volumes were hurriedly published, with even the Prince of Wales learning to strum.

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Discovering music at MusiCB3

It has been a busy couple of weeks at MusiCB3, with the start of term and the beginning of a new academic year! We’ve enjoyed meeting lots of new music students at our library induction tours, both at the UL and the Pendlebury. There is a lot to take in during your first few weeks in Cambridge, and so for this week’s post I’ve put together a list of useful starting points for anyone getting to grips with using the music library collections for the first time…

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Greek fire

The Cambridge Greek Play, a triennial event, will be staged next week. In 2019, it tells the tragic story of Oedipus at Colonus. There will also be a Greek play symposium, taking place on Sunday 20th October. The performance of Greek plays, in their original tongue, has had a long and distinguished history at Cambridge, not least as the springboard for many a talented composer, and actor.

Famous names who have been involved in the sequence include composers, Vaughan Williams, Parry, Stanford, and Mervyn Cooke, ghost-story writer and Provost of King’s, M.R. James, poet, Rupert Brooke, actors James Mason and Tom Hiddlestone, designer, Gwen Raverat (grand-daughter of Charles Darwin), and musicians, Simon Preston, and Roger Vignoles.

Here at the UL, we’re staging a small exhibition in the Anderson Room to celebrate another performance.

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Waiting for Miss Julie

William Alwyn’s opera Miss Julie, received its London concert premiere at the Barbican on Thursday 3rd October 2019. It was one of Alwyn’s favourite works, but had a long and difficult history. Its concert staging was of particular interest for those working in the Music Department at the UL, where the Alwyn Archive is held; and so knew something of its long history.

August Strindberg.
Portrait by Richard Bergh, 1905.

As early as the 1930s, Alwyn had become interested in Strindberg‘s play, and thought about turning it into an opera. At the time, he had recently finished his first opera, an Irish confection, The Fairy Fiddler, which had rather more in common with Brigadoon, than the red-blooded Miss Julie.

Alwyn’s career as a film composer was just taking off, he had a young family, and a steady and busy job at the Royal Academy of Music. So perhaps it’s not surprising that early thoughts of adapting Miss Julie were put to one side.

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