To celebrate, to commemorate: South with Shackleton

The latest mini exhibition in the Anderson Room celebrates the centenary of the death of the great polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, with music inspired by Shackleton and his expeditions to Antarctica.

There’s a surprising amount of music, and books about music, associated with Antarctica, much of which is held at the Scott Polar Research Institute on Lensfield Road, Cambridge. There’s some interesting material here at the UL too, and not just the obvious music such as the score Vaughan Williams wrote for Scott of the Antarctic, which later formed the basis of his 7th symphony, Sinfonia Antartica – one of the few symphonies to feature a wind machine.

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At the event: Hugh Wood memorial concert

It falls to me to compose the first post for 2022 and so I must begin by wishing all our devoted readers well for the coming year and to thank you for continuing to read our articles – we much enjoy the feedback, so do please keep it coming.

To business: very unofficially I appointed myself representative of both the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust and of the University Library Music Department at a concert in memory of Hugh Wood held on 11th December last year. It was an excellent and deeply tasteful affair held in the really rather beautiful-yet-restrained chapel in the furthest reaches of Churchill grounds. Thank goodness I was with friends who know the geography,  especially important in the dark to navigate the back route in to Churchill’s extensive grounds from Storey’s Way – the nearest access point for the chapel.

The chapel at Churchill College.
Photographed by Tiger. CC BY-SA 2.0

It was a tasteful, intriguing and well-chosen mix of Hugh’s music and memories/readings from people who knew him. But we began with a poem of his own – Surprise read by the current Director of Music there, Ewan Campbell. Then on to our first musical extract which was the second movement of his 1961 Trio for flute, viola and piano and – for me – possibly the most challenging of the pieces to absorb at one hearing. 

Alice Goodman shared some delightful memories of the friendship she and her late husband had of Hugh – in particular their extremely lengthy phone calls (well over an hour talking to each of them) and Hugh’s penchant for pretending to be deaf during these calls… “what?? WHAT??? I can’t hear you…”. Hugh’s 1985 Paraphrase on ‘Bird of Paradise’ for clarinet and piano followed – my goodness his sound painting of the bird was magical – back and forth between the clarinet and piano, shimmering, shaking, flight. Fascinating, and in case you were wondering, the work is a ‘paraphrase’ of his own setting of the poem of the same name by Robert Graves.

Robin Holloway then told a splendid anecdote concerning a premiere of The Duenna by Roberto Gerhard in Barcelona. A party including himself and Hugh went over to cheer. Robin was reporting for one of the major music journals and so was given permission to attend the rehearsal. All good stuff which his colleagues would much enjoy that evening, he thought. But – disaster – come the performance, there was a power cut and so it couldn’t go ahead. A repeat performance was arranged which Hugh decided he would attend. So off he went and enjoyed himself for an afternoon before turning up to the theatre that evening – disaster again – the theatre was dark…it had been a matinee and Hugh hadn’t realised…he was, understandably, most displeased.

That was followed by the second and third movements of his Clarinet Trio from 1997. A work full of complex textures and rhythmic inventiveness. And after which, Tim Cribb Emeritus Fellow of English at Churchill read from Paradise Lost (and I regret to say, that I am still lost as to precisely why – consider this a senior moment…).

Joanna MacGregor (a pupil of Hugh’s of course whilst she was in Cambridge) gave an absolutely riveting performance of the Ballade he wrote for her – extraordinary how Hugh at once conjures up the ghost of Chopin and yet…as he says in his note “to define what a ballade should or should not be is quite beyond me…I just like the old, rather poetic word.” Well, I wish he’d written more! Joanna was, of course, superb – the highlight of the evening for me. And, dear reader, I should also say that the superb pianist for the other works was Stephen Gutman, noted for his expertise in the music of our time.

Onward then to Katharine Ellis (our current Professor of Music) who read Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy which was followed by Hugh’s musical interpretation of it in his 2016 string trio. “A sort of mini symphonic poem” he says, “the journey must not be hurried: better to be old and full of experience when it is concluded”. What wise, wise words and what a wonderful work. I was captivated – yet I pity the cellist (Adrian Bradbury that evening) who had some pretty hairy pizzicato passages to negotiate (which he did with aplomb – and probably a sore thumb the next day).

So all in all, a fitting tribute and celebration of a much loved and respected man. I only wish you had been able to be there…

The previous week found me at the Royal College of Music in my role as the person who currently looks after Hans Keller’s archive at the University Library, for an event to mark the acquisition by the RCM of a large number of Milein Cosman’s portraits of musicians. What’s the connection between the two events, you are wondering: well, Milein was, of course, Hans Keller’s wife and Keller and Hugh Wood were great friends who, as with Alice Goodman, not only spent much time on the telephone but also exchanged lengthy letters. Those of you who inhabit the Wigmore Hall will know of the wonderful display they have of Cosman portraits in their basement café and will appreciate her uncanny ability to capture not only the essence of the person, but also to capture a moment of their performance so vivid that you can almost hear the music issuing from the pencil marks. I’m pleased to say that the College will be mounting a selection of the ones they have acquired which will form a permanent display in their Lavery Gallery. So, next time you are passing (or going to a Prom) do take a moment to drop by the RCM and have a look.


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Singing at the UL

In 1991, thirty years ago, the UL Choir was established. It was first conducted by Mary Halloran, then working in the Music Department at the UL, then Jeremy Wong took over. Tim Penton and Lucas Elkin swapped with each other a few times over the last twenty years, and now we have Will Hale, the current conductor.

When the choir first began Carols for Choirs I / edited and arranged by Reginald Jacques and David Willcocks was used.

This was the first in what would become a famous series of carol books. You can find them on the shelves of the Anderson Room at M250.b.95.116-120.

The University Library Choir are currently using the University Carol Book : A collection of carols from many lands for all seasons / edited by Erik Routley, (M250.c.95.32) which contains 217 carols.

These can be seen in the Anderson Room exhibition cases so please do come and have a look at our pop-up Christmas exhibition. It also includes a brass band transcription of While shepherds watched, as arranged by Sir David Willcocks for Carols for Choirs II, and some other cheery modern publications, alongside a photo of a “cracking” Victorian festive song.

The UL Choir has sung various carols in its time, ranging from:

Some cleverly arranged pieces (arranged by some equally clever librarians) :

Twelve Days of Christmas, an arrangement by William Hale sung in 2019, which you can hear below.

An adaptation of While shepherds watched their flocks by night to the tune of Cranbrook (better known as On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at) by Thomas Clark will be sung this year. Will Hale has changed a few of the lyrics just to keep you (and us!) on your toes. Surprisingly this IS the original tune… The story behind this version of the carol was posted on MusiCB3 a few years ago.

O Little Town of Bethlehem arranged by Lucas Elkin (with apologies to Sir Arthur Sullivan) especially for Cambridge University Library Choir.

To traditional carols, such as :

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. A traditional English melody, arranged by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and The First Nowell.

Then there are :

Carols with each verse with a different melody.

Away in a Manger.

Verse 1 by W.J. Kikpatrick (most popular tune in the UK), verse 2 a Basque tune and verse 3, a tune by J.R. Murray. This is the tune commonly used in America. You can find out more about the various tunes here.

We’ve had wonderful soloists including :

The late Peter Meadows (The three kings / Peter Cornelius) and Emily Dourish (The Sussex carol / arranged by William Hale)

Carols Sung in Different Languages :

Stille Nacht by Franz Grüber and Joseph Mohr, Quelle est cette odeur agréable? – a French Noël from Lorraine, and the original Latin version of O come all ye faithfulAdeste fideles.

Since 2012 many of the performances have been recorded, principally by Blazej Mikula, and the staff of the DCU department, here at the UL, and can be found on YouTube.

It has been lovely to get the choir up and running again in the midst of Covid 19, and following the shutdown last year.

Although there are rules and regulations which mean that we are unable to sing in the Entrance Hall this year, that’s not stopping us. (Only the weather!). Weather permitting and fingers crossed, we will be singing on the steps in front of the University Library.

Please come to one of this year’s performances and don’t forget to wrap up warm. Our first performance is today, Wednesday 15th December, with a further performance on Friday 17th December. Both will be at noon.

We hope you enjoy the arrangement this year.


The bloggers of MusiCB3, and the staff of the Music Collections at Cambridge University Library and the Pendlebury Library wish all their readers a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2022. We hope to see you in the New Year!

And here is this year’s concert…

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Library Luthiery 

The hole in the lute’s soundboard is decorated with an intricate traditional carving called a rose. This is the one I just finished on my instrument. Photo: James Luff

At the very real risk of becoming known simply as the library ‘lute guy’, it has been suggested to me that I write more about my ever-growing interest in all things lute. Earlier this year I first wrote on this blog about them, as well as announcing an exciting new Italian lute manuscript that had recently made its way to Cambridge. Well, perhaps it’s now time to declare that my interest has now progressed into luthiery. Yes, not content with merely playing lutes, I have begun making them too. 

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To celebrate, to commemorate: Stephen Sondheim

It’s unusual for MusiCB3 to have two “To celebrate, to commemorate” posts in a row, but we couldn’t let the death of musical theatre supremo, Stephen Sondheim, go by without celebrating his life and music.

The outpouring of grief, love, and incredible memories on Twitter spoke not just of a consummate composer and lyricist, but of a much loved friend and colleague.

Stephen Sondheim was 90 years old. It had been an extraordinary life with deep roots in American musical theatre.

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To celebrate, to commemorate: Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Better late than never, we are catching up with marking the centenary of Saint-Saëns’ death in 1921 (I always forget how far into the twentieth century he lived). He will forever be remembered for the Carnaval des animaux and especially the “dying swan”, “elephant” and “pianists” movements therefrom. But, dear reader, he was so very much more than that and in the next twenty seconds, how many works can you name? … Right, time’s up. What have you got? The organ symphony (no. 3) perhaps, his opera Samson and Delilah maybe, or his glorious Piano Quintet, the septet or a piano concerto or two. Those of you who are harpists will have written down the Fantasie, op. 95. But that is, in fact, the tip of the iceberg as he produced well over 350 works in all genres, so, plenty to get our teeth into.

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Hail! Bright Cecilia

Saint Cecilia and an angel / Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. (C.C.0)

It is usual at this time of year to think about Halloween, Remembrance Sunday and Christmas.  On my journeys home from work I pass by the railings of St Botolph’s Church where in pre-Covid times there were many posters advertising music for St Cecilia’s Day. I couldn’t help noticing the enthusiasm for concerts for the patron saint of music and musicians. St Cecilia’s day is November 22nd. Cecilia, also spelled Cecily, was born in Rome in the 2nd century AD into a wealthy patrician family. She was martyred around 230 A D. She was one of the most famous virgin martyrs of the early church.

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Errollyn Wallen’s Music at the Pendlebury Library

Errolyn Wallen (Photo: Gaby Merz)

Earlier this year, I wrote highlighting a whole range of recent acquisitions for the Pendlebury Library’s collection. But here, I’d like to go into a little more detail about the works we hold by Errollyn Wallen CBE, composer and alumna of the Faculty and King’s College, and this year’s holder of the Wort Residency.

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Music and Bonfire Night

You may wonder what’s not to like about Bonfire Night? Watching a bonfire together is very cosy and the fireworks give it that extra oomph; but there is also the other business of burning the guy – Guy Fawkes. One of thirteen men who conspired to blow up Parliament in cold blood.

You may hear youngsters chanting on the 5th November:

Remember, remember,
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

There are another two verses to this traditional rhyme from the Seventeenth century, which are much more rarely heard.

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Trick or treat?

A little bat from the Pendlebury recently sent me this…

Pendlebury staff are getting ready for Halloween. Although they’re not able to celebrate the night itself as it falls over this weekend, they’re going to get into the spirit (see what I did there) with their very own version of Trick and Treat, so why not pop over to the Pen today or on Monday 1st November for some extended Halloween celebrations?


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