A leave-taking

A few weeks ago I was at the wonderful Alwyn Music Festival, which takes place in deepest Suffolk, annually at the beginning of October. The William Alwyn Music Festival, as it was originally called, was set up by the William Alwyn Foundation in 2011.

Alwyn Music Festival programmes and publicity. The cover illustrations on the top and bottom right, and bottom left are from original drawings by William Alwyn.

Doreen Carwithen, William Alwyn‘s widow, and a fellow composer, was the driving force behind the Foundation set up to champion the works of her beloved William. She was especially eager that William’s works should be performed more widely, and the Foundation, following her death in 2003, worked to fulfil her vision with a host of Alwyn recordings and performances happening across the country in the years following her death.

Then in 2009 came the first William Alwyn Music Festival (known latterly as the Alwyn Music Festival), which took place in Suffolk at a range of venues, most very close to the Alwyns’ home at Blythburgh. In fact the illustrations on three of the programmes above were drawn by William, looking out across the Angel Marshes that lie between Blythburgh and Walberswick, from his garden in Blythburgh.

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To celebrate, to commemorate: Pauline Viardot at 200

As for Mme Viardot, her performance is worthy of a study by itself. Her gifts are so complete and so varied, they touch on so many aspects of music and combine such fine technique with irresistible spontaneity, that they inspire both amazement and deep emotion. Her art is at once impressive and moving, awesome and convincing. Her voice, which is of exceptional range, goes with a mastery of vocal control and of phrasing in chant large which is rare today. She fuses an indomitable verve, thrilling and commanding, with a deep sensibility and an almost shattering ability to express great sorrow.

So wrote Berlioz in his review of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice in the Journal des Débats of November 22nd.

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Small but mighty

I was born and raised in the historical county of Monmouthshire, a small but populous county in the south-east corner of Wales….or possibly England. Map makers are confused, and no wonder.

A history teacher at my secondary school commented that when England and Wales were joined politically through the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542, the Act referred to Wales and Monmouthshire, as though Monmouthshire was a kingdom in its own right. This fascinated me as I had dreams of a Passport to Pimlico situation.

Monmouthshire has been sub-divided since my childhood into Monmouthshire, which consists largely of the rural areas, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen County boroughs, and the City of Newport. It remains an unusual county, its mother tongue principally English but with a definite Welsh accent and colloquialisms. Native Welsh speakers can sometimes think of Monmouthshire as being English, while Monmouthshire natives know they’re Welsh with the proudest boast of one local rugby team being that they provided an historic front row in the all conquering Welsh team of the mid-1970’s. There was even a song written about them (Pontypool also provided two thirds of the British Lions front row of the same period).

It’s a county of contrasts with agricultural wealth and that favourite of Romantic poets and artists, Tintern Abbey, to the east, and an urban centre still trying to come to terms with its post-industrial future to the west.

Henry V, and many of the Agincourt bowmen were from Monmouthshire as was (probably) Geoffrey of Monmouth. Popular legend also makes King Arthur a Monmouth lad, with the Round Table meeting at the Roman amphitheatre in Caerleon.

So, what has all this to do with music, and more particularly with the latest mini-exhibition in the Anderson Room which commemorates Camille Saint-Saens in the months leading up to the centenary of his death?

In the second case of the exhibition, I pose a cryptic clue next to pictures of two album covers Queen’s A night at the opera and Oasis’ Morning Glory and a score of Carnival of the animals (MRU.310.201.177) in a new orchestration by Richard Blackford “Just 10 minutes links these albums and a particular edition of Carnival of the animals“. So how exactly are these linked?

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Pendlebury Library – Summer happenings and looking forward

The new term is almost upon us, so time for a quick round-up of what’s been happening over the summer months with lots of work going on in both the Faculty of Music and the Pendlebury Library of Music. We’ll also take a look forward to the coming academic year.

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Murderous rhymes

Agatha Christie is one of my favourite detective novelists, writing 66 crime novels and 153 short stories between 1920-1973.

She had many titles in her time, my favourite being, the “Duchess of Death”. She was also known as the “Mistress of Mystery” and (most commonly) as the “Queen of Crime”. She was awarded a DBE for her contribution to literature and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the bestselling novelist of all time (only Shakespeare outranks her in the world of fiction). She still remains the most translated individual author, while her novel And Then There Were None is the biggest selling crime novel ever with sales of more than 100 million.

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To celebrate, to commemorate: Hugh Wood (1932 – 2021)

Hugh Wood, 1932-2021

“He was never blessed with self-confidence – and it makes his music so good. He gave it so much care and attention. He embraced life in all its dimensions – physical, mental and intellectual.” Thus writes Professor Edward Venn in his book The Music of Hugh Wood (Routledge, 2016) [M501.c.200.94].

We were saddened to learn of the death last month of the composer Hugh Wood. Many generations of undergraduates and research students have benefitted from his wisdom here in Cambridge as he was a lecturer in music and Fellow at Churchill College from 1976 until he retired in 1999. His life and career are succinctly and sensitively considered in Leo Black’s obituary for the Guardian.

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Pendlebury Item of the Month: A Collection of Glees, Canons, and Catches by John Wall Callcott

As I continue to catalogue rare books in the Pendlebury Library, I’ve recently been working through a batch of catches, canons and glees, all published around the beginning of the 19th century. There have been rather a lot of these volumes passing through my hands lately, which made me think they must represent quite a popular kind of music-making at some point in the past about which I know very little.

[Editor’s note: Introduces James to Susi, and the pleasures of the Black Bear Music Club]

So I thought I’d take the time to find out what catches and glees actually are, as well as bit about their history, in the hope that it may also be of some wider interest beyond the curious cataloguer community.

So this month I’ve chosen the first volume of a collection by a particularly prolific exponent of the glee: John Wall Callcott’s A Collection of Glees, Canons, and Catches, published in 1824.

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To Celebrate, to commemorate: Thurston Dart 1921 – 1971

Thurston Dart

“Music…has no enemy save ignorance”. Thus ends Thurston Dart’s seminal book The Interpretation of Music published way back in 1954 by Hutchinson [M606.d.95.1]. And it was this “ignorance”, particularly in performance practice and editorial methods which Dart strove throughout his life to address. In his book, he set out the importance of going back to the source of a work and, crucially, understanding the conventions of both performance and notation at the time of its composition and publication in order to perform the work with some hope of resembling what the composer would have envisaged. 

Today, all this is no longer rocket science, but at the time it was pretty revolutionary, kick-starting a whole new era of performance practice which has since developed and refined and, thankfully, been absorbed into today’s approach. (Indeed, when I was a raw undergraduate here 50 years ago, I remember vividly several sessions given by Christopher Hogwood on this very topic). And not only performance practice of course, but also editorial practice. No-one, these days, would with any serious intent publish a “good” edition of a piece of music (I nearly wrote “early music” but stopped myself just in time) without consulting the original source – if possible – and without a clear understanding of the performance practices of the time in order to guide and support today’s musicians in the best possible way.

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Female Singing Sensations Past and Present

Rosemond Mountain by C. Turner. After an engraving by John James Masquerier

In this blogpost I shall be discussing six female singers, past and present, who have contributed hugely to the world of music.

I had never heard of this lady before but Rosemond Mountain nee Wilkinson was said to be the “best female singer on the English stage” from the nineteenth century.

Born in 1768 into a family of performers, her long association with Covent Garden started in 1786 and continued until 1798. During this time, she married John Mountain. She took on major singing roles such as Lucinda in Love in a village, and Polly in the Beggar’s Opera. She died in London at her home in 1841.

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Pendlebury Item of the Month: Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum, 1742 edition.

I’ve decided that it might be a nice idea to highlight a particular item each month that has caught my eye in the Pendlebury’s collection. In these quieter summer months, I’ve been finding myself primarily cataloguing some of the rare books locked away in the depths of the library, which is where I noticed this small, but beautifully bound and typeset copy of Johann Joseph Fux’s famous Gradus ad Parnassum from 1742. Originally written in Latin in 1725, the 1742 date marks this particular copy out as being from the first time the book was published in German, in a translation by Lorenz Christoph Mitzler.

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