Pendlebury Library of Music: the end of the academic year.

The end of another academic year at the Pendlebury Library of Music is now upon us, so here’s a quick reminder of some of the highlights.

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Offenbach 200: the Can-Can comes of age

As you may have noticed, this year marks the bi-centenary of Offenbach‘s birth and to mark the occasion we have put together a little, rather eclectic, display in the Anderson Room here at the UL. Never mind the Can-Can, how about a little toxophily instead? And before you ask, no, I can safely report that Hans Keller had nothing to say about this composer…so, it’s down to me then…

It’s not my intention to rehearse Offenbach’s life in this post as others have done this far more ably than I could possibly hope to both online and in print (see, for example Offenbach: his life and times by Peter Gammond [M517.c.95.129] or Offenbach and the Paris of his time by S. Kracauer [M520.c.90.83]). What I thought might be interesting and would also provide a good accompaniment to our little display is a look at how the perception of Offenbach by the musical establishment has changed over time. And how better to do that, than by considering obituaries and the entries in the various editions of Grove’s Dictionary?

Let’s begin with The Times which tries, for the most part, not to look down its nose, but is defeated in the end:

“It was for [the famous Bouffes Parisiens] that he wrote the innumerable burlesque operas and operettas to which he owed his wide-spread fame. However much one may deprecate his style of art, it would be vain to deny that Offenbach had a peculiar gift of his own…he combined a certain piquancy of rhythm and of phrasing, as individual to him as it was, in a different sense, nationally French. For, curiously enough, the native of Germany was more French than the French themselves…In his later works Offenbach began to repeat himself; his wit became coarse, and his vein of melody was exhausted…The libretti chosen by Offenbach are too frequently disfigured by a frivolous tone…It is very doubtful whether any of his works will survive, but his name will be remembered as a curious phenomenon in the history of art and civilization…”

Gustave Chouquet by F. Lacour

H’mmm. Then there are the various entries in Grove’s Dictionary. The first clearly written before he died (the first edition of Grove was published between 1879 and 1889) and interestingly, it seems that the Times obituary was based on this article as there are some strikingly similar passages. The entry was written by Gustave Chouquet, then Curator of the Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire in Paris, and after a passage describing Offenbach’s career and listing his compositions, Chouquet sums up the composer’s musical style:

“–69 pieces and 143 acts, written in 25 years! Such astonishing facility implies abundance of ideas, rather than originality or fastidiousness. Offenbach’s melodies are often vulgar and often wanting in piquancy. He never hesitates to repeat a good phrase, or to break a rule [surely not a crime, most composers worth their salt do exactly that. SW], if any purpose is to be served by it; but this and other faults are much concealed by the bustle, gaiety, and extravagance of his effects, the frequent happy hits, and the strong natural vein of irony. It is melancholy to predict that of all these musical bouffonneries little or nothing will remain; since in order to live, a work of art must possess either style or passion, whilst these too often display merely a vulgar scepticism, and a determination to be funny even and the cost of propriety and taste…”

A caricature of Offenbach by André Gill

Tiens! Little changes during the course of the next three editions, but we do see a gradual shift in the perception of the composer’s legacy, particularly in the Third Edition, published in 1927, edited by  The Times chief music critic Henry Cope Colles. The bulk of the entry describing Offenbach’s life and career is basically Chouquet’s original text, but the additions give a more considered assessment of his legacy:

“After enjoying extraordinary popularity in London during the [eighteen] sixties and seventies, Offenbach’s music almost completely lost its vogue in England…‘Les Contes d’Hoffmann’ had to wait for popularity in this country until Beecham gave it at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1910. It is now (1925) a favourite in the repertory of the British National Opera Company. In Germany, and especially in Berlin, the tradition of Offenbach’s light-hearted and witty music has been more consistently preserved…”

So the tide, slowly but surely, seems to be turning in Offenbach’s favour. However, come the Fifth Edition, published in 1954 with Eric Blom as Editor we see still the same life-and-works entry by Chouquet but, perhaps, a bit of a backward step in the assessment of the composer’s legacy – there is, to me at least, a somewhat condescending tone here:

“The satire of Offenbach’s operettas lies entirely in their librettos and does not, as often in Sullivan‘s, become purely musical in the way of imitation or parody; but the music with which he fitted these pieces is the most genuinely comic ever produced by a composer in that line. The flippant librettos are matched with a musical frivolity that is in its way Parisian light entertainment at its best. In sentiment, however, Offenbach falls short of Johann Strauss [II], becoming merely maudlin in slow melodies; and in craftsmanship he is not in any respect comparable with Sullivan, though to his own purpose his flimsy but engagingly light and effervescent orchestra is perfectly adequate.”

Toulouse Lautrec’s famous 1895-6 depiction of Mlle Eglantine’s girls dancing the Can-Can

There is, however, a proper catalogue of Offenbach’s stage works, which, until this edition, have simply been listed by title and far from in their entirety. By the time the current (Sixth) Edition edited first by Stanley Sadie and then John Tyrrell was published, the article, by Andrew Lamb, an authority on light music and operetta, was completely rewritten with a fully considered assessment not only of Offenbach’s huge popularity during his lifetime but also the ‘disapproving comment…and lack of pretence at any elevated form of art’ from his contemporaries in the musical ‘establishment’ which includes – tellingly – a reference back to the attitude of the First Edition’s entry (see above). Lamb ends his article thus:

“More recently, the greater attention paid to the classical operetta since World War II has made the best of Offenbach’s operettas familiar again and permitted fuller appreciation of his standing as a master of operetta.”

Jules Cheret’s poster for the 1874 production of Orphée aux enfers

So, yes – we can Can-Can…




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Musical time capsules : back to the 50s

Over the last couple of weeks we have been doing one of our regular ‘inspections’ at the University Library side of MusiCB3. This is pretty much what it says on the tin – we take a section of the music collections and shelfcheck it, making sure that what we think we have matches up with what we actually have, and trying to solve any puzzles of missing items or similar that come up during the process.

1950's boxes

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Hans Keller and the anti-competition

Hans Keller at his desk by Milein Cosman. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust

Hans Keller was implacably opposed to the concept of competition in music, maintaining that whilst it was something one could associate with sport, the arts were for communication, not competition. Nonetheless, he sat on many competition juries and judging panels, but fighting a rearguard action at every possible opportunity in the hope of achieving what he felt to be damage limitation. His view was that once a musician achieved mastery, he was not necessarily “better” than everyone else, but “different”. How, he would ask, could one place Huberman, Heifetz, Kreisler and Busch if they all entered a competition? Continue reading

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Shining a light

Saturday sees the return of an annual music festival, which seems to be in equal measure loved or hated, the Eurovision song contest. Eurovision fans have already been watching the semi-finals on BBC Four, and although I’m not quite as dedicated as that (some of my fellow librarians have great Facebook posts with in-depth critiques of every song), I do usually watch at least a little, no, let’s be honest, ALL of the final. It’s one of those guilty pleasures that has been a part of my life since a small child – I clearly remember ABBA winning in Brighton with Waterloo… my mother and aunt were not convinced that they would ever make it on the world stage.

It’s been quite a few years since the UK last had a winning entry, and that happened way back in 1997 with the song Love shine a light performed by Katrina and the Waves. I had been living in Cambridge for a few years then, and remembered that there was a great deal of excitement locally when the song won, for not only had it been championed all the way to the “Great British Song Contest” by none other than BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, who gave the song its UK radio debut, but the composer, Kimberley Rew, was a graduate in archaeology from Jesus College. A triumph therefore for both town and gown.

This week though there is an extra reason to remember the last British Eurovision winner.

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Yes, she can…

Browsing through the Doreen Carwithen Archive the other day, I came across a selection of popular magazines from the mid-’40s-’50s, all of which featured Doreen.

As a young woman composing in what was then very largely a man’s world, she got a lot of attention from the press; though most journalists seemed to be less impressed by her work, than the fact that a woman was able to do it at all. The Dundee Evening Telegraph was fairly typical of the time in seeming more impressed that Doreen was pretty and curly haired, than that she had recently finished composing her first piano concerto aged just 24.

Nevertheless, presumably deciding that any publicity was better than none, Doreen continued to occasionally feature in the popular press, part curiosity, and part undoubtedly fine musician.

Music for a festive occasion by Doreen Carwithen
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IAML Annual Study Weekend – Thoughts from Leicester

IAML ASW Dining Hall Table decoration

Table decorations in the Dining Hall, College Court

On a sunny Friday afternoon, Kate and I set off from Cambridge for College Court, Leicester for the IAML Annual Study Weekend.  It was a great chance to meet other colleagues working in music libraries and to put some faces to names.  After settling in to our rooms in College Court – a purpose built conference centre for the University of Leicester – we headed to the meeting rooms to hear firstly about orchestral & hire libraries and then about a BL Discovering Music exhibition.
Interesting to learn that the hire of a work/parts does not convey rights of performance with choreography, costumes etc.  This is aimed at preventing hirers from performing extracts (staged) without getting a licence from the Performing Rights Society.  A fascinating talk by Georgina Govier, Head of Music Library, Welsh National Opera, described what her job entails, including coming to the rescue with lost parts for last-minute panicking conductors and negotiating performance rights and licence fees.

IAML ASW Cecilia Anniversary cake

Cecilia 20th anniversary cake!

Saturday morning started bright and early with news and updates before a talk from local musician and teacher Viram Jasami of the Asian Music Circuit gave us an insight into the relevance of South Asian Music in the 21st century.

A look at Cecilia and other IAML databases followed, with attendees being encouraged to promote these to their students, before a coffee break with cake to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Cecilia database.  Cake featured quite highly throughout the weekend, it has to be said!

Lauren Smyth of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library discussed the project to make folk songs findable, using digitisation projects and tools to aid discovery.  Their “Take 6” pilot project of digitising six of their own items and then taking them on outreach projects was a successful idea, which led to them being able to bid for more funds for “The Full English” project.

A useful session by Peter Linnitt of the Royal College of Music Library investigated digital sheet music options of libraries, which looked at what is commercially available, what is (or is not) affordable and what sort of licencing arrangements are being looked at for libraries and institutions.  Ultimately, our library users want the widest range of decent scores available digitally and not have to rely solely on IMSLP which has out of copyright (and therefore older) scores.

An afternoon session offered a practical insight into South Asian Music with Viram Jasami, with lots of participation and was very much enjoyed by the attendees.  Taking “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” as a tune that everyone would know, he then split it up into sections to sing as a Raag with drone accompaniment – the braver souls attempted to then sing it!

Saturday evening we attended a reception hosted by Cramer Music followed by the conference dinner which was delicious.  Lots of networking in the bar followed late into the evening…

IAML ASW E T Bryant Kate Crane

Kate Crane, E. T. Bryant Joint Prizewinner 2019

Sunday morning saw us back in the meeting rooms after a hearty breakfast for more news and updates.  Charles Inskip, Department of Information Studies, University College London was the next speaker, talking about the challenges of attracting new graduate trainees into Music Librarianship.  He encouraged the audience to offer their services to local institutions teaching librarianship, by giving talks, career sessions to encourage students.

Finally, the AGM where the Oldman and E. T. Bryant prizes were presented and excellence awards for library institutions and individuals.  Congratulations to Kate on her award!

Finally – the last word goes to the Easter
“Pick-n-Mix” – thanks College Court!

Easter pick-n-mix at the IAML ASW 2019

Helen Snelling & Kate Crane – Pendlebury Library of Music/University Library Music Department, Cambridge.

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