The other day, I was updating our ‘Planning Document for Acquisition of Scores : 20th and 21st Century Composers’, and stumbled over the name Michael von Biel . In my research on Earle Brown I had come across him as a performer, but not as a composer.
Now, I searched Newton, LibrarySearch (Beta), our pre-2002 (so-called) MUS-MAX-MIP OPAC and the main music card catalogue (for items accessioned between 1934 and 1989), and found not a single item. I then thought that this might have been a mistake: despite being listed as a low priority in the above document, maybe this person never composed or published anything; but a search of WorldCat revealed that he had written at least a couple of musical works.
This intrigued me now, and – as I didn’t have much time – I simply searched Google for von Biel, and found an entry on Wikipedia stating that one of his works was allegedly one of the ‘oddest works of twentieth-century music ever composed’, which of course intrigued me. I read on in this English entry: ‘It is for amplified crickets, …’ and I thought ‘Hang on, ‘amplified crickets’! What’s that about?’
I checked the German entry, as the English entry claimed to be ‘translated from the German entry’. And there it said the work was the ‘oddest work…’, but that it was for amplified barbecues (German for a barbecue = “ein Grill”, not “eine Grille” = a cricket! The plural of ‘Gartengrills’, in the German, must have thrown the translator). Needless to say I changed that, and rephrased the “oddity” statement too – as such amplified everyday objects aren’t that unusual (think Fluxus and the 1960s). I also noticed that the birth year was wrong (after checking Oxford Music Online and the printed version of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart) by two years, and changed this in the German, English and French versions of this entry.
As I’m still fairly new in this job, I asked my more experienced colleagues Justin and Margaret to double check that we really haven’t got a single work by von Biel. Margaret found his first string quartet (1962, published in 1965 by Universal Edition). It wasn’t listed in any of the catalogues I mentioned above, as it is in the cataloguing backlog, which can only be checked by a librarian in the office.
So, the moral of this tale is: if you are looking for something and can’t find it, ask a librarian.