This is another instalment in our mini-series of posts about ‘Music collectors‘ which ties in with the ‘Shelf lives‘ exhibition (until 16 June). Where this post differs slightly is that the previous posts in this series focused on collectors who were not professional musicians or composers: one post was devoted to Frederic Booth, one to Richard Pendlebury and one to Franck Thomas Arnold.
You maybe haven’t heard of Hedli Anderson (1907–1990), but you might have come across a subtle connection to her via a song and a poem titled Funeral Blues (words by W. H. Auden, set to music by Benjamin Britten, and part of the Cabaret Songs). This text has become famous, also under the title Stop all the clocks, not least through the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), and the reading of the poem by the Scottish actor John Hanna. To listen to Britten’s song have your pick on YouTube.
Anderson, a singer of cabaret and political songs primarily but not only in the 1930s and 1940s, was not only chosen by Britten and Auden, but also by other poets and composers, such as Louis MacNeice, Elisabeth Lutyens and William Alwyn, to premier some of their works. The collection we hold somewhat reflects this. Anderson seems to have collected the songs which were either written for her, or were part of a library of a professional singer: i.e. songs which she performed. Anderson does not seem to have gone out of her way to collect music by certain composers or from specific countries or eras if they were outside her repertoire as a singer. So her building up of her collection was more “organic” and more “natural” than the collectors previously discussed on this blog, in as much as the items in her collection are the fruit of her artistic and personal relationships, as opposed to a (maybe) slightly more removed approach of the ‘collector as hunter’. (I should add here that both of these origins and methods of collecting and collectors are, of course, equally important: both have their strengths and limitations.)
To give you an idea of what this mostly-hidden collection here at Cambridge University Library entails, please have a look at Handlist of printed music in the Hedli Anderson Collection.