‘See amid the winter’s snow…’

I recently started work as Library Assistant at the Scott Polar Research Institute. The library collection here covers the Polar Regions and other frozen parts of the world, glaciology and remote sensing. I formed the impression that it would mainly be full of scientific texts, biographies and theses. How wrong I was!

The library actually contains any items that have connections to the Polar Regions, such as children’s books, films, even an archive and picture library. And, of course (for an article in a music library blog), music. Allow me to share a couple of our interesting musical items with you.

Das Opfer by Zillig - don't judge a book by its cover! (Image taken by Martin French on 15/10/2013)

Das Opfer by Zillig – don’t judge a book by its cover! (Image taken by Martin French on 15/10/2013)

Das Opfer (The Sacrifice) : Klavier-Auszug mit Gesang – Winfried Zillig (Polar UDC: (*7) : 91(08) [1910-13 Scott] [Zil], Pendlebury: Pb.261.90Z.O1)

This two part opera is loosely based on the story of the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912. The fact that the original explorers did not return from the expedition does not prevent Zillig from writing a triumphant ending – Oates leaves the team (the titular sacrifice) so that the others can survive and return. And just in case there wasn’t enough tension, choruses of angry penguins express their displeasure at their realm being invaded: the penguin chorus was an addition designed to find favour with the Nazi regime, since the explorers were supposed to conquer ‘envious subhuman races’ (https://www.sfvc.org/article/top-all-time-worst-opera-librettos-part-2) – since there aren’t actually any people indigenous to the Antarctic, they had to be replaced by penguins. While it may be difficult to take the piece seriously from this plot description, it’s interesting to see how the expeditions inspired art and creativity in its time period.

The North Pole by Read - clearly not a picture of the scene with the polar bears! (Image taken by Martin French on 15/10/2013)

The North Pole by Read – clearly not a picture of the scene with the polar bears! (Image taken by Martin French on 15/10/2013)

The North Pole; descriptive music fantasia – Ezra Read (Polar UDC: Pam 91(08) : (*3) [1908-09] [R])

Ezra Read, although better known for his ‘Easy Pianoforte Tutor’, wrote many pieces based on news and current events, including ‘The North Pole’ (http://www.spanglefish.com/ezraread/index.asp?pageid=293752). The piece is a set of smaller items, each depicting a stage in an expedition to the North Pole. After planning the expedition and setting out from New York, the explorers are beset with a number of perils, including gales at sea, a snowstorm, even attack by polar bears! The piece then continues with a dogsled ride, then gradually accelerates as the expedition rushes for the pole and culminates in triumphant music as a US flag is placed at the North Pole. However, Read didn’t seem to think the return journey was very important, so there’s no knowing what happened next. Hopefully, the polar bears didn’t catch them on the way back!
Unlike the other piece, it is difficult to know whether or not Read based his piece on a particular expedition, or whether he was inspired by the debate surrounding who had reached the North Pole first. The reference to the ‘Artic ship Rouseveldt [sic]’ and leaving from New York might link it to Peary’s expedition in 1908-9 (http://www.athropolis.com/arctic-facts/fact-roosevelt.htm), but I’ve not found anything definite to link it otherwise.

These are not the only two examples of musical items hidden in our collection – there are also concert programmes, music recordings and much more. Why not come visit and take a look?

Martin French
Library Assistant
Scott Polar Research Institute
University of Cambridge


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The "author" MusiCB3 is used for all the "guest contributions". Every post by a guest is signed. Most of our guests are based in Cambridge (libraries). If you would like to contribute to this blog as a guest please contact us via music [at-sign-thingy] lib [dot] cam [dot] ac [dot] uk.
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3 Responses to ‘See amid the winter’s snow…’

  1. Susi says:

    What a fascinating post Martin, i really enjoyed reading it. You mention concert programmes in the collection – perhaps you might consider preparing an entry for the Concert Programmes Project website? http://www.concertprogrammes.org.uk. Susi


  2. Thomas Womack says:

    Have you read Francis Spufford’s “I May Be Some Time”? It’s a very interesting analysis of the impact of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century polar exploration on the English psyche, particularly as represented in art; I’m sure the SPRI library will have it.


  3. Pingback: Cambridge music collections: A journey of discovery? | IAML (UK & Irl)

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