Cambridge Composers : Alexander Goehr

This is another post in the series called Cambridge Composers. These posts focus on composers who have or had a connection to Cambridge, or the University of Cambridge. Some of them were students here, whilst others are and were teaching composition in MusiCB3-lands.

Alexander Goehr in 2007, photographed by Etan Tal.

Alexander Goehr in 2007, photographed by Etan Tal.

Alexander Goehr taught composition at the Faculty of Music from 1976 until his retirement in 1999, and a substantial number of composers studied with him; to mention just a few: Thomas Adès (1971-), Julian Anderson (1967-), George Benjamin (1960-), Robin Holloway (1943-), Silvina Milstein (1956-), and Jeremy Thurlow.

Goehr has been a prolific writer; in my position as Deputy Head of Music I used to look after music published in the UK and Ireland, primarily claiming the legal deposit copies which the Cambridge University Library is entitled to have. Every time in the previous 3 years I came across a newly-published work by Goehr and checked whether we had already received a copy, I was struck by the fact that we had quite a few gaps in our holdings. For some of these works, no published edition was available, for others we must have missed the publication and not claimed our copy.

In the autumn of 2011 I met Alexander Goehr and Sally Groves (then responsible for twentieth-century music and living composers at Schott Music). I asked whether it might be possible to fill some of our gaps, and we consequently received a high number of works, some of them normally ‘hire only’ editions; many thanks to Sally Groves, and Schott Music for being so generous in their response to my request.

Most of these recently-catalogued Goehr editions, sadly, are not bindable (i.e. the margins are too small for binding the paper, and still being able to read the music). So far, 26 works have been added to classmark MRA…., which means that these items will need to be ordered in the Anderson Reading Room, and must be consulted there.

Whilst I was cataloguing these works, I was deeply moved by Goehr‘s In Theresienstadt : vier Lieder 1942-4 (for voice and piano), composed between 1962 and 1964. Particularly the two songs, based on one poem each by Franta Bass (1930-1944) and Alena Synková (1926- ?) made me stop my cataloguing and reflect. Apart from the famous Anne Frank, the notion of children or teenagers expressing their thoughts and feelings during such traumatic times as the 1930s and 1940s as a Jewish teenager is primarily known by those surviving the Shoa, and then – as adults – retelling their earlier life experiences. Especially reading Franta Bass’ poem makes one realise what artistic talent was silenced before it even had the chance to be fully developed and appreciated.

For an overview of the composers archive at Cambridge University Library, please go to:


About cg474

Since August 2010 I have been working as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). Since October 2015 I am the librarian at the Faculty of Divinity Library. Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since October 2015 I have been the Librarian at the Divinity Library.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cambridge Composers : Alexander Goehr

  1. Pingback: Cambridge Composers : Jeremy Thurlow | MusiCB3 Blog

  2. Pingback: Hallowe’en & Birtwistle | MusiCB3 Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.