From winter to spring in Cambridge

Winter berries. Copyright Sarah Chapman

Winter berries. Copyright Sarah Chapman

The end of last week saw three rare celestial events come together in one day: a partial solar eclipse, a supermoon, and the Spring Equinox, when day and night are of equal length. From now on the days will lengthen (even if they’ll feel shorter for a brief time after the move this weekend to British Summer Time) up to the longest day in June. We’ve been musing on the change in the seasons here at MusiCB3. First there was the frost…..

A crisp frost on Clare Bridge. Copyright Sarah Chapman

A crisp frost on Clare Bridge. Copyright Sarah Chapman

While trying to find some frost related music for this post, I came across Our Boy, a national song by F.F. Courtenay. It’s an unusual song written by a brother and sister to celebrate the birth of Prince Albert Victor, the future Duke of Clarence and heir to the British throne, in January 1864. The words could only be Victorian as they are gloriously (some might say mawkishly) sentimental “The frost was on the spray, and icebound every rill….When a little bud of hope peep’d out, As if to herald spring…” Sadly there would be no real spring for the Duke of Clarence who died aged 28 of flu.

How very Cambridge. A lonely bicycle in the snow.
Copyright Sarah Chapman.

February brought a light dusting of snow to Cambridge. There’s plenty of  snow related music here at the UL. One of the less well known items is William Alwyn’s Three Winter poems. Composed for string quartet, the work is a musical imagining of a winter landscape comprising three movements: Winter landscape — Elegy. Frozen waters — Serenade. Snow shower.

Composed January-February 1948, the winter of 1948 was rather different to the musical vision that Alwyn evokes. January 1948 was the wettest on record since 1869, with little snow even in February, which, coincidentally, is when this Cambridge photo was taken.

Shadow of Clare Bridge. Copyright Sarah Chapman.

Shadow of Clare Bridge. Copyright Sarah Chapman.

As Winter moves into Spring shadows gradually shorten. The stark shadows that form beneath a winter sky and the bright winter sun remind me of the world of the Balinese gamelan, and the shadow plays for which it often provides music. Among music that is influenced by the musical and artistic traditions of Indonesia is Carey Blyton’s Shadow-play, a work for 4 (or 8) flutes and 2 optional piccolos (ask in the Anderson Room if you’d like to see a copy, it’s currently in the Music backlog).

Ducks at Cambridge University Library.
Copyright Sarah Chapman

As winter changes to spring familiar sights appear. Ducks are to be seen wandering around the UL. Will this be a year when they choose to make one of the courtyards their home again?

There’s a surprising amount of duck related music, including a setting by Mary Hicks of Kenneth Grahame’s Ducks’ ditty (item no. 8 in volume M280.b.95.57).

The Quack quack quack gallop by E. Adams.



The award for Duck Work of the Week, however, must go to the Quack, quack, quack galop by E. Adams “Sung & danced nightly with immense success in the comic opera The wonderful duck”. Based on the French comic opera Le canard a trois becs by Jules Moinaux, who was a keen amateur composer, the work was translated by Charles Kenney (to whom the galop is dedicated), and had some success on the British stage. It was surprisingly successful in the States too being staged in New Orleans and New York. Sadly the end came for the Not-So-Wonderful Duck after just 7 performances on Broadway.

Soon we’ll have cherry blossom, longer nights and warmer days to look forward to. Pity the poor maiden condemned to dance herself to death in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps for whom Spring was not such a positive experience. The UL has a facsimile edition of the autograph score, and autograph piano 4-hands arrangement of The Rite of Spring (, along with a collection of essays celebrating the ballet and its influence. 

Spring 2014.Copyright Sarah Chapman

Spring 2014.
Copyright Sarah Chapman

Enjoy the Spring.


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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