The week in music

March has truly come in like a lion, with snow either already here or threatening, and Storm Emma about to blow in. Curl up with MusiCB3, and take a look at musical anniversaries over this coming week.

From semaphore to The Star-spangled Banner, a Welsh folk-song, a famous left-handed pianist with Cambridge connections, and an unfortunately timed death; it’s going to be a busy week.

March 2nd

In 1791 a message was sent through a chain of semaphore stations, nearly 10 miles from Brulon, in the Loire, to Parce. After the successful transmission and reception of the message, Charles Chappe went on to set up more semaphore stations covering 150 miles. With the ability to transmit messages from one side of the country to the other in just over 30 minutes, it marked the start of a huge change in communications, which is still evolving.

50 years later a town was founded in S Australia, which gained the name of Semaphore, thanks to a local hotel owner’s flag-relay to mark the arrival of passenger ships. Now a suburb of Adelaide, it has a long-running music festival, while its main street has been voted one of the best in Australia.

March 3rd and 7th

The origin of the Welsh folk-tune, The marsh of Rhuddlan (Morfa Rhuddlan) has its origin in a battle in 795 between the Welsh and the Saxons. Rhuddlan would feature in later Welsh history too, when in 1284, the Statute of Rhuddlan, signed at Rhuddlan Castle, annexed  the Principality of Wales to England. The tune, with variations as played below, appeared in Edward Jones’ Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards, published in London in 1784 (available at the UL, MR380.a.75.8, also available on IMSLP), and was also arranged by Haydn.

Also on March 3rd – Paul Wittgenstein, older brother of philosopher, Ludwig, died in 1961. Wittgenstein grew up in a musical family. Brahms, Mahler, and Richard Strauss all visited the family home during Wittgenstein’s youth. Paul became a concert pianist, but had his right arm amputated when he was injured in the First World War. Composers including Strauss, Hindemith, and Britten, all wrote music for Wittgenstein, though the single most famous work remains Ravel’s piano concerto for the left-hand. The Pendlebury has a recording – CD.Q.483. Appropriately enough this week also  the anniversary of Ravel’s birth on March 7th 1875.

March 4th

robert_emmet_-_portraitOn March 4th, 1778, Irish nationalist, Robert Emmet, was born in Dublin. Although the name is now little unknown outside his native land, William Alwyn was inspired by his life and work to write the radio opera, Farewell companions, which was broadcast on the BBC’s Third Programme, and was entered for the prestigious Italia prize in 1955 (Under Milk Wood had won the prize the previous year). The sketches and the libretto can be found in the Alwyn Archive here at the UL, while the score and parts are in the BBC Library.

March 4th is also the anniversary of the adoption of The Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem of the United States. It’s surprising to realise that the official adoption of the anthem was as recent as 1931.  The original version of the tune set as The Anacreontic song by John Stafford Smith can be seen in an early printing at MR290.a.75.454.

March 5th

Sergei Prokofiev must count as one of the most unlucky of composers. He died on March 5th 1953, the same day as Josef Stalin. Not only was his funeral delayed by the obsequies for Stalin, he also only received a cursory mention in the leading Soviet musical paper, the first 115 pages of which were devoted to Stalin’s death.

The Frederick Booth collection, which has been previously mentioned in MusiCB3, contains an extensive collection of works by Prokofiev.

March 6th

Happy birthday to  Dave Gilmour, Cambridge born musician, and member of Pink Floyd.

March 8th

Today in 1979, the compact disc was demonstrated for the first time. It was a few years before it became popular, and the hardware had reduced enough in price to make it widely available.  Streaming and other digital options have now largely overtaken CDs, though they remain dominant for sound quality. Even vinyl, which was overtaken by CD sales, is making a comeback.

The Pendlebury has a great stock of CDs, all of which can be found on iDiscover. For streaming options, (available with a Raven password), there’s the Naxos music library or, new to the e-resources database, the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall.

Happy listening!


The Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall


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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1 Response to The week in music

  1. Lovely harp music!
    Incidentally,if you want to know more about Emmet, read Mary Helen Thuente, The Harp Re-Strung: The United Irishmen and the Rise of Irish Literary Nationalism (1994). One of those books that sticks in your mind, it’s a great read.


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