Cads, bounders and unbecoming women in opera and song: episode one

Our latest exhibition at the UL Music Department, launched this week, explores the darker side of opera and song. We begin our mini-series of exhibition-related posts with a look at some of opera’s less-than-delightful characters.

Villains abound – think of Iago (Otello), Rocco (Fidelio), Scarpia (Tosca) and the eponymous Don Giovanni. Similarly ladies of less than respectable behaviour are the principal characters in, Carmen, Salome, and Lulu. I’m sure you can think of many more and are already sharpening your pen to add to the list. But then, opera – whether the reinterpretation of an existing literary work or not – often explores the darker aspects of life: jealousy, envy, prostitution, ambition, cruelty all feature in abundance.

We start our series with four works: The Beggar’s Opera, Don Giovanni, Lulu and Salome. Why those? Well, because it allows us to feature items from our many special collections – from Hans Keller (but I would include him, wouldn’t I?) to Alwyn, Frederick Booth and Coates/Powell Lloyd. Dear reader, you may need a stiff drink for this… Continue reading

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Sherlock Holmes’ music

Sherlock Holmes is approaching his 130th birthday. The first instalment of A Study in Scarlet, in which Holmes and Watson meet, was published in the 1887 edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual. Since Conan Doyle’s violin-playing detective is often to be found attending recitals, visiting Covent Garden, writing scholarly monographs on early music, or outwitting his opponents with the help of Offenbach, I felt he deserved a chance to show off his musical accomplishments on MusiCB3 this week… 

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Music behind the wire

The UL – “skyscraper” of Cambridge.
Copyright Sarah Chapman.

Did you know that Cambridge University Library has a variety of collections under its roof? Regular users will know that as well as the University Library itself (the “skyscraper” of Cambridge), and the affiliate libraries which are separate geographically from the UL, but all come under the same UL umbrella (ULbrella?), there are many smaller collections that have become part of the UL’s fabric. There are collections that have been acquired by the University Library such as the Royal Commonwealth Society‘s collections, or units that work on specific collections such as the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit or the Darwin Correspondence Project. Many of these collections have a digital presence on the Cambridge Digital Library. You can already find some music in the Digital Library including a collection of lute music, and transcriptions of Jewish liturgical music from the 12th century.

One of the latest collections to find its way on to the Digital Library is the Voices of Civilian Internment collection from World War II Singapore. As the Japanese army advanced into Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia many civilians were caught up in events, and ended up in internment camps in the region including Changi jail in Singapore. Music swiftly became an important part of life in the camps. Continue reading

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Songs of War: Passchendaele 1917

Château Wood near Hooge, 29 October 1917. Photo by Frank Hurley

This month, the University Library entrance hall display cases feature Basil Godfrey Quin, MC whose regiment, the Cambridgeshires, was involved in the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) which took place between July and November 1917 and in which Quin distinguished himself with his bravery during the battle at Tower Hamlets Ridge on 26 September 1917.  We here at MusiCB3 thought that we would complement this display with a look at some of the music which Quin may have heard, or even sung himself, at the time. Continue reading

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Meet… Catherine Taylor

MusiCB3: What has your road to librarianship been?


Catherine in the UL Anderson Room

As part of my YTS Training Scheme, I was given a work placement in the library at Lion Yard. I also worked in the library of Cambridge College of Further Education (now Cambridge Regional College). That experience led on to working here in the UL.

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Tuesday 5th September marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of John Cage. Here at MusiCB3 we wondered if there should be a particular way of celebrating this most quirky of composers? Perhaps there should be a blank post – a visual equivalent of the famous 4′ 33″ (MRS.8.540)? This idea may not be quite as daft as it sounds, as curators of museum installations have mused upon similar ideas. An exhibition organized by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in 2009 initially thought about having an empty room at the centre of their John Cage celebrations. They subsequently decided on a different approach deciding that the empty room might be too confusing for visitors (Is it meant to be empty? Could the art-works have been stolen? Am I lost?). There’s a fascinating post about the background to the exhibition here.

Ironically to think of 4′ 33″ as being about silence is to misunderstand the piece. It is as much about sound as it is about silence.

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Vesta Tilley at the UL

When I’m not in Cambridge lurking behind the scenes of MusiCB3, another of my haunts is Worcester. Back there last week for the longest time in a while, I noticed quite a few changes around the town that had sprung up since my last proper visit. Elgar’s statue has a shiny new plinth, and he is keeping a watchful eye on the building works going on opposite the cathedral. In another part of town four new statues have appeared – walking through the Cornmarket one day on my way to Asda I was greeted by Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, King Charles II, Woodbine Willie, and another musical Worcester character, Vesta Tilley.

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