Slow moments with SW: Bartók

Bartók in 1927

The contrast between the musical language of Rachmaninov and that of his contemporary Bartók is striking. The one firmly in the full “romantic” sonata-form-based mode, the other pushing those formal boundaries forward and absorbing the influences of the folk music he collected and studied so intently. Indeed, he himself said: “The study of all this peasant music…opened the door to the former tyranny of the major and minor systems” and “The right type of peasant music is most varied and perfect in its forms…and a composer in search of new ways cannot be led by a better master.”  There is an excellent outline of the importance of folk music to Bartók on the Library of Congress blog https://blogs.loc.gov/nls-music-notes/2018/09/bla-bartk-and-the-importance-of-folk-music/. But I digress…where to start?

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Hair-raising times : what to wear to the opera

Jenner performing his first vaccination. Painting by Ernest Board

What links Marie Antoinette, vaccinations, Gluck, a famous naval battle, and Parisian opera houses? A man named Léonard Autié. 

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My favourite music

Justin in the Anderson Room office in 2013. Photographed by Sarah Chapman.

Last summer, staff at the Pendlebury library and the UL Music Department were asked to do a sort of Desert Island Discs (one disc not eight, luxury item and book of course allowed). I was about to pick Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai composed in 1971. It was made famous for the television series The Life & Times of David Lloyd George and reached number 2 on the UK singles chart in 1981. I remember hearing it coming from the radio in the UL’s printing department which used to be near the back door. There should be more music at the back door.

However I still prefer Cesar Franck’s Chorale no. 2. which is on a record I bought in Ely Cathedral in the 1970s played by the organist at the time Arthur Wills (who sadly passed away last October).

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What’s been happening at the Pendlebury Library?

Searching, finding, organising, checking, explaining, informing, scanning, uploading, buying,…. just a few of the things we’ve been doing at the Pendlebury Library. 

Working at the Pendlebury Library since Christmas has been a very different experience. Due to the 3rd lockdown restrictions, we have been single-staffed at the Library, usually with just one of the building custodians and one member of the Concert Hall staff in the building to keep us company! 

Services have been continuing to library users, but limited this term to zero-contact ones, under the COVID restrictions.  All the  services we can currently offer are publicised on the Music LibGuide.  

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Don’t read the reviews

An unexpected costume for Violetta at the premiere of La Traviata.

March 6th is the anniversary of the premiere of Verdi’s La Traviata. The most popular of all his operas, Traviata had an unfortunate beginning. Based on the popular novel, La dame aux camelias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Verdi had attended a performance of the play in Paris, and came out of the performance with ideas for an opera whirling around his head. It wasn’t perhaps the best time to be contemplating a new work. Verdi had only just finished Rigoletto, and was currently working with two librettists with multiple plans for operatic projects, La Fenice in Venice was eager for a new Verdi work, but Verdi was worried following his experiences with Rigoletto, that the Venetian censors might not be happy with the storyline of Traviata, the tale of a high class courtesan and her young lover.

He was right to be concerned…

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Cristofori 290

Last month saw 290 years since the death of Bartolomeo Cristofori (4th May 1655 – 27th January 1731), the instrument maker who developed the gravicembalo col piano e forte, or “harpsichord with soft and loud” generally thought of as being the first ‘piano’. As a belated tribute to Cristofori, let us see what relevant things we can find at MusiCB3 and further afield…

Photo of a portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Slow moment with SW: Rachmaninoff – a brief encounter.

Rachmaninov in 1921

Scene: a railway waiting room somewhere in SE England in the 1930s. A man and a woman are sitting at a table over a cup of tea.

Celia: I say Trevor, must we, really?

Trevor: I’m afraid so, old thing, no other choice.

Celia: oh very well then, but why SW should think we know anything about Rachmaninoff is simply beyond me.

Trevor: But of course we do, don’t you remember? I had to get a nasty piece of grit out of your eye. Anyway, let’s see what we can do.

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Exploring online music resources

Cambridge University Libraries have over the past year worked very hard on extending access to online resources. If you are a keen follower of the eresources blog you will already have a fairly good idea of the fantastic content that has become available in recent months. Let me pick out some interesting resources for music.

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Game of queens (and composers)

My latest lockdown watching has been the recent Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit. Based on a novel by Walter Tevis, the show follows the story of chess prodigy, Beth Harmon. The popularity of The Queen’s Gambit has resulted in a flurry of interest in chess – apparently sales of chess sets were up rather dramatically just before Christmas! I was an inexpert but enthusiastic player as a child, and since I don’t have a chess set with me in Cambridge with which to join in the recent trend, I found myself reading various Queens Gambit-related articles instead. One article I stumbled across online happened to be to do with links between music and chess, which sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole… here are a few of my findings.

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Singing from the heart: Mario Lanza 1921 – 1959

Mario Lanza

Star of the 1951 MGM film The Great Caruso, Mario Lanza was perhaps, the first “superstar” of stage and screen. Renowned for his extraordinary tenor voice (described by Toscanini as “the voice of the century”) and classic good looks, he was idolised by his many fans, topped both the pop and classical charts and was lauded wherever he went. And yet, tragically, he succumbed to the insecurities and hedonistic life that can all so easily accompany such fame, dying of a heart attack at the age of only 38.

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