Russia has been in the news for all kinds of reasons recently. Nothing particularly relating to music, but that hasn’t stopped me from fishing out a selection of our more interesting items.
Music published in Russia has always been difficult to obtain for a number of reasons. Firstly, the distance, then Russia’s isolation (political and cultural), and just simply the difficulty of finding someone prepared to import printed music from Russia.
Glazunov Symphony no. 5 arr. for piano duet (publ. 1896)
This wonderfully ornate cover is all Russian to my eyes, the colours and decoration calling to mind the traditional buildings in Moscow. However, if you look closely, you can see that the place of publication is Leipzig, Germany. Continue reading →
Albert Ketèlbey was a phenomenally successful composer in the inter-war years of the twentieth century. Yet nowadays, this Birmingham composer’s music is little known, only rarely getting live performances or broadcast time.
Albert Ketèlbey (1875 – 1959)
Ketèlbey was something of a musical prodigy, joining the Birmingham and Midland Institute School of music (now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ) aged eleven. Then he took up a place at London’s Trinity College of Music at the age of thirteen, entering the college at the same time as Gustav Holst. Studying composition and piano, Ketèlbey was a successful student, but on graduation he didn’t take quite the career path we might now expect.
Handel has always held an especially prominent position in British classical music. Yes, his fortune has fluctuated over the years, but The Messiah, if nothing else, has kept him in the public eye.
In 1784, it was decided to hold a series of three commemorative concerts in April for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Handel’s death. What we’re going to be looking at is the record of the concerts produced by the music historian, Charles Burney which was published the following year. Continue reading →
The music’s live! again, and this time we’re in the company of a local choir, the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS, for short).
A Bit of history
BFCS has a long history, stretching way back into the nineteenth century. Its history is intertwined with that of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals. The Festivals were held every three years to raise money for the Birmingham General Hospital. As the nineteenth century progressed, the Festival administrators spent a lot of time and effort attracting the best musical talent to compose and perform new choral music. These commissions composed by Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Sullivan, Gounod, Stanford, and later, Elgar, represented some of the best music of the time, and the BFCS was there, right at the centre. BFCS singers formed the core of each chorus used at the Festivals.
Looking through the posts here, I am disheartened but not at all surprised about how little female composers or musicians and singers feature. Must try harder is the note to myself, I think. Although we’ve worked hard to improve the balance in our physical stock, western classical music in particular is still mostly the preserve of dead, white men. This is even more the case when I look at our older material. This post however is the exception, looking as it does at Liza Lehmann.
I’ve had almost no time to work on a new post recently (an upgrade to our computer systems being partly to blame), so instead, I’ve returned to the second post I ever wrote. That also is in need of some improvement. So I’ve reworked it, adding in more content rather than relying on the illustrations alone (nice though they are).
If like me, you’ve read any of the Depression era novels by John Steinbeck, you can’t but remember the poverty, the difficulty of obtaining employment, and the world which his characters inhabit. This was the time of the ‘dust bowl’ environmental disaster which affected the marginal Southern Plains area of the United States (parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle), and also the resulting mass migration of people to California in search of jobs.
What I’m going to be looking at this time, is a collection of songs from the era, collected by Alan Lomax and others.
Hard-hitting Songs for Hard-hit People ed. by Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger (publ. 1967)
It’s a substantial book, containing numerous songs, their context, and a selection of sobering photos. The bulk of its content was ready for publication in the 1940s, but it took twenty years for it to be published. In fact, John Steinbeck provided the foreword for this collection. Here’s a sample: Continue reading →
I’ve been away on holiday so it’s going to be something quick this time – more visual than anything else. Don’t worry – the images are pretty stunning, and well worth a look.
Granville Bantock (1868-1946)
Bantock is a composer with strong links to Birmingham – he was principal of the forerunner to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and he followed Elgar in holding the Peyton Professorship at the University of Birmingham. Unsurprisingly, we hold a lot of his printed scores, as well as some of his manuscripts. This collection is complemented by the one at the University.
Songs of Arabia
These songs were composed and published at the end of the nineteenth century. As such, it’s not difficult to see that Bantock was one of many artists and musicians of that period who were fascinated by the mysterious East. The phenomenon of exoticism , the lure of the ‘otherness’ of far-off places continued in Bantock’s compositions into the next century. The texts of the songs were written by his first wife, Helen.
I’m a little late celebrating the centenary of the RAF. Still, here are three items from our collections. Two music sheets illustrating flying before the formation of the RAF, and another small volume published at the end of World War 2.
Lawrence Wright: The Great air race (publ. 1911)
The first thing that occurred to me was : What air race? 1911 is early in the history of aeroplanes. It was a competition to see who could fly a set circuit round the UK. The winner, a Frenchman, Jean Conneau, took something over 22 hours to complete the course (including various obligatory stops) at an average speed of 45 mph. Continue reading →
No, this isn’t a post about the Animals, or Bob Dylan, but rather one exploring the life of Huddie Ledbetter (better known as Lead Belly), a small book of ours, and some of the people who knew him.
As ever when I’m in search of something to write about for this blog, I went looking on our shelves for something that might grab my attention. This small American publication was the one that succeeded this time around.
The Leadbelly Songbook ed. Moses Asch and Alan Lomax (originally publ. 1962)
Of course, I knew the name Lead Belly (this is the generally preferred way of spelling his nickname), but beyond that my knowledge was very sketchy to say the least. When I mentioned to a colleague that I was featuring this artist, his first response was about Lead Belly’s prison record for murder. Next, the reason for his nickname – again concerning violence. When I went looking, a more complex story emerged about Lead Belly and his music. And yes, the book does contain his version of the House of the Rising Sun.