In Concert

Get a flavour of the music collections of the Library of Birmingham – quirky, practical, historical, contemporary

A Song and Dance Routine — October 18, 2018

A Song and Dance Routine

You might think a song can’t be a dance, and vice versa, but our song sheet collections show this to be wrong. So here, for your delight and delectation, are some tangos, together with the odd foxtrot and bolero, which are also happen to be songs.

Grosz & Kennedy  Tina – a tango-foxtrot ballad (publ. 1934)

Tina - front cover
The front cover

I’m not sure how a ballad can be both a tango and a foxtrot. The direction at the top of the music is ‘Tempo di tango’ and it certainly appears to be in a basic tango rhythm. The foxtrot was at the height of its popularity in the 1930s, so maybe it’s just there as a hook. The composer, Will (Wilhelm) Grosz fled his native Austria during the 1930s Nazi takeover. When he arrived in England, his avant-garde music didn’t garner much interest. Instead, he turned his hand to composing music for popular songs. His best known hits were Isle of Capri and Harbour Lights, with lyrics also written by Jimmy Kennedy.

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An illustrated ‘Tristan and Isolde’ — October 4, 2018

An illustrated ‘Tristan and Isolde’

For this post, I’m going to look at an unusual illustrated libretto of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, published in Austria the year after the end of WWI. Once again it wasn’t what I thought I’d be writing about.

When I first started this blog, I set out the various headings which I thought covered the areas I’d be writing about. That lasted for the first few months, then my eye started wandering, finding all sorts of other things to look at. This book is a classic example. While debating a post about another local interest topic, I turned to the shelf opposite and came across this libretto.

Wagner  Tristan and Isolde (publ. 1919, Avalun Verlag)

Wagner Tristan und Isolde (Avalun Verlag) front cover
The front cover (notice the seahorse).

It’s not surprising it caught my eye. That this is no ordinary opera wordbook is apparent from the front cover, even before I opened it up.

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The Shocking Waltz – Johann Strauss I and Joseph Lanner — September 20, 2018

The Shocking Waltz – Johann Strauss I and Joseph Lanner

When the waltz was introduced as a new dance to early C19 Regency England, it was regarded as something quite scandalous. Unlike the group country dances of the times when the participants touched regularly, but only fleetingly, in the waltz, the two partners danced together exclusively. Not only that, they were touching all the time.

French caricature of the waltz
French caricature of the waltz from 1801. (Public domain)

Here’s what Lord Byron wrote at the time (anonymously) about the waltz:

Endearing Waltz! — to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and country-dance, forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz — Waltz alone — both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before — but — pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far — or I am much too near;
And true, though strange — Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”

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The Jolly Machine – Michael Raven and urban English folk song — September 6, 2018

The Jolly Machine – Michael Raven and urban English folk song

When thinking about English folk song, it is all too easy to think of classic English folk music as collected by Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams, and others. Songs of an agrarian existence, sometimes idyllic, often times not, which harked back to the time when the majority of people made their living from the land. In fact, that was to be the subject of this blog post until I got distracted by a slim, home-made volume of much grittier, urban songs.

Michael Raven: The Jolly Machine (publ. 1974)

Jolly machine by Michael Raven
The front cover of the song book.

Already you get the sense of something completely different from the front cover. Here are no songs about farm labourers and pretty lasses, instead Michael Raven focusses on the ‘songs of industrial protest and social discontent’ from the area all around Birmingham. The photograph used is of four coal miners from Wednesbury, taken in the 1880s. The dirtied work clothes and the coal-blackened faces are testament to the men working in the area of the West Midlands known as the Black Country.

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A Time of Trial: More Songs from the American Great Depression — August 23, 2018

A Time of Trial: More Songs from the American Great Depression

I’m returning to Hard-hitting Songs for Hard-hit People, a song collection about the American Great Depression. Last time , I looked at agricultural workers. This time, working, or more likely, unemployment.

‘You’re dead broke’ 

Destitute_man_vacant_store
Unemployed, destitute man in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Dorothea Lange. Public domain)

In his publisher’s forward, Irwin Silber, sets the picture of the early 1930s American Great Depression brilliantly:

The central fact was mass unemployment. Everything else – the soup kitchens, the home relief lines, the unmitigated misery of the old, the sick, the feeble who had no resources and no place to turn – all these stemmed from the fact that in some basic, incomprehensible way, the system had fallen apart at the seams. Factories, mills, and mines closed down and people were thrown out of work. This began a cycle of business failures, wage-cutting, lockouts, land evictions which … produced … the most massive economic collapse this country has ever known.   

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French Impressions — August 18, 2018

French Impressions

In lieu of last week’s absent offering, here’s a couple of links to posts which coincidentally both take a look at French romantic / impressionistic music. Enjoy.

Prom 44 – CBSO Choruses & Orchestra / Ludovic Morlot – Debussy, Ravel & Lili Boulanger

The CBSO and their choruses are of course one of Birmingham’s musical jewels, and this is a review of their performance at the BBC Proms. Also I have a very soft spot for the music of Lili Boulanger.

https://musicb3.wordpress.com/2018/08/17/creating-a-general-impression-debussy-and-lapres-midi-dun-faune/

This is the blog of Cambridge University Library’s impressive music collections.

The blog will return to normal next Thursday. See you then!

From Russia with some difficulty … — July 26, 2018

From Russia with some difficulty …

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)

Glazunov  Symphony no.5 arr. for piano duet
The ornate front cover

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

Tangled Tunes – the music of Albert Ketèlbey — July 12, 2018

Tangled Tunes – the music of Albert Ketèlbey

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)

Albert Ketelbey
Ketelbey with a quote from ‘In a Persian market’.

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.

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‘So extraordinary a spectacle’ – the 1784 Handel commemoration — June 28, 2018

‘So extraordinary a spectacle’ – the 1784 Handel commemoration

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.

Burney - View of the orchestra and performers ...
The apparently vertiginous staging for the performers in Westminster Abbey.

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

‘Magic mushrooms’ and other singing tips — June 14, 2018

‘Magic mushrooms’ and other singing tips

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.

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