In Concert

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

Lucille Corcos – illustrating the Savoy operas — July 7, 2021

Lucille Corcos – illustrating the Savoy operas

Not for the first time, a chance encounter with an item from our stock sparked the idea for this post.

A colleague approached, carrying a large, battered, evidently fairly elderly book. “What d’you think about this?” A hint of excitement in her voice warned me everything wasn’t quite as it appeared. It didn’t take me long to find out why. Join us in discovering Lucille Corcos, her art, and her love for the Savoy operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Continue reading

Revisiting ‘King Kong’, the African jazz opera — June 2, 2021

Revisiting ‘King Kong’, the African jazz opera

A small, battered volume appeared on my desk one day with the title of King Kong – the  African jazz opera. As it was a title completely unknown to me, I went exploring. What I discovered is an eye-opening slice of South Africa’s cultural history.

King Kong the African jazz opera
Front cover of our volume

King Kong?

Not the gorilla of Hollywood fame, but rather a then well-known, Johannesburg African boxer of the 1950s, Ezekiel Dlamini, who liked to call himself ‘King Kong’. The volume we have is the text of the play used for a musical based on his life and times. There is a fascinating introductory essay by Harry Bloom , the author and an active journalist at the time. Part of his description of Dlamini pulls no punches:

He was a popular idol in the townships, yet he was a bully and a braggart who would thrash a man for giving an odd look or smiling at the wrong moment.

Continue reading

More than ‘Hiawatha’- exploring the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor — May 12, 2021

More than ‘Hiawatha’- exploring the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Over the past few years, the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor has been reassessed. A lot of it has effectively been rediscovered with numerous online performances greatly assisting those who want to explore more about this composer and his legacy.

Through the prism of some equally unknown scores, join us on a brief tour and see what you think.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912 

508px-Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor,_photographed_by_Henry_John_Kempsell_
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor photographed in 1901. (National Archives via Wikipedia)

Throughout his all-too-short adult life, Coleridge-Taylor made an impression as a composer. In 1898, Edward Elgar described him as

far and away the cleverest fellow amongst the young men.

This is all the more impressive when you think of the prejudice and barriers a mixed-race young man must have faced in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Continue reading

A multitude of voices — March 10, 2021

A multitude of voices

Women composers have always had a raw deal in classical music. No more so than when it comes to having their compositions published. It’s no surprise then that a glorious array of choral music by female composers only made it to publication by resorting to crowdfunding. This Women’s History Month, let’s have a listen to (and learn about) some of the music included there.

Multitude of Voyces

logo
Website logo for Multitude of Voyces

Multitude of Voyces is a registered not-for-profit Community Interest Company set up by Louise Stewart. She and her husband, Andrew, volunteer their time and expertise as do many of the other people listed. That they’ve succeeded in publishing over 60 works by female composers (most not seen before) is astonishing. Continue reading

Musically Wilde — February 18, 2021

Musically Wilde

It’s LGBTQ history month here in the UK. Last year, we looked at Music and W.H. Auden – a taster. This time, how musicians have responded to Oscar Wilde and his writings is our subject. 

Wilde was a poet, playwright, and author. He is also a queer icon. A man who dared to live his own life in fin de siecle Victorian London. That he did so from a place of privilege was no protection when he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ and sentenced to hard labour in prison.

Wilde’s output ranged across a wide arena. If you know him only for society comedies such as Lady Windermere’s Fan, you may not know the children’s fables, poetry, or the decadence of The Picture of Dorian Gray. There’s also his writing from the period when his life fell apart.

Apart from the operatic reworking of his play, Salomé, I had no idea which of Wilde’s works might have made it into music. Here’s a selection of what I found. Continue reading

Time to try something new? — January 26, 2021

Time to try something new?

January is the classic time for change. Time to experiment and stretch the new you. Maybe though, we’ve had enough change over the last twelve months to last several decades. 

Whichever camp you fall into, spare a few minutes to explore with us some of the more unusual tuition books we stock. Online lessons are useful but if you’re trying to access them via a phone, you may find extra help from books welcome. Maybe you’ve tried the guitar or piano before. How about these instead? Continue reading

Made in Birmingham 3 – the music of Albert Ketèlbey — January 7, 2021

Made in Birmingham 3 – the music of Albert Ketèlbey

Albert Ketèlbey was a phenomenally successful, Birmingham-born composer of the inter-war years of the twentieth century. Yet nowadays, his 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.

Continue reading

Christmas post — December 15, 2020

Christmas post

Most of us have spent a lot of life online recently. At this time of year, I’ll look forward to getting Christmas cards through the post more than ever. It’s hard to make a display of e-cards and decorative emails – receiving the real physical thing makes such a difference. In this post, I’ll be looking at one of our Victorian songs celebrating  the postal service, and then sampling some of the Victorian Christmas cards which are part of the collections here in Birmingham.

Continue reading

Northern Soul — November 30, 2020

Northern Soul

It’s a tribute to music’s power and diversity that this title could mean so many things. On this occasion, I’m looking at contemporary classical music from Scotland. No way can one single post do it justice, but hopefully I might entice you to try something new. 

Don’t forget, if you’re interested in exploring further, we have scores, books, and CDs which can be requested for collection from the Library of Birmingham when we’re open. Just check our online catalogue . Continue reading

Aftermath — November 11, 2020
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