In Concert

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

Music and W.H. Auden – a taster — February 19, 2020

Music and W.H. Auden – a taster

In the UK, February is LGBTQ History month. A timely reminder of this, together with the poet W.H Auden’s roots here in the West Midlands led to the idea for this post.

[clicking on an image will give the full picture]

In a fascinating article about Auden and music on the British Library website, Valentine Cunningham starts his essay in this fashion:

Poetry and music have always gone together. And of all the great modern poets who have kept alive the ancient alliance between poetry and singing, there’s no one to beat W H Auden. Auden sang without stop.

Continue reading

Beethoven and beyond — February 15, 2020

Beethoven and beyond

2020 is the 250 years since Beethoven’s birth. From amongst the blogs we follow came an article lamenting the likely freezing effect this anniversary might have on programming. That’s entirely understandable given the conservatism of many orchestras’ offerings. Which hard-pressed venue or ensemble manager wouldn’t be seduced by the prospect of more and more Beethoven?

There is another approach. Arcana FM and Richard Whitehouse deliver a concert review for our local orchestra, the CBSO, as the orchestra shows how it’s done.

2020 is also the CBSO’s centenary. Across the two concert seasons, the orchestra will perform 40 new commissions (funded in part by the John Ellerman Foundation). Both established and new composers will have the opportunity to bring freshness and innovation to the concert hall.

This isn’t to dismiss Beethoven. Over the course of the year, we hope to feature a post or two of our own about this towering, maverick figure.

A Chinese puzzle — January 28, 2020

A Chinese puzzle

Some time back, a post From Russia with some difficulty … looked at the troubles we’ve had as a library in obtaining Russian material over the years. These continuing difficulties pale into insignificance when compared with accessing China’s music publications and composers. Equally over the past 120 years, many Russian composers have enjoyed Western representation and a large number of works are considered part of the classical music canon. Chinese representation is extremely low.

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Rebel guy – songs and lyrics of Joe Hill — January 9, 2020

Rebel guy – songs and lyrics of Joe Hill

A slim, battered volume in our folk section caught my eye recently. This interest ramped up when I read the following down the long edge of the front cover:

Originally published on the 40th anniversary of his murder at the hands of the authorities on November 19, 1915.

OK… that was the hook. So who exactly was Joe Hill? And why did he merit publication by the radical American folk imprint, Oak Publications? Read on to discover what I found. Continue reading

A Christmas Miscellany — December 17, 2019

A Christmas Miscellany

It’s the time of year for quizzes, brain teasers, and other pastimes. We decided to join in. See how many of these songs you know all the words to, without cheating and clicking on the YouTube links. It’s a pretty random selection, based as it is on our collection of song sheets. That will also mean there’s nothing twenty-first century here either. There’s no prize for knowing them all, but you could broadcast your triumph via the comments here. (Or on the Library of Birmingham Twitter account.)

Anyone can comment on a post here as long as you have a valid email address. WordPress also notes your IP address. Comments may be moderated.

Here we go. Songs are listed in the order they came to hand. Continue reading

Saint-Saens without his menagerie — December 10, 2019

Saint-Saens without his menagerie

The French composer, Camille Saint-Saens is one of many composers who is known nowadays only for a handful of works. Not to experts on French music perhaps, but certainly to the average concertgoer. They should probably know Le Carnaval des Animaux with its humorous depictions of various creatures. Interesting, his most popular work was written for private performance and Saint-Saens refused to allow its publication during his lifetime. After that, one or more of his concertos together with the third symphony are the only other likely contenders.

His songs are an area of which I know very little. Digging through our song sheets, I came across several of Saint-Saens’ publications; curiosity made me look for information. In writing this post, I’ll share what was discovered. Graham Johnson and his notes for a Hyperion recording of selected Saint-Saens songs proved very useful. Continue reading

A Nineteenth-Century Birmingham Anthem? — November 14, 2019

A Nineteenth-Century Birmingham Anthem?

Live review – Soloists, CBSO and Chorus / Kazuki Yamada – Mendelssohn’s Elijah

Posts from this blog have appeared irregularly of late. In an attempt to get things back on track, here’s a Thursday post courtesy of Richard Whitehouse and

One of these days, I will get round to examining Mendelssohn’s involvement in Birmingham’s musical life, and particularly the role of his oratorio, Elijah. In Victorian times, audiences couldn’t get enough of it. Every Triennial Festival had its obligatory performance.

Here is a review of the CBSO’s recent performance of this quintessential part of Birmingham’s musical heritage.

‘The Colliers’ Rant’ and other miners’ ballads — November 9, 2019

‘The Colliers’ Rant’ and other miners’ ballads

The nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution in the UK was fuelled by coal; lots of it. The work was hard, dangerous, required very long hours, and prior to 1842, could involve the whole family.  Health and safety was far from the minds of those demanding the constant production of coal: no safety equipment, hardly any light, little ventilation or heat regulation, and the ever-present danger from the build-up of gases.

[Images courtesy of the National Coal Mining Museum. Clicking on the images will enlarge them.]

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CBSO: a hundred years of music-making — October 23, 2019

CBSO: a hundred years of music-making


The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its centenary this season. As a contribution to the celebrations, journalist and music critic Richard Bratby spent a large slice of his recent life researching the CBSO’s history. Writing a book is hard work, even more so when it’s not fiction. Give this post a read to understand why.

We will add the book to our stock in due course.

Shopping for music at M&S — October 15, 2019

Shopping for music at M&S

Here in the UK, Marks and Spencer has been part of the high street for well over a hundred years. Institutions have to change to survive though. Nowadays M&S is associated with food, clothing, home wares, and financial services. Back at the start of the twentieth century, the M&S Original Penny Bazaars (both market stalls and shops) sold haberdashery (small scale sewing requirements) and household items. So no food or clothing at all, and everything was a penny (1d).

[Click on an image to enlarge it.]

Another item the original shops sold was sheet music. Continue reading


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