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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

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

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

‘March, march, swing you along’ – Ethel Smyth’s life and music — May 2, 2019

‘March, march, swing you along’ – Ethel Smyth’s life and music

A while ago, I wrote our sole post about a female composer: Pretty as a picture? Songs by Liza Lehmann . It’s high time we had another one, so this time I chose to look at Ethel Smyth.

Ethel Smyth in 1901 – portrait by John Singer Sargent

As well as being composers at the start of the twentieth century, both women were members of the Society of Women Musicians . Since I posted the first essay, the fascinating linked article by Sophie Fuller came to light.  About the same time as the Society was formed (1911), Ethel Smyth was also heavily involved in the militant suffragette movement, Women’s Social and Political Union . When a call for direct action went out, Smyth responded and ended up serving two months in Holloway Prison.

Continue reading

All Dressed Up … — April 18, 2019

All Dressed Up …

As may have already been said before, I’m amazed by some of the books and scores to be found on our shelves. They raise so many questions: who’s that composer; when and how did we buy that; and why. The book I’m going to look at in this post is definitely a ‘why’.

Fischer  Les Costumes de l’Opéra (publ. 1931)

Two sketches by Jean Berain
Two sketches by Jean Berain

It doesn’t take much knowledge of French to gather that it’s apparently something to do with opera costumes. However it’s not any old stage apparel; the subject is specifically geared to the wardrobe department of the Opera de Paris (the ‘l’Opéra’ of the title). So already a book with a limited readership. Add to this a scholarly, substantial text entirely in French, and my eyebrows are on the rise. Its saving grace is the illustrations and coloured plates which are scattered throughout. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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