In Concert

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

Back to the (start of the) 80’s again — August 25, 2021

Back to the (start of the) 80’s again

A while back, we had a look at a random selection of song sheets from the early 1980s, Back to the (start of the) 80’s . In honour of Birmingham’s Gay Village and their ‘Back to the 80’s night’, here’s another, possibly even more random selection from the first half of the decade. Which songs do you know, or even remember from the first time around?

For all the Music Library mostly stopped buying single song sheets in the 1980’s, we still have an intriguing, though limited selection. Let’s start with this one:

Brian May & Queen  Save me  (publ. 1980)

Queen - Save me
Queen – Save me

The Game was Queen’s eighth studio album and is described either as ‘disco’ influenced, or when they turned towards pop rather than rock. The Wikipedia article quotes some responses to its original release. You’re left wondering whether they’re talking about the same music. 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

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

Back to the (start of the) 80’s — September 14, 2019

Back to the (start of the) 80’s

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be looking at the outer temporal extremes of our song sheet collection. This time, we’ll be quite modern; next, we’ll see what hit songs looked like in the early eighteenth century.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, we stopped collecting single song sheets early in the 1980’s. Maybe because the publishers went off producing them in favour of song albums. Anyway, following an entirely unscientific trawl through some of the boxes, here’s my selection. How many can you recognise or sing bits of from first time around?

It’s 1980 (or thereabouts) – the year of John Lennon’s death. The CND protest started at Greenham Common; Alton Towers opened. A record number of people in the UK were unemployed; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The TV show Yes, Minister started broadcasting.

Continue reading

Fly me to the moon! — July 17, 2019

Fly me to the moon!

I wonder how many posts and articles will bear this title over the next week or so? No surprise really, given how jaw-dropping it must have been to see humans walking on the surface of the Moon fifty years ago. I’m too young to remember it as it happened, but most people on Earth have probably seen the blurry, extraordinary footage at one time or another.

In celebration, I did a quick trawl through our songsheet collection. The moon features a lot in songs, either as itself or as moonlight. Here’s my selection. Continue reading

Summertime — June 27, 2019

Summertime

Yes, summer is here, although I couldn’t help wondering where it was hiding this morning when I came to work in torrential rain. Or maybe that’s an expected part of summer in the UK? Anyway, a quick trawl through our song sheet collections produced a slew of songs from the movies with ‘summer’ in the title.

Gershwin and Heyward  Summertime (from Porgy and Bess) (publ. 1959)

Summertime - front cover
The front cover – based on the film publicity poster

To me, Porgy and Bess is an opera. Yet looking around, I quickly learnt it was first a novel, then a stage play. Gershwin took it on as an opera, and finally there was a push to make it into a film. It had a troubled gestation. One unsuccessful bidder for the rights (Harry Cohn) wanted to perform it in blackface. The Gershwin estate was determined that the cast should be African-American but that too had its problems. The story line of drugs, sexual violence, prostitution, and murder set in early twentieth-century South Carolina was problematical. Continue reading

A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening … — February 14, 2019

A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening …

This Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d spend some time at the movies. Nothing more recent than the 1940s though. Of course we’ll have more recent sheets concerning love, but this was a quick trawl through that small part of the collection where love leads the title.

Let’s start in the 1930s …

Youmans  Love is like a song (publ. 1930)

Love is like a song
A striking front cover

It’s easy to see who was expected to sell this song sheet, and it certainly wasn’t Vincent Youmans, the composer. Gloria Swanson’s character is shown striking various poses, giving the impression of an independent, sassy woman. What a widow, the film, is reportedly lost, with only a trailer and soundtrack now known. It’s described as a ‘pre-code’ movie. That intrigued me, so I went looking.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Pretty as a picture? Songs by Liza Lehmann — May 31, 2018

Pretty as a picture? Songs by Liza Lehmann

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).

Liza Lehmann (1862 – 1918)

Liza Lehmann
A portrait originally published in the Musical Times

Liza Lehmann was an English opera singer and composer – so it’s no real surprise that the music I discovered are songs. Continue reading

Flying machines — April 19, 2018

Flying machines

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)

Wright: The great air race
The front cover

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

The Book Rotunda

Exploring and sharing a world of information, books, resources, history and learning from the Library of Birmingham

Words & Music

A blog by Children's and Music at the Library of Birmingham

VAN Magazine

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

Trinity College Library, Cambridge

Treasures from the Collection

Kevin McBrien

Musicologist - Writer - Editor - Speaker

IAML (UK & Irl)

News from IAML (UK & Irl)

MusiCB3 Blog

about more than the Music Collections at CB3

Arcana.fm

Putting a spark into classical music...

The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture