In Concert

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

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

New music, Birmingham’s way — July 28, 2020

New music, Birmingham’s way

Commissioning new music costs money. Sometimes a lot of money. Given the everyday financial pressures on arts organisations, finding money for commissions can be difficult. New thinking required, perhaps?

I’m revisiting a post from two and a half years ago. Someone’s random view made me look at it again. The post needed an upgrade but it also fitted in with where I am right now. To save me rewriting most of the text, little account is taken of our current situation. Continue reading

Do you remember the Humline? — May 6, 2020

Do you remember the Humline?

This is going to read like the start to a fairy tale…  Once upon a time there were hardly any mobile phones, the fax machine represented high tech, and there was no publicly accessible internet. Remember?

That meant no Siri, Alexa, or Google to answer your every question. So what were you to do if an earworm drove you mad? Or music for a funeral had to be found, or a half-remembered theme from a film bugged you.

One option was to visit your nearest music library. Continue reading

Made in Birmingham 2 – new listening edition — April 22, 2020

Made in Birmingham 2 – new listening edition

If social media is to be believed, this enforced stay-at-home time should be used to broaden your horizons or learn something new, rather than just surviving. In this spirit, I decided to wander off and see what Birmingham indie rock bands old and new are out there, waiting to be discovered. Usually, the library’s stock takes me on all kinds of journeys; now, of course, I have no access. My classical music bias hangs a little heavy sometimes, so this exploration should be a breath of fresh air.

Join me in this experiment. Maybe you’ll discover someone new, or perhaps you’ll just roll your eyes at my choices. Continue reading

Staying tuned – alternative engagements — April 15, 2020

Staying tuned – alternative engagements

Producing online content sounds an easy thing to do, but it isn’t. Particularly if you’ve had next-to-no warning that it will be needed. Sound familiar? As a library, we’re finding our way around the perils (and pleasures?) of making YouTube videos and other streaming content. This may form an important part of the library’s offer over the next few weeks or months. We’re lucky that some library services continue: there’s still access to e-books, e-audiobooks, and e-magazines for example.

Compare our situation with that of many arts organisations. Their primary purpose is to perform; take away that and they lose nearly all contact with the audience, their customers. Orchestras and other music groups in the UK run on a (comparative) shoestring. In normal times, their backroom staff have a job keeping things running smoothly. Online content and engagement can feel like a luxury to be tackled only when circumstances allow. And then the world turns upside-down. Continue reading

Made in Birmingham – Part 1 — April 8, 2020

Made in Birmingham – Part 1

We’re back! It seems a long time since the last post, and it is – more than a month in fact. And hasn’t the landscape changed? Library staff are all now working from home and trying to find their way around the new normal.

This blog must also alter somewhat – I have no access to any of our stock now so the focus will change. Music will still be central of course.

A week or so ago, a BBC report caught my eye and got me thinking. The US Library of Congress hosts a National Recording Registry. Every year they select 25 recordings (music or speech) which they regard as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ to life in the US. Continue reading

Sullivan without Gilbert — August 21, 2019

Sullivan without Gilbert

If you know anything of the composer, Arthur Sullivan, it will almost certainly be from his partnership with W.S. Gilbert. That series of 13 comedic, satirical operas the two men collaborated on still feature in the repertoire 150 years on. The Savoy operas’ combined commercial and artistic success has overshadowed the rest of Sullivan’s varied output for almost the same length of time.

Kenilworth – a masque of the days of Queen Elizabeth (first performed 1864)

640px-Kenilworth_Castle_gatehouse_landscape
Kenilworth Castle (via WikiCommons)

As a student graduating from the Leipzig Conservatoire, his final work in 1861 was a suite of pieces for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This calling card did him well; a performance the following year in the Crystal Palace marked him out as a composer to watch. From this came his first commission, Kenilworth. Continue reading

The Cottager’s Complaint: history in song — May 30, 2019

The Cottager’s Complaint: history in song

Single-sheet ballads (of the sort that rolled off presses all over the country) are fascinating. Over the centuries, people have written songs on all sorts of subjects – many commenting on the pressing issues of the time. They appear to be one way of getting a grievance out there, to solicit public support for a cause, or to celebrate something significant.

An earlier post, The Jolly Machine – Michael Raven and urban English folk song  looked at some local offerings through the lens of Michael Raven. This time, Roy Palmer is my guide.

Palmer  A Ballad history of England (publ. 1979)

Palmer  A ballad history of England
A different way of looking at England’s history

Our song sheet collections comprise publications aimed at a middle-class clientele, particularly so for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They (mostly) have a composer’s name on them and usually also one of a reputable publisher. This contrasts with ballad production: the words come from the people, with no one person attributed. The tunes are those already around, and the ballad sheets were sold on the street.

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.

John_Singer_Sargent_Dame_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

Grant Us Peace! — November 15, 2018

Grant Us Peace!

Once again, we hand over the blog to another musical organisation. This time it’s Birmingham Festival Choral Society and their contribution to the Armistice commemorations. We met members of BFCS in an earlier post which talked about a weekend away rehearsing. As this post goes out, it falls between two concerts which BFCS and Nottinghamshire-based Ryton Chorale are presenting together on the theme of war and peace. The two works are Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light, and Ralph Vaughan William’s Dona Nobis Pacem.

Poppies in Flanders
Poppies flowering in Flanders

I know the VW well, having played in two performances, but I don’t know the Goodall. Both composers take ancient Latin texts from the church liturgy and add new words. In VW’s case, more poetry from his beloved Walt Whitman, and the Old Testament; and from various sources for Goodall’s work.

Here’s a piece from one of BFCS’ singers about her experience of performing in the first concert.

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