In Concert

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

‘Life’s voyage’ and other musical New Year greetings — January 3, 2019

‘Life’s voyage’ and other musical New Year greetings

To welcome in the New Year, I went in search of something suitable. What I came back with, made me wonder yet again how we obtain some of the stock that sits on our shelves.

Neujahrsgrüsse empfindsamer Seelen, 1770-1800 (facsimile reprint 1922)

Neujahrsgrusse empfindsamer Seelen
The front cover – a little faded perhaps

Here we have a limited edition, hand-coloured facsimile printed in Germany not that long after the end of the first World War. Our copy is number 188 of 195 produced with a paper binding. The title is not that easy to translate: ’empfindsamer’ is given as ‘sensitive’ or ‘sentimental’, so it might be ‘New Year greetings to kindred souls’? My commentary will be limited, like my German. However, the illustrations and the design in this volume speak for themselves. Click on any of the images to get a more detailed view.

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‘I’m dreaming of a …’ — December 13, 2018

‘I’m dreaming of a …’

Whether it’s a white Christmas, or something else, this is the time for seasonal favourites. Or perhaps you regard them as so much aural wallpaper? One of many reasons I don’t envy those working in the retail sector, is the thought of having to suffer a Christmas soundtrack from mid-October onward. It must make these songs something akin to white noise, which is a pity.

Berlin  White Christmas (publ. 1954)

White Christmas, the title song of this film, first appeared in another Irving Berlin film Holiday Inn. It is one of the most ubiquitous seasonal songs. I imagine most of us could croon the refrain, or some of it at least. Continue reading

‘Beyond the sea’ – the Mayflower tercentenary song book — November 22, 2018

‘Beyond the sea’ – the Mayflower tercentenary song book

Today is the major American holiday of Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d revisit a post I wrote last year, looking at something in our stock which commemorates the sailing of the Mayflower.

The Mayflower was the ship that transported the first group of Puritans from England to the New World. It sailed from Plymouth in the summer of 1620 with 102 passengers. They weren’t the first group of people aiming to settle in the New World, of course. But when they landed far from where they had intended to settle in Virginia, they had to form their own colony on Cape Cod.

The Mayflower carried not only people fleeing religious persecution, but also adventurers and traders. With the prospect of trying to survive a bitter and snowy Massachusetts winter, tempers started to fray, with some individuals wanting to go it alone. It quickly became clear that all the surviving settlers had to work together for the greater good. 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.

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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.

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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.

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The Shocking Waltz – Johann Strauss I and Joseph Lanner — September 20, 2018

The Shocking Waltz – Johann Strauss I and Joseph Lanner

When the waltz was introduced as a new dance to early C19 Regency England, it was regarded as something quite scandalous. Unlike the group country dances of the times when the participants touched regularly, but only fleetingly, in the waltz, the two partners danced together exclusively. Not only that, they were touching all the time.

French caricature of the waltz
French caricature of the waltz from 1801. (Public domain)

Here’s what Lord Byron wrote at the time (anonymously) about the waltz:

Endearing Waltz! — to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and country-dance, forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz — Waltz alone — both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before — but — pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far — or I am much too near;
And true, though strange — Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”

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From Russia with some difficulty … — July 26, 2018

From Russia with some difficulty …

Russia has been in the news for all kinds of reasons recently. Nothing particularly relating to music, but that hasn’t stopped me from fishing out a selection of our more interesting items.

Music published in Russia has always been difficult to obtain for a number of reasons. Firstly, the distance, then Russia’s isolation (political and cultural), and just simply the difficulty of finding someone prepared to import printed music from Russia.

Glazunov  Symphony no. 5 arr. for piano duet (publ. 1896)

Glazunov  Symphony no.5 arr. for piano duet
The ornate front cover

This wonderfully ornate cover is all Russian to my eyes, the colours and decoration calling to mind the traditional buildings in Moscow. However, if you look closely, you can see that the place of publication is Leipzig, Germany. Continue reading

Tangled Tunes – the music of Albert Ketèlbey — July 12, 2018

Tangled Tunes – the music of Albert Ketèlbey

Albert Ketèlbey was a phenomenally successful composer in the inter-war years of the twentieth century. Yet nowadays, this Birmingham composer’s 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.

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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

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