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.

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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

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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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.

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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)

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

‘Birmingham Sunday’ – songs of protest from the ‘other’ Birmingham — July 25, 2019

‘Birmingham Sunday’ – songs of protest from the ‘other’ Birmingham

The success of the civil rights movement in the US resulted in many changes during the 1960s. One aspect of the protest took its form in music – songs which both documented abuse and discrimination, and gave voice to demands and hope. It’s far too large a subject for one post, so I decided as a start, to focus on songs associated with Birmingham, Alabama taken from a book in our stock.

Carawan  Freedom is a constant struggle  (publ. 1968)

Freedom is a constant struggle
The front cover

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