In Concert

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

Special delivery — December 14, 2017

Special delivery

Despite spending a lot of my life online, I still look forward at this time of year to getting Christmas cards through the post. It’s hard to make a display of e-cards and decorative emails – only the real, physical thing will do for me. In this post, I’ll be looking at one of our Victorian songs about the postman, and then sampling some of the Victorian Christmas cards which are part of the collections here in Birmingham.

Wrighton: The Postman’s Knock (publ. 1855)

Wrighton The Postman's knock
The front cover

The first thing that strikes me, is how smart he looks. He could be any city clerk in his waistcoat and top hat, apart from his red coat. The rest of the front cover is black and white with a single tint, but the all-important coat is proudly displayed in all its bright red glory. He must have really stood out in the crowd.

Close-up of front cover
The uniform coat in close-up

In 1839, the imposition of a uniform penny charge for sending post led to greater usage, which then also led to the first pillar boxes in the 1850s. Later in the century, London residents could expect several collections and deliveries a day, almost as good as email …

The song is dedicated to Rowland Hill , the man usually credited with the reform of the postal system into something we’d recognise today. He allowed pre-payment by the sender (rather than payment on delivery) through what became adhesive postage stamps. As you’d expect with a music hall song, it is hardly profound or informative, but it does give an idea of how quickly the postman had become part of the everyday landscape in the capital, at least.

Wrighton: The postman's knock - opening
Opening of the song

Christmas cards

An official at the Post Office, Henry Cole, was responsible for starting the fashion for sending Christmas cards . It was partly a publicity ploy to get more people to use the new one penny postal service. It was successful – from the 1860s onwards, it gradually became a significant part of the British Christmas traditions.

Here at the Library of Birmingham, we have a large number of these cards in our collections. I shall be looking at just a few of them, selected from an online gallery we host.

Every good wish for your Christmas 

Every good wish for your Christmas. Victorian greetings card
A card from c. 1885

I love this one – it is so bizarre, yet still appealing. What have four booted toads (frogs?), carrying pink umbrellas, got to do with Christmas? It reminds me of those very odd Victorian installations with duelling stuffed animals.

A merry Christmas 

A Merry Christmas
A card from the 1880s

This is a cut-out of a fan attached to a card. I love the main part of the fan – so pretty – but the cat border, not so much. I’m not a great cat fan. Again there’s none of the imagery we normally associate with commercial Christmas cards.

The merry dance when dinner is done

A Happy Christmas. Victorian greetings card (1881)
A card from 1881

This very pretty card is one of a series by the famous children’s illustrator  Kate Greenaway . There’s such a wonderful sense of movement and joy. And the colours are lovely  – vibrant and rich, without being loud or brash.

Farewell heat, and welcome frost!   

Farewell heat and welcome frost! Victorian Christmas card
A card from 1880

This final card, with its quote from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, is perhaps more what we’d expect from a Christmas card. A snowy scene with plenty going on, full of people (though no females). It’s a skating rink, whether natural or manufactured. The man in the green overcoat has the unenviable task of sweeping the snow off, so keeping the surface clean for the skaters. He partially obscures two people in the process of falling over.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Merry Christmas to one and all.

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The music’s live! — November 30, 2017

The music’s live!

Here is another of our guest blogs about musicians making music. This time, we hear from the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, one of our local orchestras with whom we work closely. They borrow a lot of material from us, but on this occasion, Ursula tells us about a special performance which didn’t involve the library.

Film: The Battle of the Somme (originally released 1916)

Still from the film
A still from the film. (Public domain image accessed via Wikipedia).

This film from World War 1 is a silent documentary and propaganda production, shot by two government-sanctioned cinematographers, Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell. It shows the opening weeks of the Battle of the Somme, mostly for real, with only a few staged elements. When it was released in the UK in August 1916, it was seen by twenty million people within six weeks of its release. A phenomenal number of viewers who must have been shocked by its depictions of real war and all that entailed. As the then Prime Minister, Lloyd George’s quote below gives some idea of the impact the film had.

Somme film advertisement from 1916
Advertisement from The Yorkshire Evening Post. Public domain image sourced via Wikipedia

In 2006, the Imperial War Museums commissioned Laura Rossi to compose a new score to accompany the digitally-restored film for the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The score was revived in 2016 as part of a plan for one hundred screenings with live orchestral performances to take place in 2016/17 as part of the rolling centenary commemorations of all aspects of the Great War.

The Performance

BPO silent film concert in progress
The BPO accompanying ‘The Battle of the Somme’ in Walsall Town Hall.

The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra took part in an live performance / screening at Walsall Town Hall on Saturday 15 July 2017. The building is an appropriate venue as it contains two large paintings by Frank Salisbury to commemorate the ‘never to be forgotten valour of the South Staffordshire Regiments in the Great War 1914 – 1918’.

To play film music as part of a standard concert is very different from playing a score to accompany the moving image. Orchestral musicians ( and conductors) are used to playing music in their own time, varying tempos as the conductor directs, pausing in between movements, taking time to regroup. None of this is possible when the music is written to be played with a silent film. There is a very interesting  interview  with Laura Rossi about her job of composing the score to go with what is sometimes a very disparate film. The composer wrote the music to fit with the film precisely, and it is then the musicians’ job to make sure it happens. Most of the burden falls on the conductor who is largely reliant on an audible ‘click’ track to ensure that they, and their musicians, keep to the correct tempos.

We were fortunate that the film was shown on a raised screen in Walsall, allowing the orchestra to keep to its usual positions. Another performance in the West Midlands wasn’t so lucky, meaning the orchestral layout had to be rearranged somewhat, adding in another layer of difficulty.

The Orchestra

Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra logo
The orchestra’s logo

The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra was founded during the early 1940s. It is now one of the country’s leading non-professional symphony orchestras, drawing its members from all walks of life throughout the West Midlands. For most of its members, playing in the BPO is a recreational activity, but for others, it is a stepping stone in their musical careers.

The BPO engages professional conductors and leaders, aiming to achieve the highest possible standards of performance. Artists who have appeared with the orchestra in recent years include Peter Donohoe (the orchestra’s Patron), Jane Eaglen, Jonathan French, Aled Jones, Piers Lane, Arturo Pizarro, Eduardo Vassallo, Peter Thomas, and Sir Willard White.

Recent guest conductors have included Richard Laing (our Principal Guest Conductor), Marco Romano, Michael Seal, Paul Spicer, Jason Thornton, and Jonathan Tilbrook. The BPO has also worked with choirs such as the City of Birmingham Choir, South West Festival Chorus, Birmingham Festival Choral Society, and the Warwick and Kenilworth Choral Society.

Michael Lloyd, principal conductor
Michael Lloyd, Music Director and Principal Conductor

Under the baton of current Musical Director and Principal Conductor, Michael Lloyd, the BPO has completed its long-term cycle of Mahler symphonies, explored the music of Elgar in some depth, and has diversified into ballet and opera, including performances of complete acts of works by Tchaikovsky and Wagner.

The orchestra is based in the Bramall Music Building at Birmingham University, where it rehearses for its regular concerts, which are given every couple of months at venues in Birmingham and elsewhere across the Midlands.

Music for silent cinema

Rodde & Galifer  L'Ile enchantee
One of the many scores in the collection

Another connection with the Music Library is through its collection of music for use with silent films. Some of the blogs in this thread look at various aspects of the collection. It would be intriguing if one day, the orchestra accompanied another silent film using the scores from the Music Library.

The Mayflower tercentenary song book — November 16, 2017

The Mayflower tercentenary song book

With the major American holiday of Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought I’d look 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 (Virginia), they had to form their own colony. The Mayflower carried not only people fleeing religious persecution, but also adventurers and traders. In trying to survive a bitter and snowy Massachusetts winter, it was thought necessary for all the surviving settlers to work together for the greater good.

The Mayflower Compact was signed on-board the vessel by all the male passengers before they were allowed ashore. It was what we would now call a social contract. Part of the text reads:

 [we] covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid … 

and can be seen as one of the founding documents of American democracy.

So, it is no surprise that the tercentenary celebrations in 1920 were marked in Plymouth, MA with considerable energy. There were some problems with raising funds (the First World War hadn’t long finished), trying to create a meaningful legacy, and trying to appeal to all sections of American society. These are all very contemporary concerns, but they didn’t, however, prevent a successful series of events. What might be slightly more surprising, was a series of celebrations in the UK, also centred around the original Plymouth. These weren’t organised by the national or local government, but rather by a Mayflower Council, under the chairmanship of J. Rendel Harris , a renowned biblical scholar and Quaker, who was born in Plymouth.

J. Rendel Harris  The Mayflower Song Book (publ. 1920)

Mayflower song book - front cover
The front cover

This wasn’t some commemorative tat, aimed at the casual visitor interested in the founding of the modern USA. Instead, it was a serious, religious publication

intended to be (i) an historical memorial of a great exodus of the people of God; (ii) such songs as the Pilgrims themselves might sing … ; (iii) such as we could ourselves sing with them … 

Mayflower song book - title page
The title page

The ‘Introductory Statement’ further reinforces the evangelical purpose of the book:

The men of the Mayflower stand out among English men of action. They thought deeply; they ventured in faith; they achieved what they sought, and far more. …  At the heart of the Pilgrim movement lay a passion for liberty, that led the Pilgrims, as it leads other men, further than they dreamed. It is the soul of progress, and it was first realised in the sphere of the Christian faith … 

Open the book at any page and you see a hymn on the LH page with a supporting text on the RH, either commenting directly on the history of the Mayflower and its passengers, or looking at other aspects of active, Christian faith. The hymn ‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah’ is paired with a quote from George Herbert’s The Church Militant:

Religion stands on tiptoe in our land, Readie to pass to th’ American strand.

Another well-known hymn, ‘Our God, our help in ages past’ is partnered with a passage giving the outline story of the Pilgrims.

Mayflower song book - list of publications for sale
List of publications for sale

Harris is connected to Birmingham, and the history of the city. A member of the Society of Friends, he was for many years the Director of Studies at Woodbrooke College in Selly Oak, a Quaker college founded by George Cadbury . A scion of the Cadbury family, also Quakers, their name is still synonymous with chocolate in Birmingham. George Cadbury founded the college (now a Quaker study centre) in 1903. It still occupies the same site, previously one of Cadbury’s own homes.

Plans are already under-weigh in the UK for the 2020 quatercentenary celebrations of the Mayflower’s sailing. I wonder what will appear this time?

 

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November …’ — November 2, 2017

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November …’

In the UK, what used to be called ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ and now more usually referred to as ‘Bonfire Night’ tends to be overshadowed these days by Halloween. If it is commemorated, it is usually billed as nothing more than an excuse to have a bonfire, some fun, and fireworks.

Just as well, really. Given that the story of Guido Fawkes and his fellow conspirators has its origins in religious intolerance, persecution, sedition, and a conspiracy to overthrow the Crown, it’s never seemed a good choice for a named ‘holiday’ in the British calendar. The persecution of anyone solely on the grounds of their religion has very uncomfortable resonances in today’s world. As has the attempt at a forced removal of a country’s head of state, or compromising the workings of democracy.

However, what I’m going to look at was published in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the social and political landscape was rather different. Although, by then, the situation for Catholics was finally starting to improve, after several centuries of either persecution, or being pushed to the margins of society. Catholic emancipation was enshrined in law in 1829, and here, in Birmingham, St. Chad’s Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in England since the Reformation, when it was completed in 1841.

Guy Fawkes – Sam Cowell’s Comic Songs (publ. ca. 1850)

Guy Fawkes - front cover
Front cover

I’ve left it as a rather larger illustration than usual, because there is just so much going on. It is a front cover that not only advertises the song within, but also alerts you, the buyer, to everything else in the same series that you might be persuaded to buy. And at the top, is a portrait of the song’s composer and singer. Almost like a trademark or a logo. I’ll look more closely at various elements as I go.

Sam Cowell

Sam Cowell
A portrait of Cowell

Sam Cowell (1820-1865) was a very famous singer and actor who spent most of his time performing in the early music hall and its forerunners. Obviously, his image on the title page is there to remind the buyer that the sheet contains one of his songs. It also serves as stamp of approval so that the buyer knew they were getting something good, something worth the three pence asking price. It is a promotional tool which is still very much in use today, and which is a powerful recommendation to any prospective buyer. Perhaps it also reminded the buyer to keep on going to hear Cowell singing live in the Song and Supper Rooms which preceded music halls, or indeed in the music halls themselves.

Alonzo the Brave

Alonzo the Brave
Promotional illustration

This is one of the promotional sketches which crowd around the outside of the main illustration. Alonzo the brave and fair Imogine is a Georgian gothic poem by Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis. I imagine that Cowell would have vamped up the horror elements, making something more comedic out of the poem, perhaps. That doesn’t offend my sensibilities particularly, but the next item does a little more …

Macbeth

Macbeth - promotional illustration
Another promotional illustration

Another of Cowell’s stage acts was apparently to take part in a burlesque version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This form of entertainment was quite common in Victorian Britain – taking ‘serious’ plays or operas, and making parodies of them. Sending them up, essentially, poking fun at things and people which mainstream Victorian society regarded as sacrosanct.

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes - the central illustration
The central illustration

The central illustration brings to mind a pantomime, with Guy Fawkes the villain of the piece being apprehended by a distinctly Victorian-looking officer of the state. The sword hanging off his belt clashes with the nineteenth-century whiskers. The tone of the piece is set by the sub-title: a no-Popery squib.

Guy Fawkes - opening bars
The opening bars

The use of the word ‘squib’ is quite clever, referring as it does to both a small, unspectacular firework, and a piece of satirical writing. The first line of the lyrics might use the words ‘doleful tragedy’, but the tone of musical writing isn’t – a bright, jaunty rhythm in F major. It’s not hard to imagine this on a stage of some kind, with Cowell in the centre, and a pianist off to the side. He tells the tale with all sorts of asides, jokes, and contemporary references to things like gas lighting, and people such as Daniel Whittle Harvey , the first Commissioner of the City of London Police.

If you’re going to a bonfire night, have fun.

Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – a C19 facsimile — October 19, 2017

Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – a C19 facsimile

Handel’s oratorio the Messiah occupies a very special place in British musical life. He wrote plenty of other dramatic, supremely tuneful choral works, but none of them have had the lasting impact of Messiah. Ever since the Dublin first performance in 1742, this oratorio has always featured in the repertoire. The nineteenth century saw most of Handel’s music falling into disuse, but performances of Messiah continued on. Some of them on a truly stupendous scale, particularly those in the Crystal Palace. In fact, the idolisation of this particular work does strike me as being a little bizarre, however wonderful it is. Even more so, the fascination with the Hallelujah Chorus.

We have all sorts of versions of the Messiah in the Music Library here – the whole work, or the odd aria or chorus, or arrangements of the best-known themes for all sorts of instruments. They date from the late eighteenth century through to the present day. That in itself shows how integral the work has been to musical life through the ages. One volume in particular, I find fascinating. It is a Victorian facsimile of Handel’s autograph manuscript (ie written in his own hand, not by a copyist).

Fac-simile of the autograph score of Messiah … by G.F. Handel (publ. 1868)

Messiah facsimile front board
Decorated front board of the facsimile
Messiah facsimile title page
Title page of the facsimile

Photo-lithography as a printing process for books is now synonymous with offset printing . This combination of photography and lithographic printing was invented in the 1850s. Amongst other uses, it allowed for accurate representations of historic documents. And so, which musical score appears early on? Messiah, of course, confirming its pre-eminence in the Victorian musical canon. And, as can be seen from the title page, the manuscript was owned at the time by the Crown. It is now one of the many jewels of the music collections at the British Library in London.

Let’s look at a few pages. It can take some time for your eye to adjust to Handel’s musical script, but once that’s happened, you can see quite clearly what is going on.

Glory to God

Handel Messiah-Glory to God
Glory to God – opening

This is one of the first big choruses involving the use of trumpets (shown at the top of the score). Handel associates them with angels and the glories of Heaven. Comparing this with a modern piano reduction gives some other pointers:

Glory to God

Trying to locate the vocal lines in the original is the first problem. My eye scanned down until it came to a line with text. This is obviously a line for the choir, but there should be three of them. In fact, the two lines above are also for the choir. Handel saved time and ink by not replicating the sung text. If you can read music, you will notice that the notes are placed differently compared to the printed version. This is because Handel employed a clef (soprano ‘G’ clef) which is no longer used. You can also see him making alterations – ‘High-est’, for example.

I know that my Redeemer liveth

I know that my redeemer liveth
I know that my Redeemer liveth – opening

This aria for soprano opens the third part of the oratorio. It is a very well-known solo. Again, trying to work what’s going on takes a little while. It’s easier than the chorus because there’s much less going on, and Handel helpfully divides the systems. Compare it with a modern printing.

Handel I know that my redeemer liveth

The blank line running through the first system is the line for the singer. It rather confusingly separates the two lines of the accompaniment. Again, the clef Handel uses makes the soprano line look as though it’s been transposed up a third. The accompaniment is in what we’d regard as normal clefs. So it looks confusingly as if the two lines, singer and accompaniment, are almost operating separately.

Hallelujah Chorus

Handel Hallelujah Chorus opening
Hallelujah Chorus – opening

Easily the most famous part of Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus must also be one of the most well-known and ubiquitous pieces of classical music ever. Parodies, reworkings, faithful renditions – this piece of music permeates our lives. Nevertheless, it still gives me a buzz to see Handel’s manuscript.  The choir’s lines are the four above the bottom line. Handel’s saving time and ink once more, with the word ‘Hallelujah’ appearing sporadically. Here’s a modern piano reduction.

Hallelujah chorus

This wonderful manuscript doesn’t have the last word though, when it comes to determining an authentic, accurate score of Messiah. Handel altered and re-wrote things throughout his composing career, and Messiah was no exception. The current Novello publication, edited by Watkins Shaw, lists all manner of different versions, revisions, together with some transpositions. Still, this facsimile is a great thing to have.

The music’s live! — October 5, 2017

The music’s live!

Music isn’t music really, until it’s sung or played. Otherwise, it’s just so many dots on a page. In the main, the Music Library exists to enable people to play, and sing, individually, or in groups. In the first of an occasional series of guest blogs, we hear from one of the groups that benefits from borrowing our performance materials.

The film Orchestra

The film Orchestra (TfO) is the UK’s first amateur orchestra to perform only original music for film, TV, and video games. Since its founding by Worcester-based musician Jane Whittle in 2013, it has developed into a self-funding project. This comprises currently of five Community Orchestras spread across the Midlands, feeding into TfO, plus concert/wind bands, brass band, sax ensemble, and choir.

The film orchestra 1
TfO’s conductor, Huw Thomas

TfO first used the Music Library of the Library of Birmingham for its 2015 season with concerts in Worcester and Kidderminster.

The Worcester floods of February 2014 wreaked havoc with TfO’s finances as their February 13th concert fell prey to the ‘Worcester City Centre – Closed’ signs which went up. Together with the TV news cameras that came in to film the flood tourists on the closed Worcester bridge. The Swan Theatre remained open however, and with the River Severn creeping up the lower road, 79 out of 81 musicians (plus guide dog) found their way on-stage to present their concert, ‘Movie Amore’. A brave audience of 119 were in attendance, many of whom had been accosted on Worcester bridge that afternoon by Jane, waving flyers, declaring that, “The film Orchestra is afloat and we will be playing Titanic this evening!” Unfortunately, the concert made a loss of £500 which very nearly sank TfO at only its second performance. The orchestra had hired-in professional scores from the music publishers at a cost of around £500: a costly mistake when half the audience was put off attending by the media reports of a ‘closed city’.

The film orchestra 2
The film Orchestra in performance

Hence we looked to Birmingham Music Library for our next season’s repertoire. The orchestra had begun to buy film, TV & video game music sets to build its own library in response to the February disaster, but there were still gaps to fill. The ability to hire sets of orchestral film music for a reasonable price from the Music Library, meant TfO was able to re-group, and re-structure. Then we were able to press on with this exciting project which brings musicians of all ages and levels of experience together in monthly rehearsals, to enjoy playing music composed for the screen.

In December 2016, TfO was able to appoint its first-ever professional conductor, Huw Thomas, who trained at Birmingham Conservatoire with TfO Manager, Edward Roberts-Malpass. Huw and Ed have guided the re-structuring of TfO, as we strive to create a specialist amateur orchestra to be proud of, one which people want to listen to, as well as participate in. The supporting Community Orchestras have given less-experienced musicians a chance to play the music they love. Whilst the professional musicians who support the project, have been given the opportunity to develop their skills in conducting TfO ensembles, and giving workshops.

The film orchestra 3
The film Orchestra in rehearsal

With light shows, back projections, actors and artists now getting involved with TfO in performances, the future is looking rosy and very exciting for TfO. We have been supported and advised by Worcestershire-based film composer Hilgrove Kenrick right from the beginning and the increasing interest from the film composers’ community around the world is a testament that The film Orchestra project is on the right track.

TfO and TfO Concert Band will perform their next concert ‘Out Of This World’ at Kidderminster Town Hall on Saturday, October 14th 2017. The concert will feature music from Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Murray Gold with a special performance of ‘Trust me’ from the video game Titanfall 2 by composer, Stephen Barton who is hoping to attend the concert in person. Tickets are available from here . Be warned: we have a habit of selling out our concerts!

Harriet Beecher Stowe in song — September 21, 2017

Harriet Beecher Stowe in song

When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published as a complete novel in 1852, it quickly became a sensation. As with any sensation, there are always plenty of people who want their own slice of the action. In the 1850s, one way of jumping on the bandwagon, was to write songs featuring characters from the book. At this period, it was thought no permission was needed from the author, so both people and publishers made free. Whether Harriet Beecher Stowe approved, or even knew, is anyone’s guess.

Both in the pre-civil war USA, and in the UK, the book sold heavily, although the novel’s focus on the abolitionist cause meant it didn’t sell in the Southern states of the USA. There, it tended to be vilified. and also resulted in numerous anti-Tom publications. Today, the novel’s perceived role in promoting stereotypes of its African-American characters, together with its sentimental writing style, has meant that it draws a considerable amount of negative criticism with only some praise for its anti-slavery stance. However, I think it is interesting to look at a couple of items in our collections which are related to the craze which followed the initial publication.

George Linley (1797-1865) was one such lyricist and composer who took the opportunity offered. A composer of fashionable and popular ballads, Linley wrote and composed six songs in all, based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The title illustration, and a quotation from the book, set the scene, but everything else was by Linley.

Back cover of Evangeline
Back cover of ‘Evangeline’ showing all six songs

The title page illustrations were all by John Brandard (1812-1863), a Birmingham-born lithographic artist and designer of sheet music covers. His subjects were usually opera or ballet, so I wonder if he did these as a favour to the composer. That impression is given more weight in my mind, because the illustrations here are only tinted in one colour, rather than the full colour covers he was famous for designing. They’re well produced (going on the two specimens we have), but marred by excessive sentimentality, to my modern eye.

Evangeline – ballad (publ. 1852?)

Evangeline - front cover illustration

Our copy of the songsheet has been cropped at both top and bottom. As far as the image goes, the best thing about it to my mind, is the background. It’s meant to depict a scene where Eva (Evangeline) meets Uncle Tom on a Mississippi steamboat. The excerpt from the novel quoted in the songsheet, is vague:

Evangeline - showing quote from the novel

and could be seen as simply an excuse for a sentimental ballad. The song text starts:

Sportive and free As the summer air, Bright as a ray on the mountain stream, Glides she along, Like a spirit fair, Happy and blest, as in some sweet dream.

I suppose one of the first words is ‘free’, but set to a grazioso waltz, there is nothing to suggest a great involvement in the issues of slavery. The only other thing is perhaps, to compare it to other songs in the collection. Maybe that was what Linley intended?

Emmeline and Cassy – duet (publ. 1852?)

Emmeline and Cassy - decorated front cover

Emmeline and Cassy are two minor figures in the novel, but important ones in that the author uses them to illustrate the sexual exploitation of female slaves. In doing this, Stowe was departing from the sentimental tone of the rest of the novel. None of this subject makes its way into the song setting – that would have been completely beyond the pale for amateur Victorian singers. Instead, the quote from the novel focusses on Cassy’s desire for freedom, and her relationship with Emmeline:

Emmeline and Cassy - showing quote from the novel

And here, Linley makes rather more effort with his words:

Oh! what to me, a careworn slave, Would freedom’s gift now be? Can it my children e’er restore, Or yield past joys to me?

Although, the final 6/8 duet section returns squarely to the realm of Christian sentimentality. In that, of course, it keeps in tune with Stowe’s novel.

It’s not clear at all how popular these songs were. One of the reasons for jumping on the bandwagon must have been for the possibility of making money? Or, at least, that’s how I think. However Linley’s fortunes were changed in the 1850’s by these six songs, the two copies we have are now quite rare in the UK. There’s only one other copy of Evangeline evident, and no other obvious copies of Emmeline and Cassy.

 

‘All for the cause’ – the labour songs of William Morris — September 7, 2017

‘All for the cause’ – the labour songs of William Morris

Hiding amongst the rest of our stock, is a small pamphlet with a faded, almost illegible spine title. Getting it off the shelf, a small front cover label declared: All for the cause, words by W. Morris. This intrigued me, and led me to find another similar publication which has many links with the first.

All for the cause (publ. 1890?) Music: E. Belfort Bax, Words: W. Morris

All for the cause by William Morris

Both William Morris and Ernest Belfort Bax were members of the Socialist League . This organisation (formed in 1885) was a splinter group which split off from another grouping, the Social Democratic Federation of Henry Hyndman . Although Morris and Belfort Bax were active, paying members, the organisation remained very small (well under a thousand members), and was very diverse in its outlook – argumentative and disputatious would perhaps be a better description. Those members who were on a working class wage, were exempted from paying their dues.

William Morris edited the League’s journal, The Commonweal, and also made good its losses out of his own pocket. Of course, Morris is better known now for his design business, and his book decorations. However, his socialism was very important to him. The words he wrote for this song are very stirring, as you might expect:

Hear a word, a word in season, for the day is drawing nigh, When the Cause shall call upon us, some to live, and some to die! (from the start of the first verse.)

Life or death then, who shall heed it, what we gain or what we lose! Fair flies the life amid the struggle, and the Cause for each shall choose, and the Cause for each shall choose.  (from the end of the fourth verse.)

All for the cause - page 4
‘All for the cause’ page 4

Looking at the music, it is not the sort to be sung on a march, or at a demonstration, but more by eager supporters, gathered round the piano in someone’s front room. I can imagine the pianist thumping out the bass line, thoughtfully written in octaves by Belfort Bax, the composer. He was a barrister by profession, with an interest in socialism, and men’s rights. Whoever was expected to buy this publication, it wasn’t going to be the average working man – six pence for four smallish sides of music wouldn’t have been high on the priority list for someone earning less than two pounds a week.

Chants of Labour (5th edition, publ. 1912) Edited by Edward Carpenter

Chants of Labour front cover

This ‘song book of the people’ was first published in 1888 – so, about the same time as All for the Cause.  Edward Carpenter was another associate of Henry Hyndman. He also became a member of the SDF, and then followed Morris into forming the Socialist League. Carpenter was more an anarchist in his outlook, rather than supporting the kind of organised socialism Hyndman was looking for. This individualistic attitude within the Socialist League (together with its many factions) was one of the reasons Morris became disillusioned with it. Carpenter is more known now for his writings, and for openly living his life as a gay man in late Victorian Britain. Walter Crane , the famous children’s book illustrator, was another active socialist. He was a friend of Morris, and provided the illustrations for The Commonweal. Here, he provides the front cover design above, together with a much more idealised frontispiece:

Chants of Labour frontispiece by Walter Crane
Frontispiece by Walter Crane

This is very heavily influenced by William Morris’ book designs. Morris also contributed to the substance of the collection by writing more verses.

The voice of toil, words by William Morris

Perhaps not the best fit for Ye banks and braes, but it works, mostly. The second verse, in particular, focusses on Morris’ dislike of fast-spreading industrialisation, and his yearning for a return to some elements of the mediaeval world:

Where fast and faster our iron master, The thing we made, for ever drives, Bids us grind treasure and fashion pleasure For other hopes and other lives.

And, guess what? All for the Cause makes another appearance, this time set to an English air:

All for the Cause - second settingIMG_20170902_152533

It’s not clear when exactly either item entered our collections, but the stamp on the first All for the Cause makes it likely that it was added soon after publication. Chants of Labour is noted as being bound in 1917. This might be seen as a reflection of Birmingham’s industrial base and its many workers.

The not-so-silent movies 3 — August 24, 2017

The not-so-silent movies 3

To say that French people are more passionate, is a cultural stereotype. Looking at the French publications in this collection certainly reinforces that. Even more so, when I compare them with the bland, twee, or merely prosaic titles from UK composers and publishers.

Last time in this thread, I looked at American and German publications, and their differences – both in their presentation, and how they were used by their owners. I find it fascinating to get some sense of which titles were used, and which weren’t, or, at least, not so much.

Take these two publications, one French, the other British:

They both use imagery from the ancient classical world, yet they’re very different. The clean, restrained background framing, and the female muse, contrast starkly with some of the titles listed: Extase langoureuse, Sur une tombe, Douce intimité. It’s very difficult to imagine any British published title from the period including the word Ecstasy in the title. Extase langoureuse is the set of parts in our collection, so Harry T . Saunders, the then owner, must have found some use for it. Or, perhaps, he hoped to find some use for it, because the set looks in suspiciously good condition.

Compare that with the British published set of parts next to it. Reginald Somerville was an actor and composer, mostly known for his drawing room ballads and a handful of operas. Passion flowers is an example of a piece of music which wasn’t written for cinema use, but found its way into a soundtrack simply because it fitted. A large number of sets in the collection come under this heading. I love the way both the figures on the cover, while trying to appear classical, instead look like a bored husband and wife, sitting on either side of the hearth.

It’s all too easy to be dismissive of a popular melody called Passion flowers, but Saunders evidently found it very much to his taste. And useful. The melody is sweet and tuneful, but hardly the epitome of passion. Although the restless accompaniment does suggest emotional unease of some kind. Take a look at this piano conductor score, protected with copious amounts of brown paper tape:

Somerville Passion flower - section of score

This has the appearance of a score that was employed often, and was an essential part of Saunder’s working collection.

Looking at our collection, it appears that French publishers were more likely to employ images on their front covers. Take a look at this one on the left:

L’ile enchantée, indeed, although it does look a bit more like a jungle as well. Not that French publishers were against series covers, which listed all available titles. In a competitive market, this sort of cover made commercial sense – if you’d bought one title and liked it, seeing a list from the same publisher would hopefully make you buy more. But once again, just the simple list with its French titles seems much more exciting, and visceral, than its British equivalent – with its talk about hurricanes, ambushes, revolution …

Drammafilma closeup of listings

A rather unfair comparison might be made with this listing from the famous British publisher Hawkes:

Hawkes photo-play series front cover

Notice that Reginald Somerville makes an appearance again, this time writing music specifically commissioned for use with silent films. Often, it appears that this was a young man’s game, their first foray into composing music, and earning a living. Somerville, as an older man, was writing music for what purpose? A new experience, perhaps? Or, a comparatively easy way to make some money – certainly easier than trying to get an opera staged.

Take a look at the listed titles by one Frederick Noyes:

IMG_20170819_142401

Agitato is a word that appears in three titles. Although is it descriptive to a certain extent, a Heavy agitato has nothing on the Guet-apens (Ambush), L’assassinat (Murder) or Violence of the Dramafilma listing. As for Jollifications – I’m afraid my eyes roll in a particularly twenty-first century way.

‘Sing, Belgians, sing!’ – Elgar and Belgium — August 10, 2017

‘Sing, Belgians, sing!’ – Elgar and Belgium

The recent WW1 centenary commemorations in Belgium brought the English composer Edward Elgar to mind, together with three largely unknown works he composed in support of that beleaguered country.

The invasion of Belgium, at the start of the war in 1914, generated a substantial wave of sympathy in the UK. A range of artistic individuals contributed to an homage called King Albert’s Book which was published by The Daily Telegraph at Christmas 1914. Elgar’s contribution was Carillon, a work for narrator and orchestra. This was the first of three works using the same scoring.

Carillon, op.75 (version for piano and optional narrator)

Elgar Carillon front cover

In it, Elgar sets a highly patriotic text by the Belgian author and poet Emile Cammaerts . The carillon of the title refers to the Belgian bell towers (as depicted on the cover), and I can imagine them, still standing, amongst the ruins and devastation of the German offensive. It’s noticeable that none of the impact of the invasion is shown in the cover design. The work was hugely popular in the UK, playing in London and on tour.

Le Drapeau Belge, op.79 (version for piano and optional narrator)

Elgar Le drapeau belge front cover

Again setting a text by Cammaerts, Elgar composed Le Drapeau Belge in 1917. The last of three works, it is also the slightest – a meditation on the colours of the Belgian flag. It is interesting that the cover art by Frank Dicksee is dated 1914. To me, the stirring, heroic image is so redolent of the opening months of the war. Of course, the intervening two and a half years had seen much fighting, horror, loss, and a distinct change in the public’s mindset. The reception given to Carillon wasn’t repeated when the new work was premiered in April 1917.

Une Voix dans le Désert, op.77 (version for piano, soprano, and optional narrator)

Elgar Une voix dans le desert

This stark, dramatic cover for the second of Elgar’s compositions is in such contrast to the other two. Here is no patriotic or sentimental fervour, but instead, a hint of the awful, bleak reality of Flanders’ fields. A desert indeed, but a man-made one. An artillery piece in the centre of the page reminds us how it was created. As do the crosses marking makeshift graves. The reddish pink is what? Reflected light from the sun, burning fires, or a reminder of blood?

The text by Cammaerts is the same. The opening stanza of Carillon is proud and patriotic in defeat:

Sing, Belgians, sing!
Although our wounds may bleed,
Although our voices break,
Louder than the storm, louder than the guns,
Sing of the pride of our defeats
‘Neath this bright Autumn sun,
And sing of the joy of honour
When cowardice might be so sweet.

Contrast this with the opening text from Une Voix (both in translation):

A hundred yards from the trenches,
Close to the battle-front,
There stands a little house,
Lonely and desolate.

Not a man, not a bird, not a dog, not a cat,
Only a flight of crows along the railway line,
The sound of our boots on the muddy road
And, along the Yser, the twinkling fires.

John Pickard in his notes for a Hyperion recording, calls it ‘a haunting, miniature masterpiece of great restraint and delicacy’. He also quotes a contemporary review of a staging:

It is night … [a] cloaked figure of a man, who soliloquises on the spectacle to Elgar’s music. …  the voice of a peasant girl is heard …  singing a song of hope and trust in anticipation of the day the war shall be ended. … he comments again on her splendid courage and unconquerable soul.

Other works that Elgar composed during the war included Starlight Express, which was performed at Christmas 1915, and The Spirit of England, first complete performance of which took place in Birmingham in 1917.

 

 

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