In Concert

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

More than ‘Hiawatha’- exploring the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor — May 12, 2021

More than ‘Hiawatha’- exploring the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Over the past few years, the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor has been reassessed. A lot of it has effectively been rediscovered with numerous online performances greatly assisting those who want to explore more about this composer and his legacy.

Through the prism of some equally unknown scores, join us on a brief tour and see what you think.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912 

508px-Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor,_photographed_by_Henry_John_Kempsell_
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor photographed in 1901. (National Archives via Wikipedia)

Throughout his all-too-short adult life, Coleridge-Taylor made an impression as a composer. In 1898, Edward Elgar described him as

far and away the cleverest fellow amongst the young men.

This is all the more impressive when you think of the prejudice and barriers a mixed-race young man must have faced in late Victorian and Edwardian England. 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

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

‘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.

Continue reading

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!”

Continue reading

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
The glorious 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

‘Songs of the East’ – Granville Bantock and C19 exoticism — May 3, 2018

‘Songs of the East’ – Granville Bantock and C19 exoticism

I’ve been away on holiday so it’s going to be something quick this time – more visual than anything else. Don’t worry – the images are pretty stunning, and well worth a look.

Granville Bantock (1868-1946)

Granville_Bantock
Bantock as a youngish man (public domain image – artist unknown)

Bantock  is a composer with strong links to Birmingham – he was principal of the forerunner to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and he followed Elgar in holding the Peyton Professorship at the University of Birmingham. Unsurprisingly, we hold a lot of his printed scores, as well as some of his manuscripts. This collection is complemented by the one at the University.

Songs of Arabia

Bantock  Songs of Arabia
Songs of Arabia

These songs were composed and published at the end of the nineteenth century. As such, it’s not difficult to see that Bantock was one of many artists and musicians of that period who were fascinated by the mysterious East. The phenomenon of exoticism , the lure of the ‘otherness’ of far-off places continued in Bantock’s compositions into the next century. The texts of the songs were written by his first wife, Helen.

Continue reading

Learning on the job … — March 22, 2018

Learning on the job …

Blogging isn’t something I was taught. Revisiting my first post a few days ago, I winced at the lack of information, and the things I evidently hadn’t got my head round. So here is the new, improved version to mark the first anniversary of this blog … 

The Library of Birmingham has extensive music collections. Both printed and audio. One of the least known is our historical collection of song sheets. We have thousands and thousands of them, dating from the start of the C18 through to the 1960s.  The main problem in featuring this collection is deciding which individual sheets to look at.

I’ve chosen a couple to look that which have local connections. They’re both from the nineteenth century and have pictorial covers which are wonderful and amusing to look at.

Continue reading

A Visual Recapitulation — March 8, 2018

A Visual Recapitulation

It’s a little short of this blog’s first birthday, but as we’re currently closed for work on our flooring, I thought I’d have a wander through the posts. I have learnt a lot about blogging on the job, and I suspect the earlier posts won’t stand up to much scrutiny. However, I’m going to concentrate on the images I’ve used instead. Perhaps you missed some? Or you’d like to read the post they come from again? I’ll make sure to include all the links, though it would be easy enough to flick back through the archive.

June 2017  Souvenirs

Chansons populaires du Canada
Chansons populaires du Canada – the glorious front cover.

This post  was the first one where I really started to explore what was in front of me. I discovered fascinating pieces of information about both items featured.

Continue reading

‘Burlington Bertie’: C19 male fashion through song sheet covers — February 8, 2018

‘Burlington Bertie’: C19 male fashion through song sheet covers

Song sheets contain masses of information beyond just their musical content. Social commentary, religious, political themes, and yes, matters related to fashion. Three songs from the nineteenth century caught my eye as I was flicking through our collection, looking for inspiration. As we’ll discover, they also give us information about the performers who brought the songs to life.

Burlington Bertie – words and music by Harry B. Norris (publ. 1900)

Burlington Bertie - Harry Norris
Burlington Bertie – front cover

The first thing you notice is that the men’s clothes are being worn by a woman,  Vesta Tilley. Born in Worcester, she was one of the most famous male impersonators of the music hall era. She started performing on the stage when she was still a child, most of the time in male clothes. She’s reported as saying: I felt that I could express myself better if I were dressed as a boy.

Continue reading

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