In Concert

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

Voices In Concert — November 29, 2018

Voices In Concert

At the end of this special, memorial November, I’m taking the opportunity to revisit the concert we described at the start of the month. In this post, we hear from people involved in the performance, and what the concert meant to them. My thanks go to Jane Eminson for doing the hard work, and Jonathan Schöps, photographer with the Jena University Choir for allowing his images to be reproduced here. All photos used in this post are © 2018, Jonathan Schöps Fotografie.

balcony audience
The view from the balcony. (Jonathan Schoeps)

From the Audience:

What an amazingly wonderful event! The choirs were spectacular and seemed as if they’d been singing together forever, stunning pianissimos and magnificent high sopranos. Soloists very good quality (better than many Proms performances!). It must have been an enormous feat of organisation, persuasion and stamina. We are so glad we came and it was very moving to be surrounded by French and German nationals as well. We discussed everything from Brexit to War Remembrance, and the roots of World War 2 in the Versailles Treaty.
Liz and Robert Chalmers

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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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After The Guns Fell Silent — November 1, 2018

After The Guns Fell Silent

Frank_Boggs,_Armistice_Day,_Paris,_1918
Armistice Day, Paris, 1918 (Artist: Frank Boggs) Public domain image from Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By some quirk of the calendar, Remembrance Sunday this year here in the UK is actually the eleventh of November. How propitious that it occurs at the same time as the end of the World War I centenary commemorations? Many musical organisations are seeking to mark the conclusion of the Great War a century ago during this November. One such is Wolverhampton Symphony Orchestra. On this occasion, we hand over the blog to a guest writer (as we do every now and again). Here is Jane Eminson talking about the fruition of a great, multi-national, musical project.

St Matthew's Walsall
St Matthew’s Church, Walsall

If you hear the ‘Ode to Joy’ coming from a house near you over the next week, it’s probably one of nearly 400 participants in the Remembrance and Reconciliation concert doing their practice. 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.

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The music’s live! — November 30, 2017
‘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.

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Songs from across the centuries 2 — May 18, 2017

Songs from across the centuries 2

There’s been a lot written and said about World War 1 recently because of the various centenary commemorations, but very little has focussed on the music. By this, I mean popular songs and piano music, not the well-known works by Elgar, Butterworth and others. From the examples we have in our collection, there was no room for doubt about the progress of the war at all in the minds of the composers and publishers. The outcome was certain – it was just a matter of time. Relentlessly upbeat would be a good description of a lot of them and the patriotism was applied by the bucket load.

I’m going to spend most of this blog looking at one sheet with particular Birmingham connections but, as I was looking for it, I came across this, a good example of a music hall song published in 1914.

God bless my soldier Daddy

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Although it’s written as a girl talking to her mother, to me, it immediately suggests a male music hall performer. I can just hear him milking the pathos of the chorus:

God bless my soldier Daddy, To war he had to go, Protect him from all danger, Because I love him so, Take care of him when fighting, Don’t let me pray in vain, God bless my soldier Daddy … And bring him safe home again.

The next song sheet is a much more home-grown affair, and also very different in its tone and purpose.

Britannia’s Glorious Flag

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Throughout the war, those who remained at home were encouraged to raise money either for the general war effort or for the soldiers at the front. This sheet was the project of two people called Brookes (presumably related)  from Birmingham – one composed the music and the other wrote the words. Their objective was to raise money for their named causes:

As The AUTHOR was also the publisher ie a private individual, it was presumably only meant for local distribution and sale. Certainly, there are no other obvious library copies held elsewhere. I’m curious to know how many copies were printed and sold – you’d have to sell a large number to make any significant contribution. Ten percent of the profits on the 6d selling price wasn’t so very much.

I suspect that the printer the Brookes used wasn’t a regular printer of sheet music – the music engraving is decidedly amateur at times:

IMG_20170503_160337

but again, as private individuals, they wouldn’t have had access to the engravers used by the big London publishing houses. Nor would they have wanted to spend a large amount of money getting it printed if the principal object was to raise money.

The song text is very patriotic (as you’d expect) but interestingly, it isn’t particularly anti-German. In fact, apart from a couple of mentions of the Kaiser and some commentary in the first verse, it concentrates entirely on the people caught up in the war effort, both those fighting and those at home. Here’s a sample:

“England’s in danger” was the cry: a million men replied – “We’ll rally round the good old flag” in life, in death, in pride: Our watchdogs on the sea alert, their eyes turned to the foe, Our airmen in the skies above, our submariners below … 

I’ll close with their dedication  – it shows the Brookes’ serious intent compared with the first song I looked at.

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