THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

Music news and views

Introduction

We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

31 May 2017

Music treasure lost and found

Music cataloguing had a rather shaky beginning in the British Library. In the Library's early years when it was part of the British Museum, no separate music department existed. The sheet music which did come sporadically into the Museum was regarded as a problem: it was hard to catalogue by the rules appropriate to books (this remains true today), difficult to store (this also remains true), and, as music was not yet regarded as a proper subject for academic study, not particularly valued.

From the 1820s onwards the study of music grew in importance,  and Museum library users started to complain about the lack of access to music in the collection. In February 1838, a piece in the journal Musical World expressed their frustration:

Treasures there are: but the individual in search of them is in the situation of Tantalus, hearing the gurgling, ever-living springs, but doomed never to slake his thirst. Your attendant affirms that there are piles, folios, sheets innumerable of music: but they are admitted to the bewildered enquirer to be in the most admired confusion. (Quoted in Alec Hyatt King, A wealth of music (1979), p. 29).

At the behest of Anthony Panizzi, Keeper of Printed Books, a report on the collections of music was prepared for the Trustees in 1841 by the Principal Librarian , Henry Ellis. As a result of this, it was decided to create a separate catalogue of music, both printed and manuscript. Panizzi submitted plans for the work, including eight rules to be followed by the temporary cataloguer (a fascinating smaller relative of his famous 91 rules published in the same year, and of great importance for the future development of music cataloguing). The successful candidate for this job was Thomas Oliphant, who remained in charge of the printed music collections thereafter until 1850, despite an unfriendly working relationship with Panizzi, and despite initial disapproval of his appointment from some contemporaries; the Musical World describing him as an "amateur", and a writer in The Musical Examiner referring to him as "Mr Elephant"!

The music was physically separated from the rest of the collection, and work began on cataloguing. Oliphant  separated the collection into two divisions, vocal music and instrumental music. To vocal music he assigned shelfmarks beginning with upper-case letters, and to instrumental music, shelfmarks beginning with lower-case letters. The letter indicated the height of a volume, with "A" being the smallest and "I" the tallest.

Shelfmarks hymns

Vocal music shelfmarks (beginning with upper-case letter)  


Shelfmarks violin

Instrumental music shelfmarks (beginning with lower-case letters)

There were up to five components to a shelfmark; a letter, a number, a letter, a number, and often also a bracketed number. For example, H.5.g.3.(4.) indicated  a vocal music publication, in the "H" height sequence, in the fifth press (cupboard) of that sequence, on shelf "g" of that press, in the third volume on that shelf, and comprising the fourth bound item in that volume.

This system has outlived its original cases and cupboards and in its essentials (vocal/instrumental division, height, sequential allocation of letter/number, and tract number or bound item number) is still in use today. It is accommodated in our library management system which has been "tweaked" to be case-sensitive where music shelfmarks are concerned. It has lasted due to the infinite number of possibilities for adding to Oliphant's sequences, and has also enabled the Library to maximise space by placing items of a similar size together.

By 1850, Oliphant had single-handedly prepared catalogues of both the manuscript and printed music. The printed music catalogue alone contained 27 volumes. During his time at the Museum, Oliphant must have personally catalogued 24,000 titles! Cataloguing rules and library systems have changed vastly since then, but today's library and catalogue users are indebted to the ingenuity and energy of these early British Library staff members.

Caroline Shaw, Music Processing and Cataloguing Team Manager

Based on a presentation by James Clements, 2004, with information from: Alec Hyatt King, Printed music in the British Museum (London, 1979). YA.1997.a.10519

 

27 May 2017

Musgrave at 89

Today (27 May 2017) is the eighty-ninth birthday of the Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave, born in Barnton, Midlothian, but, since the mid-1970s, resident in the USA. Following a major purchase in 2009, with assistance from the Eccles Centre for American Studies, the British Library has the world’s largest institutional collection of Musgrave archival papers, which include music manuscripts, programmes, correspondence, and photographs.

Musgrave studied at the University of Edinburgh, enrolling initially as a medical student, before switching to study music, under Hans G√°l and Mary Grierson. An important influence during that time was the legacy of one of Edinburgh‚Äôs former Reid Professors of Music, Donald Francis Tovey: Musgrave says she ‚Äúread absolutely every word of Donald Francis Tovey‚ÄĚ. After graduating from Edinburgh in 1950, having won its Tovey Memorial Prize, Musgrave moved to Paris to study with the celebrated pedagogue Nadia Boulanger.

It is from these Paris years (1950‚Äď1954) that the earliest material in the collection originates: the manuscript for a set of five songs to poetry by Ezra Pound and Louis Macneice, premi√®red at the Cercle de l‚ÄôUnion Interalli√© in Paris, on 16 May 1951, with Musgrave herself as the pianist and Doda Conrad as the baritone. Although Musgrave does not use opus-numbers (with the exception of her Divertimento for string orchestra, op.15), she refers to this set informally as her opus one.

01_paris1Front cover of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l’Union Interallié on 16 May 1951

02_paris2Inside of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l'Union Interalli√© on 16 May 1951. The Musgrave songs are listed as the sixth item (the items are demarcated by Roman numerals). In this programme, the make of the pianoforte (in this case, a Pleyel) is specified.

03_5-songs_contents-pContents-page of the autograph manuscript for the set of five songs to poems by Pound and Macneice (misspelt as "Macniece"). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

The programme has some evident typographical errors, misspelling Macneice (as ‚ÄúMacniece‚ÄĚ) and ‚ÄėAn Immorality‚Äô (as ‚ÄúAn Immortality‚ÄĚ). More interesting, however, is a discrepancy in the syntax: when compared with the manuscript, ‚ÄėAn Immorality‚Äô and ‚ÄėThe return‚Äô have been swapped. Meanwhile, the title of the concert, ‚Äújeunes compositeurs et vieux ma√ģtres anglais‚ÄĚ, characterises Musgrave as an English composer ‚ÄĒ this is probably an erroneous conflation of English and British, rather than a belief that Musgrave were English.

Among the other performers in the concert was the pianist Luise Vosgerchian, who, although not involved in performing Musgrave on this occasion, was the dedicatee of a subsequent Musgrave composition, the first pianoforte sonata, completed in January 1952. The British Library has the fair copy for this work, which is withdrawn.

04_withdrawn-sonataTitle and dedication from the fair copy of the first pianoforte sonata (withdrawn). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Musgrave also withdrew three of the five songs in the aforementioned set, resulting in a pair of songs, both settings of Ezra Pound.

05_2-songs_title-pTitle-page of the fair copy of the two songs, both to texts by Pound, not withdrawn from the set of five songs. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Whatever Musgrave‚Äôs reasons for this partial withdrawal, the manuscript is a fascinating record of an early case of Musgrave‚Äôs wont for collecting texts from more than one author in a single song-cycle ‚ÄĒ this approach of text-setting as anthology becomes more pronounced in several of her later vocal and choral works, the most recent of which is The Voices of Our Ancestors, which was premi√®red, in London, on 9 July 2015.

Following her studies with Boulanger, during which she was awarded the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize, Musgrave returned to the UK, where she was in demand not only as a composer, but also as a pianist, lecturer, and, in due course, conductor of her own work. From the late-1950s, Chester Music was her publisher, until she moved to Novello in the mid-1970s.

Yet, a number of her subsequent works remain unpublished. Of the unpublished works represented in the collection, a suitably festive example is her contribution to a set of variations on Happy Birthday.

06_walton-festschrift_title-pageTitle-page of the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

07_walton-festschrift_p1First page of music in the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Musgrave‚Äôs ‚Äúvariation in one minute‚ÄĚ is third in the set, with the other composers being Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Arnold, Nicholas Maw, Robert Simpson, and Peter Maxwell Davies (the latter's contribution now housed in the British Library as Add MS 71323). The set was premi√®red by the London Symphony Orchestra on 28 March 1972, the day before William Walton‚Äôs seventieth birthday, in the Royal Festival Hall. A recording is available in the British Library‚Äôs Sound Archive, at shelfmark C1398/0775.

Although the Musgrave collection does not include the programme for this concert, there are hundreds of other programmes relating to Musgrave ‚ÄĒ some were collected by her, and many more were sent to her by performers, promoters, and friends. These document the significant influence and reach of Musgrave‚Äôs oeuvre in various continents, and not just in the English-speaking world.

For example, in 1988, Musgrave and her husband, Peter Mark, visited Jerusalem for a tour in which each of them conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Musgrave’s concert comprised four of her own compositions from various points in her career to date, cumulatively spanning a period of twenty-three years. Conveniently, the programme is bilingual:

08_jerusalem1A page, in Hebrew, from a programme for a concert of Musgrave orchestral works in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem on 27 March 1988, performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Musgrave.

09_jerusalem2The corresponding page in English from the same programme.

Not all programmes have a translation into English so readily available. In respect of the world première of Orfeo III, which took place in Moscow on 9 October 1993, Musgrave annotated the programme with a translation of the key information.

10_moscowProgramme for a concert in the Rachmaninoff Hall, Moscow State Conservatoire on 9 October 1993, featuring the world première of Musgrave's /Orfeo III/, performed by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Musgrave was not present at the concert, but has annotated the programme with an outline translation. Annotations copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

As the numeral suggests, Orfeo III, scored for flute and string quintet, is a transcription based on two earlier compositions. This transcription was written for Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Here, Musgrave is presented as an American composer, sharing the programme with Thomas Whitman, Gerald Levinson, and Richard Wernick. By 1993, Musgrave had been permanently resident in the USA for almost two decades.

This performance in Russia is by no means the only case of Musgrave’s compositions touring continental Europe. Indeed, some of her works have received greater attention on the continent than in the UK, her country of birth. Indeed, Musgrave’s opera Simón Bolívar, completed in 1992, received its European première in Regensburg on 7 April 1995, and has yet to be performed in full in the UK.

11_regensburgFront cover of programme for the first European production of Musgrave's opera Sim√≥n Bol√≠var, at the St√§dtische B√ľhnen Regensburg in April 1995.

 

Sasha Millwood, Doctoral Researcher (Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Partnership), Music Collections, British Library, and University of Glasgow 

24 May 2017

Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017

From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of British Library music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

My Ladye Nevells Books MS Mus 1591

MS Mus. 1591, My Layde Nevells Booke (1591)

At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 323 music manuscripts on the site. For a full list of what is currently available in PDF format, please see this file: Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.

This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.

Additional content is added regularly. Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Additional MS 29996. Dating from the seventeenth century, this is a collection of motets, madrigals and fancies, by Thomas Tomkins and others, interspersed with political verses, satires, recipes.

Add MS 29996

Additional MS 29996: a recently-digitised music manuscript, including works by Thomas Tomkins 

If you are looking for something more specific, why not consult our blog posts on the material we‚Äôve digitised relating to Handel, Mozart, Purcell and Wagner. For more general advice on using the site, we highly recommend this blog post.

We'll be posting updated versions of these lists quarterly, so be sure to check the blog again in a few months time for an updated edition. In the meantime, to get the latest news about our digitisation projects, acquisitions and events, please follow us on Twitter: @BL_Music_Colls