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

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’ve 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

22 May 2017

Bringing a forgotten opera to life

Following the revival of Handel’s music that took place in the mid-20th century, there are probably no more ‘authentic’ Handel operas to be rediscovered. This is not the case with his pasticcio operas, however.  In these ‘concoctions’ (or pasticcii), Handel put together a show by taking an existing libretto and recycling popular Italian arias written by other composers. English audiences of the time were no more proficient in Italian than today’s, but they enjoyed hearing a good tune and seeing a favourite diva perform.

Opera Settecento is a London-based company that brings to life forgotten 18th-century opera seria (that is, Italian operas on heroic or tragic subjects). Fittingly, the company takes its name from the Italian for “18th century”, “Settecento”. Recently, musical director Leo Duarte created a new performing edition of Handel’s pasticcio opera Ormisda drawing on several sources from the British Library’s extensive music collections.

Ormisda is the second of three pasticcii resurrected by the company, starting with Elpidia (1725) in 2016 and concluding with Venceslao (1731) in 2018. It is a tale of power, love and unhappy families. A wicked stepmother, Palmira, is determined to elevate her own son to the throne of Persia. She displaces his elder half-brother and disregards the feelings of the Queen of Armenia who is in love with the younger brother but destined to marry whoever becomes King of Persia.

Ormisda was first performed in 1730 at the King’s Theatre Haymarket under the direction of the composer himself. Although it has been assigned an HWV number, meaning it is officially part of the catalogue of Handel’s works, the piece contains hardly any of Handel’s original music. The busy and entrepreneurial composer wrote the work as a “quick win” to keep up his profile, whilst at the same time giving himself time to concentrate on two new operas, Partenope and Lotario.  Interestingly, neither had the box-office success of the crowd-pleasing Ormisda.

Inspired by musicologist Reinhard Strohm’s work on Handel’s pasticcio operas, Duarte came to the British Library to assess whether neglected pieces such as Ormisda were worth performing and had something to say to today’s audiences. At the centre of his research was Additional MS 31551, a manuscript score of Ormisda dating from the 18th century. He converted this into a digital form which he could use to create a performing score and orchestral parts.

Handel-Ormisda-BL-Add-MS-31551Handel’s Ormisda (18th century). British Library Additional MS 31551, folio 1 recto

Duarte also made use of the word-book (or libretto) dating from 1730 (11714.aa.20.(1)).

Word-book-Handel-Ormisda-title-pageWord-book for Handel’s Ormisda (1730). British Library 11714.aa.20.(1.), title-page

Digitised as part of the British Library’s partnership with Google Books, the word-book is likely to have been sold as a souvenir. Theatre lighting of the time would have made it unreadable in situ, and opera plots of the period are notoriously difficult to navigate. The extra help provided by the word-book suggests audiences then had attention spans – and linguistic skills – about the same as now. The Italian text was rendered into English by an uncredited translator; the translation is quite poetic, especially the arias, with rhymes and in metre.

The libretto is by the Venetian Apostolo Zeno (1669-1750) and the musical material has been identified as coming from Leonardo Leo, Orlandini, Hasse, Conti and others, with five arias as yet unidentified. “There is hardly a note of Handel’s in there – maybe the odd recit,” says Duarte. Handel’s contribution was to delete sections that were superfluous to requirements. He understood how to import Italian repertoire and make it attractive to London audiences.

Although it is a beautiful copy and easy to read,  the manuscript contains some crossings-out and sections that have been covered over.

Handel-Ormisda-BL-Add-MS-31551-f-23-versoHandel’s Ormisda, with passages covered over. British Library Additional MS 31551, folio 23 verso

The word-book provides clues as to why that might be, since it contains crossings-out that match the score. These are complemented by manuscript annotations in an unknown hand such as “in score”, “not in score, but instead is the additional song… [sung by] Siga Merighi (Co) [contralto]”.

Annotations-word-book-Handel-OrmisdaManuscript annotations in the word-book for Handel’s Ormisda. British Library 11714.aa.20.(1.), page 15

Having access to the British Library’s score and word-book side-by-side enabled Duarte to recreate a work that is not Handel’s, but has his stamp on it. This in turn provides a fascinating insight into Handel the showman and his understanding of what his audiences wanted.

 

Ruth Hansford

Grants Portfolio Manager, Endangered Archives Programme, British Library, and freelance opera surtitler

16 May 2017

The dog and the cakes

Dogs are notorious for helping themselves to food. Be it a tasty turkey destined for a special Christmas dinner or a sandy sandwich snatched from your hand on the beach, the chances are you’ve experienced this in action.

To celebrate World Baking Day, we’ve unearthed two cake-related songs from our printed music collections that lament this particular canine characteristic.

Written by one Frederick Julian Croger (1854-1923) in 1889, 'The dog and the cakes' tells the tale of a lazy pup belonging to a little boy named Peter.

Dog-and-the-cakes-H-3450-7-musicFrederick Julian Croger, 'The dog and the cakes' (1889). British Library H.3450.(7.), page 2

“Selfish Pete” and his companion “greedy George” decide to buy themselves some cakes as a treat. But alas! When they went to fetch a drink:

Far away that dog did slink

And played a wicked caper:

Being such a greedy pup,

And thinking he would like to sup,

He took those cakes and ate them up

And only left the paper

Dedicated to “all who are not greedy”, the song is aimed at the “young folk”. The simple melody moves in steps, making it easy to memorise and sing.

Dog-and-the-cakes-H-3450-7-title-pageFrederick Julian Croger, 'The dog and the cakes' (1889). British Library H.3450.(7.), title-page

During his career, Croger described himself as a “Professor of Music”, composer and a music publisher. This song reflects this, since it bears the imprint “Published by Croger & Co., wholesale and export music publishers”.

Born in West Hackney in the East End of London, he was from a musical family. His father Thomas was an instrument maker and inventor who tragically took his own life following bankruptcy. His uncle Richard also made instruments and composed, and his brother Thomas Rodolphus was a conductor.

'The dog and the cakes' is one of a number of ditties he penned. Also on the same theme, in 1888 he  wrote 'Amy and the puppy'.

Amy-and-the-puppy-H-3450-2-music

Frederick Julian Croger, 'Amy and the puppy' (1888). British Library H.3450.(2.), page 2

Amy’s curly-locked dog "Tress" (or "Tressie"), plays a similar trick, helping himself to cake when her back is turned:

Amy - not suspecting “Tress” -

Ran upstairs to change her dress

And feeling full of happiness

Began to dance and caper

But while she’d gone, the greedy pup,

Who of such dainties liked to sup

With great delight did eat them up!

This song is dedicated to “Master Wilfrid & Miss Mabel Croger”, the composer’s children, and includes a charming illustration of Amy’s dismay on discovering her beloved Tress’ actions.

Amy-and-the-pupp-H-3450-2-illustration

Illustration from Frederick Julian Croger, 'Amy and the puppy' (1888). British Library H.3450.(2.), page 3

Amelie Roper

Curator, Digital Music