Category Archives: Special collections

Cuttings remarks

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collectionRegular readers of this blog may recall Hold the front page, in which I described my work sorting through and analysing Westminster Music Library’s Edwin Evans Press Cuttings Collection. At the time of writing that particular blog entry, I had made my way through approximately 20% of the collection.

Now, over a year later, the task is complete, and I am in some position to report on my findings.

My specific task has been to create an elementary catalogue of this collection, alongside recording some basic details against each person’s entry: discipline, gender, etc.

While the eventual aim of the entire project – the creation of a fully searchable digital archive of this collection – remains unchanged, this was deemed a suitable preliminary task to assess the collection’s value and potential. It seems remarkable that, for all the years that the collection has been in the Music Library’s possession, it had not been catalogued until now. The reasons for this, one may suppose, relate to its relative inaccessibility and its sheer size – both of which are motivating factors in the decision to create a digital record of this underappreciated collection!

In my initial blog post a year ago, I offered some statistics on the content of the collection which may have been of interest to those wishing to understand the shape of the classical music culture of the early 20th century.  The final breakdown of discipline and gender of subjects included in the Evans Collection is mostly unchanged from my initial report, but the most up-to-date version is summarised here for those interested:

  • A significant majority (66%) of subjects are Performers. Of these Performers,
  • 37% are singers
  • 29% are pianists
  • 17% are string players
  • 5% are conductors
  • 12% are ensembles
  • Just 2% are wind players of any sort!
  • Composers represent 26% of subjects, while “Others” come in at just 9%.
  • 57% of all entries are Male, 32% female (the remaining 11% accounts for non-individuals such as ensembles and festivals).
  • 38% of all subjects are featured in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (log in with your Westminster library card).

If you’re anything like me, a chart of percentages and statistics fills you with delight, but these data do indeed serve a useful purpose. The Evans Collection may be used to draw comparisons between historical music circles and today’s, to the interest of music fans and great benefit of historians. For example, over one-third of all performers reported on were singers, as opposed to a mere 0.2% being woodwind or brass players! (Speaking as a French horn player myself, I am grateful to report that today’s classical music culture is much more balanced in favour of wind players: trombonist Christian Lindberg, for example, or clarinettist Julian Bliss, are well-known names.)

My work with the Edwin Evans Press Cuttings Collection is, regrettably, finished for now. As previously mentioned, a digital archive of the collection is the goal, but for now, even with the publication of this catalogue, it is hoped that this will go some way in increasing the collection’s accessibility to all interested parties.

The newly-created catalogue is now available online, via the Westminster Libraries web pages – take a look.

Edwin Evans' Press Cuttings Collection online

[Jon]

Advertisements

Art Book of the Month, February 2017

Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant
Hamish Hamilton, 1986
(First published by Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1929)

Stephen Tennant, “the brightest” of “The Bright Young People”, was twenty-three years old when Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook was first published.  The notebook tells the story of the Rev Felix Littlejohn and his quest to convert the heathens to the light and in the process is exposed to all sorts of outrageous, horrifying and hilarious behaviour by natives, sailors and other characters.

from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

It is in some ways a book ahead of its time, as the story is told in graphic novel format with drawings by the author who was also an artist as well as a socialite and a quintessential English eccentric.

from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant   from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Stephen’s life is as interesting as any book if not more so.  The son of British nobility, as a young man he is supposed to have ‘resembled the youthful Shelley’ and was the inspiration for Cedric in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. Stephen’s friends ranged from Virginia Woolf to David Hockney and his surrealist poses are a frequent feature in Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Dedication in Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Stephen’s niece was British novelist and editor, the Hon. Emma Tennant who sadly died last month.

[Rossella]

How Westminster Libraries’ resources helped me to trace an elusive artist

'A view from the artist’s studio', print by Jessie Beswick

‘A view from the artist’s studio’ by Jessie Beswick

Recently I found this engraving in a junk shop. The print was crudely held in place with a sheet of cardboard and peeling masking tape. The frame was immediately recycled, the backing replaced with acid free mount board. However I must thank the anonymous framer for their work in keeping the print in its frame but also more importantly for scrawling in ballpoint ink biographical and geographical information about this print titled ‘A view from the artist’s studio’.

The writer also stated that the artist – Jessie Beswick – was a sister of their grandfather. Without this information this would have simply been a pleasing anonymous town view from a window.

Not so useful was the difficult handwriting which made interpretation difficult. Luckily from this text there was no ambiguity in interpreting the picture’s location, King Street Chester. What were more problematical to read were the artist’s maiden and married surnames which meant using possible name variations in any search for this artist!

With no stated date on the print it was not a just a case of Googling a name and finding her. Even if I was confident with the surname spelling of Beswick I found a number of alternative individuals with this name. I suspected that ‘my’ artist was active before 1945, on the basis that the writer was two generations younger than the artist and had written the information relatively recently – ballpoint pens did not come into mass use until the late 1950s. Another fact which proved to be a red herring in an initial search for her in Chester Street directories (located in the City of London’s Guildhall Library) was to assume that the King Street studio was her residence. In fact it turned out from census and other evidence that Jessie Beswick resided at other addresses in Chester.

It was time to bite the bullet and use Westminster’s ‘In House’ online resources for family history, Ancestry and Find My Past.

Having two surnames to deal with, I first checked marriage records using Find My Past. Success: after several false hits I found the marriage of Jessie Beswick to Walter W White (Walmsley-White) in Chester in 1914. The record usefully included her parents’ names and her age, thus narrowing down by date any census searches for further information. The 1901 census found her, aged 15, residing at her parents’ house. The 1911 census entry usefully reminded me that the census is a record of household occupation on a specific night which is not necessarily the home address. A Jessie Beswick was staying with friends in Lancashire but I am convinced that this is the same person as her occupation is listed as an artist and the birth year and place of birth matches the previous census entry.

I have mentioned my problem of reading original handwriting. Transcribed entries from the census enumerator returns can also provide evidence of transcription errors. Jessie’s name had been transcribed as ‘Lessie’ in Ancestry’s 1891 census entry for the Beswick household.

Find My Past also has a useful facility to search selected local newspapers. An October 1915 issue of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reports on a local art exhibition which was

“strengthened by the contributions of some new members, and a new feature is collection of etchings by … Jessie Beswick (Mrs. Walmsley White), the latter lady being also represented in the oils section by two excellent studies of Brittany”.

Confirmation of the move was found when I used print resources at Westminster Reference Library’s Art & Design Collection. Post 1914 entries all list Jessie Walmsley White with a Devon address and prior to marriage her maiden name together with a Chester address. With this information it is reasonable to date this print between 1900 and 1914.

Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905-1970The first resource I used was Royal Academy exhibitors, 1905-1970: a dictionary of artists and their work in the Summer Exhibitions
Vol. 6: SHERR-ZUL. 

This dictionary revealed that she had paintings exhibited in three separate exhibitions. Unfortunately the dictionary does not include illustrations but listed the botanical subjects of these works.

On a previous visit to Westminster Reference Library I had noticed a long run of annual directories: The Year’s Art: a concise epitome of all matters relating to the arts of painting, sculpture, engraving and architecture. 

The Year's Art, volumes 1908 - 1913

The Year's Art, 1915At that point I had not discovered her birth date and confirmation of her surnames, so I hadn’t plunged in with a systematic search of these volumes. Now, armed with this information, I returned to consult this series. Her first entry occurs in the 1909 edition. Usefully, an artist’s entry includes their home address together with the location of any exhibited work in public galleries. Her address details from the 1915 edition confirm the permanent move to Devon.

Find My Past was also used to find her death record. Luckily my assumption that she had remained in Devon was correct and I found her death record. Jessie died in 1961 aged 75.

Having tracked down this artist my next quest is to find further examples of her work, either in a gallery or improbably lurking in another junk shop.

[Francis]

Art Book of the Month, November 2016

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - title page

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection
Corporate Author: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History)
Edited: PJP Whitehead and PI Edwards
London: BMNH, 1974. Limited Edition 41/400

John Reeves (1774 – 1856) was an English tea inspector for the British East India Company who spent several years in and around Canton.  His impressions of China were not very favourable (‘…and we have been disputing for months past with the villainous Government of this vile country…’ he wrote to his sister in 1814); but this mood did not last and he soon developed an obvious enthusiasm for collecting Chinese animals and plants, though specimens from all over Asia appear in his collection.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Pineapple Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Slow Loris

An early 19th century Sir David Attenborough, Reeves was a keen naturalist.  He took to documenting animals and plants and commissioned Chinese artists to paint them in the Western scientific tradition.

He sent living specimens of beautiful Chinese flowering plants back to England, and was responsible for the introduction of many attractive garden plants to the West, including chrysanthemums, azaleas and wisteria. His name, reevesii, was applied to nearly 30 species of animals, and a plant genus.   .

Reeves’s son, John Russell Reeves, shared his father’s enthusiasm for natural history and eventually became a well-known naturalist in China for scientists in England. On John Russell’s death in 1877, his widow presented the drawings he had inherited from his father to the British Museum’s natural history department.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Scarlet Macaw

Twenty stunning selected drawings from the Reeves Chinese Collection, divided equally between animals and plants, made mostly on large sheets of cartridge paper, are reproduced in high quality in this beautiful volume.  John Reeves lived to see the birth of photography – which made possible the collotype reproduction used here – but it is doubtful that his artists knew about cameras.  Many of these pictures were not drawn from the subject and in some of the most delightful examples too much artistic licence has been taken.  It must have been tricky to capture a realistic likeness while the animals moved about.  In some cases the drawing is a composite of leaf, flower and fruit from three different plants grafted on to the same stem!  Similarly, the insect drawings contain an amazing amount of detail and observation, but the insects are often purely imaginary.  But it is perhaps for these reasons that these beautiful drawings both show what the actual animal looks like and provoke a response in humans.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Pineapple and Butterflies and a Dragonfly around Morning Glory

The drawings are pleasing aesthetically and still important scientifically; almost two centuries later, they represent a real tribute to the energy of John Reeves of Canton and the skill of his artists.

[Rossella]

Centenary of a Wunderkind

Yehudi Menuhin in 1943While processing the thousands of newspaper cuttings in the basement of Westminster Music Library, the distinctive styles and peculiarities of the great music critics of the 1920s and ’30s start to become apparent: their dry sarcasm, or the ill-concealed pleasure with which they denounce an earnest young singer’s German pronunciation. Yet as much as the critics loved to criticise, there was one kind of performer unfailingly met with much interest and enthusiasm: the child prodigy.

Scarcely a week went by without a new “Boy Wonder”, “Infant Genius”, or “Rising Star” headline in the music column, accompanied by a positive review and encouraging wishes for the child’s future. Was it the end of the Great War and the promise of a bright, peaceful age to come which led the papers to invest so much hope in these children? Unfortunately good wishes can only propel musical success so far, and more often than not these promising young talents collapsed under the pressure of constant touring and performing – not to mention the ten-hour practice regime imposed by their unflinchingly strict parents.

Yehudi Menuhin with Bruno Walter in December 1931By 1929, the most cynical London concert-goers probably paid scant attention to the papers advertising the London debut of “Another Infant Prodigy” (Evening Standard, 02/11/1929) by the name of Yehudi Menuhin, highlights of whose American career already included concertos with the San Francisco- and New York- Symphony Orchestras. Yet the flurry of reviews which followed this 13-year-old’s London premiere (Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra) soon silenced the doubters.

“Boy Prodigy’s Coolness” (Daily Mail), “Wonder Boy Violinist” (Daily Chronicle), “A Violin Prodigy” (The Observer), read the papers, as they fought to heap the most praise on the short-trousered genius who had so impressed them the previous night.

Yehudi Menuhin headline from the Daily Mail, 8 December 1930Others sought a different angle: “Women Mob Boy Violinist”, read the Daily Mail following a different concert, and in a later edition the headline tantalising speculated, “What Will He Do When a Man?”

What indeed? We can now look back and answer that prophetic voice – “Much!” Yehudi Menuhin, far from being the one-hit wonder many may have expected, has become a household name. Known now not only as violinist, but also conductor, educator and philanthropist, his achievements are innumerable. He has, for much of the last century, ranked amongst the finest and most famous of professional musicians. It is certainly a remarkable and fascinating experience to survey Westminster Music Library’s collection of newspaper cuttings and read how Menuhin – the man who needs no introduction – was introduced.

Yehudi Menuhin display at Westminster Music Library, April 2016

As you would expect given Menuhin’s fame and success, Westminster Music Library’s collection is rich in Menuhin biographies, texts and journal articles. Since this year – today, in fact – marks 100 years since the violinist’s birth, we are currently exhibiting our collection in a large and detailed display created  by Senior Library Assistant Andrew. Come in and read about Menuhin’s fascinating life and career, explore Oxford Music Online or discover what all the fuss is about by listening to one of his famous recordings courtesy of Westminster Libraries’ free online resource – Naxos Music Library (log in to the online reosurces with your library card number).

Yehudi Menuhin display at Westminster Music Library, April 2016

You can also look at the hundreds of original newspaper articles in Westminster Music Library which span much of his career, but be prepared to set aside enough time, they truly are a vast and absorbing treasure trove of information.

[Jon]

Art Book of the Month, April 2016

Spine. The Costume of the Russian Empire, by C W Müller, 1804Costume of the Russian Empire, by C W Müller

Illustrated by a series of seventy-three colour engravings, with descriptions in English and French

William Miller, London 1804


A pictorial history of costume in the Russian Empire as it was at the beginning of the 19th century. An empire

“of an extent unknown to other modern nations…it touches the Frozen Ocean and borders upon the warm climates of Persia, Japan and China on the south.”

Not surprisingly, these costumes range from furs and ‘the skin of their rein-deer’ (Yakouti) complete with hair, to the skins of fish (Ostiaks), and – as in the case of the Tschutski of Siberia – ‘Men and women puncture their arms and faces in a regular manner’.  Eat your heart out Lady Gaga.

The elegant engravings are accompanied by hilarious descriptions, obviously from a more urbane explorer viewpoint, of the lifestyle of these people, long gone and long forgotten;

“The most part are satisfied with one wife” (Samoyed)

“Their manner of living, with respect to their food, is disgusting to the greatest degree.  They use no salt, and all their food is simply boiled”

“Their dances are pantomimical, and are not free from indelicacy” (Kamtshatka).

My favourite descriptions are of the Tungoosi, from the Lake Baikal region:

“ignorant of falsehood, treachery and robbery of any descriptions; they possess a gaiety of temper and openness of heart to the greatest degree; They will, with pleasure, divide their last morsel with their almost unknown guest; They fish and hunt with great skill; embroider in a very neat manner and – last but not least –  they are generally supplied with brandy, of which they are very fond.”

A priceless and utterly fascinating insight into primitive ethnicity and cultures that have pretty much disappeared from the face of the earth.

[Rossella]

You can view this book in the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.

“And the Award goes to…”

Ruth Walters with the Westminster Music Library IAML Excellence Award certificate 2016On Saturday 2 April, in a swish hotel on the outskirts of Manchester, during this year’s International Association of Music Libraries (IAML) annual conference, we paused while the red carpet was laid out and the assembled delegates were transformed with sparkly frocks, frightening ‘up dos’ and slick tuxedos… well maybe not quite that sparkly, but The BAFTAs, The Oscars, The Grammys, none of them can hold a candle to The IAML Excellence in Music Libraries Awards.

A host of IAML delegates were assembled to celebrate the fantastic achievements of colleagues representing music libraries of all shapes and sizes across the UK and Ireland; no matter what their sector or type.

Some aspire to greatness, and others achieve it. In the music library world there are some folks who just keep getting better and better at providing all manner of services for their customers, whether they are tiny tots, learned professors, or all manner of people, young and old, in-between. Some have forged successful partnerships, devised innovative events programmes or organised fascinating exhibitions, others have achieved new levels of co-operation with schools and universities or are recognised for their special collections or outreach programmes. One thing’s for sure, all these award winning libraries are impressive, and demonstrate the dedication and passion of library staff determined to provide their customers with the best music library service they can.

The other thing about the IAML “Biennale” is it gives everyone an opportunity to adopt and adapt some of the work that the Award winners are so skilled at doing. We all know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and following someone’s good work and good practice is surely the most flattering pat on the back of all.

The nominations for this year’s Awards were judged by a panel of experts from both the music and library worlds, chaired by Jan Smaczny, Professor Emeritus of Music, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Professor Jan Smaczny, Chair of the IAML (UK & IRL) awards panelMusic libraries play a key role in supporting the study, performance and enjoyment of music and underpin the vibrant diverse musical life and heritage in the UK and Ireland and, as Professor Smaczny has said,

“the very musical infrastructure of the United Kingdom and Ireland depends fundamentally on the work of music librarians”.

And who are we to argue with the good Prof?

And finally, I must ‘blow the trumpet’ for Westminster Music Library, as we were indeed honoured with our fourth Excellence Award, which I was both delighted and proud to accept on behalf of my wonderful team.  Here’s why we were selected:

The service was particularly commended for its proactive working in seeking out new projects and partnerships, which engage with both users and potential users. The expert staffing levels and training offered to both staff and the public were also commended, as was the excellent stock and publicising of the service.  The panel felt that the library is a ‘national resource’ and a benchmark for ‘excellence’.

Thank you IAML, we are absolutely thrilled, and it is nice to wear a frock occasionally…

[Ruth]

IAML Study Weekend 2016  IAML Excellence Award certificate 2016

Ruth didn’t mention the whole story above – we’re very pleased and proud to say that she also won a personal acheivement award:

“The judging panel recognised that Ruth continues to bring energy, enthusiasm, creativity and professionalism to both Westminster Music Library and more widely to IAML (UK & Irl).  Under her management WML – one of the UK’s leading public music libraries – continues to take on new challenges in creative partnership working, event organising, and delivering an excellent music library service to its members.  So much of what Ruth – and WML – does is Excellent and a benchmark for others to be inspired by and follow.  One recent project of note is a partnership with the Armed Forces in which Ruth secured funding from the Ministry of Defence to set up a choir ‘Joint Force Singers’ with Westminster’s Armed Forces.  Ruth’s ongoing events programmes, community partnerships and fundraising have raised the profile of a specialist music service in the community, introducing new customers – children and adults – to the world of music.”
– from the IAML blog

Congratulations to Ruth and team once more!