Tag Archives: composers

Henry Purcell – local boy makes good

Henry Purcell sculpture by Glynn Williams 1995, Christchurch Gardens SW1In a library situated between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, there is a fine collection of music books and printed music – the one and only Westminster Music Library.

We’ve developed a bit of a reputation for obtaining money for all manner of music related activities, sometimes from the unlikeliest of sources…

So it was that following our MOD funded Joint Force Singers choral project last June, I started thinking about what Westminster Music Library could do next for the good citizens of the Borough. Maybe it was time to start looking a little closer to home for some inspiration.

Henry Purcell - portrait by John Closterman, 1660-1711

There have been hundreds of famous people who were born in Westminster, from Queen Anne to the First Earl of Zetland, but what about those who dedicated their lives to music? Composers like Thomas Busby, brothers George and Walter McFarren, all interesting but not exactly household names. I needed a show stopper, someone who had a real connection to Westminster throughout his life. How about the chap considered to be England’s greatest composer of the Baroque era, famously dubbed the “Orpheus Britannicus” for his ability to combine powerful English counterpoint with expressive, flexible, and dramatic word settings? None other than Henry Purcell.

Born in Old Pye Street, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and Westminster’s present day City Archives, Purcell’s interest in music began when he was a young child. Even the street names in his neighbourhood are enough to get the imagination running riot: Abbey Orchard Street, Devil’s Acre, Thieving Lane.

Rumour has it that he started composing at the age of 9, his earliest work being the ode for King Charles’ birthday in 1670. The young Purcell attended Westminster School, was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey in 1676, and landed the impressive post of Organist of Westminster Abbey by the time he was 20, in 1679. As organist of Westminster Abbey, he played at William and Mary’s coronation on 11 April 1689. An impressive pedigree for a local boy, and definitely someone we should be celebrating.

Henry Purcell: Chacony (MSS British Library)

While Purcell is well worth celebrating, I needed to think about how to do it – how could this celebration help residents to connect with their community, make the most of the local opportunities and assets available to them, and encourage them to celebrate Westminster’s unique historic heritage?

With musical expertise from our long-time partners the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the knowledgeable staff at Westminster City Archives (an Aladdin’s Cave of fascinating information, maps and photographs of the area), I put together a proposal which includes a series of intergenerational workshops for local residents and school children, resource packs for both adults and children, and an exhibition focusing on the life, music, history and heritage of Henry Purcell. And the beauty of Henry Purcell as far as Westminster Music Library is concerned? We have lots of books and scores in our collection with his name on them!

So we’re good to go for February 2017, with the generous help of the Westminster Cultural Partnerships Team and Westminster City Councillors – watch this space!

[Ruth]

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The great and the good

George Ryan, pictured in bas relief at the base of Nelson's Column, London

All of us who live or work in Westminster have walked through Trafalgar Square dozens of times, but how many of us have actually looked at Nelson’s Column  properly? Certainly not me until recently when I happened to look at the bas-reliefs at the base of the pillar and wondered what they actually represented. Coincidentally on the bus home I heard a trailer for an excellent-sounding radio programme, Britain’s Black Past which mentioned the reliefs and revealed that at least one of the sailors pictured was black. A bit of research revealed that a third of the crew of the Victory, Nelson’s ship, were born outside Britain (including, somewhat surprisingly, three Frenchmen) and that one of the men pictured, George Ryan, was black.

As we celebrate Black History Month, what other memorials of interest can we find in Westminster?

Well, for a start there’s the oldest monument in London – Cleopatra’s Needle. Nothing to do with Cleopatra, it actually predates her by 1500 years, being made for Pharoah Thotmes III. One slightly odd feature of the Needle is that the four sphinxes, ostensibly there to guard it, actually face inwards so you’d think they’d be fairly easy to surprise…

Cleopatra's Needle, London

Moving forward to the eighteenth century brings us to Ignatius Sancho (1724-1780) who, despite pretty much the worst possible start in life (he was born on  slave ship and both his parents died soon after) became butler to the Duke of Montagu and, after securing his freedom, was the only eighteenth-century Afro-Briton known to have voted in a general election (in Westminster). He wrote many letters to the literary figures of the time such as the actor David Garrick and the writer Laurence Sterne, was painted by Thomas Gainsborough and was also a prolific composer.

IgnatiusSancho

You can read more about Sancho in several books available to view at Westminster City Archives, and listen to some of his compositions.

And if you happen to be passing the Foreign and Commonweath Office, see if you can spot the memorial to him.

A more famous near-contemporary of Sancho, was Olaudah Equiano (1747-1797), another former slave and author of one of the earliest autobiographies by a black Briton.

Olaudah Equiano

Like George Ryan, Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa as he was known in his lifetime) was a sailor who travelled to the Caribbean, South America and the Arctic, having been kidnapped from Africa as a child. While still a slave, Equiano converted to Christianity and was baptised in St Margaret’s Westminster. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was one of the first slave narratives and was reprinted several times in Equiano’s lifetime. He became a leading member of the  abolitionist movement, as one of the Sons of Africa, a group of former slaves in London who campaigned against slavery. You can see a plaque to him at 73 Riding House Street, Paddington and see him portrayed  by Youssoo N’Dour in the  film Amazing Grace.

Olaudah Equiana Plaque, London

One black Briton who needs almost no introduction is Mary Seacole (1805-1881), who fought racial prejudice to nurse and feed  soldiers in the Crimea and who was so popular with her former patients that the Times reported on 26th April 1856 that, at a public banquet at the Royal Surrey Gardens:

“Among the illustrious visitors was Mrs Seacole whose appearance awakened the most raputurous enthusiasm. The soldiers not only cheered her but chaired her around the gardens and she really might have suffocated from the oppressive attentions of her admirers were it not that two sergeants of extraordinary stature gallantly undertook to protect her from the pressures of the crowd.”

You can follow the famous war correspondent WH Russell in the Times Digital Archive (log in with your library card number) – he was a great admirer of Mrs Seacole. And if you haven’t already, do read her extraordinary autobiography The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. There are two plaques in her honour in Westminster – one at 147 George Street and one at 14 Soho Square.

Mary Seacole

Less well-known than Mary Seacole  is Henry Sylvester Williams (1869-1911), a Trinidadian teacher who came to London in the 1890s, studied Latin at King’s College and qualified as a barrister in 1897 (though he earned his living as a lecturer for the Temperance Association). He was a founder-member of the Pan-African Association, whose aims were

“to secure civil and political rights for Africans and their descendants throughout the world; to encourage African peoples everywhere in educational, industrial and commercial enterprise; to ameliorate the condition of the oppressed Negro in Africa, America, the British Empire, and other parts of the world”

In 1906, Williams was elected as a Progressive for Marylebone Council and, along with John Archer in Battersea, was one of the first black people elected to public office in Britain. You can read more about Williams (and the other people listed here) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and see a plaque erected by Westminster Council in his honour at 38 Church Street.

Bringing us nearer the present day are two former residents of Westminster who everyone knows. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, discussed before in this blog, lived for a short time in 1968 at 23 Brook Street, Mayfair, and you can see a blue plaque to him there.

Jimi Hendrix, blue plaque

And we finish on perhaps the most famous memorial of recent years – in 2007 a bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was erected in Parliament Square in the presence of Mr Mandela himself.

Nelson Mandela stature, Parliament Square

You can find out more about the people in this blog by checking out our library catalogue and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as well as our Newspaper Archives. Plus if you want to know who the first Black British woman to write an autobiography was, don’t miss the event at Paddington Library on 27 October!

[Nicky]

The BFM: Big Friendly… Music

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016It’s the Summer Reading Challenge again, and Westminster Music Library always joins in! But what could we do to inspire our Summer Reading Challenge participants that would embrace this year’s theme – The Big Friendly Read?

We love reading, we love music, and we like to celebrate all things musical in a big and friendly way, so how about some giant-sized compositional creativity?

But first, like famous composers the world over, we needed some inspiration ourselves. There can be none better than watching some clips from that great British musical institution – The BBC Promenade concerts – better known as The Proms. Taking place every summer in The Royal Albert Hall, what proved especially appealing to our would-be Mozarts was all the fun and frivolity that happens on The Last Night:

Suitably inspired by The Sailor’s Hornpipe and Rule Britannia, our budding composers set their creative juices to work. Lots of giant-sized notes to choose from, giant-sized staves to stick them on to, and a little help from our Big Friendly Music Library Team and the Big Friendly Children’s Librarian. We definitely had some musical prodigies in the making, before long some interesting and unusual melodies had started to appear; all manner of original harmonies which would doubtless impress some of our greatest composers.

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016

But no composer can be satisfied until they’ve heard their “magnum opus” performed, these Big Friendly tunes need to be played!

'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016 'Music for Giants' at Westminster Music Library, August 2016

Luckily Westminster Music Library boasts a splendid piano, and even luckier, our Music Library Team has a pianist – who (fortunately) can sight read. Giant scores at the ready for our grand finale concert, this years’ Summer Reading Challenge as presented by the next generation of Big Friendly composers!


Big Friendly Read - the Summer Reading Challenge 2016


[Ruth]

May the force be with you: Six things you might not know about film composer John Williams

John Williams with the Boston Pops OrchestraJohn Williams has written some of the most unforgettable film themes of our generation; his iconic music has lit up the silver screen in films like Star Wars, Jaws and E.T. In an industry shifting away from large orchestral scores, John Williams is the last one standing among traditional film composers.

Here are six facts about the man and his music you might not know…

  1. He doesn’t own a computer.

In his small bungalow on the Universal Studio lot, John Williams composes using pencil and paper on a small writing desk next to his 90-year-old Steinway piano. He’s never owned a computer. Why not? He’s probably been too busy composing to ever learn to use one.

  1. He’s really busy.

He’s written over 120 film scores, a symphony, 12 concertos and numerous other symphonic and chamber works. He doesn’t let a day go by without writing something, and although his pace has slowed slightly, he shows no signs of ever stopping.

  1. Only one person has more Academy Award nominations.

And that’s Walt Disney. John Williams has received a total of 47 Academy Award nominations, but he’s only won five.

  1. He started as a jazz pianist.

You can hear him in Henry Mancini’s 1958 Peter Gunn theme playing the famous main riff:

  1. He’s scored all but one of Steven Spielberg’s feature films.

Their forty-year partnership started in 1972. Since then, they have had one of the most important film collaborations in history. Spielberg calls Williams a “chameleon of a composer” because of his ability to match the tone of any theme or subject matter. And the one he didn’t score? The Colour Purple, which was scored by Quincy Jones.

  1. We have recently added a number of John Williams’ orchestral scores to the Westminster Music Library collection!

Including: Music from Star Wars, March from Superman, the theme from Warhorse, March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and if you’re feeling ambitious and fancy performing a John Williams medley with your orchestra, we have a set of parts featuring music from Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and E.T.

John Williams scores in Westminster Music Library

No orchestra? Then why not try The very best of John Williams arranged for piano solo. Realise the power of the Dark Side…

[Ruth]

Sights and sounds Behind the Lines

On 4 August 2014, the 100th anniversary of the day the First World War was declared; we opened a four day Behind the Lines creative summer school, due to end with a grand finale performance by participants alongside musicians from the RPO at St John’s Smith Square.

Several people who read our previous post about the Summer School and the performance at St John’s Smith Square asked whether the concert had been recorded. We’re pleased to say that this video about Behind the Lines, including the amazing summer school is now available to view:

 

Take a look at the Gallery too!


The summer school featured two of our First World War composers who were also good friends, Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Ravel had wanted to be an air-bomber, but was rejected because he was too small; he was finally allowed to become an ambulance driver, and he saw and experienced the horrors of the front-line at first hand. Vaughan Williams was a stretcher-bearer, who also knew the unimaginable tragedies of the trenches. Both of them made their war-time experiences part of their music; Vaughan Williams in his ‘Pastoral Symphony’, and Ravel in his suite ‘Le tombeau de Couperin’. These works would be the focus of the summer school, using them as inspiration to create a new work for our final concert.

Pupils from schools across Westminster and adults from local community group Open Age all contributed material for the final work, which was performed in front of an audience of VIPs, family and friends. From the opening chords to the incredibly moving finale – an off-stage performance of The Last Post – what started out as a lot of disconnected ideas, transformed into a very moving and fitting tribute not only to our chosen composers, but also our many First World War heroes.

[Ruth]

“My subject is War and the pity of War”

Some of the most moving poetry in English was written as a result of direct experience of the First World War.

Poetry of the First World War, an anthology by Tim Kendall      A Deep Cry by Anne Powell      Poems of the Great War 1914-1918      The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry

Feminist author and poet Vera Brittain wrote her autobiography Testament of Youth as a result of losing her fiancé, her brother and two of her dearest male friends before peace was declared in November 1918. “Your battle wounds are scars upon my heart/Received when in that grand and tragic show/You played your part/Two Years Ago” are words from her poem ‘To my Brother (In Memory of July 1st 1916)’

In Flanders Fields is one of the most memorable poems from the First World War written by a Canadian Officer John McCrae.  “In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row.” Poppies were everywhere on the battlefield of Ypres as they only flower in rooted up earth, and the whole of the Western Front consisted of churned up soil.

Rosenberg (Isaac) wrote some of the best poems of the First World War. His poem ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ had a special mention in Paul Fussell’s book The Great War and Modern Memory. He was born into a working class Jewish family in Dvink (now Latvia) – his parents then emigrated to the East End of London.  It was thought that he might have been one of the outstanding poets of his generation had he survived the war – his work was admired by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He was killed at the front in April 1918.

Sixteen Great War poets are commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner. The inscription around the names reads “My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the Pity” (Wilfred Owen)

Trained as a chorister in Gloucester Cathedral, Ivor Gurney was a composer as well as a poet. His lifelong friend was Herbert Howells, a director of Music in St Paul’s Girls School, Hammersmith. Gurney wrote a collection of poetry for his first book Severn and Somme, which was published in October 1917. He suffered from a mental health condition and spent the last fifteen years of his life in a mental hospital having been gassed in 1917, but it was in hospital that he returned to his wartime experiences and wrote some of his best works.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain In Flanders Fields and other poems by John McCrae The Great War and modern memory by Paul Fussell Poems by Wilfred Owen Severn and Somme by Ivor Gurney

Wilfred Owen is one of the most famous of the War Poets who tragically died in 1918 just one week before the end of World War I. He encapsulated the horrors of the battlefield in his writing.

On 1 August, Cambridge University celebrated putting Siegfried Sassoon’s poems and diaries from the First World War online to mark the centenary of the war. They include an account of the ‘horrifying slaughter’ of the first day.

Rupert Brooke was famous for his War Sonnets which included the poems ‘Peace’ and ‘The Soldier’. “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England”. Yates described Brooke as “the handsomest young man in England”. He tragically died from an infection caused by a mosquito bite on the way to Gallipoli.

Love poet Robert Graves wrote his first known and loved poems behind the front line in World War I. He was wounded and pronounced dead by his surgeon during a battle but amazingly recovered to read an account of his death in the Times. He was one of the first War Poets to write realistically about life in the “soul-deadening” trenches.

‘Dulce et decorum est’ is a famous poem written by Wilfred Owen, who in October 1917 wrote to his mother “Here is a gas poem, done yesterday – the famous Latin tag (from Horace Odes) means Sweet! And decorous!”. The title was ironic. The intention was to shock people at home who thought war was noble and glorious.

The poems of Wilfred Owen  War Poems by Siegfried Sassoon  Poetical Works by Rupert Brooke  Goodbye to all that by Robert Graves  Three Poets of the First World War

Websites – The War Poets Website contains lots of useful information about the First World War Poets and their poems.  as does the First World War Poets Digital Archive .  Poetry by Heart incorporates a First World War Poetry Showcase.

A Winner of the Costa Biography award in 2012, the title of Matthew Hollis’s biography about the Anglo/Welsh poet Edward Thomas, Now all roads lead to France: the last years of Edward Thomas alludes to his poem ‘Roads’ (1916) in the verse “Now all roads lead to France/And heavy is the tread/Of the living,but the dead/Returning lightly dance”

Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘My boy Jack’ was written when his dear son Jack went missing during the Battle of Loos in 1915.

P   O   E   T   R   Y

Poems from the First world War selected by Gaby Morgan Minds at war by David Roberts Selected Poems by Edward Thomas Out in the dark by David Roberts The Nation's Favourite Poems of Remembrance

All the above books, and many more, can be found in our libraries. Click on the image links, or take a look at our First World War – War Poets and Poetry reading list, where you will also find several other WW1 book selections.

[Elin]

The final countdown

Gustav Holst 1921Our last Behind the Lines* School workshop brought this part of our amazing project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to a close, but what a brilliant finale it was. An enthusiastic bunch of pupils from Servite Primary School in Kensington joined us on a musical adventure through the solar system. With workshop leader Detta Danford and musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English composer Gustav Holst was our very own “stellar” musical guide.

Mars, BonattiFollowing a short warm up, the RPO musicians introduced us to Holst’s Planet Suite which he composed between 1914 and 1916. Each of the seven movements is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character, opening with Mars – The bringer of war. The RPO musicians played some very war-like excerpts from Mars, got everybody clapping along in time with the music, and asked us to describe what it reminded us of. There were lots of ideas that fitted with the “outer space” theme ranging from ‘menacing’ to ‘invading aliens’, very fitting for a planet associated with Martian invasions.

The Seven Planets - JupiterThe musicians then blasted off into the solar system all the way to the fourth movement of the Suite: Jupiter – The bringer of jollity. As soon as we’d listened to the opening bars, it was easy to understand why the composer described it as being “joyful”; it’s a much brighter and happier piece than Mars. This was a great excuse to make up some words and sing along with the musicians: “Joyful, cheerful day, we’re so happy!”

But it was soon time for the musicians to re-launch the space ship to our final planetary destination: Neptune – The mystic, very dark and mysterious music, it almost sounded like the soundtrack to a horror movie.

Not wanting to linger too long in this eerie and scary place, we stopped our space travel for a while, came back down to earth and explored the Music Library’s shelves. Time for our RPO musicians to be put to the test and show off their fantastic sight reading skills, being presented with scores by Mozart and Richard Strauss proved to be no problem at all. Even better than this, music from The Lion King and The Jungle book didn’t phase them, but the highlight was undoubtedly a rendition of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror for vibraphone, glockenspiel and violin. These guys really know their stuff!

Solar systemThere was still plenty of time to go back to our exploration of outer space and a return “trip” to Jupiter, this time for a musical re-imagining of this jolly planet. All the new ideas, rhythms and melodies the group created which had been inspired by Gustav Holst’s original Suite came together for a very “out of this world” final performance, before the return voyage to Planet Earth.

A very exciting journey of The Planet Suite for our young musical explorers, one which we hope will inspire all of us to learn more about this much loved symphonic work. Here’s a few interesting facts to get you started:

  • Gustav Holst studied astrology which inspired him to compose The Planet Suite
  • There are two missing planets: Earth and Pluto (the latter was undiscovered at the time he composed it)
  • The Planet Suite premiered in 1918 when The First World War was still raging.

For most of his adult life, Gustav Holst taught music at St Paul’s School for Girls in Hammersmith, part of our very own Tri-borough. He paid tribute to the school and the area in his St Paul’s Suite for strings, and Hammersmith, prelude and scherzo for military band.

[Ruth]


*In 2013 Westminster Music Library teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for Behind the Lines, a large-scale programme of musical activities focusing on composers and music of the First World War. Our adult, family and schools Behind the Lines workshops may be over (for now – we’re busily planning lots of future musical activities – watch this space!) but there’s still our Summer School to look forward to next month where we’ll be commemorating the music and composers of World War One, and ending with a grand finale performance by participants alongside musicians at St John Smith’s Square.

To find out more or to grab yourself a place on the Summer School, visit: www.musicbehindthelines.org/workshops/summer-school/