Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Chris Walton's Zurich

Chris Walton, author of the acclaimed Richard Wagner's Zurich, published under our German Studies imprint, Camden House, writes about his own years in that beautiful city:

I’ve been asked to write something for From Beyond the Stave. But being doggedly lowtech in most things (I never use Powerpoint, for example, but stick with transparencies whenever I lecture), I’ve been humming and hah-ing about it for several months. But I’ve promised I’ll write something, and since the Boydell Blog seems to favour the anecdotal (those are the bits of the Blog I myself enjoy the most), I’ll oblige with something anecdotal of my own.

When I was a student back in Cambridge, I’d always sworn that the two careers I’d avoid would be teaching and librarianship. Perhaps inevitably, I ended up running Switzerland’s main music library for ten years and have been teaching ever since. The decade in Zurich was in many ways the most fascinating, not least because almost everyone who was anyone in the music world has passed through the place or lived there at some point. My job thus brought me into contact with all kinds of people I’d only ever read about – the place is a name-dropper’s paradise – and I was privileged to get to know, for example, the last surviving Berlin student of Arnold Schoenberg (Erich Schmid), I had tea regularly with Furtwängler’s widow Elisabeth (a remarkable lady in her own right), and became such good friends with Lotte Klemperer (a woman possessed of a great mind and even bigger heart) that we named our second daughter after her. For a boy from a northern English comprehensive school whose family comprised mostly coalminers, Zurich was quite an experience (Billy Elliot was filmed near where my family came from, and the star of the movie, Jamie Bell, comes from my home town of Billingham).

Part of my job was to locate the archives of composers and musicians and convince them or their heirs to donate them to my library (we never paid a penny, on principle, yet we still managed to get 106 archives in ten years). There were depressing occasions – such as when I found the heirs of a man who’d been a major concert pianist before the First World War and had written some spectacular music, only to find that they’d thrown out his diaries two weeks before. But then there were wonderful occasions such as when I visited the widow of Paul Kletzki in Berne. I’d been put in touch with her by a colleague from the Swiss Rights Society, but had at the time had my fill of widows of mediocre composers, and so allocated half an hour on my way back from a meeting to pay her a courtesy call, and then get home to the wife and kids halfway across the country. But when I got there, I discovered not only that she was charming, ebullient and very clever, but one glance at the opening of a symphony by her husband left me so excited that I immediately arranged to come again as soon as possible – the music was simply wonderful, subtly scored, and full of personality (if a composer can show you that on a single page, then he’s got something). I visited her several times after that – mostly for my own pleasure, I have to confess, as chatting with her (despite my rusty French) was a pure joy. And she donated all her husband’s scores to my library. Thanks to a local foundation and a lot of help from Tim Jackson of North Texas University, more and more of Kletzki’s works are being performed and recorded today (check out his Third Symphony on the BIS label).

One of the other real discoveries, however, was a Wagnerian one. I was visiting the daughter of a little-known late-Romantic Swiss composer and her husband with a view to our library acquiring her father’s archives. We had discussed everything, it was all decided, then just as we were leaving for lunch, she said “I’ve got a score that my mother picked up at auction fifty years ago, perhaps it might interest you as well”, and at that put before me a full score of Wagner’s Die Walküre. The score was in a script unknown to me, but the title page was unmistakeably in Wagner’s own hand. Another hand had scrawled a number at the bottom of the title page that I realized had to be the plate number of the full score as first printed by Schott in Mainz. I only had a minute or so to look at it before we went to lunch. I was probably too distracted to be polite over the meal, and couldn’t wait to get back to the office to check up on the score I’d just seen.

A quick look through the books and a phone call to the Wagner Edition in Munich that afternoon clarified the matter. It was the Stichvorlage, the manuscript copy made under Wagner’s supervision that had served as the basis for the first edition of the full score. It had been considered lost for half a century, since it was sold at auction and never seen again. Until now. And since Wagner’s original manuscript is deemed to have burnt to a cinder in Hitler’s bunker, the newly discovered score in question was more or less the most important source one could find for the opera. I explained to the family what it was they possessed, and they still agreed to donate it to my library. In return, we promised to have some of the father’s music recorded (and very fine it is too, well deserving of attention – check out Hermann von Glenck on the MGB and Guild Music labels). As it happened, the Wagner Edition was just busy with that opera, so the discovery came in time for them to consult it properly. Our fabulous bookbinding department (thank you, Armin Müller) was able to detach the many pasted-over sections (mostly Wagner tuba parts) so that the music underneath could be filmed for the Wagner Edition; it was all then put back the way it was.

Zurich has not seen any wars for two centuries, not since Napoleon invaded, and so many treasures have survived there that would have surely been destroyed anywhere else. I have no doubt that there are still Wagner treasures to be found there; but I consider myself lucky to have found one of the big ones.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Elliott Carter on Future Radio

Another interesting programme from our near-neighbour On an Overgrown Path on Future Radio, which will be broadcasting a (somewhat early) centenary tribute to Elliott Carter on Sunday February 24th. Once again those wanting to learn more about the 99 year old Mr Carter will be pleased to know that we have a paperback selection of his essays and lectures. Furthermore, in the Autumn we’ll be co-publishing an exciting new volume with the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Elliott Carter: A Tribute in Letters and Documents (exact title still to be announced) edited by Felix Meyer and Anne C Shreffler. More – including an early extract - on what promises to be a stunning volume in later posts. Available – as always – from a loyal band of specialist retailers.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Eastman's 50th

This month the University of Rochester Press will publish the 50th volume in its acclaimed series, Eastman Studies in Music. "When we began, I didn't dare dream that this could happen," says Ralph Locke (pictured right in front of the URP offices), a professor at the Eastman School of Music for more than 30 years and series editor since 1994. "We started producing two books a year, and now we are up to seven and growing, which means we can publish books on a range of topics and reach a wider spectrum of the reading public."

"Books about choral and organ music do very well," he notes, picking up a copy of Maurice Duruflé: The Man and His Music, a popular biography about the French organist and composer. "An organ can whisper or roar, people love that," says Locke. "And Duruflé's Requiem is widely loved for its gentle message of transcendence."

Originally from Boston, Mass., Locke recalls when his passion for classical music was permanently unleashed. It was the early 1970s. He was singing in the chorus of a Tanglewood concert. And Leonard Bernstein was wearing a Nehru suit conducting Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2. "It was so beautiful my head nearly blew off, and I knew that I wanted to keep music at the center of my life," says Locke. "I strongly felt that classical music could speak to anybody, I saw it all around me, regardless of social class or education."

In addition to his teaching at the Eastman School of Music and his work with the University of Rochester Press, Locke is writing a book about his most recent love, opera, and other theater works including West Side Story, from the perspective of how Western composers portray different places and ethnic groups.

Opera, he says, combines the best of everything: stage, drama, dancing, and costume. "And the music helps us sense on an emotional level what the libretto is saying in words and actions," says Locke. "Are the characters fearful, are they overly trusting? Music says it all."

From Beyond the Stave congratulates Ralph Locke, University of Rochester Press editorial director Suzanne Guiod and the editors of that 50th title: Music Theory and Mathematics: Chords, Collections, and Transformations (edited by Jack Douthett, Martha M. Hyde, and Charles J. Smith).

The photograph shows Ralph Locke in front of the University of Rochester Press offices located at the historic (1854) Ellwanger and Barry nursery building on Mount Hope Avenue.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Cage on Future Radio

A few miles up the road from Boydell’s Suffolk office is the home of the stimulating and often outspoken blog, On an Overgrown Path. The associated Future Radio broadcast this coming Sunday (February 10th, repeated on Monday) will feature the music of John Cage. Anyone coming away from this programme with an appetite for more should investigate Peter Dickinson’s recent book of interviews with and about the composer, CageTalk, described as “a valuable and enjoyable read” by BBC Music Magazine and an “ideal introduction to Cage” by the venerable Times Literary Supplement. Available, as they say, from all good booksellers, some of whom may be found here.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Performing Medieval Narrative

Most of the posts on From Beyond the Stave will be about books on the Western classical tradition published by the Boydell Press or the University of Rochester Press. This week we’re pleased to direct you to a fascinating website which explores music and performance from the medieval period: Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase.

The site is devoted to the performance of a wide range of medieval works. It functions in part as a companion website to two books published by D.S. Brewer, the scholarly literature string to the Boydell bow: Orality and Performance in Early French Romance by Evelyn Birge Vitz and Performing Medieval Narrative, edited by Professor Vitz, Nancy Freeman Regalado and Marilyn Lawrence. Evelyn “Timmie” Vitz writes:

For this blogspot let us emphasize the musical dimensions of the site. Quite a few of the clips demonstrate strongly musical performances: many are sung, some with musical accompaniment. Among the singers and instrumentalists currently represented on the site are Eberhard Kummer, playing the hurdy gurdy; Benjamin Bagby who plays the lyre, or Germanic harp, in his performances of Beowulf; Ron Cook, playing the Romanesque harp to Marie de France's Lais; and Katarina Livljanic and Dialogos, performing Judith, with archaic Croatian fiddles and flutes. The site also has students singing, and playing the piano, guitar, and saxophone. Other singing and instrumental music currently on the website represent the performance practice of traditional works from a wide variety of cultures - works whose performance today resembles that of similar works in the Middle Ages; thus, we have a singer performing a scene from the Karakalpak epic Edige with an archaic fiddle, and a singer playing a drum as he tells an Egyptian Hilali epic.

In future postings to Beyond the Stave we will invite some of the singers and musicians who have contributed to the website to speak about their work - and their instruments. Let us begin with professional performer (and lawyer) Ron Cook on the Romanesque harp:

The harp used in the 12th and 13th centuries was typically constructed with three sides of roughly equal length. This harp had from six to thirteen strings and was usually small enough to be held in the lap. Literary evidence suggests that the lowest one or two strings were dedicated to the playing of drone notes with one hand, accompanying the playing of melodies with the other hand. The harp used in the 12th and 13th centuries is often referred to as a Romanesque harp to distinguish it from the taller, narrower and more stylized harp that was used well into the 16th century. This later type of harp is often referred to as a Gothic harp.

Although the evidence is fragmentary, there is good reason to believe that Romanesque harps may have been equipped with brays pins: thin pieces of wood or metal attached to the top of, or comprising the top part of, each string holder on the instrument. These devices were adjusted to touch each string just enough to cause the strings to produce a very pronounced buzzing sound when plucked.

Medievalists, early music and theatre buffs will find much to engage them on Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase. Watch out for further posts on other instruments featured on the site.