Review of Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg, The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (Farnham: Ashgate 2015)
Writing in the June 1920 issue of The Sackbut, Alvin Langdon Coburn claimed:
There are some who are born with an appreciation of music but whose tender years have not been made unbearable by musical drudgery. Hours of ‘five-finger exercises’ with the thoughts on the playground, and lessons from an uncongenial teacher, never did a child any good and never will. All art-expression should come as a pleasure, a welling-up of an inner joy. Without this, art is dead, a stale and tasteless thing, and […] some have this innate musical instinct slumbering and dormant in their natures, unable to find a way of expressing itself, and to such the pianola comes as a positive exultation!
Coburn’s observations foreground several issues that are at the heart of Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg’s The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (2015): the quandary faced by those unable, or who have never had the opportunity to learn, to play the piano, but who deeply appreciate and wish to perform the music written for it (and, via piano reductions, for the orchestra); the tension between admiring music ‘naturally’ and respecting it professionally; and the anxieties generated by a mechanically made art, be it through technology or through the prestidigitation of a well-trained human being. Continue reading
Programme cover for the December 1903 recital
In 1903 one of the world’s leading composers came to London to perform an evening of his own ground-breaking songs. In today’s parlance this was what could well be called ‘a dream recital’, and yet amazingly it met with a marked detachment from both contemporary critics and the concert-going public as a whole. Such aloof disinterest, I would say, reveals much about the insular attitudes towards foreign music in Britain at the time.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was born in Munich and by the turn of the last century he had become a composer of Lieder and tone poems of international significance. In 1894 he had married the German soprano, Pauline de Ahna (1863-1950), and together they formed a formidable performing couple, touring extensively across the whole of Europe. It was the London-based concert manager, Hugo Görlitz, who organised the visit of the Strausses to Britain at the end of 1903, primarily so that Strauss could conduct a Berlioz Centenary Concert at the Queen’s Hall on 11 December that year. How enterprising it would be, Görlitz no doubt thought, to arrange for Pauline to sing some of her husband’s sensational songs while they were here. Continue reading
‘Ida Sweet as Apple Cider’ by Eddie Munson, 1916 edition
[The following article was written by Patricia Hammond, a researcher and performer of Edwardian ragtime-parlour music.]
I have a band called Ragtime Parlour. We perform Edwardian music: songs to sing along to, songs to dance to, songs to listen to. As far as I know, we’re the only Edwardian band in London.
This is our biggest strength, and our biggest liability.
“Is it jazz?” the bookers ask.
“Not really. We can improvise,” I tell them, “And it’s a style that informed jazz, led to it.”
“But if it isn’t jazz, is it classical?”
“Classical music lovers always adore it,” I answer, truthfully.
“Yes but what can we call it?”
“But nobody knows what that is.” Continue reading
‘Ralph Vaughan Williams’ by William Rothenstein
Music and the myth of intelligibility: An ICE Workshop
Friday 17 May 2013, Wadham College, Oxford
In his 1938 poem, ‘The Composer’, W. H. Auden praises the immediacy of music, juxtaposing it with painting and poetry as arts that require mediation (‘All the others translate’) and reception (‘by painstaking adaption’). Auden’s poem is just one of the most famous articulations of the idea that, of all the arts, music is the one that requires no intervention to render it intelligible across time and space (as suggested equally by Longfellow’s reference to music as ‘the universal language of mankind’). This workshop aims to scrutinise this influential yet problematic myth with a particular focus on the period 1870-1920.
1000 Registration and coffee
1030 Welcome and introductions Continue reading
In 2007 Alex Ross wrote the seminal book The Rest Is Noise – listening to the Twentieth Century. Throughout 2013 the Southbank Centre aims to bring the book alive with nearly 100 concerts, performances, films, talks and debates. They will take you on a chronological journey through the most important music of the 20th century and dramatise the century’s massive political and social upheavals. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, providing over 30 concerts, is the backbone of this festival, which reveals the stories behind the rich, exhilarating and sometimes controversial compositions that have changed the way we listen forever.
Edwardian culture will feature throughout the series, including the ‘Here Comes the Twentieth Century Weekend’ (19th-20th January), ‘Edwardian Visionaries: Exploring Edwardian Culture’ (26th January) and ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me‘ (3rd February). Explore the ‘The Rest is Noise’ website for more details.
Sylvia Gosse, ‘The Old Violinist’, c.1918-9
‘The universal language of mankind’: Music and the Myth of Intelligibility.
Friday 17 May 2012, Wadham College, Oxford
In his 1938 poem, ‘The Composer’, W. H. Auden praises the immediacy of music, juxtaposing it with painting and poetry as arts that require mediation (‘All the others translate’) and reception (‘by painstaking adaption’). Auden’s poem is just one of the most famous articulations of the idea that, of all the arts, music is the one that requires no intervention to render it intelligible across time and space (as suggested equally by Longfellow’s reference to music as ‘the universal language of mankind’). This workshop aims to scrutinise this influential yet problematic myth with a particular focus on the period 1870-1920. Papers may wish to address (but are not necessarily limited to) the following themes: Continue reading
One of the most significant composers of the Edwardian Era was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor who died on 1 September 1912 aged 37. His most famous composition was the Hiawatha Suite (1899-1900), though his large musical output also included incidental music for plays produced by Beerbohm Tree. To honour the 100th Anniversary of his death this year, there is a year-long Festival in Croydon. For more information on this please see the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network.
Coleridge-Taylor’s biographer Jeffrey Green (‘Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life’ – Pickering & Chatto 2011) has also written ‘Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. A Centenary Celebration’ (History & Social Action Publications 2012).
Listen to the Hiawatha Suite here.