Pierre Boulez Memorial Service

Robert Court, University Organist and Associate Lecturer at the School of Music, writes about the recent Parisian memorial service for Pierre Boulez…

Pierre Boulez Memorial Service
Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris
4pm January 14th 2016

Just before Christmas, and two days before the terrorist attack on the Bataclan theatre, I had booked a two night trip to Paris in order to see the acclaimed “Splendours and Miseries” exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, and the newly refurbished Musée Rodin.

The exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay certainly lived up to the hype and it was while strolling from there, along the left bank of the Seine back to our hotel, that we decided to take a detour to Saint-Sulpice hoping to hear the wonderful organ. When we got to the church we were a little taken aback by the presence of armed police and security guards but assumed it was part of the heightened security measures in place in Paris at the moment and decided to go in anyway.

By pure chance we had arrived 10 minutes before the start of the memorial service in thanksgiving for the life of Pierre Boulez, who had died on January 5th aged 90. Having been a little apprehensive about visiting Paris after recent events, and determined to avoid anywhere that could be regarded as a terrorist “target”, we now unexpectedly found ourselves in the company of the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, and many other luminaries from across the French political and artistic spectrum!

Photo taken by Robert Court

Photo taken by Robert Court

Boulez’ funeral had been held the previous day in Baden-Baden, south-western Germany, and this service was the occasion for France to pay its respects. It was essentially a private event but the church was still open to the public. Seats for the family, dignitaries and friends had been reserved at the front but there were plenty of seats available, although they quickly filled up. We picked up an order of service and, looking through it, could not believe that we had unwittingly found ourselves about to witness a small moment of music history in the making.

At 4pm the service quietly began with extracts from Boulez’ Dialogue de l’ombre double, pour clarinette  with soloists from l’Ensemble Intercontemporain spaced around the front of the church, and this was immediately followed by Daniel Roth, organist at Saint-Sulpice, playing Messiaen’s Apparition de l’Église Éternelle. From the simple strain of a single clarinet, emanating as if from nowhere, the church was gradually filled with sound as the organ grew ever louder before subsiding again in preparation for the welcome by père Jean-Loup Lacroix.

From here on music and words alternated. We heard Boulez’ Anthèmes 1 pour violon; a eulogy from Daniel Barenboim; a reading from the book of Job and a sermon; two of Bach’s most intricate and complicated canons from his variations on Vom Himmel Hoch for organ. Another eulogy followed, this time from Renzo Piano (the architect who, amongst other things, designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The Shard in London); a transcription for voices of Farben op.16 no 3 by Arnold Schönberg sung by Accentus (conducted by Laurence Equilby); a psalm (De Profundis) and prayers.

The final eulogy was given by Laurent Bayle (president of the Philharmonie de Paris) after which members of l’Ensemble Intercontemporain played Boulez’ Mémoriale, pour flute et huit instruments. The final blessing was given and Daniel Roth played Bach’s fitting Prelude and Fugue in b minor BWV 544 while the congregation dispersed.

A friend of 50 years, Barenboim’s eulogy focussed on Boulez’ legacy. “He is with us not only because his music continues to be played but because he had a unique ‘radiation’”. He described the composer’s curiosity: ”Everything interested him: music, literature, painting, theatre…. and he knew how to establish connections between all things.”

Renzo Piano delivered an account of Boulez the man, recalling his first meeting with the composer, and describing his lifelong quest for beauty. He drew parallels between architects and musicians –  “We have common points: we need order, geometry, precision, structures, and we work with sequences.”

The atmosphere of the occasion was sombre. This was not a celebration but rather a respectful tribute, a threnody almost, on the passing of a composer whose name is writ large in the history of western music. Laurent Bayle beautifully captured the spirit of the moment when, at the end of his eulogy, he paraphrased a text Boulez himself had read at the funeral of Edgard Varèse: “Adieu, Pierre, adieu! Ton temps est fini et il commence”.

Robert Court
18 January 2016

Musical creativity and communication in the age of social media

Dr Robert Fokkens writes about our involvement with the Signum Quartet’s exciting #qwartweet project…

Over the next 18 months, Cardiff University composers will be partnering an exceptional German chamber ensemble – the Signum Quartet (previously BBC New Generation Artists) – in an innovative project based around the Twitter social media platform. Devised by the Signum Quartet, the #quartweet project invites any composer with access to social media to write the quartet a piece which is only 140 notes long – in response, of course, to the 140-character word limit of the tweet. The piece is then tweeted to the quartet: they have committed to playing through every piece they receive, and where possible they will programme these pieces in their concerts, as well as making workshop recordings to be disseminated through channels such as Youtube.


Xandi van Dijk, an old friend and collaborator of mine, is the violist in the quartet and the mastermind behind this project. He says of the #quartweet concept: “Social media is at the centre of a change in how we communicate with each other, and we wanted to extend this experiment in communication to the realm of music and to compositions for quartet in particular.”

I was fortunate to be one of his sounding-boards as he developed the project, and was very pleased to be able to invite the quartet to visit the School of Music in 2016 for a residency based around it. The project launched in June on Twitter, and will be developed further later this month when the quartet has a residency with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra in the USA.

What fascinates me about the #quartweet idea is the way it touches on so many aspects of how we use and are being shaped by social media – for example, the imposition of brevity and focus in our communication; the apparent intimacy and directness of communication; the democratisation and globalisation of communication; the performativity of social media; the relationship between electronic and ‘live’ media and many more. The project also has exciting potential as an educational tool for budding composers – the Signum Quartet will be exploring this during their Princeton residency with primary school students, alongside workshops with more experienced young composers.

When the quartet visits Cardiff next year, I hope to explore these ideas in more detail with the quartet, our students and fellow academics – teasing out the implications of a project like this for musical creativity, but also enjoying the challenge of extreme compositional focus and concision. Until then, the project is open to all – composers should follow @SignumQuartet on Twitter, and look at their website for more information on the project:  http://signumquartet.com/en/quartweet/#description

Dr Robert Fokkens

Fare Thee Well

Dr Sarah Hill on the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary concerts…

grateful deadWe are now half a century removed from the 1960s. More to the point, we’re now fifty years away from the sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll half of the 1960s. For the last year or so there have been commemorations marking the anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s seminal ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, and the seemingly endless celebrations of the Rolling Stones’ 50 active years of touring and recording; in the next couple of years there will be more solemn commemorations of darker events in the latter half of the decade and a celebration of one of man’s greatest accomplishments. In the meantime, there will be other smaller, but no less interesting, anniversaries to mark, many reflecting on the enormous cultural shifts that resulted from the various forms of social and psychological experimentation now synonymous with ‘the Sixties’.

An embodiment of those ‘Sixties’ was a San Francisco band, the Grateful Dead. In the book I have just finished writing, the Dead figure prominently: one of their songs, ‘Ripple’, serves as the book’s central metaphor, and the book ends with the 2008 founding of the Grateful Dead Archive at my alma mater, the University of California at Santa Cruz. The reason for this final chapter is simple: for every band’s life, there is an often equally interesting afterlife. The Grateful Dead had ceased as a performing ensemble in 1995 after the death of their lead guitarist and singer, Jerry Garcia, marking the end of a career unlike any other in popular music history.

Grateful_Dead_(1970)The Dead might not have sold the most recordings, or had the most (or any) hit singles, but they did have perhaps the most dedicated fanbase of any other rock band. The fact that the Grateful Dead – hippie band to end all hippie bands – had the foresight to preserve not only the materials to support their musical legacy, but their business legacy as well, is reason enough to rethink all those rampant cultural stereotypes about dirty hippies and their transient lifestyle. Because, as we all know, hippiedom has also led to some pretty fundamental aspects of modern life that no one seems to mind too much.

At the beginning of this year the remaining members of the Grateful Dead announced that they would be performing three ‘farewell’ shows at Soldier Field in Chicago to mark their 50th anniversary. For a band as closely connected with San Francisco as the Grateful Dead, this choice of venue seemed odd. Yes, the band played their last concert with Jerry Garcia at Soldier Field, but they played far more, and far more memorable, concerts around the San Francisco Bay Area between 1965-95, from their earliest appearances at Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests, to regular free shows in Golden Gate Park, their appearances at the city’s ballrooms, their regular residencies across the Bay Area over three decades.

A symbolic return to the site of their last official public performance was understandable, but not unanimously welcomed by Deadheads.

Then the inevitable happened: demand for tickets to those final Fare Thee Well shows was so great that the Dead announced two additional shows to be held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, just south of San Francisco. Ditto demand for those tickets. Legitimate ticket prices for the five shows were high enough, but reached ridiculous heights on the secondary market, fuelling many online discussions amongst hippies ‘who were there’ in the 1960s and Deadheads ‘who were there’ ever after, about the unhappy realization that the band would be reaping some financial reward for their work, that they had sold out to corporate America, that it wasn’t going to be the Grateful Dead performing if Jerry Garcia wasn’t also on stage.

Then there was the question of the band’s choice for Garcia’s replacement: Trey Anastasio, of the band Phish. The debates about who would have been the better choice were interesting to follow, but so was the question about how Anastasio would play the material without resorting to an attempt at pastiche Garcia.

All this went on for months before the shows even happened. And just in advance of the Santa Clara shows, in light of the buzz and the chatter and the nostalgia and the moaning about ticket prices, the Dead announced that all five Fare Thee Well Shows, the two in Santa Clara and the three in Chicago, would be available for live streaming at homes and in cinemas across the United States, and that the final show would be broadcast ‘as live’ in cinemas around the world the night after the final concert. And so I found myself on Monday night, 6th July, at the Chapter cinema, with my six-year-old daughter and a handful of Cardiff hippies, waiting for the lights to dim.

deadI will admit right now to seeking out the spoiler alerts that morning. I read the reviews, saw the set list, tried to calculate how late I would be dragging my sleepy kid home. I was aware what songs the band had played on the previous nights, and looked forward to hearing for myself what a 21st-century Grateful Dead could sound like, so many years past their own 1960s. I never had any intention of trying to go to the actual concerts, and did not expect the Chapter showing to match the experience of seeing the Dead in their prime; the experience of seeing them in my local cinema, however, was a little more challenging than I had anticipated.

First there was the pretext of ‘liveness’: the clock counting down two minutes to showtime, obviously there for the streamers the night before, which nonetheless sent a little thrill through the half-full cinema. But of course, even when we caught the first sight of Soldier Field we remained comfortably seated, quiet save for a smattering of applause here and there. There were crowd shots, there was a shot of the blimp, there was a shot of the beautiful Chicago skyline – the ‘live’ production of the event was no different to the live broadcast of any major sporting event. The remote audiences had the advantage of the longshot; yet while the people sitting in the further reaches of the stadium might have been getting the better social experience, they would have been watching much the same edited footage that we were back in Cardiff.

And this is the second main point. The Grateful Dead were the original jam band: they could take a three-minute song and stretch it into forty-five, or build a thirty-minute improvisation on nothing more than two chords and a shuffle. On a musicological level, there is a lot to be said for the directions that the Dead could take their material, and on a sociological level, there is even more to be said for the ways in which the Dead’s audience would respond to the music. The problem is that the jam band concert really does not work as a spectator sport. There we were in Cardiff, watching a sea of 80,000 heads bobbing up and down in the stadium, and seven men standing in front of them on stage, for three hours.

We got a sense of the light show, and occasionally a sense of the excitement in the audience when each new song began; we got close-ups of facial expressions and fingers on frets, we saw the band’s ringers reading music, we saw two original frontmen adjusting their iPad monitors; we skipped the intermissions and got the whole show in one condensed form. But without the benefit of those other 80,000 people bobbing around us, we were entirely removed from the action and from the atmosphere.

Sure, there were the two hippies dancing down at the front of the Chapter cinema, and for most of the first half my daughter joined them, but the rest of us were sitting awkwardly, not singing along, not really moving, not talking to each other; just sitting, watching something that was neither a live transmission of a concert in progress, nor a polished, edited concert film. It was an interesting document, yes, and a bittersweet way to end the long process of writing my book about San Francisco in the 1960s, but it also made me think, again, even more, about distances and time and nostalgia and the ephemeral moments that people hold onto, sometimes for fifty years, after the music ends.

Beethoven Was Wrong

PhD composer Daniel James Ross tells us about his new radio show dedicated to contemporary composers at UK universities…

Beethoven was Wrong resized

Beethoven Was Wrong is a radio show that I am making for the world’s first radio art station, Resonance FM. Below is a description of the show from the website:

“BWW is a radio show about contemporary composers at UK universities. Each week we visit a different music department and listen to pieces by staff and students, creating a musical map of the UK’s institutions.

With Beethoven the parts of a composition were defined by means of harmony. With Satie […] they were defined by means of time-lengths. The question of structure is so basic, and it is so important to be in agreement about it, that we must now ask: Was Beethoven right or […] Satie? I answer immediately and unequivocally, Beethoven was in error, and his influence, which has been extensive as it is lamentable, has been deadening to the art of music.”
John Cage, “Defense of Satie,” in John Cage, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (New York: Praeger, 1970):81.

Now, here at BWW we don’t actually think that Beethoven was wrong. However, the above quote by John Cage says a lot about the world in which contemporary composers find themselves. With access to scholarship and recorded music from all over history and the world, how do our institutions stay in the vanguard of musical expression? How do composers react to the twenty-first century? BWW offers listeners a glimpse into the fascinating world of the university music department.

The title of the show has been taken from chapter fourteen of the excellent book The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross.

BWW is written & presented by Daniel James Ross, lecturer at Morley College & PhD music composition candidate at Cardiff University.

The idea for this show first came to me around three years ago. I had graduated from the University of Edinburgh and moved back to London at the beginning of the “credit crunch”. As the “crunch” developed into a recession, it became harder and harder to find work. Finding myself with a fair amount of free time, I thought I’d better put it to good use and volunteer somewhere. I chose Resonance FM because I had always loved radio, knew some people who had made excellent shows for them, and fancied putting my sound engineering skills to the test.

A few months later I realised how much I was missing academia and elected to apply for a PhD. I knew that I wanted to study composition, but finding the right department was a challenge. If you have ever visited the websites of different music – or, in fact, any – departments they will all tell you pretty much the same thing, namely: “our research interests are broad, our department is internationally successful and our facilities are world class.” I was going to have to do some more research.

I visited the websites of different lecturers and composers working at the universities in which I was interested. Understandably, there is not a lot of music available for free streaming by contemporary composers and, being unemployed, I was in no position to endlessly buy CDs of music by potential supervisors. Of course, there was some music available on-line and I listened to everything I could.

Finding recordings of pieces by students was even more difficult. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into all the reasons why student work is underrepresented in the musical world, but, suffice it to say, I had found a gap in the market. A radio programme that showcased music by staff and student composers from different universities around the country would be an excellent way of promoting new music and fostering inter-departmental collaboration.

In October 2014, I put out a call for works within the music department at Cardiff in order to create a pilot episode. It lasted half an hour and was broadcast on Resonance FM in one of their dedicated clear spot slots for one-off shows. A podcast version of the show can be found here. The following January, I got the go ahead to create an entire series of six hour-long episodes.

Creating the show has not been particularly difficult, as I know my way around a recording studio, but it has taken far longer than I originally envisaged. Collating six hours’ worth of material from different universities has taken a long time! However, it has been a great experience and I have met some wonderful composers and heard so many beautiful, interesting, inspiring, and moving pieces of music and sonic art.

The series is in the final proof-listening stage and should be broadcast within the next month or so. Keep checking the website for more details.

Daniel James Ross, June 2015

The Big Ears Workshop

Composer Richard McReynolds is studying for his PhD in composition. Here he tells us about his involvement in a workshop collaboratively creating prototype accessible interfaces, and using them to create an improvised electronic music ensemble performance…

“My research involves the use of gestural devices to trigger electronic sounds in musical performance.  In order to explore the applications of my research during the last week of March I travelled to the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast to take part in The Big Ears Workshop.

Big Ears

“This is a public engagement course that gives students the opportunity to work with the sonic arts with a non-specialist audience.  This year Big Ears was in collaboration with the Drake Foundation N.I.,  an organisation which works to give people with complex disabilities the ability to independently make music.  The goal of the project was to meet musicians who were part of the Drake Foundation and then design an instrument for them to play at the end of the three-day workshop.

“On the first day we were introduced to the project and to the Drake Foundation as an organisation.  We were then organised into groups and introduced to the musician that we would be designing an instrument for. The instrumentalists were at the heart of the project.  We talked with them over lunch in order to find out what controller they would prefer to work with and what physical gestures would be the easiest for them.

“This was quite a different experience from me as my research is based around composition with the idea of the sound and structure of the piece at the centre of my thinking throughout most of the projects I undertake. To be purely an instrument designer and to not have the majority of control over the sound output and the piece was a strange experience for me.

“After deciding with our musicians what their ideal instruments would be to perform we spent the rest of the day learning basic skills on Arduino circuit boards, Max MSP and Ableton Live.  This was incredibly useful for me as I have a lot of knowledge about Max MSP but hadn’t had the opportunity to work with hardware such as Arduino Circuit boards and Ableton Live software.

“This gave me the opportunity to quickly learn the basics of both and put them to use in a project immediately. I have always found this the best way to learn skills.

“The next day was spent putting what we had learned the previous afternoon to use.  Creating the instruments that were tailor-made for the performers.  It was a long day of wires coding and frustration but, by the end of the day, the instruments were starting to take shape.

“The instrument that my group created was triggered by waving a glove with L.E.D. strips attached to it in front of a computer webcam.  The camera then detected the light and with that information the computer could trigger 6 notes depending on where the hand’s position was in the range of the camera.  There was also the added functionality of a pressure switch that could control the delay of the samples to create a more legato sound, as well as three buttons that would change the notes.

“The final day involved fine-tuning the circuitry, hiding unsightly and delicate cables, then taking our instruments into the performance space.  Here the members of the Drake Foundation returned and they were able to try out the newly created instruments.  We conversed with our musicians again and they chose the synthesised sounds that the instruments would create.

“When everyone was set-up, a piece was composed that showcased all of the performers.  This was then performed later that evening in a public concert.  The recording of the piece can be found here:  https://soundcloud.com/drake-music-project-ni/sets/big-ears-drake-music-ni-performance-27th-march

“The three-day workshop was an incredibly rewarding and insightful experience.  As someone who has knowledge and previous experience in using technology and physical gesture to create music I still learned a lot about what possibilities there are.

“If you have even just a small experience working with electronic music or sound art I would highly recommend applying for the Big Ears program. There is definitely a lot you can get out of it and, at the same time, you are providing something beneficial for someone else. ”

Drake Music: http://www.drakemusic.org/

Drake Music Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/DrakeMusicProjectNI?fref=ts

Big Ears Site:  http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/bigears/

Big Ears with Drake Blog – http://bigearswithdrakeni.tumblr.com/

Music and Ceramics – a collaboration

PhD composer John Cooney on an exciting collaboration with National Museum Wales…

Amgueddfa_Genedlaethol_Caerdydd“When the chance came to be involved in a collaboration with National Museum Wales, and to write a new piece for an event in the Museum’s Fragile? exhibition, I was delighted.  I have always enjoyed collaborating with artists from other disciplines and have learned a great deal over the years from working with poets, playwrights, painters and choreographers.

“However this was something new, because ceramics are the focus of this particular exhibition.  Fragile? showcases the diversity of contemporary ceramics practice, exploring the artistic and expressive possibilities of ceramic as a material.

“Several postgraduate composers were to be involved in the project and we were each paired with a ceramicist whose work was to be featured in the exhibition.  I was paired with Ashraf Hanna, a ceramicist based in West Wales.

“I began researching Ashraf’s work and quickly discovered that he is at the forefront of innovation in ceramics practice, recently winning a Creative Wales Award to fund his project An Exploration in the Language of Form and Material.  It was clear that many of the concerns in his work were comparable with those of a composer, and I contacted Ashraf to find out more.

“I was sent an image of the specific work that I was to respond to, called Rhythm Vessel.  Made of raku-fired earthenware, it has a surface carved with an intricate pattern of curved and straight lines.  I discussed the ideas behind the piece with Ashraf and later sent him some thoughts about how I could use the ideas within the piece to inform my response.

Ashraf Hanna's 'Rhythm Vessel' - photograph used with kind permission of National Museum Wales

Ashraf Hanna’s ‘Rhythm Vessel’ – photograph used with kind permission of National Museum Wales

“Two main aspects of Rhythm Vessel stood out for musical development – one was the title, together with the rhythmic sweep and energy of the surface design, while the other was the whole firing process involved in the creation of Rhythm Vessel.

“Raku is a very rapid and intense firing method that involves placing the pot in the kiln only after it has reached a very high temperature, before removing it while still extremely hot, leaving it to cool in the open air or plunging into water to cool suddenly.

“As I was writing the piece, which I called Ellipse, I became aware that these aspects of Rhythm Vessel were having a direct effect on the music, leading me to explore writing in ways that were different from my other pieces.  The rhythmic energy of Ashraf’s work encouraged me to explore pulse and rhythm in a more defined and discrete way than usual, while the shape of the vessel and the patterns on the surface led me towards a greater use of circularity in the way the musical material is revisited and reimagined.

“The firing technique directly inspired the form of my piece, tracing a journey from stasis, through the process of heating, reaching a moment of intense heat before the gradual cooling process begins.”

The pieces by our composition students involved in this project – Blair Boyd, John Cooney, Jordan Hirst, Julia E Howell, Martin Humphries, Carol J Jones, Richard McReynolds, and Daniel Ross – will be performed in concert at National Museum Wales, Thursday 28 May, 7pm. The performances by Lisa Nelsen (flute) and Gwenllian Llyr (harp) will be part of a programme of late night music at the Museum. Visit the Museum’s website for ticket information.


Sharing Postgraduate Research

PGR Study Day (2 May 2015)
PhD student Martin Čurda writes about a recent PGR Study Day at the School of Music...

“On Saturday 2nd May 2015, the students and staff of the School of Music gathered for a Postgraduate Research Study Day – the sixth instalment of a series of biannual events designed to bring together the postgraduate research community in our department and to give the students the opportunity to practice their presentation skills in a friendly, semi-formal environment.

“Last but not least, PGR Study Days are a showcase of the diversity and quality of postgraduate research conducted in our department.

“Ethnomusicological papers constituted the majority of presentations in this term’s event. Jeff Charest analysed lute-naming traditions from a linguistic perspective. Nicky Maher focused on gender roles underpinning the pagenyria festivals in the region of Pogoni on the Greek-Albanian border.

Kate Neale presenting

Kate Neale presenting

“Rod Lawford analysed the continuing problems of social integration of Roma people in Romania from the middle ages to the present day. Sebastián Wanumen explored a diverse range of cultural, social, and political agenda of the Colombian folklore genre of carranga.

“Finally, Kate Neale problematised constructions of identity and community in the carolling tradition of Cornish diaspora in Australia.

“Musicological research was represented by Alessandra Palidda, who analysed the ideological function of music during republican public feasts in 1790s Jacobin Milan. My own paper brought a hermeneutic analysis of the 1940/41 Symphony by Pavel Haas, explaining the musical articulation of religious patriotism and grotesque ridicule.

Martin Curda presenting

Martin Curda presenting

“The last session of the day included two papers from the field of popular music studies. Sam Murray addressed issues of marketing and policy-making in his analysis of the musical scene of Portland, Oregon and its lack of middle-sized music venues.

“Finally, Alicia Stark discussed the character of Noodle from the virtual band Gorillaz from the perspectives of gender stereotypes and Orientalism.

The mock interview - Martin Curda being interviewed by Dr Villepastour, Dr Rowden, and Dr Beard

The mock interview – Martin Curda being interviewed by Dr Villepastour, Dr Rowden, and Dr Beard

“As always, one session of the day was dedicated to professional development. This time, the students had the chance to witness a mock lecturing job interview. Drs Clair Rowden, Amanda Villepastour and David Beard kindly offered to take on the role of the panel, and I played the role of the applicant.

“In the interest of authenticity, the interview was based on a real lecturing job specification, using a CV and supporting statement written specifically for this vacancy. The actual role-playing exercise was preceded by a short introduction by the members of staff and followed by a discussion, which reflected on the strengths and weaknesses of the interview.

“Finally, most of us went on to conclude the day informally over dinner and drink and celebrate the community of friends and colleagues. Speaking as an organiser of this event and as a final year student, I am delighted to say that it takes little more to create a successful and stimulating event than to bring people together and that I feel privileged to have been a member of the postgraduate community in this department.”

Bartolomeo Campagnoli reloaded

PhD student Simone Laghi on Italian String Quartets and bringing Bartolomeo Campagnoli to new audiences…

CampagnoliI am writing this post on a train that is taking me to Turin. In three hours, I will be giving a speech in the library of the Circolo dei Lettore (Reader’s Club) to present the next concert of the Orchestra Polledro, a recent and vibrant ensemble led by Federico Bisio. Apart from playing in the orchestra as principal viola, I was been challenged by M° Bisio programme some music related to my musicological research and, as a result, we will soon perform the Violin Concerto Op. 15 in Eb major by Bartolomeo Campagnoli (1751-1827).

It is not the first time that this music has been performed in modern times. There is a recording by the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto (Dynamics, CDS 214, 1999, soloist Francesco Manara). Unfortunately, there is no commercial edition of this concerto, and my duty was to reconstruct the score from the orignal printed parts by Breitkopf und Hartel, printed in Leipzig in 1810. At the end of the editing process I couldn’t refrain from Manara’s recording with my score. I have to admit that I was really surprised to find that, despite the general good level of performance, several nuances and graces were left out from his performance.

While preparing the concert, I have been discussing these details with the conductor and the violinist Marco Norzi, who is the principal violin of Orchestra Polledro and the soloist for this performance. We agreed assign utmost importantce to all the details. When a performer works on lesser-known repertoire, the temptation to rely exclusively on the few available recordings can lead to major misinterpretations of the score, thus creating a detriment to the quality of the music as the composer intended it. Sometimes it can be much better to not actually listen to any recordings as it allows you the chance to give your own interpretation of a piece.

The style of the performance should as well be appropriate to the score. There are plenty of old treatises, new books and academic articles available nowadays to allow a musician to get in touch with particular issues of historical performance practice. It is my personal belief that music can express itself at its best only when the performance style is appropriate, in the same way that a novel is always more satisfying if read in the original language. This doesn’t mean in any way that there is just one right performance style, but musical relativism is not an options that fullfil my curiosity.















I won’t write a long digression on Campagnoli’s biography (this can be easily found on Wikipedia or in specialized books); it is just enough to point out that he is nowadays mostly famous for his violin methods and his caprices for viola. Last year I published, with Ensemble Symposium, his six string quartets that were considered lost but reappeared in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin in 1997 (for more information, please follow this link).

The recording, released by Brilliant Classics, was awarded five stars and nominated for Album of the Month by the website CdClassico, receiving an enthusiastic review. Despite the interest raised by the appearance of this and other sets of string quartets composed by relatively unknown Italian composers, it is still hard for critics and musicologists to give these authors an independent dignity, without falling into the trap of comparing  them to the mainstream German tradition (Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven).

The Italian String Quartet has indeed an interesting and underestimated history, which followed a different (if not opposite) path to the German tradition. I hope to shed some light on this particular topic in the course of my PhD research.

I had the chance to describe my work on Campagnoli’s quartets in a paper presented at the Conference ‘P.A. Locatelli and J. M. Leclair: Legacy in the 19th Century’, held in Bergamo on 17-19 October 2014 and organized by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini. I just finished a preliminary draft for a critical edition of this set, which will be published by A-R editions (USA). I hope to proceed in the same way for the violin concerto, and to make the score available soon for performers.

It is such a pleasure to hear compositions that have not been performed for centuries, and to hear them coming out so fresh and vibrant after such a long sleep. I really do hope to hear further performances of these scores by curious musicians, and to keep raising interest in the neglected repertoire of Italian instrumental music from the late-18th and 19th-centuries.

‘Shakespeare of music’ finally gets his own blue plaque

Professor David Wyn Jonesconversationlogo

This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

London is about to get its latest blue plaque. A building on Great Pulteney Street in Soho will soon be marked as the site of the house where the Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn, lived from January 1791 to July 1792.

Located in the middle of fashionable Soho it was conveniently close to the Hanover Square Concert Rooms, where Haydn was resident composer in a series of concerts. It was also within walking distance of the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, for which he had been asked to write an opera and a few minutes away from a Catholic chapel in Golden Square, where Haydn the devout Catholic could worship.

Although he was making his first visit to London, his music had dominated concert life in the city for nearly ten years, an astonishing achievement when one remembers that public popularity of composers at the time still tended to be dependent on their physical presence.

Dubbing him the “Shakespeare of music” the English press had already paid him the ultimate compliment. Repeated attempts to get the composer to visit London finally paid off iJoseph_Haydnn 1791. It could have been an anticlimax, but Haydn and his music became central to London’s busy musical life, so much so that a second visit followed in 1794-95.

The music that Haydn composed in, and for, London included an opera, 12 symphonies, six quartets, piano music of all kinds, songs, settings of Scottish folksongs and even an arrangement of God Save the King (now lost). The London symphonies, in particular, cemented a fundamental shift in musical history, from opera being regarded as the ultimate creative challenge for any composer to instrumental music being its equal, if not in certain respects its superior.

Beethoven, who was Haydn’s pupil between the two visits and who was to have accompanied him for the second, was one composer who responded to this seismic shift. One of the tantalising “what-ifs” of Western musical history is to ponder whether Beethoven’s symphonies would have emerged in the way they did if Haydn had not composed his London symphonies. If the answer is probably not, then the whole history of western art music in the 19th century would have been very different.

As well as musical history, Haydn’s presence in London in the 1790s had wider cultural and political resonances. His visits coincided with the beginnings of the French Revolutionary Wars. From 1792 onwards, Austria and Britain were frequent coalition partners in the fight against France, and Haydn, the newly enthusiastic Anglophile and a Habsburg loyalist of the most traditional kind, came to embody that relationship.

He visited the dockyards in Portsmouth to see the remnants of the French fleet after Britain’s fleet won the Glorious First of June battle, composed marches for the Derbyshire Regiment, and was a revered guest of King George III and the Prince of Wales. Back in Vienna he composed the erstwhile Austrian national anthem Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, clearly modelled on God save the King.

He wrote a cantata for Emma Hamilton to sing that celebrated Nelson’s stunning victory at the Battle of the Nile and, most enduringly, composed a bilingual oratorio, The Creation, that reflected the inherited musical, literary and religious traditions of Austria and Britain.

At the end of the 18th century Haydn was unquestionably the greatest living composer – and London had played a determining role in that elevation. A blue plaque was long overdue.

Would Haydn have approved? As a person, he was a paradox: a modest, dutiful man who nevertheless liked recognition. He valued his Oxford honorary doctorate, sat for several portraits while he was in London and kept a box of press cuttings from the two visits. A discrete blue plaque for the Shakespeare of music could not be more appropriate.