Tag Archives: England

Falla in Britain

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Manuel de Falla first visited the U.K. in May 1911, when he participated in a concert of Spanish music given by the pianist Franz Liebich. (The concert received tepid reviews and was little noticed.)

In 1919 the composer spent a month in London to prepare with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for the premiere of his ballet El sombrero de tres picos; the performance took place to great acclaim on 22 July 1919. Unfortunately Falla had had to leave Britain the day before due to family matters, but several of the friendships formed during that sojourn were long-lasting, notably with his hostess, the Swedish soprano Louise Alvar, and with the composer and conductor Eugène Goossens.

In 1921 Falla stayed with Alvar and her husband again to play the piano in the British premiere of Noches en los jardines de España. He was back in London for a week in June 1927 for the U.K. premiere of his harpsichord concerto and to conduct the London Chamber Orchestra in El amor brujo and the London premiere of El retablo de maese Pedro. His last visit, in 1931, was for a BBC concert program of his music. The composer saw little of Britain outside London and had no English, but he enjoyed the British enthusiasm for his music.

This according to “Falla in Britain” by Chris Collins (The musical times CXLIV/1883 [summer 2003] pp. 33–48). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Today is Falla’s 140th birthday! Above, Pablo Picasso’s costumes and set for the 1919 premiere of El sombrero; below, a more recent London performance of the work.

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Filed under Reception, Romantic era

William Kimber and the morris revival

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Happy Boxing Day! On this day in 1899 Cecil Sharp witnessed a performance by the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers at the home of his mother-in-law. Intrigued by the tunes, he invited William Kimber, the group’s concertina player, to return the next day so that Sharp could notate them.

Sharp did not begin his folk song collecting until four years later, and in 1905 Mary Neal, an organizer at the Espérance Club for girls, asked Sharp if there were any dances to go with the tunes he had collected. Sharp referred her to Kimber, who traveled to the club to teach the dances, thus beginning the revival of traditional dance in England.

This according to “Absolutely classic” by Derek Schofield (English dance and song LXI/2 [summer 1999] pp. 8–9). Above, the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers in 1916, With Kimber and his concertina front and center. Below, Kimber plays Getting upstairs in 1946.

BONUS: The Headington Quarry team in 2008.

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Pavarotti sings for soccer

The group New Order’s World in motion, commissioned by the British Football Association to mark the 1990 World Cup soccer finals, “is probably the least likely official football theme song ever recorded: Denying its own status as a football song, introducing elements of subcultural love lyrics, and becoming a gay club hit, but also assuming the burden of combating football’s major peripheral problem, hooliganism, the song is ultimately unheimlich, even despite its closing chorus that speaks of ‘playing for England; playing this song.’”

This according to “Playing for England” by Paul Smith (South Atlantic quarterly 90/4 [fall 1991] pp. 737–752). Smith goes on to note that “both the BBC and the independent television companies forewent the pleasure of having ‘Love’s got the world in motion’ going across the airwaves every night, and the BBC used as their World Cup theme another piece of music that quickly became a number one hit: Luciano Pavarotti singing his version of the Nessun dorma aria from Turandot.”

Today would have been Pavarotti’s 80th birthday! Below, singing Nessun dorma in 1994.

BONUS: By way of contrast, New Order’s song:

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Filed under Curiosities, Mass media, Opera, Popular music, Reception, Sports and games

Knutsford Royal May Day

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of Knutsford Royal May Day!

On this day in 1864 all of the children in the parish schools marched in procession with flowers and wreaths, along with the Cheshire Rifle Volunteers Band and a cart carrying the May Queen and her ladies-in-waiting. Then, as now, the procession ended on the Heath in the center of town, where the Queen was crowned.

Today the tradition is augmented with several dances, both as part of the procession and as displays before and after the crowning; morris, hornpipe, and sword dances are among the perennial favorites. Maypole dances round out the proceedings.

This according to “Royal May Day!” by Derek Schofield (English dance and song LXXVI/1 [spring 2014] pp. 32–35). Below, selections from the 145th celebration.

BONUS: Vintage footage of earlier celebrations, along with music by Smetana and a slowly rotating dress.

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Molly dancing redux

molly dancing

In 18th-century East Anglia, agricultural workers often performed in the streets disguised in blackface and women’s clothing in exchange for largesse; this practice became known as Molly dancing. The dancers, who were often drunk, disreputable, and destructive, were regarded as degenerate by preservationists, and the practice died out in the 1930s.

Four decades later an expansion of the English folk revival fostered an interest in obscure traditions, and a resurrection of Molly dancing ensued. Its new incarnation is marked by a completely different cultural context, improved status of the dancers, and an emphasis on creativity.

This according to “Molly dancing: A study of discontinuity and change” by Elaine Bradtke, an essay included in Step change: New views on traditional dance (London: Francis Boutle, 2001, pp. 60–85). Above, Gog Magog Molly; below, the Ouse Washes Molly Dancers.

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Coco-nut intellectual property

Britannia Coco-nut Dancers

When Maud Karpeles set out to document the tradition of the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers of Bacup in 1929, she was regarded with considerable wariness.

The dancers insisted on drawing up an agreement with the English Folk Dance Society that allowed documentation only—teaching of the dances or their unique tune, Tip top polka, were forbidden—in return for active support from the society. While the mass media have brought them national notoriety since then, the dancers point to the 1929 agreement as the cornerstone of their continuing ability to thrive.

This according to “’In a word, we are unique’: Ownership and control in an English dance system” by Theresa Buckland, an essay included in Step change: New views on traditional dance (London: Francis Boutle, 2001, pp. 48–59). Below, the Nutters perform their signature Tip top polka.

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Filed under Dance, Ethnochoreology, Europe

The twelve days of Christmas

12 days of christmas

While the popular carol The twelve days of Christmas is well known for its unusual cumulative structure, few carollers know that the lyrics’ original meaning involves an elaborate symbolic code.

The encoding of political messages in songs was frequent in Protestant England: examples include Rock-a-bye, baby, on the demise of King Henry VIII, and Ring around a rosy, on the plague of 1665. From at least the 1600s, Catholics in England disseminated their faith and politics in similarly encrypted form in catechism songs such as Green grow the rushes, O, and Go where I send thee.

Though first published only in 1909, The twelve days of Christmas is such a catechism song, and likely originated much earlier. The “true love” of the song is God, who bestows cumulative gifts. Each of the twelve gifts represents a particular image of Catholic faith. The ever-repeating “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus: In English folklore the partridge feigns injury to lure predators from its young, and is thus willing to sacrifice itself to save those for whom it is responsible.

This according to “The twelve days of Christmas” by Hugh D. McKellar (The hymn: A journal of congregational song XLV/4 [October 1994] pp. 30–32). Below, a performance by the University of Washington Choral Program (with a little help from their friends).

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Take six: Early folk song manuscripts

Sponsored by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Take six is a searchable online database of the manuscript archives of seven of the U.K.’s most prominent folk song collectors— Janet Blunt (1859–1950), George Gardiner (1852–1910), Anne Gilchrist (1863–1954), Henry Hammond (1866–1910, Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924), Francis Collinson (1898–1984), and George Butterworth (1885–1916).

Each of the archives has been completely catalogued and digitized. Most of the documents are songs and tunes, but other manuscript items, such as dances or correspondence, are also included. Many thanks to Tim Radford for bringing this resource to our attention!

Related post: An early Gaelic manuscript

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Nonsense neumes

Built at the behest of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick (1382–1439), the Beauchamp Chapel at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, is a remarkable survival of fifteenth-century architecture, sculpture, and—above all—stained glass. These windows are well known to organologists for their depictions of instruments and performance practice; they also provide useful information about chant and polyphony in fifteenth-century England by preserving fragments of neumatic notation.

Over the centuries craftspeople have restored damaged windows, and, lacking the requisite musical training, they often left replacement staves blank; but in two cases nonsense neumes were devised, supplying consistent-looking décor that most observers would never suspect was counterfeit.

This according to Alexandra Buckle’s “Fit for a king: Music and iconography in Richard Beauchamp’s chantry chapel” (Early music XXXVIII/1 (2010), pp. 3–20).

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Filed under Architecture, Curiosities, Middle Ages, Notation, Visual art

English dance & song

Published by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, English dance & song has appeared at least four times a year since it was launched in 1936. The magazine presents festival listings and other news, interviews with current English traditional and neotraditional performers, and reviews of current publications, as well as brief research-based articles that explore historical documents and current practices.

The Society, which was formed in 1932 by the merger of the Folk-Song Society (founded in 1898) and the English Folk Dance Society (founded in 1911), also publishes a scholarly periodical, Folk music journal.

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