We want you to know that we are keen to reopen libraries in line with the Scottish Government route map which allows for this from 26th April 2021, where safe to do so.
However, as you know this is in a context of challenges – including the Scottish Government guidance /roadmap and the continuing pressure on resources to keep our school population safe.
The health and safety of citizens and staff is our main priority. We work closely with our colleagues in Facilities Management, Health and Safety, Environmental Health and Estates to ensure this.
We intend to reopen library buildings on a similar model to pre-Christmas 2020. However, it is a complex process to identify and allocate resources when there are many competing priorities in the City.
For this reason, it is not yet possible to be specific on exact locations or dates for reopening. Please be assured that much work is continuing in the background, to plan for library reopening.
Thank you for your continued understanding and patience, we hope to be able to open our doors and welcome you back into our buildings as soon as we can.
Covid Test Centres
From Monday 22 March until at least the end of August, Leith Library, Newington Library, Sighthill Library at Gate 55 and Oxgangs Library will operate as Covid Test Centres. The buildings will be operated by the NHS for this period and no library transactions or staff will be available during this time.
In another addition to Our Town Stories we feature a noted biologist and botanist who went on to be a pioneer in the field of town planning – Patrick Geddes.
Geddes’ work in Edinburgh brought about the redevelopment of a number of parts of the Old Town which were abandoned as slums in the late 1700s when the New Town was developed. Geddes believed that in order to understand and improve conditions it was necessary to share a community’s experience. With his wife, he chose to live in James Court in the Lawnmarket which at the time was considered housing for the poor.
They started cleaning and painting their new home, encouraging their neighbours to do the same. Working with the residents he transformed spaces he had cleared into community gardens.
Geddes worked with Edinburgh University to produce a series of halls of residence, the most striking of these being Ramsay Gardens which was a mixture of student accommodation and private flats.
Geddes was involved in the improvement of Moray House, Huntly House and Whitehorse Close. Another project involved transforming Short’s Observatory on Castlehill into the ‘worlds first sociological laboratory’, The Outlook Tower, now the Camera Obscura.
His work in improving slums in Edinburgh led to him travelling to India at the invitation of the Governor of Madras to advise on urban planning issues. He subsequently held a position in Sociology and Civics at Bombay University.
Geddes’ health began to deteriorate in 1924 and he left India to settle in Montpelier in the South of France.
He was knighted in 1931 and died in Montpelier in 1932.
Most musical instruments today have predecessors, few come ready formed remaining unchanged by the centuries.
Few instruments have disappeared completely, some have disappeared and been rediscovered to live again. There is one instrument which hasn’t disappeared but deserves to be rediscovered. The Glass (H)armonica, refined by Benjamin Franklin became a fairly popular instrument in the late 1700s and early 1800s then fell out of favour. Written for by Mozart, Beethoven and Hummell with works much later by Donizetti and Strauss.
The Carnyx was an Iron Age Celt war trumpet. A long upright length of beaten brass with a mouthpiece at one end and the animal head at the other. Fragments of Carnyces have been found in various locations and many images exist in places throughout Britain and the continent. A reconstructed Carnyx is held at the National Museum of Scotland.
Now to the Caledonica, an instrument invented and made by a Scottish Bandmaster from Strathaven, William Meikle. His Caledonica gets its most significant write-up in the Musical Memoirs of Sir John Graham Dalyell, advocate, naturalist and antiquarian. The Musical Memoirs was written in 1849 and left in manuscript unpublished on Sir John’s death in 1851.
The Caledonica seems to have been invented around 1820-25 and Dalyell’s description goes like this:-
“The same individual (Meikle) has also favoured me with a manuscript description, drawings and inspection of a new instrument invented by himself and called the Caledonica, participating of the nature of the Hautbois and the Bassoon. This instrument has received much commendation from those who have heard its effect. Above is a mouthpiece with a reed, and the lower extremity terminates in a prolonged bell, somewhat like a horn or a trumpet, but from the mode of performance necessarily directed downwards. It is provided with keys: and according to the different dimension of which it is constructed, it may occupy the part of treble, tenor or bass. Its tone is said to be full and brilliant, and from the kind selected, it is adapted alike to the field in a military band as to the chamber in a quartett”.
This pen portrait is the only “picture” we have of the Caledonica and even this gets confused by different writers.
Several playlists have been created at Naxos Classical all with the intention of being starting points to explore the music of these lost instruments. Simply login to Naxos with your library card number and select the Renaissance and early music playlists.
Our new Capital Collections exhibition features two photograph volumes, copies of which are held both in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection and the Art and Design Library within Central Library, titled ‘Castles and Mansions of the Lothians‘.
There are over a hundred photographs and judging by the style of the images, we think they were all taken by the same photographer.
The mansions are situated throughout the Lothians from Linlithgow in the west to many in East Lothian. Some will be easily recognisable by their names. Most people who live in Penicuik will recognise the name Beeslack, and many might remember when the name Dalhousie Castle meant one thing, Medieval Banquet!
We think that the photographs were taken between 1875-1883. The photographs feature grand houses built in an age that allowed owners to display how well they were doing for themselves alongside older ancestral homes that had been passed down from generation to generation.
Sadly, not all these buildings still exist. The ones that do are mostly now events venues, hotels or B&Bs or have been converted into residential apartments. There are one or two that remain private residences and continue, to show off their original splendour to this day.
Edinburgh City Libraries are privileged to assist in raising awareness for diversity and inclusion in the public arena e.g. Holocaust Memorial Day, LGBTQ+ History, International Women’s Day and in the future, Deafness & music, Mental Health, Dyslexia and more…
However, last week we focussed on Autism during Autism Awareness Week. Our very good friend Alan Gardner, diagnosed as Autistic when he was 55 years old, talks opening and honesty about his experiences and debunks some of the assumptions that surround Autism.
Watch and enjoy Alan’s conversation with Maya Aslam, doctoral researcher at Heriot-Watt University, talking about coping with lockdown, being Autistic and the misconceptions around Autism.
Join millions of others around the world in reading a timely book about dealing with stress during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 5-19 April, readers can borrow and read Dr Brian King’s ebook The Art of Taking it Easyfrom our OverDrive service with no waiting list. Find out how to cope with bears, traffic and the rest of life’s stressors with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website.
Psychologist and stand-up comedian Dr Brian King gives us a practical, yet laugh-out-loud guide to embracing humour to reduce stress and live a happier, fuller life. In this brilliant guide he presents hands-on techniques for managing stress by rewiring our brains to approach potentially difficult situations through a lens of positivity. Exploring what stress is, where it comes from, and what it does to our bodies and brains, he delves deep into how to address everyday stress—as well as anxiety, insecurities, repression, and negativity—and gives insight into resulting ailments such as anxiety disorders, depression, hypertension, obesity, substance abuse disorders, and more.
The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 5 April and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. You can even discuss the book online or by using #biglibraryread on social media you’ll be entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy tablet and book signed by the author!
Do you live in Cramond, Corstorphine, Colinton, Liberton or Leith? Or, have you lived there in the past?
We’d love to hear from you!
We are looking for pieces about what this area means to you. Is there a word that captures this place to you? Do you have any particular fond memories from growing up or living there?
Your piece can be a poem, a short essay, spoken word, or a song.
The ReDrawing Edinburgh project, in collaboration with Cinescapes, are working on a multimedia installation to mark the centennial commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act.
This multimedia installation will showcase an anthology of images, words and music that celebrate the identities of these areas over the past 100 years since their amalgamation into Edinburgh.
If you’d like to be part of the soundscape for this exhibition, send us your piece:
you can send a written text, an audio recording or a video of your BSL-signed piece
Once again, we hand over to Douglas from the Music Library who explains how you can listen to and read about your favourite musicians with your library membership.
I was inspired my colleague Jeanette’s wonderful blog article “Lift your Lockdown Blues with Naxos” posted on the 15 March. The blog featured the blues stars Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. I thought I would have another look at our electronic resources and try and match up some of the music autobiographies and titles on Overdrive with albums or music available to stream or download on Naxos Jazz.
Cilla Black Douglas Richardson’s warm and affectionate biography of one of Britian’s favorite entertainers. There are two brilliant Cilla Albums containing some of her greatest hits on Naxos Jazz. Read ‘Cilla’ as an ebook.
Amy Winehouse Chas Newkey-Burden’s biography, details the woefully short life and turbulent times of this incredibly talented singer. A couple of tracks recorded by other artists available on Naxos Jazz. Read ‘Amy Winehouse: The biography’ as an ebook.
Tina Turner In Tina Turner’s autobiographical Happiness Becomes You, which is subtitled “A guide to changing your life for good”, she shares her thoughts on turning the impossible to possible. In Naxos Jazz, I am afraid not much for the Tina fan, but there are a few albums tracks on CDs containing lots of other great music. Read ‘Happiness Becomes You’ as an ebook.
Leonard Cohen In his own words, Leonard Cohen tells the story of his long adventurous life. No tracks recorded by the much-missed Cohen on Naxos Jazz, but lots of covers of his songs, with ‘Hallelujah’ appearing more than a few times. Read ‘Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen’ as an ebook.
Mississippi John Hurt Phillip R. Ratcliffe’s biography, the first to be written of this much sought-after musician. From many sources, Ratcliffe details the life of John Hurt the son of freed slaves and his career and his later ‘rediscovery’. On Naxos Jazz, just a few songs by the legendary country blues singer and again, found on albums containing lots of country blues classics. Read Mississippi John Hurt as an ebook.
Phil Collins Phil Collins, drummer and singer with Genesis, child actor and best-selling solo recording artist narrates his autobiography. On Nazos Jazz and in amongst the Phil Collins soundalike albums there are a couple of gems which we have added to the Playlist (see below), a very fine vocal performance from the real Phil Collins and an album by the Phil Collins Big Band. Listen to Not Dead Yet as an audiobook.
Discover Playlists on Naxos Jazz There are playlists containing music by the artists listed above. In some cases these are just a small selection of what is available but in all cases these lists are a starting point to explore the riches of Naxos Jazz.
Author event with Jane Evans and children’s colouring competition On Monday 29 March, Newington Library welcomed Edinburgh author, Jane Evans reading an extract from her fantastic children’s book, ‘Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club’.
Jane Evans lives in Edinburgh with her family, their cat called Pie and new puppy Bonnie. Jane discussed her book Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club featuring an autistic character and illustrated by the very talented autistic artist, Ruth Mutch. In this recording, we’ll find about the characters and what makes them that bit different, as well as reading one of her favourite chapters. Watch Jane reading from Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club on Facebook.
Children’s colouring competition – three lucky winners will receive a signed copy of Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club, with our first prize winner also getting a book token. To enter, colour in one of our cute penguin pictures. Or if you’re unable to print at home, you can submit your own drawing of a penguin. The competition is open to Edinburgh residents with an EH postcode. Winners will be selected by Jane Evans and illustrator Ruth Mutch. The deadline for entries is Sunday 18 April 2021 – so get colouring! Colouring competition pictures and details on Facebook
Staff awareness Autism Awareness Week is an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness and education around autism. We are encouraging library staff to raise their own personal awareness of autism and to consider in team meetings how we can apply what we’ve learnt in our library service.
Citywide conversation Our librarians will be tweeting out to organisations and individuals the following questions:
“Edinburgh Libraries – Autism Acceptance. Alan Gardner, a true friend of Edinburgh Libraries once said – We do not have Autism, we are Autistic – and this has resonated with us. What assumptions around Autism would you correct?
AND What would you tell your younger self about acceptance?”
The twitter responses will be gathered and collated into a blog article released next week.
Alan Gardner in conversation with Maya Aslam, Directorial Researcher, Edinburgh Business School. Alan and Maya will discuss lockdown, coming out of lockdown and how as an autistic person and friend of Edinburgh Libraries we can help change the assumptions and preconceived ideas for Autistic people in the workplace and in life. Recorded discussion, date and time of release to be confirmed.
Starting a #Tunesday series, staff from the Music Library look at music of all forms through their Musical Alphabet – this week we begin, naturally, with A!
There are many sources of musical inspiration and the animal kingdom is no exception. Many composers past and present have used their works to depict animals, use animals as allegories or as educational tools. With so many examples to choose from, Natasha from the Music Library looks at a selection:
The Carnival of the Animals – Camille Saint-Saëns When mentioning animals within music, it is not unreasonable to guess that Camille Saint-Saëns’ suite The Carnival of the Animals would be the first thing to spring to most people’s minds. Written in 1886, Carnival was published posthumously in 1922 upon request in Saint-Saëns’ will that it would not be made available during his lifetime for fear that the humorous suite would damage his reputation as a ‘serious’ composer. Aside from a handful of semi-private performances, only the cello solo The Swan was published before Saint-Saëns’ death, in an arrangement for cello and solo piano.
The suite is a fun, light-hearted work, having been written after Saint-Saëns had completed an unsuccessful concert tour of Germany. The suite is not written for a full orchestra: it contains only one of each instrument present except for two pianos and two violins; there are no brass instruments and no bass instruments from the woodwind section; the only percussion featured is a xylophone and the unusual glass harmonica is featured. Saint-Saëns uses this orchestration to great effect, perfectly capturing the essence of the animals depicted, whether it be the woodwind mimicking birds, the double bass relaying the weight of an elephant’s movement, or the cello mirroring a swan gracefully moving on water. Saint-Saëns also added musicians to his menagerie, with a movement that shows pianists practising their scales; the original edition of the score has editor notes informing performers to resemble the awkwardness of beginners.
Despite Saint-Saëns’ reservations, Carnival is arguably his best known work, with several movements such as Fossils, The Swan, Finale and Aquarium often used within the world of film and TV; indeed, the latter inspired Alan Menken when writing the opening theme for the 1991 film Beauty and the Beast. Verses have also been added to the suite, including words written by Ogden Nash in 1949 and a version released last year with poems by Michael Morpurgo, recited by himself and Olivia Colman, with the music performed by the wonderfully talented Kanneh-Mason family. Listen to Carnival of the Animals on Naxos
Peter and the Wolf – Sergei Prokofiev A commission for a musical symphony for children requested by Natalya Sats, the director of the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow, Peter and the Wolf was written by Sergei Prokofiev in two weeks in 1936. The piece utilises a narrator to tell the story of Peter and his encounter with a wolf after ignoring his grandfather’s warnings about such dangers. Other animals – a bird, a duck, and a cat – assist Peter in overcoming their foe before hunters who have been tracking the wolf succeed in capturing it.
Each character within the piece is represented by a particular instrument in the orchestra, allowing children to easily recognise both character and sound. Prokofiev stated in performance notes for the piece that children should be shown the instruments and have the character’s leitmotivs played to them before the performance begins so the young audience are able to distinguish between them. Peter and the Wolf was also written to convey other messages, chiefly the ideological struggle between Peter and his grandfather, the taming of nature, and not being afraid to take risks.
Peter and the Wolf is one of Prokofiev’s most popular works and has been recorded many times with very famous names fulfilling the role of the narrator, including David Bowie, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Christopher Lee, Sir David Attenborough, and Jacqueline du Pré. Prokofiev also performed the work to “le papa de Mickey Mouse”, Walt Disney. An animated version was released by Disney’s studios in 1946, six years later than planned due to World War II. The Disney version does deviate a little from the original, most noticeably in its ending: the duck avoids being eaten whole by the wolf in order to make it more child-friendly. Listen to Peter and the Wolf on Naxos
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks – Modest Mussorgsky A movement from his piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is one of Modest Mussorgsky’s musical interpretations of works by his close friend, the Russian architect and painter Viktor Hartmann. The work in question for this particular movement was a sketch showing a child wearing a large eggshell costume and a canary head headdress, which Hartmann had produced for the ballet Trilby.
The instrumentation features percussive moments to indicate the chicks tapping their shells with their beaks, or perhaps their chirping after hatching. The piece is written in a higher register, much more appropriate for dainty, newborn birds, and the trills featured certainly conjure images of fluffy little feathers fluttering around as the chicks scurry about. The result is a thoroughly charming piece that can’t help but raise a smile. Though Mussorgsky originally wrote the suite for piano, Maurice Ravel’s 1922 version of Pictures at an Exhibition, written for full orchestra, is probably the iteration we are most familiar with. Ravel’s Ballet heavily utilises the woodwind section to convey the jollity of the music, whilst the strings help give a light, feathery feel. Listen to Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks on Naxos
The Lark Ascending – Ralph Vaughan Williams Inspired by the 1881 poem of the same name by George Meredith, The Lark Ascending is one of Ralph Vaughan William’s best known works. Originally composed in 1914 for violin and piano, the piece wasn’t performed until 1920 and the original manuscript has since been lost. Vaughan Williams reworked the composition for solo violin and orchestra, and the first performance of this version – the version that we are most familiar with – celebrates its 100th anniversary this year on 14th June. Marie Hall, to whom the piece is dedicated, was the soloist in both premieres.
Meredith’s poem is pastoral in nature and Vaughan Williams echoes this in his score, inspired by British folk tunes that he cared for so deeply. The orchestra provides the rolling British countryside against which the lark, portrayed by a soaring violin solo, dances in flight above. There is a sense of nostalgia and freedom attached to the work, having been written and first performed against the backdrop of World War I and its aftermath; Vaughan Williams was temporarily arrested as it was thought he could be a German spy when he was spotted making notes for the piece. This also gives cause for the piece to be incredibly moving, the beauty of the lark gliding in the air and disappearing into the sky above serene countryside being a stark contrast to the horrors endured through war.
The Lark Ascending has proved hugely popular, consistently topping polls for the public’s favourite piece of classical music. It’s easy to see why. Listen to The Lark Ascending on Naxos
Flight of the Bumblebee – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Composed in 1899-1900 as an orchestral interlude for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Flight of the Bumblebee has become a classical music staple despite only ever being intended to be incidental in nature. Flight of the Bumblebee closes Act 3, Tableau 1 of the opera, after the magic Swan-Bird transforms the Tsar’s son into a bumblebee so he can fly away to visit his father. In the opera, the soprano Swan-Bird sings during the first part of the piece, though this line can be omitted quite easily.
The way the strings hum during this piece depicts the distinct buzz of a bee so clearly, whilst the frenetic tempo and continuous runs of chromatic notes found in the melody draw the unpredictable insect’s flight path. The piece continues to gain momentum, never dipping in tempo. Consequently, it is often seen as a test of players’ technique, now somewhat of a showpiece to demonstrate incredibly fast playing. This has resulted in the piece becoming a little maligned in some circles; its charm and musicality often being sacrificed at the hands of world record-seeking speedsters. That said, when played well, Flight of the Bumblebee perfectly captures the image of a bee’s movement so clearly that you can easily picture one hovering around flowers on a spring day, or frantically tapping against a window when it has accidentally flown into your home. Listen to Flight of the Bumblebee on Naxos
Horse Racing – Huang Haihuai Composed around 1960 by Huang Haihuai, Horse Racing is a piece for the erhu – a bowed instrument with only two strings, introduced to China from modern-day Mongolia and Russia over a thousand years ago. Inspired by the Mongolian folk song Red Flag Song, the piece depicts the horse racing event in the traditional Mongolian Naadam Festival. The lack of a fingerboard behind the strings on the erhu allows for skilled players to create an interesting range of effects, some of which are demonstrated in variations of Horse Racing. Different percussive styles of playing using both the players’ fingers and the bow imitate horses’ hooves as they gallop, whilst some versions include the erhu uncannily mimicking a horse’s neigh at the end of the piece. This contrasts with calmer, legato sections which depict the grasslands the riders travel through. A famous performance of Horse Racing was given at Carnegie Hall in 2003 by Lang Guo-ren, an accomplished erhu player, when he made a guest appearance at a concert given by his son, the renowned pianist Lang Lang. Listen to Horse Racing on Naxos
The Lamb – John Tavener Animals also feature as religious symbols within music, as demonstrated within Sir John Tavener’s unaccompanied choral piece The Lamb. Often performed at Christmas, the piece is a setting of William Blake’s poem of the same name which features in his collection Songs of Innocence from 1789. The text addresses a lamb, with the first stanza asking the animal if it knows who created it, giving it its soft coat and tender voice. The second stanza states the answer is also a lamb, though this lamb is Jesus Christ, the lamb of God.
Composed in 1982, Tavener’s setting is unusual as the piece has no time signature, with full bar lines only given at the end of each stanza and broken bar lines placed at the end of each line. This was one of several rhythmical features Tavener included to allow the work to be “always guided by the words”. The piece is based around the melody used within the first two phrases, with Tavener using inversions in the harmonies to create dissonance. Tavener’s works were often sacred in nature, having converted to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977; The Lamb is one of his best known pieces. Listen to The Lamb on Naxos
Rejoice in the Lamb – Benjamin Britten Another piece that uses animals in a religious context is Benjamin Britten’s cantata, Rejoice in the Lamb. Commissioned by the Reverend Walter Hussey to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration of St. Matthew’s Church in Northampton, the text is from Christopher Smart’s poem Jubilate Agno. Smart, a deeply religious man, wrote the poem between 1759-1763, at which time he was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in London, after a ‘Commission of Lunacy’ had been taken out against him by his father-in-law, the publisher John Newbery. The poem was first published in 1939, with Britten setting the text to music in 1943.
The choir begins the piece, calling forth figures from the Old Testament along with various animals in praise of God. However, the most famous section concerning creatures is the treble solo: For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. Not much is known about Smart’s time in the asylum, other than he was left alone bar his cat, Jeoffry. Smart’s words reflect on how the cat worships God in his movements and the characteristics he has been bestowed. Britten’s composition uses the instrumentation for the organ to depict Jeoffry, “wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness”. The following alto solo, illustrating a male mouse defending a female mouse from a cat, is similar in intent. The organ playing here is much jumpier than the relaxed depiction of the cat, mimicking the more frantic movement of the mouse. Listen to Rejoice in the Lamb on Naxos
The Blue Bird – Charles Villiers Stanford Quite possibly my favourite piece amongst this list, this partsong by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford is a setting of a poem by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. The poem was originally published anonymously in French (L’oiseau bleu) in 1897. When she died suddenly ten years later, Coleridge left behind many unpublished poems and The Blue Bird, amongst others, was published posthumously in Coleridge’s name the following year, 1908. Stanford, having been friends with Mary’s father – Arthur Duke Coleridge, founder of the London Bach Choir, for whom Stanford was conductor from 1885-1902 – was said to be deeply affected by her death and set eight of her poems to music in 1910, The Blue Bird being amongst them.
The poem captures in two stanzas the most fleeting of moments: a bluebird flying past the narrator. The word ‘blue’ appears several times in the text, describing a lake, the sky, and the wings of the titular bird, which allows for a simultaneous feeling of coolness and warmth when married with Stanford’s music; joy and melancholy seem to be intertwined within this piece. The choir depicts the calm setting of the lake whist the soprano line mimics the bird’s flight. The piece finishes with the word ‘blue’, a solitary note from the sopranos that repeats throughout; its final chime unresolved with the rest of the choir as the bird flies away, merging into the blue sky, leaving us at the lake below.
Stanford’s works have now been somewhat overshadowed by his contemporaries such as Sir Edward Elgar and pupils of his, including Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams (whose piece The Lark Ascending shares a similar context to The Blue Bird). So haunting and ethereal in its beauty, The Blue Bird is a wondrous marriage of text and music. In amongst so many works that focus on much more grandiose subjects, The Blue Bird celebrates the ephemeral. Listen to The Blue Bird on Naxos
A year ago, our Libraries closed their doors, joining the effort to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. None of us expected the ‘stay at home’ message to last so long or that libraries would be closed again one year later.
We did realise we were living through a momentous and strange time. We wanted to record the effects of the pandemic and Edinburgh Collected gave us the means to gather images from across the city. With your help, we recorded the changes to normal life and the visual signs of the pandemic – rainbows, chalk drawings, supermarket queues, facemasks – the sights now commonplace, that last Spring and early Summer were new and alien.
We’re tremendously grateful to all those who helped us record this past strange and difficult year on Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive.
We continue to welcome contributions to our Coronavirus collection on Edinburgh Collected so that we can record history today, for the future. You can view the submissions so far in our online scrapbook, Edinburgh 2020-2021 – coronavirus pandemic.
Stories that make art their subject or artists their characters can help to bring art and its history alive to readers and at the same time can teach us things and spark off an interest to learn more about an artistic movement, artist or time period.
Staff from Central Library have been busy reading and have come up with a few suggestions for stories that bring art to life. Many of the books below are available to borrow in ebook and/or audiobook format.
Zoe from Central Lending and Central Children’s introduces us to How to be Bothby Ali Smith How to be Both is a really interesting book exploring love, family, truth, art, and grief. It’s split into two narratives, one told from the point of view of a contemporary English teenage girl called George and the other from the perspective of an Italian Renaissance painter called Francesco. Some editions of the book begin with one narrative, some with the other. It’s definitely a work of two halves, or sides, as it explores the not-so-binary relationships between concepts such as life/death, male/female. As you might expect from a novel loosely about art, it is also preoccupied with the act of seeing, and being seen: that things and people are more than how they appear, if you take the time to really consider them.
Although there is some trademark Smith playfulness and lively dialogue, it’s not a light and fun novel to read. It feels like more of a philosophical thought-experiment, using the characters’ lives as a vehicle. Smith really zooms in on what it means to be alive, as she spends a lot of time describing minutely what George, mourning her mother, is thinking and feeling, and what Francesco the artist is seeing and doing. This book asks you to pay attention and think, as Smith demonstrates in her incredibly erudite imagining of Francesco’s life as an artist, in her painstaking exploration of George’s emotional inner life, and in her sharp-eyed deconstruction of the real paintings and frescoes featured in the story. “There’s always more to see” says one of the characters in the book, and this sums it up perfectly. Borrow How To Be Both as an audiobook.
Jen from the Art & Design and Music Team reviews Piranesiby Susanna Clarke Piranesi lives in a marble world that is rushed through with saltwater tides and weather. There is only Piranesi in this world, the incongruously dressed Other who he meets twice a week, and hall upon empty hall of statues. He fishes, he mends his nets and clothes, he writes in his notebooks and he lovingly tends to the dead – all 13 of them.
Until chalked messages appear and the darkness of the tale, the disjuncture and the unease at the metaphysics of the place, broaden out. The character “16”, a sixteenth person, appears to Piranesi and his beautiful marble world, like the tides, bulges.
I read this book in the early hours of black winter nights, in a locked-down world, feeding a baby. It was wonderfully apt to think on, and as a response to the 18th century artist Piranesi – his etchings of city ruins and imaginary prisons – the book feels so surprising, deep and luminous in every way. Borrow Piranesi as an ebook.
Bronwen from the Art & Design and Music Libraries introduces A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier Have you ever found yourself in a church admiring the craftsmanship of the kneelers punctuating the rows of pews? Tracy Chevalier’s A Single Thread takes up the story of the broderers of Winchester Cathedral; the exquisite workmanship and skill of the kneelers they embellished with fine embroidery, and the real-life tale of real-life head-broderer Louisa Pesel. But the main story is around the fictional character of Louisa, one of the generation of so-called `surplus women’, left alone after the death of so many young men in the First World War, who struggling for independence finds solace and comfort in the companionship of her fellow broderers of Winchester Cathedral. Borrow A Single Thread as a ebookor an audiobook.
Doris from Central Lending Library reviews The Improbability of Loveby Hannah Rothschild The Improbability of Love, a quirky debut novel, is a delight from start to finish and is full of passion, intrigue, great wealth and skulduggery.
The main character is Annie McDee, a private chef who finds a mysterious painting in a London junk shop. But, this is no ordinary work of art. It is in fact a talking painting with an imperious attitude. Measuring only 18 inches by 24 inches and painted by French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau, the little painting has an extraordinary history. Many want the painting and will stop at nothing to achieve their aim.
Light in tone, The Improbability of Love also explores the darker side of the art world, examining the relationship between wealth and real value.
Though a work of fiction, the Improbability of Love is informative and Rothschild mentions a number of artists and their paintings including Cezanne’s card players and Klimt’s Adele Bloch Bauer, thereby, simultaneously entertaining and educating readers. Borrow Improbability of Love as an ebook.
Fiona, Central Library Manager, tells us about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt The Goldfinch is the first book which sprung to my mind when the idea of art in fiction was mentioned. It’s one of my favourite books and I’ve read it three of four times. It’s not an easy book to sum up but at the heart of the book is a small painting – The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt’s, who died at the age of 32 when a gunpowder factory near his studio exploded. The painting is one of the few of Fabritius’s works which survived.
In the novel, the painting is rescued from an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum by 13 year old Theo, whose mother dies in the same explosion. Instead of returning the painting Theo keeps it, and the book follows him as he grows to adulthood, still wracked with guilt and grief.
It’s a long book covering lots of different themes – I’ve seen it compared to Great Expectations by Dickens. I loved it!
Hope from Central Lending and Central Children’s considers how the author Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully about art/artists and the pursuit of beauty in The Sparsholt Affair. In his most recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair, the protagonist, Johnny Sparsholt is a portrait painter, his life and work overshadowed by a scandal surrounding his father, David Sparsholt. The book looks at the prejudices and hypocrisy of post-war British society – a society where a man could be a hero, only to have his name and reputation destroyed when he goes to bed with another man.
Jonny, though famous in his own right, always feels he is followed by this scandal, which destroyed his parents’ marriage, landed his father in gaol and saw the family name dragged through the gutter press. Throughout the book, full of painters and the painted, admirers and the admired, Jonny forges a path falling in and out of love with a beautiful but unobtainable man, and ultimately, unexpectedly becoming a father himself. There is a wonderful scene at the opening of one of Jonny’s exhibitions, seen through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter.
Painting and beauty is a constant in this strange, lovely, scathing novel, which leaves much unsaid, but stays with you for a long time afterwards.
Joanna from Art & Design and Music shares her appreciation of Fair Play by Tove Jansson.
Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and awarded Bernard Shaw Prize for Translation in 2009, Fair Play is the last novel written by Tove Jansson, when she was 75.
As an artist and a writer Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomin stories, which have been published in thirty-five languages. Overhemingly talented she was a painter, illustrator, cartoonist and comic strip artist. From 1930 till 1960 she worked as an illustrator and the cartoonist for the Swedish-language, leftist, satirical magazine Garm, drawing caricatures of Hitler and Stalin.
Towards the end of 1960 she start to write for adults and her prose was usually semi-biographical. This is the case in Fair Play.
Fair Play is mainly a love story, but unusually ends happily. This is a book about life, love and art. I’m not sure if this book is a novel built with seventeen chapters or just seventeen short stories put together. Portraying everyday life of two loving partners in their seventies: Mari the writer and Jonna the graphic artist and a film maker. But this story is not as obvious one, the plot is much more complicated. In some way this story box is a kind of chinese puzzle box. So we should remember, that in real world Mari impersonating Tove herself is much more than a humble writer girl in this story. Jonna is a portrait of Tove’s longlife, friend, lover and companion Tuulikki Pietila. Each chapter shows us Mari and Jonna in different situations and circumstances. In their spacious and distant workshops with the shared attic space with the sofa TV and collections of film cassettes. Feeling a little bit like eavesdropping we can hear their discussions about art, ideas for writing, small everyday quarrels, jokes about taste in films (one of them is all for ambitious Fassbinder kind, the other one prefers B class Westerns). We can also see them in the boat arguing in the mist about their mothers, on their small island in a cabin size house or in the Great City of Phoenix (title of one story). Travelling with the 8mm Konica, nervously looking for the next roll of Kodak film.
And where is the art you may ask? Art is the main subject of this book. The art of living and the art of loving. Everything beautifully sketched with Tove’s delicate writing. Borrow Fair Play as an ebook.
We hope you might enjoy reading some of these books as much as we have and would love to hear your recommendations.
There are now over 3000 worldwide magazines available on our Libby app and OverDrive website! If you were previously a fan of RBdigital magazines you’ll find them all here as well as thousands more exciting titles.
As well as bestselling UK magazines, there are loads of great titles from English-speaking countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada. And if you want to practice your language skills you’ll find mags in French, Italian, Chinese, Spanish and many more languages too.
On Libby there’s a couple of magazine collections on the homepage to whet your apetite, but if you click on Explore, you can access the Magazines reading room. On the web version just click on Magazines near to top of the homepage. In the magazines reading room you’ll find them divided into genres such as Home & Garden; News & Current Affairs; Motoring; Health, Sport & Fitness; Cooking; Computing; Arts & Crafts; Movies, TV & Music; History etc. –
Libby/OverDrive is now home to thousands of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and comics that are all free to download. All you need is your Edinburgh Libraries membership card and PIN to access all these amazing resources. Share the news with your Edinburgh-based friends and family – they can easily join online at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/joinourlibrary. Full instructions for accessing OverDrive can be found at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/overdrive.
In our latest library Q & A session, we ask writer Heidi James, what libraries mean to her.
Heidi James is the author of novels, Wounding, So the Doves and The Sound Mirror and the novella, The Mesmerist’s Daughter. She has had poetry published in many journals and has a PHD in English Literature.
What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader and as an author? Are the meanings different? The library was, and I mean this without exaggeration, a life saver for me. My teenage single mum was skint, I was book-mad from an early age (I was reading from age 3) and our weekly visit to the library after we’d done the shop was magic for us. The luxury of lingering in the warm safe quiet, savouring the sweet dusty scent while choosing books couldn’t be beat. It’s staggering that they are under threat considering that they provide so much more than books for the community that is absolutely essential.
My relationship with libraries has changed throughout my life. I used to hide out in the library and read all day when I was teenager bunking off school, learning more than my lessons could convey. As a student, they contained the vital and mysterious sources of knowledge I was desperate for and felt I would never be able to understand or discuss. As a writer and someone who spends a lot of time alone, libraries maintain a contact point with others, they are a beneficent host, offering a feast of thought and connection.
What is your earliest library memory? With my mum (see above) holding a book in the queue to check it out, staring out the huge floor to ceiling windows at the river Medway. It was raining, and I remember not wanting to leave.
Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in? I’m very lucky that I have access to books and the peace and space to read them, so I’m not struggling. I know my local library [Crawley in West Sussex] is closed for in-person browsing but you can browse the catalogue online, reserve and then collect, which is great. They also have digital copies available. I think what’s so difficult for many at the moment is not having the peace/time/space to read what with many families being together all the time and of course, the library provides so much more than books. I wouldn’t presume to offer advice, but Twitter can be great for book lovers, lots of us are on there talking about books we love, sharing recommendations and support.
A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read? I completely relate to this, and I find myself feeling frustrated and angry with myself for ‘wasting’ time, but I’ve realised that’s pointless and that being unable to focus is entirely justified. What’s helped me is reading lots of short stories (many great ones available online too); particular favourites are by Wendy Erskine, Maria Fernanda Ampuero and Kathryn Scanlan. The Common Breath, Visual Verse and 3:AM all have great stories online.
I’ve also been reading lots of books about nature and listening to podcasts. That’s really helped.
Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time? I am, but the lack of attention and sense of unease isn’t helping! It’s slow going to be honest, but it is what it is! I would keep a journal, and be patient with yourself. Just writing short passages describing what you can see from your window or on your walk, writing down thoughts and worries, your response to something on the TV or a conversation is all good work. It’s exercising the writing muscle and you may find you uncover a rich seam of ideas and if not, it doesn’t matter.
How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now? Social media is proving to be really vital at the moment, and while it can’t replace that connection we have in real life, it’s at least maintaining those links. I wouldn’t want to put more pressure on anyone at the moment – we’re all doing our best (well, most people are!). I can’t imagine a world without books, without stories; as humans we understand ourselves, others and the world we are in through stories we tell or are told.
With huge thanks to Heidi for talking to us about what libraries mean to her.
Recent months have seen three of the most pioneering and iconic blues and jazz artists of the early 20th century come to the fore again. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday are deservedly back in the limelight through the release of new films and a book. They were trailblazers, each playing decisive roles in shaping the history of popular music culture. Ma Rainey came first, laying the foundations for traditional blues, whilst Bessie Smith pushed the blues form to its very limits. Billie Holiday, though deeply rooted in the blues tradition, ushered in modern jazz.
Ma Rainey Black women were the first to record the blues, and Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, known as the ‘Mother of the Blues’, stands at the beginning. She started performing in 1900 at age 14, and went on to tour the US to packed out venues. In 1923 she signed with Paramount and over the following five years, recorded hundreds of songs and had numerous hits. Her songs expressed everyday life and emotions, and were inextricably linked to the experiences of black southerners with titles such as ‘Runaway Blues’, ‘Chain Gang Blues’ and ‘New Boweavil Blues’. Widely recognized as the first great female blues vocalist, she was known for her powerful vocal abilities, a “moaning” style of singing and flamboyant performances, forging a musical tradition for black women and becoming one of the great cultural figures of her time.
One of Ma Rainey’s recording sessions became the basis for the 1982 stage play ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ by August Wilson. It was later made into the Oscar nominated film of the same name, and was released on Netflix in December 2020. Listen to ‘Ma Rainey’ on Naxos Jazz.
Bessie Smith In 1913 Bessie Smith toured in a travelling show with Ma Rainey, who became her mentor and friend. She signed with Columbia Records in 1923 and recorded ‘Down Hearted Blues’ which became a smash hit, selling three quarters of a million copies and earning her the name ‘Empress of the Blues’. Smith was well known for her outrageously provocative performances and her rich contralto voice. With songs such as the foot-tapping ‘Backwater Blues,’ and the raunchy ‘Kitchen Man’, she took blues music to new heights, making in excess of 150 songs with Columbia and becoming one of the highest paid black performers of her time. She was a pioneer on the black entertainment circuit and created a body of work that helped define the sound of the 20th century.
Billie Holiday Billie Holiday first heard Bessie Smith on the radio as a child, and cited her as a major influence. In 1933, she recorded her first record with Columbia, in the same studio where Smith recorded her last. A unique creative talent, her originality consisted not so much in what she sang but how she interpreted the popular songs of her era. With her distinctive voice and pure jazz style, she sang notoriously behind the beat and improvised brilliantly with other musicians, revolutionising jazz and popular singing through songs such as ‘Fine and Mellow’ and ‘God Bless the Child’. Her dramatic performances of ‘Strange Fruit’, which she called ‘her personal protest’ against racism, radically transformed her status in American popular culture. She has been called one of the best vocalists of the century, her body of music a lasting influence on the development of jazz and pop today.
James Erskine’s documentary, ‘Billie’, featuring never-before-heard interviews, came out in November 2020 and can be streamed on a range of digital platforms. The film, ‘The United States Verses Billie Holiday’ was released in the UK in February 2021 and is also available to stream. Andrea Day won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Holiday. Discover Billie Holiday recordings on Naxos Jazz.
The songs of these three artists still sound as uplifting and powerful as they did back then and can be accessed for free through the world’s best resource of great jazz and blues recordings, Naxos Jazz. If you are looking for some inspiration as we make our way through what is hopefully these last few weeks of lockdown, why not treat yourself; watch the films, read the book, then listen to the music. Just click on the link below and be transported back to 20th century Harlem where the voices of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday will dazzle your ears and lift your lockdown blues.
All available to stream for free on Naxos Jazz – just don’t forget to tip the piano player on your way out!
In a world of so much uncertainty, Hope from Central Library gathers suggestions from colleagues for books they turn to that help them cope.
Lately, I have felt like the world I am walking in is built from sand which has hitherto held firm, but now is loose and crumbling beneath my feet. The certainties of the world around me are falling away, the grains of sand catching the light, all rainbow coloured, as they crumble. It’s a scary feeling, and one I think many of us know, as we emerge from a Covid winter. We are unsure of our footing in this new world.
Many nights I find myself dreaming I’m running through an Edinburgh transformed into an ice rink, the world slipping and sliding and uncertain below my feet. I know my colleagues have experienced similar feelings of loss, disorientation, uncertainty.
Here we choose beloved books about resilience, about coping, and about sometimes knowing it’s OK not to cope, to slip on the ice of this strange new world, and take our time to get up again.
Hope chooses The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot The Outrun is a book about going home to find who you really are. In her late twenties, Amy Liptrot was an alcoholic living in London. As her obsessive behaviour spiralled out of control, she found herself endlessly contacting her ex-boyfriend and begging him to come back, give her another chance, though he had told her already he couldn’t cope. A horrible assault was the trigger which sent Liptrot home to Orkney, and the farm she grew up on with a field behind called The Outrun.
This is a book about nature, about family, about healing however it also manages to not gloss over how damned hard it was for Liptrot to heal. The Outrun takes readers birdwatching late at night, noting rare species, swimming in an ice cold sea, and learning what it means to come home.
I knew very little about alcoholism before reading this book, but the immediacy of Liptrot’s story made me feel her struggle and long for her to succeed through the reviving darkness of her long Orkney winter. Available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.
Zoe chooses Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut As in all Vonnegut’s books, there is a lot of wisdom about being alive on this planet and wry humour about people in general and the situations we find ourselves in. I find his take on these things enormously helpful and comforting to read at any time – but this particular book also has a looming apocalypse in it which will feel apposite to many.
Vonnegut addresses this alongside the rest of the chaos in his story with a Zen-like grace, which is profoundly affecting. He was a master storyteller who took a long, wide view of life while never distancing himself from it – I think he had a rare gift for showing us ourselves with patience and love. A book to read and re-read! Available to borrow as an ebook.
Bageshri chooses Educated by Tara Westover “Not knowing for certain but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It has never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”
These are the words used by Tara Westover in her memoir, Educated, to describe her life.
The author was born in a survivalist Mormon family in a north-western U.S. state Idaho. The book describes her struggle to become educated by overcoming all the uncertainties in her life. The family had its own beliefs and own ways to live life on a harsh mountain. There was no space for modern medical science and the children were not sent to school.
The whole family’s life was ruled by the author’s father and his strange beliefs. He didn’t trust the government which lead to him not getting birth certificates for his children.
The author’s determination to escape from violence in her family, her quest for knowledge, and her urge to become independent lead to her achieving things which seemed impossible. It is really fascinating to read about how she managed to achieve a PhD at Cambridge University despite all the uncertainties in her life. Available to borrow as an audiobook.
Doris choosesAny Human Heart by William Boyd Any Human Heart is a wonderful novel about loss, resilience and the funny twists and turns of life. It tells the story of Logan Mountstuart, a flawed yet sympathetic character, who is born into privilege and ends up facing a number of hardships – some of his own making – during his lifetime.
Written as a diary, Any Human Heart is moving and comical. It chimes with me because it makes me consider what it means to be human. Dealing with the universal themes of identity, love and fractured relationships, Any Human Heart is both profound and playful and reminds me that everybody’s life contains pain and sadness.
I have read Any Human Heart at least four, maybe five times, and I know it’s a novel that I will return to again and again. Every time I pick it up, I always find something new and incisive. Full of beautiful prose, I will never tire of this modern classic. Thoroughly recommended. Available to borrow as an ebook.
Ania chooses My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante The first of the Neapoliitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend is a beautiful story about a friendship, narrated by one of the main characters Elena (Lenu) across few decades from early childhood. It is also a never-solved riddle of how an individual can rescue herself.
It’s full of uncertainty on many levels. Uncertainty of the future, private dramas, stress, violence, poverty, constant tension and yet it’s full of hope, love and a strong friendship that can survive in some very difficult and rough times. Available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.
Written in 1943 when Shanghai was occupied by Japan, Love in a Fallen City is a classic in modern Sinophone literature.
Before writing this novella, author Eileen Chang experienced an uncertain period. In 1939, her plan to study in London was terminated by the war and a few years later she was forced to end her studies in British Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion. On her return to Shanghai she was an unwelcome figure in her family, but it was during this period her writing started to receive attention in occupied Shanghai. She also fell in love with a married man.
Like the author, the female protagonist in this novella faces great uncertainty. Unwanted by her mother’s family, Bai Liusu is urged to secure economic stability by finding a new husband. She falls in love with a young attractive entrepreneur who just finished his studies in England but neither of them trusts each other’s commitment.
The novella ends without clear resolution, but Bai is fully aware of the looming uncertainty and we know she will persist. Available to borrow as an ebook.
Stories of the Saharaby Sanmao Long before the restrictions of the current day, Taiwanese people faced strict lockdown from 1945 until the mid 1980s under the authority of the KMT Chinese Government.
Thanks to her Mainland background and her family’s close association with the KMT ruling class, Sanmao Chen was one of the few allowed to travel abroad. At a time when travel was impossible for most, she enchanted numerous Taiwanese readers with her exotic depictions of the Sahara Desert, and her attractive Spanish husband, Jose.
Sanmao’s diaries and letters reveal the perennial uncertainty she was experiencing. Yet her stories are exciting, adventurous, and full of imagination. Her pursuit of freedom inspired many Taiwanese readers in the 70s and 80s and Mainland readers after the Cold War. I was so fascinated by her stories of the Sahara Desert and Jose, that I made my mind to “exile myself overseas”.
Paul chooses Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, and A Promised Landby Barack Obama For me, both books are by inspiring people, and show them not being daunted by setbacks in ways surprising themselves. Both very honest and reflective, open about their self-doubt and disappointment, facing into uncertainty by keeping faith with their values and beliefs through adversity. Long Walk to Freedom is available to borrow as an audiobook. A Promised Land is available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.
Astor Piazzolla was born 100 years ago on 11 March 1921, in Mar del Plata, a tourism and fishing hub to the south of Buenos Aires. Astor was the only child of Vicente Piazzolla and Assunta Manetti, whose Italian parents had immigrated from Italy, respectively from Trani, on the south-eastern heel of Italy and Lucca, in the central Tuscany area.
Vincente and Assunta moved with the four-year-old Astor, to New York, to the not so nice, at that time, area of Greenwich village. Some years later, Vincente spotted a bandoneon in a pawn shop and bought it for the nine year old Astor.
A bandoneon is a square button concertina originally from Germany, mostly now favoured in the South American countries of Uruguay and Argentina. Due to the alignment of the reeds to the bellows, the bandoneon can, in the right hands, be a much more emotive and expressive instrument than the accordion. **************************************
The young Astor listened to tango music in his father’s record collection, also to jazz and classical music. The family moved to Little Italy, an area of Lower Manhattan, it was around this time that Young Astor composed his first Tango, said to be “La Catinga”. He also got his first teacher, a Hungarian classical pianist, Bela Wilda, who had been a student of Rachmaninoff.
Astor’s parents worked hard and worked long hours, leaving the young Astor, mostly, to himself. He became streetwise and learned to look after himself in ways which would probably raise many questions and eyebrows today. In an interview for La Opinion Cultural in 1976, Piazzolla, recounts the story of how he met the famous Argentinian Tangoists, Carlos Gardel and Juio De Caro. A story which involves gaining entry to an Apartment, via the fire escape to deliver milk and wake the occupant, Carlos Gardel, to have him open the front door to Carlos’s visitors, who had sent the young Astor up the fire escape.
According to Astor he stuck around that day and played the bandoneon for Carlos Gardel who was very impressed and invited him to tour with Gardel’s Orchestra. Fortunately for Astor and all of us, Astor’s father Vincente forbade him from this adventure, which saved his live, for sadly Carlos and his musicians perished in a plane crash.
At this point, a quote from Astor Piazzolla himself, “Never believe what I tell journalists”. He seemingly enjoyed storytelling, often with scant regard for truth.
In 1936, Astor and his parents returned to Mar del Plata, where he began earning a living as a musician playing Bandoneon with several local bands. He then moved to Buenos Aries, to begin playing in the Orchestra of Anibal Troilo, which was fast becoming the great tango orchestra of the time. Piazzolla as well as bandoneon playing, played the piano for Troilo’s Orchestra and acted as his arranger. Piazzolla came to the attention of the renowned concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who was living in Buenos Aires at that time, Rubinstein encouraged Piazzolla to study with the great Argentinian Composer, Alberto Ginastera.
Thus began a very busy and productive time for Piazzolla – composition and orchestration lessons with Ginestera, piano lessons with classical pianist Raul Spivak and playing with the Troilo Orchestra. He also fitted in watching morning rehearsals of the orchestra of Teatro Colon.
Stylistic tensions began to rise between Troilo and Piazzolla. Astor decided to leave and join the orchestra of Francisco Florentino but this was a short term liason. He formed his own orchestra, the Orquesta Tipica. This was 1946 and Piazzolla had finally his first orchestra to try out his own styles and compositions
Piazzolla, having finally achieved what must have been one of his desires, grew increasingly dissatisfied with his music making, and having pushed tango forward wished to leave it behind and be taken “seriously” as a composer or perhaps be taken for a “serious” composer.
In 1949 he disbanded his orchestra and set to work composing some major orchestral works. In 1953, at the insistence of Ginestera, who he was still working with, Piazzolla entered his Symphonie Buenos Aires op15 (1951) for the Fabian Sevitzky Award/Scholarship. Sevitzky was a Russian born American, Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and great champion of the music of the Americas, Sevitzky travelled to Buenos Aires to conduct Piazzolla’s Symphonie in the premiere. This event was marred when fights broke out between the conservative Buenos Aires audience over the inclusion on two bandoneons in the scoring of the Symphonie Buenos Aires. Piazzolla dually won and the grant allowed him to travel to Paris with his wife, their two children and his parents to study with the great composition guru, Nadia Boulanger.
The list of Boulanger’s students and those that, however briefly, passed through her “classroom” is a list of the great and the greater of 20th century composers. Boulanger’s most insightful of gifts, was to allow the composer to find their own voice, and compose to their strengths, this she did with Piazzolla. He had been reluctant to play any of his many tango-inspired compositions choosing, or maybe wishing to be seen, for his more “classical” compositions. Boulanger encouraged him to play one of his tangos, Triufan, and on hearing this Boulanger persuaded Piazzolla that this was his true voice.
On his return to Buenos Aires, Piazzolla formed a new string orchestra and an octet to perform his works and arrangements, a list of compositions which was growing and reflecting his Nuevo Tango, this was Piazzolla’s wish to take the tango from the dancefloor to the concert hall. Mixing all that he had learned from Boulanger and jazz music greats like Gerry Mulligan, whom he was to work and record with numerous times, consolidating all this into his jazz, classical, contrapuntal tango-inspired music, which whilst spiky and edgy could be achingly beautiful. One such piece was “Adios Nonino”. Written on the death of his father in 1959, Piazzolla locked himself in his room and in an hour produced the beautiful and emotional tango. (Nonino is an Argentine word for grandfather, a variant of the Italian Nonno.)
Long tours round the world, recordings and new compositions were Piazzolla’s life for the next thirty years. He seems to have formed a succession of groups quintets, octets, small string orchestras, and disbanded just as many, but each reflecting what musical style or type of composition he was producing at the time. An unsuccessfully brief spell in New York in the early sixties, with a jazz tango fusion quintet was followed by a successful return to Buenos Aires. This pattern of up down, success and not, followed. He was, however, greatly respected by his fellow musicians and this was constant in his professional life, the musicians who were willing to work, travel and experiment musically with him. There are many collaborations with many disparate musicians and ensembles.
During the late 70s and early 80s Piazzolla lived mostly in Italy but returned to Argentina often. This was the time of the military dictatorship of Jorge Videla. Piazzolla in a memoir, was questioned about his relationship with the Junta and his acceptance of at least one luncheon invite. Piazzolla dismissed the inference by suggesting that perhaps it is not wise to turn down an invite delivered by government men in dark suits.
In the many highlights of his long career, there were two commissions from the Kronos Quartet for works for bandoneon and string quartet, the second “Five Tango Sensations” written and recorded late in 1989. The 1982 composition, Le Grand Tango for cello and piano was finally premiered in 1990 by Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist, Igor Uriash. Piazzolla composed an Opera, “Maria of Buenos Aires”.
In researching this article, the two most often used descriptions of Piazzolla are ‘Tango composer’ or ‘World composer’. Although both are true, they don’t accurately reflect the breadth of Piazzolla’s talent. Ravel, Shostakovich, Britten or Mackenzie are not placed by their respective French-ness, Russian-ness, English-ness or Scottish-ness nor is Vaughan Williams describes as a Folk composer due to some of the titles of his compositions, but Piazzolla is tagged for his most recognisable trait rather than just ‘Astor Piazzolla, composer’.
Astor Piazzolla, composer, suffered a cerebral hemorage in Paris in 1990. He never regained consciousness and died in Buenos Aires in 1992.
He was posthumously awarded the Konex award in 1995, which honours Argentinian cultural personalities.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, join Fiona Brown (Scottish professional footballer who plays as forward for both FC Rosengård and Scotland’s international team) as she answers questions from Edinburgh’s secondary school pupils.
In the interview, Fiona discusses her career, the challenges she has faced as a player and her experiences of being a professional female footballer.
Secondary school pupils across the city were given the opportunity by their school librarian to submit questions to ask Fiona via an online form. A small group of school librarians then had the challenge of whittling down to the best questions to put forward to Fiona and this interview is a culmination of their amazing questions and Fiona’s thought-provoking answers.
Did you know? International Women’s Day is in its 44th year since being recognised by the United Nations in 1977, but it had its infancy in New York as far back as 1909.
Although International Women’s Day is now a globally recognised event, countries across the world vary in their approach to it. Some nations mark it as an opportunity to celebrate traditional femininity and womanhood, while others use it as a focal day of political protest against issues ranging from reproductive rights, femicide and domestic violence. This year’s campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge, which highlights the brave and often fatal struggle for equality across the developing world. But it’s also a call to action, aimed at people living in more peaceful countries such as Scotland, to take a stand against discrimination in all its forms.
Staff at Central Library have chosen a selection of creative people from across the world whom they admire and whose work fits the theme of Challenge. As you will see, our chosen writers, artists and adventurers all had to push against the status quo in order to express themselves creatively, and each of them were trailblazers in their own way. We feel they deserve to be championed!
Please read on…
Douglas from the Music Library says: Born in the Barnton area of Edinburgh, Thea Musgrave had a Boarding School education away from the city but returned to Edinburgh University to study Medicine, later changing to Music. After a long career in Music and now in her 93rd year, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing.
In an interview for the BBC in 2018 Thea Musgrave was asked about being a woman composer. She responded by saying, “Yes, I am a woman, and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”. Asked in the same interview if she had any advice for young composers, she said “Don’t do it, unless you have to. And if you do, enjoy every minute of it.” Listen on Naxos Music Library
Florence Price (1887 – 1953) was a composer, musician, organist, pianist and teacher. In 1932 her 1st Symphony won the Rodman Wanamaker competition and was performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, making her the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major symphony orchestra. Unfortunately, Florence Price’s works are still little known and rarely performed or recorded. Listen on Naxos Music Library
Gregg from Central Lending says: Gerda Rohorylle, known as Gerda Taro, was a photojournalist who came to prominence through her coverage of the Spanish Civil War. Her early black and white photographs had a distinctive square format, though in later work she favoured a more rectangular style. Her work is noted for being bold and direct. Lisa Hostetler, of the International Center of Photography in New York, has described the strengths of Taro’s work as “Their graphic simplicity and emotional power”, and her “effective portrayals of individuals at war”. Taro was killed aged 26 while working at the frontline in July 1937. She was later buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her tomb was designed by the artist Alberto Giacometti, who gave her the epitaph, “So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world”. The Art and Design Library has a monograph of her war photography. See the International Center of Photography’s online exhibition of Taro’s work.
Belal from Blackhall Library says: Zaha Hadid was a leading British-Iraqi architect, artist and designer, and was the first female recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize (2004), challenging the largely male architectural establishment. The Complete Zaha Hadid, part of the Art & Design Library’s physical collection, presents the complete monograph of Hadid’s works, from her early, unbuilt projects and ideas from her student years, to her very latest projects around the world, including the Aquatics Centre for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan, USA. The book also features her furniture, product design and exhibitions. Visit Zaha Hadid Architects website to find out more about her work.
Jeanette from the Art & Design Library says: Jo-Anne McArthur is a multi-award-winning photographer whose groundbreaking work documents our complicated relationship with animals, in particular those we eat, wear, experiment on and confine in zoos and aquaria. Her books, including ‘We Animals’, call into question the ethics of how we treat the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. In 2003, she founded We Animals Media, an online resource bringing “visibility to hidden animals worldwide through compelling photography and film”, with an archive of 10,000+ images which anyone can use for free to advocate on behalf of animals.
McArthur was the subject of the 2013 critically acclaimed documentary ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ which explored the question of whether non-human animals were property to be owned and used, or sentient beings deserving of rights. Her work is often done undercover and exposes the reality of animals’ lives we were never meant to see, resulting in images ranging from beautiful and haunting to utterly shocking and brutal, yet always urging us not to turn away but to pay attention, take action and make change. Find out more on Jo-Anne McArthur’s website.
Ania from Central Lending says: I have always been a great fan of an amazing woman, Wanda Rutkiewicz, a Polish mountain climber who successfully climbed K2 without supplemental oxygen. Rutkiewicz also reached the peak of Mount Everest, becoming the third woman to reach the peak, and the first Pole.
In the 1980s when Rutkiewicz started her ‘adventures’ it was a huge undertaking. It was nothing like commercialised expeditions of today. Also, in her time it was strictly a male bastion. She became widely recognised as a face of the emancipation of women in mountain climbing and went on to advocate for women’s climbing. She published books and produced documentaries on the subject. However, underneath all her great achievements, her life was also filled with many tragic events, loneliness, anxiety, rejection, and depression. Rutkiewicz was last seen alive in October 1994 while climbing Kangchenjunga. Her body has still not been found. Read more about her life via Wikipedia. There are several ebooks on women climbers available to borrow on Overdrive/Libby app. Read ‘High Infatuation’ by Steph Davis or ‘Edge of the Map’ by Johanna Garton.
David from Morningside Library says: Nan Shepherd was born in West Cults, near Aberdeen in 1893 and died there in 1981. During her long life she spent hundreds of days and thousands of miles, travelling on foot, exploring the Cairngorm mountain range, which lies between West Cults and Aviemore, in North East Scotland.
In The Living Mountain, Nan writes poetically and spirituality about the effect that walking into the mountain has on her senses. She writes about the Mountain range as a living whole entity, made up of many component elements. However it is how these essential elements make her feel alive and feel connected to the mountain that shapes Nan’s poetic and evocative writing. She sees the mountain range as something to walk into, and to both lose yourself in and find yourself in, at the same time. Writing in the 1940s about the thoughts, feelings and emotions that a mountain range could heighten within yourself, was very much the opposite of the male dominated mountain literature of the time of reaching and dominating the peaks, which Nan so aptly describes as a trivial diversion. Nan literally was a free spirit who challenged conventional wisdom, and you can feel her spirit set free in this slender masterpiece. Borrow The Living Mountain ebook via Overdrive/Libby app.
Doris from Central Lending writes: As a teenager growing up in a sleepy North of England village during the 1980s, I craved glamour and excitement. To me, Annie Leibovitz and her photographs embodied those qualities.
I first came across the American photographer when her images of Anjelica Huston and David Bowie were published in the mid 1980s. Her iconic cover of a heavily pregnant Demi Moore for Vanity Fair magazine caused a huge stir in 1991. Although celebrated, Annie Leibovitz’s photography has sometimes been dismissed as superficial and overly commercial. Whatever your opinion, undeniably, as one of the few female celebrity photographers, Annie Leibovitz is a trailblazer. Tying in with this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’ , she certainly challenged the norm and brought provocative portraits of celebrities to an eager public.
Annie Leibovitz cites both Richard Avedon and Henri-Cartier Bresson as influences to her work, in titles such as ‘Women’, which forms part of the Art & Design Library’s physical collection. See a retrospective of her early work on the Hauser and Wirth gallery website.
Joanna from Art & Design Library chooses: Olga Tokarczuk, Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual who has been described in Poland as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel ‘Flights’, translated by Jennifer Croft. In 2019, she was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize of Literature. Borrow ‘Flights’ as a ebook.
Zoe from Central Lending says: I have chosen Svetlana Alexievich, who is a historian, journalist and activist from Belarus. She is celebrated for painstakingly gathering ordinary people’s stories and perspectives of war and disaster, such as Chernobyl, and for exposing the propaganda, deceit and the magnitude of suffering behind the official accounts of these events. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. She has been threatened, persecuted and even arrested a number of times following publication of her books, and was forced into exile for ten years in 2000. She continues to be politically active, lately during the 2020 Belarusian protests.
And lastly, I would like to celebrate the work of Nawal El Saadawi, who is a pioneering Egyptian writer and activist. She has bravely challenged Islamic codes and doctrines especially concerning the traditional status and treatment of women and girls, paying particular attention to issues such as child marriage and FGM. She has received death threats, been imprisoned, and has had to flee Egypt to escape persecution. El Saadawi has inspired an entire generation of young activists and feminists across the world – such as Egyptian writer Mona El Tahawy – and she continues to be an advocate and campaigner for human rights, still speaking out against racism, religious fundamentalism, capitalism and imperialism, at the current age of 89. El Saadawi’s autobiography is on the shelves at Central Library. Read an interview with her on The Guardian website.
“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge.”
Stockbridge Library will host a Panel Discussion for International Women’s Day on 8 March at 6pm on their Facebook page.
Local author and poet Claire Askew will be in discussion with writers Stella Hervey Birrell, Helen Sedgwick and Theresa Muñoz. They will talking about this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’.
Claire Askew’s books include the poetry collection This changes things (Bloodaxe, 2016), the multi-award-winning novel All The Hidden Truths (Hodder, 2018), and the creative writing guide Novelista (John Murray, 2020), among others. She is a former Jessie Kesson Fellow and was Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh from 2017 to 2019. Her next book is the novel A Matter of Time, forthcoming from Hodder in September 2021.
Stella Hervey Birrell is an award-winning novelist poet whose debut poetry pamphlet, Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. sold out in a week. She co-parents one trans and one enby child: neither of which would award her for her efforts. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets as @atinylife140, posts cat pictures on Instagram as stella_hb and can be found on Facebook as StellaHerveyBirrell.
Helen Sedgwick is the author of The Comet Seekers (Harvill Secker, 2016) and The Growing Season (2017). The first of her Burrowhead Mysteries trilogy, When the Dead Come Calling, was published in 2020, with the second, Where the Missing Gather, due in 2021. She lives in the highlands with her three-year-old daughter and five chickens.
Theresa Muñoz is a Canadian-born poet living in Edinburgh. She is a Research Associate at the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts at Newcastle University, where she teaches Creative Writing. She has one collection, Settle and has been nominated/shortlisted for a number of prizes. In 2020 she received a Creative Scotland Award to write one of the first poetry sequences on inter-racial couples, entitled ‘Mixed Feelings’.