Elizabeth Blackadder would have been 90 years old this week, and here in the Art and Design Library, staff have been saddened at her recent passing. She was one of Scotland’s most loved artists and she achieved recognition and success across the UK. She was the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She was honoured with royal recognition too: an OBE in 1982 followed by a DBE in 2003. She was even appointed Painter and Limner to the Royal Household in Scotland in 2002.
Ruby Rose from the Art and Design Team has been spending some time with the Elizabeth Blackadder books in our collections and shares her thoughts.
I have an abiding fascination with artist studios, materials and methods, so am particularly drawn to the Royal Academy Masterclass publication, “The Artist at Work in Her Studio” which conveys a sense of her approach to her work as a painter. In this beautifully illustrated book, she describes some of her processes and artistic choices in creating still life and flower paintings. She provides insight and opinions about painting in her own words, and it reminds me that she was a teacher at her Alma Mater, Edinburgh College of Art, for much of her working life. I find a quiet generosity to her commentary, and perhaps some sense of the pedagogical impulse in her straightforward descriptions of elements of her techniques. The book is laced with little snippets: the paper she uses, the colours she chooses, her approach to arranging a still life, even how she uses a paintbrush. There is a complete lack of pretence, and in a wealth of photographs we get a wonderful insight into her studio and practice.
Another favourite of mine from the Art and Design Library collection, is Morning Glory by Alan Spence, a collection of poems in the Haiku and Tanka forms. This tiny book of tiny poems is exquisitely illustrated with tender drawings and paintings. Blackadder’s mid-life interest in Japanese culture comes through in delicate drawings such as a Matcha Whisk and blue green Matcha bowl with a wisp of steam rising from the warm tea within. There are Japanese fans and a kimono. These are echoes of her larger work with Japanese themes, and throughout you can sense an expressive evocation of the subjects. There are several paintings of peacocks, including on the cover as you can see. I find the lively drama in her expressive brushstrokes delightful. Nothing has been overworked or laboured in the illustrations, and they appear almost effortless precisely because of the underlying skill of their creator. There is a resonance here to the immediacy of the small form of the poetry. The deceptive simplicity of the poems hides the process of creation.
This same sense of evocation and expressiveness comes through in one of her (and my) perennial favourite subjects: cats. She drew cats in pencil and pastels, painted them in oils and watercolours, and they feature in her print work too. The popularity of her cats was recognised in 1995 with a UK release of Royal Mail stamps featuring 5 especially commissioned cats.
Happily for feline afficionados, several of the published monographs about her reproduce many examples of her cat paintings and studies. These include Duncan Macmillan’s 1999 survey of her career, and the first book dedicated to her by Judith Bumpus features a charming green cat amongst the foliage (“Cat and Orchids”, 1984) on its cover.
My final favourite is the book that accompanied the 2011 retrospective exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, “Elizabeth Blackadder” written by Philip Long, and reading it feels both appropriate and poignant at this time. The exhibition celebrated Blackadder’s 80th birthday, and surveyed her entire career. The book remains a perfect introduction and review of her work as she developed through the decades. It contains a lush abundance of images ranging from landscapes, portraits and intricate pen and ink city sketches of Italy and Scotland created in the 1950s through the subsequent decades. It gives an amazing insight to how the artist’s early subject matter evolves and develops, whilst new themes emerge, such as her interest in Japan. I’m particularly drawn to a duo of detailed shells in watercolour painted in 2011. Blackadder’s work belongs in many public collections, but she was extensively acquired by private collectors too, and this exhibition gathered together many artworks from private collections. We are lucky to have the accompanying catalogue to let us have a glimpse of them now. Indeed, amongst the collection in the library we also have a few exhibition catalogues from her solo shows that are a joy to look at.
These titles and more are available to browse and borrow in the Art and Design Library. Do pay us a visit soon – there’s no need to book.
Its Read an eBook Day! Organised as a celebration of modern storytelling, by our ebook provider OverDrive. You can be part of the festivities by checking out an ebook from Edinburgh Libraries. Join in the conversation by sharing what you’re reading, why you love ebooks and by using the hashtag #ebooklove on social media.
Not tried our ebook service yet? Then now is the perfect time! we’ve got thousands of great titles to borrow for adults, teens and kids. You can use them on your tablet, phone, computer or ebook reader (except Kindles). Find out everything you need to know at http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/overdrive.
————–Valve (i). A mechanical device for altering the basic tubing length of a brass instrument by a predetermined and fixed amount while it is being played. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians) ————-
————–Transposition. The Notation or performance of music at a pitch different from that in which it was originally conceived or notated, by raising or lowering all of the notes in it by a given interval. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)————
————Natural Notes – Natural Harmonics- Harmonic Series. The notes of the harmonics series of a brass instrument, particularly of a “natural” instrument i.e. one not provided with valves, slide or keys in order to change the tube length while playing and therefore confined to one series of harmonics or to such other series that are made available by changes of crook. The French expression ‘sons naturels’ is also used in music for horn to countermand ‘sons bouches’ (stopped notes) and in music for violin, harp etc., to countermand playing in harmonics. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)————
————Crook ( Fr. corp de rechange, toned rechange; Ger. Stimmbogen). Detachable lengths of tubing inserted into brass instruments for the purpose of changing the tube length and hence the pitch. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)————
————Natural Horn. Term applied to the many different types of valveless horn. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)————
The invention of the valve is a bit of a dry old subject, the history of brass instruments a tad more interesting, if you love brass instruments. Putting these two things together rather like the addition of the valve to the natural trumpet or the hunting horn and looking at the impact that those subjects had in adding colour and texture to the modern orchestra and the flourishing of the modern brass band, now we might just have an article.
In approximately 1814, this new valve, and its addition to the horn and the trumpet allowed us a fully chromatic brass family and changed the nature of the music being written for it, and what was being asked of players in the orchestra, as soloists and chambers players. In some cases the changes in writing for certain instruments happened in relatively short time.
Beethoven’s Sonata for Horn and Piano was written in 1800, a work firmly placed in the classical period and written for the natural horn. Only fifty years later in 1849, Schumann wrote one of the great horn works the Adagio and Allegro (op70) a virtuosic work for the valved horn which would have been impossible prior to the invention of the valve in 1814.
The changes in the music being written for the instruments and the changes in the instruments themselves meant that the players in town bands and orchestras had to acquire new skills or be left behind.
Henri Chaussier, a virtuoso hand horn player with a good reputation as a soloist found himself engaged as an orchestral player in Germany. German orchestras had embraced valved horns and expected all their players to use valved horns. Overnight, Chassier had to acquire the skill of transposition which he had never had to do before, things that had been simple for him on his natural horn became difficult on his fully chromatic valve horn. Chaussier survived this year in Germany and went on to invent a valve system of his own.
The first mention of a means to altering the sounding length of a brass instrument, and therefore its pitch, other than by detachable crook, (an additional piece of tubing added to the instrument), was by Bohemian musician Ferdinand Kolbel (1735 – 1769). In 1766, Kolbel demonstrated his chromatic horn. There are surviving drawings but this did not obviously capture the imagination. A few years later in 1788, Irishman Charles Claggett put forward his ideas for a “chromatic trumpet and horn” but neither of these survived.
The first real working valve was invented and first added to brass instruments in around 1814. But before we look at that, I think we should whizz through a not-at-all comprehensive, several hundred/thousand year tour of brass instruments and their ancestors.
Trumpets, trombones, horns, tuba or the instruments of modern orchestral brass section; cornets, flugelhorn, tenor horn, baritone, euphonium, trombones, tubas, known as the modern brass band – all these instruments have valves, even some trombones. All of these lip vibrated aerophones have common roots. Animal horns and conches, which were blown through with vibrating lips as the ‘noise’ being amplified. As metal work became refined this technique was applied to lengths of metal tubing. The Celts did this with a warlike instrument called a Carnynx, the romans had a Cornu, a G-shaped military and ceremonial instrument. Two trumpets, simple straight lengths of metal, mouthpiece at one end and bell at the other, were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, one of silver and one made from copper, both about 25 inches long.
There is some truth in saying that these ancestors of the modern brass instrument were as stated, either warrior instruments or ceremonial fanfare instruments. And in the later case of the horn, used for hunting and or signalling. It is only when they were brought indoors and ‘domesticated’ that they were given other functions being part of different consorts, early orchestras.
Let’s set aside all the instruments of the modern brass band or the saxhorn family of instruments and also the trombone which started life as the sackbut and has changed little since.
To get to where it is today the trumpet has taken some odd paths and ended in some dead ends, this is a few. The natural trumpet is a direct descendant, shaped like a trumpet, with no valves, players of this instrument used its higher natural harmonics to great effect in many of the great early trumpet repertoire concertos by Vivaldi, Purcel, Haydn, Leopold, Mozart and Hummel. One dead end was the keyed bugle. As the name suggests, a bugle with what looks like saxophone keys, not a winner. A successful instrument for a time and a rival to the trumpet was the cornett and its little relative, the cornettino. The cornett was a curved wooden instrument like a recorder with six holes and a cupped mouthpiece like a trumpet mouthpiece. Very difficult to play but when done well is the most sweet and beautiful sound.
The Cornett is used to great effect in the music of Monteverdi and that style of antiphonal church music.
A less successful relative of the natural trumpet is the slide trumpet. Unlike the forerunner of the trombone, the sackbutt, the slide trumpet’s whole body slides up and down a single main mouthpipe, making it an ungainly and difficult to control arrangement.
The horn, derived from the hunting horn the Corno di Caccia, Cor de Chase. The rough outdoors instruments were brought in to the opera house and the ballet to play in dance sections depicting hunting scenes then they were left indoors and by careful use of the instrument’s natural harmonics and the insertion of the players hand in the bell notes could be manipulated to produce something approaching a scale.
Again, many great works were written for the horn in this period including concertos by Mozart, Haydn and others and a sonata by Beethoven.
One more thing to explain before the invention of the valve, I have twice mentioned the natural harmonics in connection with the trumpet and the horn. The arrangement of all the aerophones which have a mouthpiece at one end, a length of tubing and a flared bell at the other, creates a set of natural harmonics, natural notes, a series of notes that can be sounded by that length of tubing and the player vibrating their lips and then changing the tension of their lips. If the length of the tubing is changed then so does the set of harmonics. A natural trumpet has a length of about 4 feet, the natural horn about 12 feet.
Lengthening the tubing was basically covered by the Sackbutt/Trombone. Trumpet players and horn players used different techniques to produce scales and fill in the blanks in the Harmonic series.
Horn players used their hand in the bell and by ‘closing’ the bell with their hand could raise or lower the sound by a full tone. So in the scale above D, F and A could be filled in by closing the bell and the flattened Bb could be raised to a b natural by semi-closing the bell. This had an effect on the sound quality and these notes are muffled and therefore easy to spot. Trumpet players could not use the hand in the bell technique so their solution was more difficult, more taxing on the lips and far more precarious. The trumpet players of that time used the very top register of the trumpet’s scale. Known as the clarino register, all the notes are very close together and changed by the lip/embouchure control of the player. This can be heard to great effect in the 2nd Brandenberg Concerto by Bach, I have heard trumpet players come to grief on this work with a modern trumpet so I am amazed that anyone would tackle this with a natural trumpet.
In the years just before the invention and application of the valve, horn players would carry lengths of tubing called crooks which they could place on their horns to lengthen the tubing to the key required by the music. A trumpet player would have a whole instrument in a different key to suit the piece they were to perform, trumpet players might have to carry two or three trumpets with them.
————–Valve (i). A mechanical device for altering the basic tubing length of a brass instrument by a predetermined and fixed amount while it is being played. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)————-
Two valve systems were patented around the same place but seemingly independent of each other. The systems, one by Freidrich Blumhel (1777 – 1845), the second by Hienrich Stolzel (1777 – 1844).
Freidrich Blumhel was a German inventor and musician. Blumhel was a coal miner who learned to play several instruments. By 1808 he was calling himself a Berghautboist or a Mine Musician and was playing the horn and the trumpet. Bluhmel had been inspired by the ventilating pipes and faucets of the Silesian Blast furnaces in a period between 1810-1813. In 1816, he demonstrated a working model of a trumpet and horn with two box valves fitted on each and shortly after he showed a trombone with three valves fitted. After his demonstration of the trombone he joined forces with Stolzel and they were awarded a joint patent for their works. It was just after this that Stolzel bought Blumel out by paying him 400 thaler to surrender all further rights to him. Blumhel continued to invent and work on valve systems, trying in the years leading up to 1828 to secure a patent for a rotary valve.
Hienrich Stolzel was a German inventor and musician. The only son of Municipal musician Christian Stolzel, Hienrich was a member of Prince of Pless’s private band and in 1818 a member of the Royal Opera Orchestra in Berlin. He retired from this post in 1829 with a pension but died in poverty in 1844.
Stolzel demonstrated a tubular valve called a Rohrenschiebventil or in French, Piston Stozel. His primacy with this valve was contested by Blumhel and it was then that they joined together to obtain a patent, the rights to which Stolzel would later acquire from Blumhelm.
Although the box valve was considered by many to be the superior system it was Stolzel’s tubular or cylindrical valve which found the most popularity. It was cheaper and easier to produce and this was the version that became the basis for many valve systems to come.
It would be at this point that, if this article was to be pages and pages long and a more detailed treatise on the valve and its invention, we would use diagrams to explain how the valve worked. Describing how the air column is diverted at the depression of the valve into some addition of tubing, lengthening the instrument and lowering the pitch by a tone or a semi-tone. Also we could go in to detail about the many slightly different variations in valve that appeared at that time – the piston, the rotary valve, the vienna valve and where and how they were placed on the trumpet or horn. We could also discuss the impact of the development of the valve on the the development of the Saxhorn family of brass instruments and the rise of the brass band and its long term and positive effect on many, many hard working communities in the industrialised world.
It would be at this point we should do that but there are many books you can read from our collection or online explaining this far better than I have just done. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians entry on the valve runs to 7 pages with none of our digressions. We shall leave the in-depth explanations to them and say, new is not always better than old, but when you have something which makes the job at hand so much easier, why not use it.
The Art & Design Library has been a hive of activity lately, as a backdated delivery arrived and has seen desks piled high with boxes containing stacks of brand new art books. Staff have been busy getting the books ready to go on the shelves and enjoying a sneak peek themselves!
A diverse range of titles have been added to our catalogue since we opened, ranging right across the board, from architecture to printmaking and everything in between! We have outstanding new reads on old masters including Da Vinci and Rembrandt, and on innovative contemporary artists including Nalini Malani, Jo-Anne McArthur and Zanele Muholi. There are books on the fascinating lives and work of illustrators Dick Bruna and Raymond Briggs, and we have a new collection of art books aimed at children (look out for more on this in a future blog!).
Often our most popular items are those which help give our customers a creative boost, those which inform and inspire you on your journey to make and develop your own art and craft. Since our order arrived, our shelves now hold a fantastic selection of insightful books, written by craftspeople and artists who share their experiences, struggles, influences, techniques and insider tips!
So, if you make your own art or would love to learn a new skill, then read on, there might be something here written just for you…
‘House Of Print’ by Molly Mahon
Molly Mahon designs and creates beautiful and original fabrics, wallpapers, and functional art pieces for the home. This joyful exploration of block printing by the designer takes readers through her initial design process, through to the block carving, colour mixing and the printing process. The book is jam-packed with beautiful photographs alongside clear and easy to follow instructions. Starting with simple block prints on paper and fabric, through to potential ways to transform the pieces into modern and stylish homeware, this book is sure to fire your imagination. Borrow House of Print
‘Open Studio. Do-It-Yourself Projects by Contemporary Artists’by Sharon Coplan Hurowitz and Amanda Benchley
Open Studio is book of fun, accessible DIY projects by leading contemporary artists including Marina Abramovic, Julie Mehretu and the Haas brothers. With behind the scenes photos taken in the artists’ studios, it demystifies their practice as they draw, paint, sculpt and design an original project for readers to create at home. Included is a suggested list of supplies, illustrated step-by-step instructions and pull-out templates and stencils. The result is sure to appeal to both adults and children and inform their creative practice. Borrow Open Studio
‘The Stencil Graffiti Handbook’ by Tristan Manco
Written by street art expert Tristan Manco, this book not only contains countless tips and tricks for making stencil art but is a guide to an artistic path. Aimed at “artists, activists, designers, typographers, provocateurs and all rebellious spirits”, Manco explores the medium’s applications within grassroots activism as well as the contemporary craft scene bringing this radical artform to light. Featuring studio visits with street artists and step-by-step guidance, this is an essential book for anyone interested in the graffiti scene. Borrow The Stencil Graffiti Handbook
‘The Papercraft Ideas Book’ by Jessica Baldry
The Papercraft Ideas Book contains more than 80 fabulous papercraft artworks by contemporary international artists and includes a wealth of tips and guidance. A visual feast and source of inspiration, this book is a treasure trove of ideas for papercraft subjects, methods and styles. Techniques include 3D collage, paper marbling and paper quilling, as well as stitching onto paper, paper embossing and traditional papercutting. Expand your creativity and express yourself through this incredible craft. Borrow The Papercraft Ideas Book
‘Textile Travels’ by Anne Kelly
Renowned textile artist Anne Kelly looks at how travel, past and present, can be captured in textile art. Illustrated with evocative photographs throughout, she explores the influence of different cultures across the globe. Included are a wealth of ideas for using traditional techniques, fabrics, motifs and colours and exquisite examples of work by leading contemporary textile artists. A practical and beautiful guide for textile artists, embroiderers and makers everywhere. Borrow Textile Travels
‘Pastel Painting Atelier- Essential Lessons in Techniques, Practice and Materials’ by Ellen Eagle
An essential and enlightening read on the history, techniques and practices of pastel painting. Artist Ellen Eagle takes an in-depth look at pastels’ relatively unexamined past, reveals her own influences and includes magnificent work by masters including Mary Cassatt and Eugene Delacroix. Aimed at serious artists but an informative read for anyone interested in using pastels, Eagle gives detailed advice on materials, suggestions for working in the studio and step-by-step demonstrations. Borrow Pastel Painting Atelier
We hope you enjoyed this preview of our motivating new books, however to view the entire range be sure to visit soon, as we have many more!
Book a slot, choosing ‘Central’ from the list, to visit the Art & Design Library. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Some of the histories of the ukulele are quite exact about when its inventors arrived in Hawaii, their names, their place of origin and how the name ukulele came about.
Let’s start with the name. Most of the ukulele histories, if they mention where the name originated, tell the story of the last king, and penultimate monarch, of the islands, Kalakaua. Kalakaua, himself a ukulele player, watched a player demonstrate their skills on the ukulele, their fast finger work and strumming techniques and the King likened the player’s finger work to that of a jumping flea, a ukulele.
—- The Hawaiians had the word, ukulele, before the instrument appeared, it is the word that the islanders used for cat fleas. —-
This tale is recounted often in many slightly different ways, by many different people, this version is told by Alvin D Keech, ukulele player, teacher and maker and Hawaiian resident until 1915. Told as if he had actually been there, which he hadn’t, in an article written in 1931, which was reprinted in The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and Its Great Hawaiian Musicians.
—- There is another version which has it that ukulele translates as ‘the gift that came here’. ‘Uku’ can translate as gift and ‘lele’ as coming or comes here, not jumping. —-
The instrument most mentioned as basis for the ukulele is the Machete de Braga or Braguinha, a 4 string, steel or gut strung instrument popular in Portugal and the Maderia Islands. In one very exact retelling of the arrival of this instrument in Hawaii, the Musician Joao Fernandez arrives in Honolulu Harbour in 1879 and plays his Braguinha and sings Portuguese folk songs, this retelling also mentions three Portuguese craftsmen, Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espirito who arrived in Honolulu Harbour around the same time, and this version of the history of the ukulele, credits them with building the first true Hawaiian ukuleles, adaptions of Fernandez’s Braguinha. As with most stories the world over, when a tale has a recent past every family will have a version, some families will know someone who was the brother of the friend of someone who once knew the man/woman who held the strings as the maker of the first ukulele strung the first ukulele. There are many variations, differing slightly from the above, some more exact and detailed, some vaguer and blurry round the facts.
The main points to take from all the histories are that small 4/6 stringed instruments arrived in Honolulu from Portugal in the late 1870s. The instruments built on Hawaii based on the instruments brought into the island became what we know today as the ukulele. The instrument on which the ukulele is based, is most often cited as the Machete de Braga or Braguinha or Brinquinho. There seem to be many versions of these size of small string instruments often listed as sub-sets of the lute family. In an ethnomusicological listing they, ukuleles, are known as a composite chordophone. They appear the world over, their appearance and size is a requirement of their need to be portable. They are the instrument of the traveller, the sailor or soldier. Which explains why very similar sized and sounding instruments are found in many different places around the globe. The names are also very similar Machete de Braga, Braguinha, Brinquinho, Cavaquinho, Cuatro, Cavaco.
Many of these instruments stayed in their eventual homes of Portugal, Brazil, Venezuela but the ukulele was the version of this family of instruments which conquered the world and continues to enchant, delight and entertain.
In 2015 the BBC, published a few online articles about the history of the ukulele and how to be a famous uke player etc etc, one of these articles included this list of ‘famous’ uke players Joe Strummer, Elvis Presley, George Harrison, John Lennon, Phil Jupitus, Paul McCartney, Adam Sandler, Frank Skinner, Gloria Swanson, Marlon Brando, Kate Pierson, Mick Fleetwood, Noel Fielding, Russell Brand, Poison Ivy, Pete Townshend, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Barack Obama, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Adrian Edmondson, Benny Hill, Buster Keaton, Harry Hill, Joni Mitchell. This is a list a of famous players with a wide appeal, and this is not a comprehensive list. There are players from earlier generations and later, younger players who have a wide following on different social media channels. Fans following of uke players from the very earliest of superstars like Cliff Edwards known as Ukulele Ike, in the thirties, who was also the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, or George Formby, in the forties and fifties to recent stars like Jake Shimabukuro, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and James Hill, mean that the uke has gone in and out of favour, as the stars who played the uke moved in and out of favour. It so happens that at the moment it is enjoying an especially purple patch.
The main overriding reason for its popularity and its longevity is, the uke is easy to pick up. Ukes are small, portable and within a short time, very short in some cases, you can know enough chords to sing along to your favourite hits or karaoke hot picks.
Ukes are also relatively inexpensive, not an easy thing to quantify, my inexpensive is different from the next uke player. I bought my first uke about eighteen years ago and it cost about £15, it was purple, and I got it from Rae Macintosh which at that time was still on Queensferry Street and it was a good starter uke. A criticism of lower priced starter ukes is that they don’t hold their tuning, slip out of tune easily, which can be true but my first one didn’t. If you look carefully good lower priced ukes are out there to find. Most of the tutors and teaching websites advise paying slightly more than that. Which is probably true, most of those sites recommend that paying between £40 to £80 which will get you a good first uke. After that, the sky is the limit on what you want to pay for a uke, a hand-built uke made to measure to your own preferences could start at around £5000. With my birthday coming up, my fingers are crossed.
Ukes come in various sizes, soprano, concert, tenor, baritone and bass. The ones probably most seen are either the soprano which is about 17/19 inches long or the concert which is slightly larger at about 21 inches in length. The four strings of the soprano or concert uke are tuned to G,C,E,A. The G string is normally tuned higher than the C string, so in uke circles they say, it sounds like, or to use the ‘My Dog Has Fleas’ tuning. This kind of tuneful mnemonic refers to the way American children were taught in the sixties. This tuning is known as re-entrant tuning, although, some players prefer to tune the G string lower than the C string this is known as linear tuning. Some players prefer to tune their ukes to ADF#B, this one tone higher makes the string tighter. The GCEA tuning is most common for the soprano, concert and tenor ukes, The baritone is different as usually it is linear tuned DGBE which is the same as the top four strings of the guitar. Soprano, concert, tenor, baritone is a matter of choice and what feels most comfortable in your hands.
There is also a wide variety of shapes and colours of ukes out there. In the beginning of the uke, most resembling a small guitar. Then there was, what became known as the pineapple uke which, as its name suggests has the curving shape of a Pineapple, without the knobbly bits. In approximately 1916/17, the banjolele’s first appearance is credited to makers Alvin D Keech and John A Bolander. Marketed as a banjo ukulele or banjolele it had the body of a banjo and the neck and tuning of the ukulele, so it is a cut and shut job!
Most famously, this was the instrument of choice of George Formby, world-famous, English comedian, actor and singer-songwriter.
Uke Tales: a story often told APRIL 11, 2019 by Sandor Nagyszalanczy On this web blog, Sander tells a long story about buying a uke in the home of uke’s Hawaii and about the importance of how you make your choice, play it and if it sounds right to you, then that’s probably your uke.
With the most recent upsurge in the popularity of the uke you can find all shapes and sizes, there are flying V ukes, round ukes, cigar box ukes, oil can ukes, electric ukes, resonator ukes.
I mentioned I got my first uke about eighteen years ago. I first came across the ukulele, properly when watching the “Concert for George” broadcast on the BBC on the 16 April 2004.
George Harrison, Beatle, film producer, composer, lyricist, husband, guitarist, ukuleleist, died on the 29 November 2001. One year later, on the 29 November 2002 his widow, Olivia Harrison organised a ‘Concert for George’. The Concert for George was a get together of a lot a George’s friends, mostly musicians that he had played with over the years. It was a happy joyous jam session/concert which was rounded off by the incomparable Joe Brown, one of George’s oldest friends and fellow uke player. He sang the beautiful Gus Kahn/Isham Jones song, “I’ll see you in my Dreams”, which I, tired and emotional after wrangling my children to bed found Joe Brown’s unsentimental delivery, emotional and moving.
As with a lot of things in this world, I am almost sorry this song has become so popular. I wanted this to be my little secret, my favourite song which I could choose to let people know about, but I think lots of people know about it, and since the Concert for George, this song has practically become Joe Brown’s theme song. This for me is part of the joy of the uke and instruments like the uke. They are fun, plinky plonky, cheery happy-go-lucky little musical instruments which shouldn’t hold much emotional sway but they do, and is that the musician, the song or the time and the place? Maybe its all of the above, music and its impact on you is such an amalgam of time and place, story and people, music and musician.
This little jumping flea packs a joyous punch in many ways. The uke is one of the wonders of the world, which makes everyone just a bit more equal and a bit more happy, whether you are strumming your three chord version of Stairway to Heaven or fingerpicking your own arrangement of a Bach Violin Partita for the uke, you are a uke player like all the people mentioned in this article, now try not to let it become an obsession.
As a wee postscript, my birthday has just passed and there was no ukulele, hand-built to my specifications, at an eyewatering price, but there was a rather lovely banjolele, given to me by my lovely family. They are yet to find out just how annoying I can be with, My Little Ukulele in my Hand.
Today we feature, another fantastic scrapbook from Edinburgh Collected and another helping from the Living Memory Association, this time featuring Jean Bell’s memories of Dumbiedykes where she was born in 1934. In her scrapbook, photos and memories from the mid 40s to the mid 70s are shared with us.
John Codona, a one man band, is captured leading children like the Pied Piper down the street. Another picture shows the residents of Dumbiedykes celebrating Coronation Day in 1953. And boys doing what they did then, showing off by climbing up a lamppost.
Photos like these show the social history of areas. Many of the places featured here no longer exist. We can see in this image below, teenagers standing on the balcony of an old tenement with the 1960s high rise answer to housing problems emerging in the background. It’s through these images before the tenements have disappeared that we can see the old taking over the new; change recorded as it happened.
This is where you come in. Do you have any photos lurking about in albums or perhaps loose in boxes? Give them a new lease of life and tell your story. We would love you to add them to Edinburgh Collected.
Since May this year we have reopened most of our libraries, and we are now in the process of developing the full opening of libraries in line with the Scottish Government route map which allows for this from 9th August, with reduced restrictions.
Infection rates in Edinburgh are still high, so we must continue to take a cautious approach to returning to workplaces and restarting the services we had to suspend or reduce as part of our response to the pandemic. The health and safety of citizens and staff is our main priority, and we work closely with council colleagues to ensure this.
We are currently looking at the requirements to allow each library to resume full opening hours and range of services. Our intention is to have communications regarding resumption of full library services soon. Until then we need to adhere to the booking system and current restrictions within our libraries.
Please be assured that much work is continuing in the background, to plan for full opening of libraries.
In our musical alphabet, we’ve reached the letter ‘t’ – and for this week, ‘t’ is for ‘TRAINS’. Old trains. Trains that go chuff and choo.
In 1936, only a decade or so after the first films were made with sound, the General Post Office’s production unit released Night Mail. It is a documentary, which was also a new concept for films at the time. Night Mail is about the overnight postal train which ran from London to Scotland; to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. The film was directed by Harry Watt and Basil Wright, Alberto Cavalcanti looked after the overall production, and Benjamin Britten looked after the sound. Britten described his job as “writing music and supervising sounds”, which I like as an image. It makes me think of a playground full of sounds that – if sounds had arms and legs and bodies – were running around, and there, in the middle of them all, was Benjamin Britten, with a whistle round his neck supervising them. For the closing sequence of the film, W. H. Auden wrote a poem to accompany the footage of the travelling train. It’s often included in poetry anthologies and English classes, and so the words are familiar perhaps:
This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder…
You can watch the film for free through the British Film Institute Player. It’s 24 minutes long, and Youtube have the final Auden part (as well as a sequel, Night Mail 2, from the 80s).
And of course, it’s also on our streaming service, Naxos – here.
The rhythms of the poem against the velvety footage of the steam train, knitted together with Benjamin Britten’s score, is just fantastic. Well worth a listen and a watch; taut and tight and satisfying.
The GPO film unit was set up in 1933, under the directorship of John Grierson, a big name nowadays in film history, and a pioneer in documentary film-making. He was also influential in developing the necessary funding structures, and production and distribution structures, to support film documentaries as an art-form.
In 1927 the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act was passed and hence the power of the postal union in the early 30s had shrunk. Moral was low, and so the scope of the film was to demonstrate the integrity of postal workers and the postal service as a whole.
There are some wonderful parts to the film. Firstly, all the old stuff: machinery, systems; latches, levers, buttons, pigeon-holes… The mail was sorted on the train as the train went along, and each postal sorter was allotted 48 pigeon-holes for a town. The town was chalked up above the holes, and when that town’s mail had been sorted and bundled, the old town was rubbed out and a new town replaced it.
In my notes from watching the film I’ve also written “leather pouches!”, with a big exclamation mark. Because, to deposit a mail sack at a station, the letters were packed up into leacher pouches and suspended from the side of the train. As the train passed through a station – at a big-mile-an-hour in the middle of the night – the leather pouches were caught in a net on the trackside. To get the shot, Chick Fowler, the main camera man, hung out of a window while someone else held onto his legs. Meanwhile, his assistant, Pat Jackson, sat on top of the coal car holding a reflector, and narrowly missed losing his head to a bridge… eep.
In the Music library, there are many books on Benjamin Britten on the shelves, and our collection also includes his diaries; it’s interesting to leaf through them. On the 18th December 1935, he writes:
Go to Blackheath (via business at Soho Square) all morning to prepare for afternoon’s recording of train noises (realistic imitations [but sic] by compressed steam, sand-paper, miniature rails, etc.) for T.P.O. [this was the working title for the film]. It goes well.”
I love this. Another book, Britten & Auden in the Thirties, by Donald Mitchell, includes a score for the film notating: “I, Steam (compressed air); II, Sandpaper on slate; III, Rail (small trolley); IV, Booms (clank) [I’m unsure what this is but it sounds noisy]; V, Aluminium on Drill and Motor Moy [a hand-cranked, chain-operated camera]; VI, Hammer on [Conduit and Boom?], and a Syren; VII, Coal falling down shaft”. It is early musique concrètein its use of found recorded sound, it is fresh, and avant-garde.
As a child, whenever we visited my Granny and Grandad’s house, I remember there was a model steam engine which sat in a glass case in the corner of their living room. On the front of it were painted the initials “JP” and “83”: my initials; my date of birth. Funnily enough no-one ever acknowledged this, and I was always too shy to ask (my Grandad was tall, tattooed and famously cantankerous; we lived far away and didn’t see them often, and I scarpered from him much as their cats did from beneath his unsteady feet). Recently, when my Dad was sorting out my Granny’s bungalow, he offered it to me – because of those initials and that date – why, of course it was mine, and I had never plucked up the courage to ask about it. Goethe, apparently, owned a model steam engine, one of the earliest there ever was, which he sat on his desk, and, at some point before he died, he gifted to his grandchildren. It was a model of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket, presented to him by English well-wishers in 1829 (www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n01/ian-jack/the-railway-hobby).
What a lot that engine has changed for the human species. The whole notion of industrialisation, and all that that entails. All that industrialisation has meant these past, coming on for 200, years.
And, even though steam trains were phased out in the 1960s, the steam train has embedded itself in our imaginations. Babies born last year know what steam trains look like, trains go choo. They are peas on forks; toothbrushes; they are toys, and all over picture books. Except they don’t choo, do they. No, says my son’s toddler pal this week as we set off for Dunbar. Trains go “hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”.
In the Art & Design Library we have many books relating to trains and railways. Books on railway architecture, on railway posters, railway seat design, railway photographs, railway pottery, and graffiti… There was an exhibition put on by Liverpool’s Museums and Galleries in 2008, some of the text is still available which makes for an interesting browse.
And finally, some favourite endorsements of train-related imagery and music: Turner’s famous painting, Rain, Steam and Speed, 1844.
You may now be familiar with ReDrawing Edinburgh, a community-led outreach project supported by Edinburgh City Archives, Libraries and Museums designed to mark the centennial commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act.
ReDrawing Edinburgh has been active for over 18 months now and produced a popular series of short films and digital exhibitions which explored what happened in 1920 and celebrated the identities and histories of these communities. These were produced in a partnership between local heritage and community groups and Edinburgh City Archives, Libraries and Museums services. After producing such popular online content, there is a real desire to deliver physical activities. Cinescapes: ReDrawing Edinburgh is the creative and physical culmination of this project.
Join us on the 3-18 September for Cinescapes: ReDrawing Edinburgh, a series of five pop up outdoor screenings of a new 15-minute film.
This film has been created from archive footage showing the 5 areas which were amalgamated with Edinburgh in 1920 through the Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act. ReDrawing Edinburgh celebrates the strong independent identities of the areas of Cramond, Colinton, Corstorphine, Liberton and Leith and how they have retained them throughout the past century. This isn’t just about nostalgia, it’s about identity. We’re celebrating the individual spirits that make up Edinburgh by screening the projections in the places that they are from.
Leith born scriptwriter Alistair Rutherford, has written the screenplay for the film, which includes footage from all five areas to inspire people to think about local history in a new way. The film is also accompanied by an original score produced by Edinburgh based musical duo Dowally.
We’ve reached S in our Musical Alphabet and Natasha from the Music Library invites you to turn your gaze skywards and listen…
Space. It’s the final frontier, or so they say. An infinite inky blanket, bejewelled by galaxies, nebulas, planets, comets, moons, and stars. So vast it’s almost unfathomable, so much unknown that it can be a little disconcerting, so breathtaking in its awe-inspiring beauty. It’s fascinated me for the longest time; for many years, my parents’ Collins Gem book entitled The Night Sky would often accompany me on my adventures. I might not have been able to digest the technical language when I was 6 but it didn’t stop me from pouring over page after page of constellation maps, pretending to charter my own journey to the stars (in a very similar fashion to Daffy Duck in Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century). I still find myself involuntarily craning my neck towards a clear sky to see how many stars and constellations I can spot (even with that Collins Gem book being omnipresent, I can still only really identify three). It’s little wonder that space and its mystique provides huge inspiration to so many and musicians are certainly no exception.
Almost certainly the most famous original composition inspired by celestial bodies is Gustav Holst’s The Planets, an orchestral suite in which each of its seven movements is inspired by a planet in our solar system and its significance in astrology. A conversation about astrology whilst on holiday in Spain in 1913 with composer and teacher Balfour Gardiner and the Bax brothers – composer Arnold and writer Clifford – set the groundwork for Holst’s composition as he became greatly intrigued by the subject. Inspirations for the piece are said to include Five Pieces for Orchestra by Arnold Schoenberg – Holst having attended one of the performances held in London in 1912 and 1914 – and the booklet What is a Horoscope? by astrologer Alan Leo. The movements Mercury, the Winged Messenger and Neptune, the Mystic take their names from Leo’s works.
Holst’s daughter, Imogen, stated that her father struggled with the structure of pieces such as symphonies and so enjoyed composing a suite in which each movement is distinct. The instrumentation for the suite is intentionally grand in order to capture the scale and colour needed to convey the subject matter. The Planets‘ premiere took place on 29th September 1918, a private performance conducted by Adrian Boult, organised by Gardiner and given as a farewell to Holst, who was about to be stationed in Salonika to teach music to troops during the final stages of World War I. It was a hastily organised affair: the orchestra only saw the music two hours before the performance and the soprano and alto chorus needed for Neptune was recruited from both Morley College and St Paul’s Girls School, institutions at which Holst taught. Holst inscribed Boult’s copy of the score: “This copy is the property of Adrian Boult who first caused the Planets to shine in public and thereby earned the gratitude of Gustav Holst.” The first three public performances of the suite were incomplete. The first of these, held on 27th February 1919, was again conducted by Boult and he made the decision to only perform five of the seven movements, his reasoning being that the public was not ready for the new musical experience the work presented. Holst disliked incomplete performances, and was particularly dissatisfied if Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity was the last movement. He felt this provided too much of a happy ending compared to real life (the suite’s final movement Neptune is much more open-ended and eerie). The entirety of the suite wasn’t performed in public until 15 November 1920, marking the first time Neptune was played for the public.
Composed between 1914 and 1917, Holst had originally planned for the seven movements to match the order of the planets, starting with Mercury, the last to be composed in 1916. However, Holst decided that planetary order should give way to musical merit, beginning the suite with the much more sinister Mars, the Bringer of War, the first movement to be completed. Despite Holst’s preference for the work to be a unified piece, sections such as Mars and Jupiter have become incredibly famous away from the rest of the suite. Part of this is down to Holst himself; he agreed to the central theme of Jupiter, Thaxted (named after the village where Holst lived for much of his life), to be used as the tune for the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country. Imogen Holst noted that when her father was asked to set Sir Cecil Spring Rice’s words to music, he was relieved to find that they fit to Thaxted as he was over-worked. Though initially maligned by critics, The Planets has become one of the most popular and recognisable works of classical music of the last hundred years.
The dwarf planet, Pluto, was discovered thirteen years after the completion of The Planets and four years before Holst’s death in 1934. Holst had no interest adding the new ninth planet to his work as he had become frustrated that the suite’s popularity eclipsed his other work. Other composers have taken up the challenge of portraying Pluto, including Leonard Bernstein’s improvised Pluto, the Unpredictable. The most well-known depiction, Pluto, the Renewer, was composed by Colin Matthews, having been commissioned by Kent Nagano and the Hallé Orchestra in 2000 as an addition to Holst’s suite (Pluto was still classified as a planet at this point). In his thoughts listed in the piece’s premiere programme notes, Matthews notes he felt Holst’s work finished perfectly with Neptune fading into deeper space, wondering how he could add to it. With Pluto’s astrological significance proving a little hazy and, having labelled himself a sceptic, Matthews decided to forgo this aspect (bar the piece’s title) and chose to start Pluto where Neptune finished; he even adapted the end of Neptune to run straight into Pluto for performance. Matthews has stated that, with so little known about Pluto, he was inspired by solar winds and comets on the edge of the solar system, informing the fast tempo and bombastic elements of the piece. Matthews dedicated the work to Imogen Holst, with whom he had worked with, and notes that he “suspect[s she] would have been both amused and dismayed by this venture”.
Holst’s suite has been a source of inspiration to many over the years and a very notable example is another iconic space-themed score. John Williams’ work on the Star Wars films has become so instantly recognisable that even those unfamiliar with the series can easily hum the main theme or The Imperial March. Williams was recommended to George Lucas, the writer/director of the first Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope, by Lucas’ friend, Stephen Spielberg. Williams’ work on Spielberg’s film Jaws certainly helped add an extra dimension to the story – primarily with the infamous, incredibly threatening main theme – and he was rewarded with an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Lucas originally wanted to use existing music for the soundtrack to Star Wars (something he later came to deny), stating that the music would help the audience connect to the fantastical setting. This stylistic choice would have echoed the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a great source of inspiration for Lucas’ epic space-opera. The composers and pieces Lucas chose served as basis on which Williams developed his score. Consequently, there are some striking similarities within Williams’ score to Holst’s Mars movement, Erich Korngold’s theme for the film Kings Row, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Williams also scored the other eight films within the three Star Wars trilogies, with nods to contemporaries such as Hans Zimmer, Tan Dun, and Howard Shore.
The Star Wars scores contain a large number of leitmotifs, most representing particular characters or concepts. These themes aren’t always used to fit the narrative (i.e. the character they are written for isn’t the main focus of the scene) but instead they are used to compliment the atmosphere of the scene. Williams incorporated as much new material as possible with each passing film, though several themes are present across the series: for instance, Old Ben’s Theme, which later became known as The Force Theme, appears more than one hundred times across the trilogies. The result is a behemoth of film music; Williams won, amongst many other awards, the Best Original Score Academy Award for the original Star Wars soundtrack, whilst the album became the best-selling symphonic album of all time.
In the battle of the main space media franchises, you’ll find Star Wars in one corner and its predecessor, Star Trek, in the other. The Star Trek canon is now comprised of ten TV series, thirteen films, and various other adaptations but it all began with the Original Series, first broadcast in 1966. Created by Gene Roddenberry, the series followed the crew of the USS Enterprise as they explored the reaches of space. If you were ever unsure of the premise of the show, the opening monologue before the theme tune would always enlighten you, with the Enterprise’s mission detailed by the ship’s captain: Captain James T. Kirk immortalised by William Shatner’s unusual cadence in The Original Series, followed by an updated version given in Sir Patrick Stewart’s sonorous tones as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the The Next Generation (my personal favourite series in the franchise), which first aired in 1987.
The theme for The Original Series was composed by Alexander Courage and featured soprano Loulie Jean Norman singing the wordless melody. Roddenberry had written lyrics for the theme, though these were never used. This was his intention in order to claim a co-composer credit and earn half of the theme’s royalties. Courage, who was displeased with Roddenberry’s unethical strategy, was not the only one who suffered in such a fashion: Norman’s singing was removed from the third season theme so she wasn’t paid any royalties. The Next Generation’s theme is an adaptation of the theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, composed by Jerry Goldsmith. The first two series’ themes begin with the same quiet opening notes to introduce their captains’ monologues, before diving into fast-paced and sweeping melodies to stir up a sense of adventure in the viewer. The themes for the third and fourth entities in the Star Trek canon, Deep Space Nine and Voyager – composed by Dennis McCarthy and Goldsmith respectively – are much more sombre in tone to reflect the more sorrowful storylines. All the themes utilise brass instruments to help set the tone of each series, evoking feelings of grandeur, anguish, and daring.
Of course, there is one giant of the science-fiction genre that does not use any original music at all. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey features a soundtrack that is entirely comprised of existing classical music. Pieces by Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss II, György Ligeti, and Aram Khachaturium are used in the film inspired by the prolific science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s short story The Sentinel (Clarke also co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick). The juxtaposition of the music and the visuals in the film help raise each element to new heights; it’s almost impossible to hear Richard Strauss’ tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra and not picture the Dawn of Man sequence, or Johann Strauss II’s waltz The Blue Danube without envisaging the space station-docking scene (or any of the many parodies these scenes have spawned). Ligeti’s music was suggested to Kubrick by his wife, Christiane, and Charlene Pederson, who heard pieces on the BBC whilst creating sculptures of aliens for Kubrick. Ligeti’s work certainly helps to bring a sense of the unearthly and unease to the film, particularly considering much of the film is dialogue-free. The sweet love song Daisy Bell, written by Harry Dacre, takes on a different tone when sung by the computer HAL 9000. This was included in the screenplay and subsequent novel by Clarke as he had seen the first instance of computer speech synthesis, which happened to be an IBM 704 programmed to sing Daisy Bell in 1962.
However, a number of composers were approached to score 2001 during production. The first, British composer Frank Cordell, has said that his work was primarily arrangements of Gustav Mahler pieces; this score was never released. A full score by American composer Alex North, with whom Kubrick had worked on Sparticus and Dr. Strangelove, was recorded after North persuaded Kubrick that guide tracks were not needed and he could achieve Kubrick’s vision with entirely new music. Despite North’s efforts, Kubrick disliked and dismissed the score and chose to use the guide pieces that we hear in the film. Kubrick later stated that he did not see the point in using work by film composers, however good they may be, when they were never going to be as good as composers such as Mozart or Beethoven. North was unaware his work was scrapped from the film until he attended its premiere, leaving him devastated and humiliated. In 1993, two years after North’s death, the aforementioned Jerry Goldsmith conducted and produced a recording of North’s 2001 score and a later recording, produced in 2007 by Intrada Records, contained cues to allow the listener to match the music precisely to its intended place in the film.
One of the most recent and notable pieces drawing on space for inspiration is Virtual Choir 5:Deep Field by Eric Whitacre. Beginning with Virtual Choir 1: Lux Aurumque in 2009, Whitacre has championed the ability to create music with others without the need to be present together. Virtual Choir 5 featured in a 2018 film detailing the story of the Hubble Space Telescope and its Deep Field images: Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of our Universe. From one (relatively) small section of sky in the Ursa Major constellation, the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of over 3,000 galaxies that were previously undiscovered over an eleven day period in December 1995. In collaboration with scientists and visualisers from the Space Telescope Science Institute, Whitacre’s music echoes the beauty and magnificence of the astounding images. The choir itself is composed of over 8,000 voices from 126 countries. Whitacre thought that Virtual Choir 5 would be his last, having stated he had no idea how he could follow the majesty of space. However, the overwhelming need for a sense of community during the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in Whitacre writing a new piece specifically for Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently; over 17,500 singers from 129 countries participated (I was fortunate enough to be one of them).
New discoveries about the universe are constant and no doubt will be a source of inspiration for many more musicians to come. Of course, there are many pieces and songs that I haven’t touched upon here – Debussy’s Clair de Lune, David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Terry Riley and Kronos Quartet’s Sun Rings, to name a few. For now, I’ll tilt my head back towards the sky and hum the Red Dwarf theme to myself.
There is also a part online and part outdoor Geology course, along with regular favourites like Yoga, Mindfulness, Tai Chi and Practical Art.
The classes are during the day, at evenings and weekends and attract people of all ages and abilities who enjoy learning something new or want to improve their skills and there are concession rates available.
So why not sign up now and become one of more than 10,000 adults who take part every year?
This week the musical alphabet moves onto ‘R’ with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO). The Music Library gives a potted, selective, history of the 130 years and more of Scotland’s Symphony Orchestra.
A long time ago a part-time musician could pick up work playing for choral societies and choirs, amateur opera companies and musical societies. The groups would have a band fixer, often their Musical Director, sometimes not, who would put together an ad hoc group of musicians, who often on one rehearsal would perform alongside the choral society in a performance of a Bruckner Mass or a Requiem or a Stabat Mater or the ad hoc orchestra. I was lucky enough to get a lot of this kind of work in the early eighties in Edinburgh, not because I was good but because of who I knew – both my brother and my teacher fixed bands.
This is not so very different from the start of the RSNO back in the 1840s. Before they even had a name, the band that would become the Royal Scottish National Orchestra were an ad hoc band put together to accompany the Glasgow Choral Union. The Orchestra that accompanied the Glasgow Choral Union was always an ad hoc assembly of players, but those players could be got from far and wide.
We are fortunate to have a good selection of programmes of the Glasgow Choral Union for the years between 1860 – 1889 and even a very brief scan through our collection shows orchestras made up, in different years, by players from major orchestras in Manchester, London, Germany and Italy. In some instances, the orchestra is listed by the name of the professional player and “An Amateur”, the amateur not good enough to get their name in the programme. Even when the decision was taken to form the Scottish orchestra, it was not a full-time salaried ensemble, this would not happen till much later in its history. To digress, the first full-time salaried orchestra in Scotland was the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra formed in 1935. The BBC SSO started life as the BBC Scottish Studio Orchestra but soon became the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. In the same year the BBC had formed the Symphony Orchestra in Wales, five years after the main BBC orchestra in London had been established by Sir Adrian Boult.
From the 1840s to the birth of the Scottish Orchestra in 1891 this was the pattern, a group of players brought together by a music director to play for the Glasgow Choral Union and bolster that with a short series of concerts. Sponsorship for these ventures was mostly on annual guarantees from the great and the good of Glasgow. A capital sum of £20,000 from west of Scotland shipowner James A Allan made the possibility of a proper Scottish Orchestra feasible.
This “Scottish Orchestra” played its first concert in 1893 and it remained the Scottish Orchestra until 1950, when to honour its new status as a full-time salaried orchestra a name change was muted and after much deliberation the Scottish Orchestra became the Scottish National Orchestra (SNO). During this 40 year period until its next name change, the SNO and under its first Scottish conductor Sir Alexander Gibson, enjoyed a flourishing period when it became an internationally, renowned orchestra. In 1990 with the opening of the Royal Concert Hall, the SNO’s new home and Glasgow’s city of culture status, the SNO was awarded royal status and became the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was thought the be a bit of a mouthful, so the ‘National’ was dropped and for a time, the orchestra was known as the Royal Scottish Orchestra. But this wasn’t popular and a growing vocal support advocated for the reinstatement of the ‘National’ and so in 1992, the orchestra reverted back to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Since it’s formation in 1893, the Scottish Orchestra/SNO/RSNO has had a succession of fine conductors, great soloists and its ranks have been graced with some famous names.
In the years from 1900 to 1904, a young Gustav Holst appeared as the Scottish Orchestra’s second trombone. Some notable players who played in the SNO are oboists Leon Goosens and Evelyn Rothwell, horn player Barry Tuckwell and double bass player Stuart Knussen, father of the composer, Oliver Knussen, and his own father, Erik Knussen is listed as Orchestra Manager.
One other famous alumni of the Scottish Orchestra is the wonderful Max Jaffa, who spent a short time as Leader of the Orchestra at the tender age of just 20. Max Jaffa with his Palm Court Trio and his long-running series of concerts from the Spa, Scarborough, firmly based in the light classics seemed to be the butt of many a joke in the Saturday night light entertainment world of the late sixties/seventies. Jaffa, was a firm favourite of conductor Landon Ronald, who took up the baton with the Scottish Orchestra several times, and was in charge of the orchestra when Max Jaffa spent his short time there.
The list of conductors the orchestra had in its early years is a remarkable list but a list which demonstrates a lack of stability. In the period for 1893 to 1950, the orchestra had approximately 50 conductors. Since 1950 they have had about 10 conductors with guests and associates. It is this kind of permanence and stability of musical direction, and also of playing staff who have permanent full-time positions, which has given the orchestra the solid platform to build its enviable reputation.
50 conductors in as many years, seems odd in a time when conductors can be associated with an orchestra for long periods, in some cases almost all their working lives. That can be said for some of the conductors who guided the fledgling Scottish Orchestra, John Barbirolli known for his building of the Halle Orchestra was an early visitor to the Scottish Orchestra. In 1923, winding his way across Europe, and eventually settling in America, the great Serge Koussevitzky took charge of the Scottish Orchestra, just before his 25 year tenure, 1924 – 1949, of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Sir Adrian Boult took up the baton to lead the SO in 1923 but in his subsequent career was known for establishing the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a position he held from 1930 to 1950, when he then took charge of the London Philharmonic Orchestra whose star had been waning but which was re-established under the influence of Sir Adrian.
As mentioned earlier, the most significant period of growth in the life of the Scottish National Orchestra was under the baton and leadership of Motherwell-born Sir Alexander Gibson. Gibson’s tenure of the orchestra is the longest of its history and in terms of tours, recordings and commissions of works by Scottish composers, was perhaps its most fruitful. In 1962, Gibson established an opera company for Scotland, Scottish Opera, and the SNO was its main orchestra from 1962 to 1980 when Scottish Opera formed its own orchestra.
So, in that period the orchestra would undertake its usual season of concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow. With regular additional appearances in either Perth, Aberdeen or Dundee, they would also accompany opera performances throughout the year in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Add to that a schedule of recording sessions and rehearsals of new works being added to the repertoire. This was for some a very full-time job.
There have been over the orchestra’s 130 year history, some notable firsts, visitors and events and we will quickly zip through some of them. In 1896, the orchestra took its first overseas tour, two weeks in the Netherlands. The composer, Richard Strauss conducted a programme of his music in 1902 which included Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration. In 1915, the orchestra accompanied the great Artur Rubinstein in performances of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. In 1947, the orchestra took part in the inaugural Edinburgh Festival and have been regular visitors ever since. From 1960 to 1990, and started by Alexander Gibson, the Musica Nova festival featured new contemporary compositions.
The orchestra accompanied one of the “three tenors” in 1992 when Luciano Pavarotti appeared at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. The RSNO have a huge catalogue of recording but in 1996 it under took a series of recording sessions with the composer Elmer Bernstein, making 3 CDs of his film scores for The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and my favourite, To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Orchestra’s most regular home in its early years was the St Andrew’s Halls near St Georges Cross in Glasgow. This hall was built in 1877 but was unfortunately almost completely destroyed by fire in 1962. Its facade survives and this façade is now incorporated into an extension of the Mitchell Library and the Mitchell Theatre. The SNO moved to the City Hall in the Candleriggs in Glasgow but in 1990 it took up its new and purpose-built home in the Royal Concert Hall. In Edinburgh, almost all of its appearances have been at the Usher Hall.
To round off this potted history, in 2018 after 127 years, the orchestra finally appointed its first woman conductor, Elim Chan.
We are fortunate in the library to have an extensive programme collection. A collection which gives a good picture of the cultural life of Edinburgh through the past 200 or so years. As mentioned, we have a collection of the programmes for the Glasgow Choral Union, we also have a very good collection of the Edinburgh appearances of the Scottish Orchestra, the Scottish National Orchestra and the RSNO. Our programme collection also includes other professional and amateur music-making in the capital.
There are many studio portraits of various relatives of Willie’s taken at a time when owning a camera wasn’t the norm. A trip to a studio photographer was very common, everyone dressed up in their Sunday best.
Willie was called up for National Service in 1941, and the scrapbook features many photos taken when serving with the RAF in Germany where he met his future wife, Barbara.
The scrapbook also features photos of travel documents required by Barbara to travel to Britain. So, it’s not just people and places that we are looking to add to Edinburgh Collected, we are also collecting items of social history.
We are always looking for images and memories to add to Edinburgh Collected. Why not add your family story? It’s so easy to do and you would be joining our community archive, contributing to our City’s digital heritage collections.
The Art & Design Library has recently opened, and the timing couldn’t be better. This summer in Edinburgh sees a fabulous line up of art exhibitions to visit, plus the world class Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) is about to kick off and looks as exciting as ever. Running from 29 July to 29 August, EAF brings together over 35 exhibitions and new commissions in visual art spaces across the city, complemented by an online programme of events and digital presentations.
Shows in Edinburgh this summer include some well known artists and some new talents exhibiting for the first time. It can be hard to know where to start when presented with such a wealth of choice so, just for fun, in no specific order, here are some of our top picks!
Islander: The Paintings of Donald Smith at the City Art Centre, 29 May – 26 September2021
Artist Donald John Smith attended Grays School of Art in Aberdeen where, in 1958 he was named outstanding student of the year by principle Ian Fleming. He later returned to his home of Lewis and painted from his studio there until his death in 2014. His subject matter was local, and a celebration of the island women and fishermen that lived and worked around him. This exhibition, a partnership project between the City Art Centre an An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, gives an insight into the man behind the paintings which celebrate the power of the human spirit. Read more about Donald Smith at the Art & Design library. Book a time to visit Islander, The Paintings of Donald Smith exhibition at City Art Centre
Elfyn Lewis- Mor a Mynydd at &Gallery, 3 July – 4 August2021
Welsh artist Elfyn Lewis is having his first solo exhibition. This presents a new collection of his paintings done over the last year. The title translates as Sea and Mountains, referencing Helen Frankenthaler’s painting, Mountains and Sea. His brightly coloured, multi-layered abstract paintings suggest vivid landscapes and he experiments with different processes to communicate his love of place. Plan your visit to the &Gallery
Castle Mills Contemporary at Edinburgh Printmakers, from 4 August 2021
Showcasing works by some of the UK’s finest contemporary artists, all of the work included in this exhibition was created at the Edinburgh printmakers studio during or just before the pandemic hit. The exhibition includes artists at the cutting edge of artistic practice and a number of recipients of the Edinburgh Printmakers Publishing Award. Read books published by Edinburgh Printmakers at the Art & Design library. Plan your visit to Edinburgh Printmakers.
Karla Black – Sculptures (2001 – 2021) – Details for a Retrospective at the Fruitmarket Gallery, 7 July – 24 October 2021
The newly refurbished and extended and Fruitmarket Gallery has reopened with an exhibition by Scottish Turner prize nominated artist Karla Black. Resolutely abstract, the sculptures reject figuration and are made using unconventional materials including her signature cosmetics, over-the counter medicines, cleaning products and packaging. The results have been described by gallery director, Fiona Bradley as a ‘moment of raw creativity’. Borrow books on artist Karla Black fromthe Art & Design library. Bookyour visit to the Karla Black exhibition at Fruitmarket Gallery.
Jock McFadyen – Lost Boat Party at Dovecot Studios, 11 June – 25 September 2021
Dovecot is celebrating the Paisley artist, Jock McFadyen’s 70th birthday with this major display of over 20 large paintings. Best known for his contemporary landscapes, the monumental painting Lost Boat Party depicts a funfair which appears to have detached itself from the land and is slowly drifting out to sea. Online events include the launch of EAF with Jock McFadyen, an interview with the artist and a curator talk on this exhibition. Read more about Jock McFadyen at the Art & Design library. Book your visit to the Jock McFadyen exhibition and online events at Dovecot Studios.
Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two), open now until 20 Feb 2022.
The largest and widest-ranging exhibition of film special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen’s work ever seen, with newly restored and previously unseen material from his incredible archive. His work included the films Jason and the Argonauts, the Sinbad films of the 1950s and 1970s, One Million Years B.C. and Mighty Joe Young. Included are truly memorable characters like Medusa, the Kraken, and Bubo the owl, as well as his iconic skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts. Read about Ray Harryhausenat the Art & Design Library. Book your ticket for the Ray Harryhausen exhibition at Modern Two.
Joan Eardley Centenary exhibitions: A series of exhibitions and events across the UK to celebrate 100 years of one of Scotland’s best loved artists.
Joan Eardley & Catterline at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), from 16 May – no closing date at present.
What is top of your must-see shows this summer? Whatever you choose, we hope you enjoy it, and should you want to read more about your favourite artists, then what better place to visit than the Art & Design Library? Remember to book a time to visit for browsing and borrowing, selecting Central Library on the online booking form.
If you use computers, and I am thinking you might as you are reading this, type the word “Quincy” into a Google search, and the top two results are Quincy M.E. and Quincy Jones. Quincy M.E. was a fantastic American medical mystery drama, which ran from 1976 to 1983, and starred the wonderful Jack Klugman, as the eponymous Quincy, who solved crimes using his forensic pathology skills. Jack Klugman appeared in all but one of the 148 episodes, which are still being shown today on some terrestrial channels.
Although I could spend lots of time talking about the many hours spent watching the wonderful Quincy M. E., our main subject today is Quincy Jones – band leader, record producer, film and TV producer, composer, arranger, actor, singer and activist.
Quincy Delight Jones Jr was born on the 14 March 1933 to Sarah Frances, a bank officer and apartment complex manager and Quincy Delight Jones, a semi-pro baseball player and carpenter.
In an epilogue to the film documentary, simply entitled ‘Quincy’, co-written and co-directed in 2018 for Netflix by his daughter, Rashida Jones and the film maker Alan Hicks, his achievements are listed as “over 2,900 songs recorded; over 300 albums recorded; 51 film and television scores; over 1,000 original compositions; 79 Grammy nominations: 27 Grammy awards; 1 of 18 EGOT winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony); “Thriller” the best-selling album of all time; “We are the world”, the best-selling single of all time; 63 million dollars raised for famine relief in Africa and Seven Children.
Quincy Jones’ musical career started around the age of 20, touring with the Lionel Hampton Band, as a trumpet player and arranger. He had been studying at Seattle University on a scholarship where a young Clint Eastwood was one of his fellow students. Then he gained another scholarship to attend Berklee College, when the lure of the open road and the music touring circuit became more attractive than graduating.
For the next few years, Quincy played with the likes of the Dorsey Brothers on their TV show, and as musical director for Dizzy Gillespie.
In 1957, Quincy moved to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messian.
Years touring in Europe followed. These tours were critically acclaimed but unsuccessful financially, which prompted Quincy to say later in an interview, “We had the best jazz band on the planet, and yet we were literally starving. That’s when I discovered that there was music, and there was the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.”
At that time Quincy had also been a music director for Barclay, a French record company which was a part of the larger Mercury records. Quincy eventually became Vice President of Mercury Records. It is from here that invitations and opportunities come thick and fast.
TV soundtracks, film soundtracks, musical arrangements for a staggering list of performers including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Nana Mouskouri and Sarah Vaughan and solo recordings of songs like Mello Madness, I Heard That, Walking in Space and Gula Matari.
A collaboration with Lesley Gore produced four singles all of which sold over a million copies. Lesley Gore was a singer and actress, possibly better known to all for her portrayal of Pussycat, an associate of Catwoman, in Batman the TV Series.
On a production of the Wizard of OZ entitled The Wiz, where he was a music supervisor conductor and orchestrator, he met Michael Jackson. Initially unconvinced by Jackson as an actor, Jackson’s work ethic and talents grew on Quincy.
His first outing as a film producer was The Colour Purple which received 11 Oscar nominations and introduced the world to Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Quincy has worked with a great many stars from the world of music, but in his long career, two musical alliances stand out.
His long working relationship with Frank Sinatra lasted from 1958 until Sinatra’s death in 1998. In 1958, Princess Grace of Monaco asked Quincy to arrange a benefit concert at the Monaco Sporting Club, at which Frank sang. Quincy had a long association with Sinatra working with him often as an arranger, musical director and record producer, their last record being L.A. is my Lady, which was released in 1984. Quincy and Sinatra remained friends until the singer’s death in 1998. When Sinatra passed away, he bequeathed to Quincy Jones a ring, which Jones has described as his passport to Sicily.
Michael Jackson had worked with Quincy on The Wiz and had asked if Jones could recommend any producers. Quincy suggested a few names of which none suited Jackson, he then put his own name forward which brought together a partnership which would go on to create one of the greatest selling albums of all time: Thriller. Their first album together was Off the Wall, followed by Thriller, then Bad. Whatever we may think of certain individuals and the way they chose to live their lives and we now seem to have developed a way of rewriting our pasts to better suit our present. At the time of their collaboration, any alleged wrongdoing in Michael Jackson’s life was unproven and the subject conjecture, and that continues to be the case. Arguably, their collaboration could be said to be one of the most significant musical pairings of all time. It is, though, interesting that Quincy Jones despite professing his devastation on the death of Michael Jackson, had distanced himself from Jackson on a few occasions before his death. In 2013, four years after Jackson’s death, Jones was suing Michael Jackson’s estate for breeches of agreements, deprivation of royalties and wrong or missing credits.
Quincy has been responsible for many film and TV soundtracks. Some of the titles which stand out are:- In the Heat of the Night, The Italian Job, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, The Anderson Tapes, The Wiz and The Color Purple.
Throughout his long life and career he has been known for his activism, philanthropy and his vocal support of the Democrats in America. Over the years he has endorsed and spoken for Presidential and Senatorial candidates, his timely endorsement of Hilary Clinton is mentioned, perhaps by Jones himself but it is often mentioned. He has appeared at rallies and played and organised fundraisers.
In an interview in 2018 in Rolling stone Magazine, Quincy had a lot to say about a lot of people. Some of it nice, a lot of it not, for which his family staged a mini-intervention, persuading him to make some retractions/apologies. On reading the apology, it is one of those, looks and sounds like an apology, but it’s not. What he did clearly regret was diluting his message in amongst his “wordvommit” and “badmouthing”, whatever he said about anyone, he did not want those words to distract from his message on racism, inequality, homophobia and poverty.
In the same year he says much the same thing in an interview on the Vulture, New York Magazines digital destination site and seemingly unapologetically. What is clear from both interviews is that he has lived a long life and has a lot to say about that life. He has met a lot of people, and has a lot to say about those people and doesn’t much care what people think of him. He has built a huge reputation on being the best and working with the best and he has a vast catalogue of work which has and will stand the test of time.
We have made a short playlist on Naxos Jazz including a track featuring Quincy Jones the Bandleader, the Trumpeter and the Composer:
When I was 8, I remember having a violin lesson one afternoon at school. I remember the practice room, and my teacher, Mr Chambers. He was a tall man; long and elegant, sprucely dressed, and – my unrefined 8 year-old self knew only too well – he really didn’t like giving violin lessons to children. That afternoon though, he began to draw little pictures all over the top of the music I was practising. He drew the sun, animals, and a hill; and together, to go with that piece of music I was so badly playing, we made up a story. Something happened then, and I understood. Sound could capture all of these things: a running animal; the height of a hill, what high is, what running is; light and colour… Everything. Emotion – and it was a revelation to me.
In 1936, Natalia Sats, the spirited director of the Moscow Central Children’s Theatre, approached Sergei Prokofiev with a commission. She wanted a symphonic tale for children, a pedagogical work to introduce the different instruments of the orchestra. They sat and ate apples together, and thought about how a duck might move if it were sound – how it would quack; how a bird might fly (Natalia Sats suggested the flute to characterise the bird); how the cat might climb a tree. The original text was written by a young poet, but Prokofiev rejected it. It was too clichéd, he thought, and he took on the work himself.
And so, amidst a flurry of ideas, in a four-day sprint, Prokofiev put his composition together. The following week he orchestrated it, and that was that. In the 1930s there was a demand for works for children, he wrote in his diaries, and so he got to work. Then he charged the theatre a fee of whatever they could afford. For him, it was a present: for the young pioneer audience in their red neckerchief ties and badges; and for his two sons. He shared an affinity with children, and of course, the piece has become an integral part of many childhoods, and many children’s understanding of music.
Peter (the string instruments) is our hero. He opens the gate to the meadow and walks on through. A clarinet (the cat) tries to catch a flute (the bird), and a bassoon (Peter’s grandfather) biffs Peter on the nose for wandering off to a place where there might be French horns (a wolf). The wolf arrives, huge and grey, the strings shimmer, and the brassy sounds grow big.
In 1936, a darkness was unravelling in Stalinist Russia. Prokofiev had just returned from years abroad in Paris and New York, but it was also the beginnings of the Moscow show trials against prominent old Bolshevik leaders, and Stalin’s Great Purge. The following year, in August 1937, Natalia Sats was arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to 5 years in a Siberian work camp as the wife of a traitor of the motherland. Socialist realism was to be at the forefront of all art, and Prokofiev increasingly found himself currying favour with the regime, and towing party lines. Can Peter and the Wolf be read as an allegory? Is it also about the youth and the old? External threats, the fear and the danger beyond the gate and over in the meadow? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Interestingly, Peter and the Wolf has a different history in Russia than in the west. It’s vaguer there in a Russian memory of childhood. In the west, it took a different turn. Disney’s animation is certainly significant in its popularisation – I watched it on youtube for this blog, all 15 wonderful minutes of it. Prokofiev visited Los Angeles in 1938 and met Walt Disney there, “le papa de Mickey Mouse”, he called him in a letter to his sons, and initially Walt Disney thought the piece might be a good fit for Fantasia. But World War II arrived, and with all that that entailed Peter and the Wolf wasn’t released until 1946 as part of the film medley, Make Music Mine, with Sterling Holloway as its narrator. In Disney’s version, each character is given a name – there is Ivan the cat, Sasha the bird, Sonia the duck – and in the end, Sonia the duck isn’t eaten after all.
There is also a more recent stop-motion animation that the animator Suzie Templeton made in the Polish Se-ma-for studios in Łódź in 2006. It won several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2008. I’ve hunted around as to where to watch it, and Apple TV have it, although there is a rental cost of £1.49. Well worth it though, I think. In an interview for (an excellent) Archive on 4 on Peter and the Wolf, Suzie Templeton speaks of how the first thing she did was draw a picture of Peter, and how it turned out to be a picture of a troubled boy. She also wanted him to be a hero, and talks of how catching a wild animal now means a very different thing to catching a wild animal in 1930s Russia. It’s not such a heroic thing to do.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the long sparkly line of celebrity narrators. Everyone who’s anyone seems to have narrated Peter and the Wolf. The narration sits in some deep warm place from childhood. My favourite is David Bowie’s but that’s only because that’s the version I’ve heard most. Dig about, there are, of course, a lot. Our music streaming service Naxos has many Prokofien treats, as has Medici TV.
Mary Stewart was born in Castle Stewart, Wigtownshire, Scotland in 1773. Mary was well educated and had ample leisure and talents to pursue her interests in landscape painting and sketching.
Two volumes of her panoramic sketches are featured in our latest Capital Collections exhibition, ‘Four panoramic views of Edinburgh and the surrounding country’ and ‘Panoramic views of Edinburgh’, both published in 1822. They are both highly detailed and give an almost 360 degree landscape panorama, divided into 4 sections looking north, east, south and west, one, a view from Calton Hill and the other from Blackford Hill. The sketch from Calton Hill has particular historical significance as it records a military encampment on top of Calton Hill and the Royal Squadron anchored at Leith during George IV’s visit to Scotland in August 1822.
Shortly after these sketches were published, in 1823 Mary married aged 50 and became the second wife to the fifth baronet, The Reverend Sir Abraham Elton. Mary and Sir Abraham moved to Clevedon in Somerset. There they developed Clevedon as a seaside resort. They laid out walks and provided shaded seats in the two copses that later became the Pier Copse and Alexandra Gardens.
The hillsides of Clevedon were planted with shrubs and trees, and vistas were created for foot and road travellers through the village. Mary sketched these and numerous churches and buildings of note in the area and had then engraved for lithographs. Many were included as prints in the Covedon guidebooks of the time.
Her philanthropy was evident in the village. She had the first Parish School built in 1834. In 1846 she had an Infant School built, and this remained a school for 150 years.
Sir Abraham died in 1842 aged 87. A house had been built in 1844 for the use of Mary, the dowager Lady Elton, and she lived there with her sister and niece until she died in 1849.
Ta-dum-diddledee Fiddle-diddledee: Hooooot! ta ra-ra-ra-raaaaaaaaaa – SQUEAK!
And a ticka-plink, bang! A-dum-jingle-tam. Pa-rum-pa-pa-rum pa-pom-pee-pee-pum da-dom-dee-dee-dum and a clonk
What’s not just perfect about Gerard Hoffnung’s musical drawings? They were published as a series of little books from the early 1950s. Pocket-sized, if you have a big pocket, each book is a different colour although the basic cover design is the same. They were first published by Dennis Dobson of Dobson Books in London, and they’ve remained bestsellers ever since. We have them in the Art and Design Library, sitting on the shelves in their sweet wrappers alongside various other books, including a lovely sunny biography, Hoffnung, written by his wife, Annetta, and a memorial anthology, O Rare Hoffnung, full of anecdotes and reminiscences.
In the preface to his biography, Annetta Hoffnung writes, “His secret, I am convinced, was his enormous humanity and warmth; after all, only these qualities can arouse reciprocal feelings of trust, enthusiasm and laughter.”
His drawings are like a bag of wriggling tadpoles, teeming, exuberant, and about to burst with the love of it all. And of music especially. He was a lover of music, and a wonderful listener. His ability to observe was fantastic: he drew musicians and their instruments, musicians playing their instruments; and all the bumps and crashes in between. His flair was for visualising sound – and noise – through gesture and shape. Silly gestures, ridiculous shapes.
If the music made by a grand piano were a person, how would it look, and how would it behave? Well, says Gerard Hoffnung, she would be dressed in a long evening gown, with her puffs and powders and perfumes beside her; a triptych mirror in front of her where the music would normally rest, and drawers full of trinkets toppling over the keyboard. Of course she would. There’s so much expansiveness, and space, and elegant finesse to a grand piano, and choosing the simile of a ladies’ boudoir is just right. We’ve always known somehow that a boudoir perfectly resembles a grand piano – we had never thought about it, but now that we see it, we recognise it straight away. Tee hee. We’re tickled, his drawings tickle us, in a domestic, comfortable, cheery sort of way.
Other favourites – the animal ones… He draws the castanets’ player with a napkin around his neck and a plate of oysters on his lap, and the Cor Anglais player lays an egg… He’s so good with movement too. Visually, a trombone is all about the slide, and so he shows the trombone player sitting face on as he pushes the slide right out of the middle of the page. The bell of the instrument sits beside the trombonist’s ear – which is corked – and so, with the slide still in our stomach, the rest of us falls down the brassy ear canal of the trombone. Do google these if you can, or borrow the book, because they’re so fun, and a description really isn’t the same as a joke.
The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra was published in 1955. After Gerard Hoffnung died, the animator duo, John Halas and Joy Batchelor, worked with the BBC on a series of cartoons called Tales from Hoffnung which you can watch on Youtube. It includes his musical drawings and also his collection Birds, Bees, and Storks, narrated by Peter Sellers. Gerard Hoffnung’s wife, Annetta, writes of her reservations for the project. Inevitably lifting an artist’s work off the page and altering its character is a tricky thing to do (and she also writes of an oversight in the contract giving the Hoffnung estate very little gain from it) – but I definitely have a weakness for the animations…
Gerard Hoffnung died extremely young, at 34, from a cerebral haemorrhage, but those 34 years he filled with so many things. As well as an artist, he was a keen player of instruments, especially the tuba. There are some cracking pictures in the Hoffnung biography of him playing it, and a great photograph of him and Annetta in the garden with an alphorn (a very very long wooden alpine horn). There were always instruments to pick up around their Hampstead house. Gerard Hoffnung was a well-known BBC figure, a raconteur, and a lover of jokes. In 1956 he organised the first of his Hoffnung Festivals, which showcased both clowning and classical music. And then there was the side of him that was drawn to Quakerism and was passionate about many political issues – prison reform in particular.
Guerrilla Girls, the group of feminist activist artists, have been exposing sexism, racism and injustice within the artworld since the group formed in New York in the 1985. They remain anonymous through the use of gorilla masks and by adopting the names of deceased female artists. In doing this, the focus stays firmly on the issues, and the art institutions are kept on their toes. As their website states, “We could be anyone and we are everywhere.” Using facts, humour and bold graphics they stage outrageous interventions and exhibitions and utilise their videos, books and posters to expose inequality and corruption, including the poster which shook the artworld in the eighties, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
The original Metropolitan Museum poster, made in 1989, has been revisited and updated periodically by the group, and although some progress has been made, the statistics remain grim.
Elsewhere the shocking imbalance in numbers persists. To quote a recent article in Art UK by art historian and writer, Lydia Figes, “Unfortunately, such astounding figures continue to be found in museums and collections across the world, with collections such as London’s National Gallery openly addressing the fact that only 21 artworks in their collection of 2,300 paintings were created by women. In 2019, a study conducted by the Public Library of Science in the US concluded that 85% of artists in American museum collections are white, and 87% are male.”
The latest Guerrilla Girls project for contemporary arts festival, Art Night UK 2021, is their largest public commission to date. Partnered by friends including Dundee Contemporary Arts and Glasgow Women’s Library, ‘The Male Graze’, a tongue in cheek wordplay on ‘the male gaze’, highlights how the female body has been consumed by men throughout art history and in the present day. Guerrilla Girls state, “When we looked into how some revered male artists used and abused women in their real lives, we saw a lot of grazing, not just gazing. So we want to ask: does art imitate life or life imitate art?”
The project manifests as a website, a live (sold out) online gig, and a national series of eye catching billboards blasting their feminist message in cities across the UK.
The Male Graze website looks at art and artists straight on, focussing on male artists who have exploited and abused women. It asks, “Does that behaviour find it’s way into their work?” By revealing the background and subtext, it encourages a deeper understanding of art in our culture.
The project’s findings make for shocking reading, and should it leave you baring your fangs and pounding your chest, there is a way to release your inner Guerrilla Girl. The website is interactive, and extends an invite to contribute to the project by doing a count of female nudes versus female artists at your favourite UK museum, then adding the statistics to the website. Take part in the count online at The Male Graze.
Since 1985, Guerrilla Girls have consistently used their punchy artwork and wit to expose bad behaviour, branching out over time to include projects against war, homelessness, for women’s right to abortion and for LGBT rights. 36 years since their conception, they show no signs of slowing down, are as ferocious as ever and their art continues to trail-blaze. Thankfully, the masked crusaders are here to stay, and they are taking on patriarchy one billboard at a time, at a city near you.
Don’t miss the ‘The Male Graze’ billboards in Scotland! They can be seen at the following addresses until 18 July 2021: 231 Gallowgate, Barrowlands, Glasgow, G4 OTP 2 Forfar Road, Dundee, DD4 7AR
Guerrilla Girls’ latest book, ‘The Art of Behaving Badly’, chronicles the history of the group’s exploits and comes with a free gorilla mask! It is on order for the Art & Design Library and will be available to borrow soon.