Celebrating Fernando Sor, the ‘Beethoven of the guitar’ with Stephen Morrison

Central Library is delighted to welcome back Stephen Morrison, who will perform another excellent programme of classical guitar music in the George Washington Browne Room. This programme is dedicated to the music of Fernando Sor, a 19th  century Spanish guitarist and composer. Sor’s work encompassed various forms, including ballets, waltzes, studies and, perhaps his most famous work, Variations on a Theme of Mozart. Sor was dubbed the ‘Beethoven of the guitar’ by François-Joseph Fétis, a highly influential music critic from the time. The compositions that will feature in this recital will be performed on Stephen’s beautifully restored 19th century guitar.

Stephen was born in Ohio, U.S.A, and has been a resident of Scotland since 1989. After extensive study with the eminent guitar teacher Ray Chester, Stephen taught guitar in various settings in the United States – including the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University and the Levin School of Music in Washington D.C. – before teaching in Fife and now in Edinburgh, where he has lived since 2015. Growing up listening to George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra helped to prompt Stephen’s strong resonance with the music of the 19th century.

Celebrating Fernando Sor: the ‘Beethoven of the guitar’ will take place on Tuesday 24 March, 6.30 – 7.30pm in the George Washington Browne Room at Central Library. To book your free ticket, please contact the Music Library or visit Edinburgh Reads on Eventbrite

Jazz Cafe in the Music Library

Starting on Saturday 29 February and running on the last Saturday of every month is the Jazz Café on the Mezzanine at Central Library. Come along, relax, enjoy a cuppa, and listen to jazz.

The Jazz Cafe takes place between 2 and 3pm and is a free drop-in event – no ticket required. We’re kicking off with the jazz quartet After the Rain who play jazz standards and a mixture of Swing, Latin, Funk, Blues and Ballads.

For more information contact the Music Library and if you’d like to play a set yourself one Saturday, we’d love to hear from you.


Desert Island Discs – Eamonn from the Digital Team

The latest library staff member to be banished to our desert island is Eamonn from the Digital Team.

We hand over to Eamonn to explain his choices –

1 Vol.4., Ethio jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974

I feel that nothing sounds quite like Ethiopian music. I suppose like many people, I became familiar with the country’s music through the fabled 30 volume CD series called Ethiopiques which focuses on a “golden” period of music in Ethiopia’s cultural history.

The series highlights the time between the mid 1950s and 1974 where a huge wave of outstanding big bands and singers had emerged – sparking off a massive musical explosion, resulting in the production of hundreds of recordings. This was all brought to an end in 1974 during a revolution, which left the country in the hands of a military dictatorship that remained in power until 1991. With rigorous censorship and strict curfews, many musicians were imprisoned, forced to stop playing or escaped into exile.

I love the series – the attention to detail, from programming to design, to notes, to mastering – have defined this body of work which has become virtually the sole representation of an essential musical culture.

Many volumes are worthy of a Desert Island Disc or two but perhaps the best entry point is Vol. 4 – showcasing the man who invented ‘Ethio-jazz’, Mulatu Astatke and devoted to his blend of Abyssinian swing.

2 Life on Earth: Music from the 1979 BBC TV series / composed by Edward Williams

Life on Earth was a landmark television natural history series produced by the BBC and Sir David Attenborough which aired in the UK in January 1979. Surprisingly, for such an influential series, its soundtrack was privately pressed – only 100 copies were ever made and distributed by composer Edward Williams to members of his orchestra. Scarce copies languished in thrift shops for three decades before finally being resurrected (with Sir Dave’s blessing) in 2009.

What surprised me further still was how beautiful the music was – a Desert Island Disc session would not be complete without staring into the sea surrounded by the magical, ambient sounds of science, nature and music for jellyfish.

3 Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble

Phil Cohran was my favourite jazz composer – his ensembles contained one of the most idiosyncratic takes on 60s avant jazz this side of Sun Ra (Cohran was once an early member of Ra’s arcane troupe). He wasn’t just a musician but an inventor of musical instruments – from customised violin-ukes to his most famous creation, his Frankiphone – an amplified thumb piano which rattled spookily around his ragged rhythm tracks. I’d hope with time that I would develop the patience and ingenuity to fashion my own desert island instrument – or at the very least I could always find a shell that made an interesting noise when blown into!

Book: Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

I think this book would keep me occupied on the island – Perec’s output is extremely varied in form and style: sometimes bewilderingly so. From crossword puzzles and poetry to palindromes, autobiography and straight narrative – he did the lot and made a rule to never write the same thing twice. In his novel Void, he systematically avoids the letter ‘e’, for an entire novel! He did balance things out though – writing a short story after Void where the only vowel used was ‘e’ (easy peasy lemon squeezy… ok, so it’s harder than it sounds!).

Life maps the interconnecting lives of the residents of a fictitious apartment block in Paris with an unfolding structure that follows the logic of chess moves.

It was written according to a complicated writing plan (thankfully with ‘e’s included this time) and its 99 chapters can be read in any order. Guided by a 70-page index, a chronology, a checklist of 100 or more main stories, an apartment block elevation plan as a 10×10 grid of the building in which the action takes place and a profound interest in jigsaws. This book is the literary equivalent of a sudoku puzzle – one that you will keep returning to and worthy of being stranded with.

Luxury item: Tin of Vaseline (Aloe Vera) – no sense in having chapped lips in the sun!

100 years of the Edinburgh Competition Festival

A new exhibition opens in Central Library this week celebrating 100 years of the Edinburgh Competition Festival. 

Initially called the Edinburgh (Musical) Competition Festival, the first festival was held in May 1920 and, apart from 1931, has been held annually ever since.

The exhibition displays archives from the Edinburgh Competition Festival’s 100 year history including printed music, programmes, minutes, adjudication sheets, sketches of the redesigned logo and profiles of some of the now internationally acclaimed winners. On special loan from Edinburgh Museums and Galleries are some of the trophies including the Duchess of Atholl’s Shield presented by the Duchess of Atholl (1874-1960) for Open Competition to Junior Choirs and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union Challenge Trophy for Continuation Class Choirs.

The early festivals featured mainly choral music but, during the 1920s, classes for folk dancing, including Scottish country dancing, elocution, solo singing, piano and string instruments were added.

Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Granville Bantock and John Masefield were amongst the internationally renowned musicians, actors and poets who have adjudicated during the Festival.

The Festival now has over 100 classes and, in 2020, over 900 entrants. The Festival concludes with the Highlights Concert held this year on Sunday 15 March in the Queen’s Hall featuring exceptional performers from a range of classes, ages and instruments. This concert also provides an opportunity for the four concerto finalists to perform, accompanied by the Friends of the Festival Orchestra.

The exhibitions runs from 29 January to 25 February 2020 in the Mezzanine cabinets next to the Music Library. The Edinburgh Competition Festival of Music runs 3 to 15 March 2020.

Much of the Edinburgh Competition Festival’s archive has been kindly donated to the Music Library where items from the archive can be viewed on request.

Desert Island Discs – Iain from Edinburgh and Scottish and Reference collections

Iain Duffus is our newest member of staff joining us recently to head up the Reference Libary and Edinburgh and Scottish Collection. Starting a new job can be exhilarating, daunting, exhausting and more, there are many pressures on Iain’s time, but he found a spare moment to give us his Desert Island choices.

Music For Eighteen Musicians by Steve Reich 
The first disc I will take to the island is by Steve Reich. Reich’s works were a real gateway for me into the realisation that orchestral music has a modern and interesting direction. I have chosen Music for Eighteen Musicians as it has so many strands and seems infinite in its detail. Even after repeated listens of this record, each time reveals something different. It is hypnotising, welcoming and at the same time intriguing and bursting with energy. Perfect for losing yourself in and (trying) to forget about space and time.

Brief History: The best of the Penguin Café Orchestra
This music reminds me of doing two things; one is studying late at night trying to cram as much as possible in before a test. I thought the calming music would help, but it often turned out to just be a distraction because it is so beautiful. The other is cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning. Penguin Café was often the soundtrack, the Penguins were consistently good – my recipe attempts were not! This is the best of CD but I would happily just take their first album Music From The Penguin Café also.

Selected Ambient Works Vol II by Aphex Twin
I actually wanted to choose the first volume ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’ as that has many of my favourite tracks on there. However, it’s probably just as well I couldn’t find it because I did it to death when I was a teenager. So Volume II is coming to the island with me instead. Aphex’s early material has really stood the test of time. It still feels unique, strange and other worldly whilst not forgetting the conventions of pop and dance music that his later material did.

My luxury item would have to be suntan lotion or a pair of reading glasses.


Desert Island Discs – Jen from the Art and Design Library

The latest library castaway is Jen from the Art and Design Library. As usual, she was asked to choose three songs, one book and a luxury to see her through her isolation on her desert island.

“Only three! I’m terrible with decisions, a chewer and a worrier, so I’m hoping there will be plenty of tropical storms I can listen to under my tent, and tropical birds flitting colourfully about with other-worldly songs on their beak-tips – because I know I’m going to want to change my mind…

But my three songs –
Although I’m a child of the 80s, I’m also late to (and for) most things, sadly, but when I came to Edinburgh to study I was finally introduced to the film Labyrinth – and being a lover of puppets and children’s fantasy, I’d like to choose David Bowie’s Magic Dance. I’ve picked it at parties and tried to dance to it with special people – I still struggle, but it seems to have found its place somehow.

I was thinking too, that I’d like to pick something big and ballady to wallow in. I am a wallower. I also try and do a lot of drawing and painting, and often find myself playing beautiful voices again and again (and if no-one else is listening too, again), so in the last few years a lot of Feist, Cat Power, Ane Brun – but for strength and depth, and sheer deliberate determination to fight and live, I think I’d like some Nina Simone. She might help, stuck out there in the middle of the sea. I’d like something to remind me to pull myself together, but something very wallowy too, so her version of Little Girl Blue.

And a third? Although I’ve long stopped playing, and was always more a bundle of nerves and enthusiastic emotion than in any way tuneful, I did for a large part of my childhood play the violin and cello. I thought about some Bartók – or biggies that have always stuck, Bach’s Double Violin Concerto maybe. Then there are the pieces my young self was immediately drawn to, anything with animals and a lot of visuals in them (not that anything much has changed there) – Carnival of the Animals perhaps and my attempts to glide like a swan… but actually overall, I think I’d like to have Bach’s cello suites.

And then I feel I should mention what I’ve missed in these three choices – apart from everything else, of course… There’s not much of my teenage self and grungy-ness, there’s little wit (something I lack but like to listen to!) and big noise, and it would be nice to have something to dance to hour after hour if I could pull myself out of my bluesiness; some whimsy too, something ghoulish and cartoony (some Cab Calloway serenading Betty Boop?) – and something nostalgic just to remind me that everything really is ok (Django Reinhardt, The Ink Spots? I used to work in a bar where The Ink Spots were really the only thing that was ever played…)

My book
The Moomin books?
All of them? – the first editions with Tove Jansson’s amazing illustrations. I’d be set then for island adventuring. And because I can’t decide, perhaps an anthology of Emily Dickinson too, for a glimpse at the deepest and the best of everything.

For my luxury
I was wondering if we were allowed other creatures… pets? I never used to think I was so soft on dogs, I always imagined myself a bit too aloof, but my partner’s mum has a guide dog (she’s very tiny, and he’s very big and fluffy and aptly called Dave). I’d love to have him with me, but I’d also worry about him getting too hot in all that fur, and Fiona without him bumping into things.

So perhaps instead I’d choose a lot of pencils (a magic never-ending pencil) and a never-ending sketchbook, with the hope that I could idle away a lot of hours and try and enchant myself – and forget about missing absolutely everybody.”

Read other articles in this Desert Island Disc series:
Douglas from the Music Library


Desert Island Discs – Douglas from the Music Library

For a little while now, visitors to the Music Library have been able to enjoy the Desert Island Disc recommendations of invited library castaways. We thought we’d share some of these fantastic personal listening and reading suggestions with you here on the blog. First up, is Douglas Wright, Library Adviser in the Music Department at Central Library who has been in the Library since 2011.

Douglas, Music Library team

Before the Library, Douglas was a teacher, a musician and a box office manager. Before all that, Douglas’s burgeoning career with the Moscow State Ballet was cruelly cut short by a freak electrical accident which, contractually, we aren’t allowed to discuss further.  Douglas lives in Edinburgh with his wife Svetlana, his 6 children, 2 dogs and three cats, one of which is not a cat.

Douglas satisfies his love of the dance by taking up small walk-on extra roles with Scottish Ballet, and cries himself to sleep at night with dreams of what might have been.*

Desert Island Discs

1 John Tavener – The Protecting Veil, this is one of the great Cello works of any century, along side the concerts of Dvorak and Elgar this work demonstrates all of the emotional power of the Cello, and is always on my list of Desert Island Discs.

2 Shostakovich Symphony No 5 , is described by Shostakovich as “a soviet artists reply to just critism”. Stalin had not liked his 4th Symphony and despite his place as an established Soviet artist, Shostakovich realised that he would have to work hard to retain his standing and perhaps his life. For that reason, this is perhaps a more approachable Symphony than his other 14.
I first came across this symphony as a fledging 14 year old horn player playing it in an arrangement for wind band. I had been playing for about a year and my trumpet playing big brother dragged me to various groups, bands and Orchestras, where I got a lot of playing experiences that perhaps a player with my, lack of experience, may not have had.

3 Regina Spektor – Samson, this song from the album ‘Begin to hope’.
I heard this song many years ago and immediately it reminded me of a discussion with a friend which could have been the “story” of this song. I heard someone on the radio describing Samson as a song you only ever chose to listen to – it should never be on shuffle, it should be a choice, I couldn’t agree more.

Book: Diary of a Nobody George and Weedon Grossmith
I can’t remember when I first read this, it is a very enjoyable read. I am not a great fan of “funny books”, invariably they are not that funny. This is a book that always makes me smile and should be reread but not too often to take away your smile.

Luxury item: My Ukulele 
I am absolutely useless at the Ukulele but I would hope that my enforced “holiday” on my desert island would enable me to improve a bit.

*Some, all or none of what you have just read may or may not have some basis in truth, or not.