Tag Archives: Classical music

Letting the violin sing: the acoustics of auditoriums

Possibly one of the best known and most widely distributed musical instruments, the violin is honoured on National Violin Day held on 13 December each year. Recognised early for its singing tone, it developed in the Renaissance from earlier bowed instruments, including the medieval fiddle, the lira da braccio and the rebec.

Students at a study day at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1994

Students at a study day at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1994 [MS1/Phot/19/299]

Creating the perfect acoustics for concert halls or auditoriums, that allow the violin to sing, depends on factors such as reverberation or the avoidance of echo. The stimulus of reverberation had been recognised as far back as ancient Rome, with Horace writing of poets who recited their poems at the Roman baths: “How sweetly the enclosed space responds to the voice”. It was the American physicist Wallace Clement Sabine (1868-1919) who developed Sabine’s law, which stated that the product of the reverberation time multiplied by the total absorptivity of the room is proportional to the volume of the room. He thus created a formula that architects and engineers could use when designing a concert hall to achieve the best reverberation time for their particular venue.

Construction of Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/3[

Construction of Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/4/1]

The Turner Sims Concert Hall at the University is much valued for recording due to its fine acoustics. In 1967, Miss Margaret Grassam Sims had left the University a bequest which enabled the building of a concert hall to be named Turner Sims in honour of her father. The Concert Hall that opened in 1974, after many revisions to the project, was, according to Professor Peter Evans of Music, “a most effective and attractive auditorium for music”. The acoustics of this hall were the work of the Institute of Sound and Vibration at the University with Professor Philip Ellis Doak acting as a consultant.

The Special Collections holds a small collection of material for Professor Doak (MS373) that relates to his work as consultant on the Turner Sims Concert Hall, including questionnaires relating to tests for the reverberation times of the hall.

Questionnaire from reverberation test on Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/3]

Questionnaire from reverberation test at Turner Sims Concert Hall, c.1974 [MS373 A3048/3]

The Special Collections holds further archive collections relating to acoustics: (MS337) Dr Raymond Stephens and British Acoustical Society; (MS339) Peter Parkin who had a long career in an advisory role at the British Research Establishment; (MS340) the architectural theorist and acoustician (Philip) Hope Edward Bagenal (1888–1979), amongst whose important acoustic projects was the Royal Festival Hall, London; (MS341) Hugh Creighton, who acted as consultant on a range of acoustic projects in the UK, including for the Barbican Centre, London; and (MS342) Keith Rose, who was a consultant for the BBC.

So the next time that you attend a concert or a lecture in an auditorium, spare a thought to those hardworking individuals who have contributed to the perfection of the acoustics.

“An evocative poet”: the pianist Solomon Cutner

Solomon Cutner, or Solomon as he became known, made his professional debut at the age of eight playing Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto at Queen’s Hall, London.  From then until his early teens he was to be considered one of the most celebrated child prodigies of his era.

Solomon was born in the East End of London in 1902, the seventh child of Jewish parents of Polish and German extraction. Since both of his parents loved music and there was a piano in the home, Solomon, as he noted in an interview years later, “could have been barely five when I first started strumming on the piano and having lessons.  For hours and hours I would practice upon the old instrument which we had at home and forget all about games and toys…. It was the strangest assortment of trifles that my fingers, as rigid as the keys themselves, would delightedly ramble through, ranging from a Beethoven minuet and snatches of 1812 to the popular tunes of the day.” [MS 430 A4254/4/1]

Solomon as a child performer [MS430 A4254/3]

Solomon as a child performer [MS430 A4254/3]

Solomon’s parents were introduced to Mathilde Verne, who had set up a music school in London in 1909, by a member of the Jewish Aid Society.  And it was a bursary from the Jewish Aid Society that supported Solomon’s lessons with Verne.  He moved into her house and undertook a punishing schedule of eight to nine hours a day practice and of numerous concerts.  At the age of nine Solomon performed with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under the conductor Henry Wood.  Wood was to write to Mathilde Verne that “I have never met such a talent as Solomon’s at the age of 9. His phrasing and rhythmic grip seemed to me quite remarkable.” [Henry Wood to Mathilde Verne, 25 June 1912 MS 430 A4254/4/1].  By the he age of 12 Solomon was playing six Prom concerts and the following year he played 15 concerts with Henry Wood.

Solomon left Verne when his contract expired and, on the advice of Henry Wood, retreated from performance and immersed himself in study.  He returned to performance in early 1920s, first in London and Paris followed by a short tour of Germany.  He made his New York debut in 1926 and performed at the World Fair there in 1939, premiering the Piano Concerto in B-flat by Arthur Bliss.

Solomon's American debut [MS 430 A4254/3]

Solomon’s American debut [MS 430 A4254/3]

During the Second World War Solomon performed for allied troops in Europe.  In the post-war period he undertook extensive concert tours across the world.

Performing in Australia

Performing in Australia [MS 430 A4254/3]

Solomon embarked on a parallel career as a recording artist from 1929 when he signed to Columbia. He subsequently signed to EMI, focusing on the works of Beethoven and on recording the entire sequence of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.  Solomon was part way through the Beethoven recording when in 1956 he suffered a stroke that paralysed his right arm. This effectively ended his performance career.

Solomon was awarded a CBE in 1946. He died, in London, in 1988 aged 85. He is remembered for his superb technique and his playing as an adult was acclaimed for its clarity and overall poetic feel.  He was described as “one of the few contemporary pianists who is master of the subtleties of Chopin”. [MS 430 A4254/1/206]  William Mann called him “an evocative poet”.  For John Cromer, “while Solomon played … the inanimate piano came alive with a new meaning of sound and patterned harmonies.  The three-legged monster with shining white and black teeth became the living bearer of a thousand messages, soft and sweet, tender and poignant.” [MS 430 A4254/1]

Letter from Solomon to his sister [MS 430 A4254/1/39]

Letter from Solomon to his sister Ettie [MS 430 A4254/1/39]

The recently acquired collection of papers relating to Solomon at Southampton contains extensive correspondence from him, predominately to his sister Ettie.  These letters relate to his concert tours in the 1940s and 1950s across North and South America, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.  They attest both to the rigors of life on tour and to his appreciation of homely comforts such as tea and toast in his hotel room.  The collection further contains photographs of Solomon from a young man to an adult; programmes from concerts all across the world; and volumes of press cuttings mainly of reviews of his performances.  This material provides a glimpse into the world of the person Harold Schonberg of the New York Times called “that most civilized of pianists” and who his family remember as a devoted son and brother.

Wellington and Waterloo: June 2015 Events

As the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo approaches, we are happy to announce a number of activities taking place in June to mark the occasion.

Wellington and Waterloo MOOC – from Monday 8 June
Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo MOOC
We would be delighted if you could join us to discover more about the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo on a free Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) from 8 June.

Over three weeks, the course will cover events from the French Revolution to the decisive battle that finally defeated Napoleon, the significance of the conflict, the ways in which it changed Europe forever and how the battle and its heroes have been commemorated. Chris Woolgar and Karen Robson will use the Wellington Archive at the University of Southampton to provide an insight into these momentous events from the early nineteenth century.

To enrol go to: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/wellington-and-waterloo/

Waterloo Day Events – Thursday 18 June
Waterloo Day
There will be a special event at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton, on the afternoon of 18 June, Waterloo Day. Visitors are invited to meet the curators of the current Special Collections exhibition on Wellington and Waterloo. There will also be a lecture on Wellington and the writing of the Waterloo Despatch by Professor Chris Woolgar. Tea and cake will follow.

To sign up for this free event, please use EventBrite.

Battle of Waterloo, 200th Anniversary Concert – Saturday 13 June
Waterloo Concert
Students from the Music Department come together at the end of the academic year to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo. The programme will include the overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, the first movement of the Eroica symphony, and Beethoven’s Wellington Victory. It will also feature David Owen Norris performing The Siege of Badajoz by Samuel Wesley, and tenor soloist Peter James Bridgwood.

Free admission with donations in aid of the Friends of St. Michael’s.

For more information go to:

Tour of the exhibition ‘Music hath Charms’: the musical life of the University

To mark the final week of the current exhibition in the Special Collections Gallery, we take a brief tour of the gallery and explore the musical life of the University!

On entering the gallery, the first case introduces us to music as an academic discipline, and includes a score for “Sleep, my little one!” by George Leake, who became the first Professor of Music in 1920 and saw the department given faculty status in 1924. Across from this we find a score commemorating the battle of Waterloo, which not only represents the select range of special collections relating to music held by the University, but also ties in with one of the University’s most prominent manuscript collections, the Wellington Papers! A selection of other material in the case reflects student engagement with music, including photographs of master classes for music students using the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

Score for Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 with annotations by Mahler - MS 22 (M 302.B4): 73-032425

Score for Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 with annotations by Mahler – MS 22 (M 302.B4): 73-032425

Moving on to the second case we are introduced to what is probably the most significant of the music manuscript collections held by the University, the conducting scores of Gustav Mahler. As is noted in the exhibition catalogue, like many conductors of his era, Mahler made alterations to scores in his repertoire, with the scores on display bearing his annotations made in the process of conducting, as with the Beethoven scores, or whilst reworking his own compositions.

Next we move on to one of the real standout features of the exhibition in the form of a series of beautifully shot black and white photographs by John Garfield on display in case three. The case extends along the back wall of the gallery with the photographs showcasing a range of performances at the Turner Sims Concert Hall from the past two decades.

Photograph of the Southampton University Operatic Society’s production of The Mikado, 3-6 February 1960 - MS 1 UNI/7/198/1

Photograph of the Southampton University Operatic Society’s production of The Mikado, 3-6 February 1960 – MS 1 UNI/7/198/1

Case four then draws us into the world of light opera and, in particular, the world of Gilbert and Sullivan! The photographs and pamphlets on display are drawn from performances by three operatic societies, the Choral and Orchestral Society (from the 1930s); the Southampton University Operatic Society (from the 1960s); and the Southampton Operatic Society (from the 1970s and 1980s). Moving around to the opposite side of the case, we find a range of college songs and student song books associated with the University during its previous incarnations as Hartley University College (1902-14) and University College Southampton (1914-52). The songs are primarily light heart compositions reflecting aspects of student life at the University, with a number of transcriptions available in the exhibition catalogue.

The final part of the exhibition focuses on the vibrant music scene at the University from the 1950s to the 1970s, specifically in the form of jazz and rock. Case five, together with an accompanying screen display, provides a series of articles and reviews from a range of student publications covering this golden era of live music.  While the early 1960s saw the Southampton University Jazz Club emerge as the University’s biggest student society, largely thanks to weekly live sessions, both the 1960s and 1970s brought a range of performances by the likes of Manfred Mann, T-Rex, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Led Zepplin. A particularly fun feature of this part of the exhibition is the audio recording accompanying the screen display, which provides the opportunity to listen to recordings by the University’s own jazz bands, Group One and Apex Jazzmen, originally recorded in 1960.

The areas covered in the exhibition only provide snapshots of the dynamic musical life of the University. Equally, the exhibition only provides a glimpse of the range of music related resources held by the Special Collections Division which consist not only of music sheets and scores, but also material relating to the history of music, the University’s music societies, acoustics and architecture, and cantorial music.

The exhibition runs until Friday 20 March, with a special opening on Saturday 21 March 12pm-4pm, in conjunction with Beethovathon at the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

Exhibition: ‘Music hath Charms’: the musical life of the University

Music as an academic subject has formed a part of university life since the early days of the Institution, growing from a small department in the early part of the twentieth century to the international faculty of today. Since the inception of the Hartley Institution in 1862, the University Library Special Collections has acquired a select range of collections relating to music that support research activities: the most significant manuscript collection probably being that of the conducting scores of Gustav Mahler.

Musical activities, particularly in terms of social events and performances, also have been a regular fixture of University life. Groups such as the Southampton Operatic Society and the Choral and Orchestral Society have performed shows at the University for decades, while the Student Union has been the hub of musical entertainment and social events, with many major bands and performers appearing. The construction of the Turner Sims Concert Hall on campus in the 1970s added a further dimension to the musical life of the University, providing a purpose built performance space for professional concerts as well as for teaching.

Drawing on the Special Collections, this exhibition reflects academic study and the social scene, from rock and jazz to classical, from amateur to professional.

The exhibition runs from 16 February to 20 March 2015. There will be a special opening on Saturday 21 March 12pm-4pm, in conjunction with Beethovathon at the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

A private view and drinks reception will take place on Thursday 26 February 5pm-7pm.  All are welcome.

Where to find the Gallery:
The Special Collections Gallery is situated on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, University of Southampton. The Library is on the east side of the University Road, on the University’s Highfield campus.

Opening hours:
During exhibitions the Special Collections Gallery is open to the public Monday to Friday 1000 to 1600. Admission is free. Visitors may be asked for proof of identity by Library Reception staff.