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Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Here is a roundup of music and movie news of interest to followers of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group.

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The rise and rise of Ethel Smyth

Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Chandler of the Retrospect Opera and a professor of English at Doshisha University, Kyoto.

The Virginia Woolf community will know that Woolf became a close friend and prolific correspondent of Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), Britain’s leading female composer. Smyth fought a long, hard battle to break women’s music out of the heavily gendered constraints which had been placed upon it in the nineteenth century, and from the 1890s onward achieved a long run of important successes.

But like most female composers, her music mostly sank into oblivion after her death, and it was not until the 1990s that it began to be recovered, performed, recorded, and praised. In recent years, Retrospect Opera, a recording company set up as a charity, has led the way in restoring Smyth to her proper place in the history of music, theatre, and women’s cultural history.

Smyth recordings

Our recording of Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1916), her most commercially successful opera by far, and the one generally recognised as having a feminist story – the overture includes Smyth’s famous Suffragette anthem, “The March of the Women” – was released in 2016, conducted by the famous champion of women’s music, Odaline de la Martinez. It has been highly praised by reviewers and described on BBC Radio 3 as the finest ever recording of Smyth’s music. It is an exceptionally tuneful comic opera and the obvious place to start for anyone new to Smyth.

On the back of The Boatswain’s Mate, we re-released Odaline’s famous recording of The Wreckers (1906), Smyth’s biggest, most ambitious opera, and for that matter the most substantial of all her compositions. This had been released on the Conifer Classics label in 1994, but had long been unavailable.

Fundraising for a third opera

We are now fundraising for a release of a third Smyth opera, Fête Galante (1923), perhaps the most beautiful of all, and certainly the most original. Drawing on the world of the traditional commedia dell’arte, it stands on the border between opera and ballet; Smyth called it a “Dance Dream.” (It was in fact played as a straight ballet in the 1930s, with sets by Vanessa Bell.) Again, Odaline has conducted it.

Like all our releases this is being crowd funded. All donations of £25 or more are listed on our website, and all donations of £50 or more are also listed in the booklet that goes out with the CD, containing the full libretto and three introductory essays.

How you can help

We already have a number of Woolf scholars from all around the world supporting us, but we do hope to find more! If you don’t want to donate to Fête Galante, simply buying The Boatswain’s Mate, or The Wreckers, or any of our other releases, or getting your friends or library to buy them, is another valuable way you can help us put Smyth and women’s music firmly back on the map.

For more information on the Fête Galante project, see: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/SMYTH/FeteG.html

And to buy any of our existing catalogue, please see: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/CD_Sales.html

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mike-posner-photo-shoot-2015-1-1024x1024

Musician Mike Posner

The chart-topping musician and songwriter, Mike Posner, famous for the singles “Cooler Then Me” and “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, references Virginia Woolf in a new song, “Be As You Are” from his recently released album, At Night, Alone.

The song lyrics mention Woolf immediately:

Virginia Woolf and poetry
No one seemed to notice me
Being young was getting so old
Cheap beer and cigarettes
Life was like a movie set
And I seemed to be given no role

Posner composed annotations for this song over at Genuis.com, and he writes in detail about how Virginia Woolf’s work influenced his “life as a reader” and as a song writer:

So I read Mrs. Dalloway in high school, and this was probably the best class that I ever took, including all the classes I took at Duke. The teacher’s name was Mrs. Mundy, Susan Mundy, and her class changed my life. She taught me how to read. Like, I knew how to read before but I didn’t know how to read a novel – where if someone was saying that “the sun set and it was dark,” they weren’t just saying “the sun set and it was dark.” They were saying a million other things. And she taught us how to read that way. I am sure if you like Virginia Woolf then you know how to read that way. But that totally changed my life as both a writer and a reader.

20150625-mikeposner2-posillico

A still shot from Posner’s music video for “Be As You Are”.

Posner also writes about how he identifies with the character Septimus Smith from Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and how he connects with and is inspired by this character’s depression:

So I have a kinship and a sort of affinity to anyone that felt sad and depressed, because I felt that way very much in my teenage years, especially in the winter time. And that is where this lyric about “poetry” comes from. Just the name Virginia Woolf reminds me of all those sort of depressed, nostalgic feelings. Now I will occasionally feel a hint of that depression and it is weird to say it but I actually sort of like it a little bit because there is a familiarity there. And all of my music to this day is either a reaction against that soil of sadness or it is nostalgic, against that soil of sadness.

You can read Mike Posner’s full annotations of his song lyrics for “Be As You Are” here, and you can listen to the song below.

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Hearing Woolf’s Life Writing, a concert showcasing music that inspired Virginia Woolf’s writing, will be held in conjunction with the 26th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at The Concert Hall, Leeds School of Music, Friday, June 17, at 8 p.m.

Virginia Woolf: A Musical Life

VW: A Musical Life

The concert focuses on settings of Woolf’s diaries and letters and features three world premieres:

  1. The song cycle “A Lonely Mind” by Jan-Willem van Herpen
  2. Richard Barnard’s song cycle “Woolf Letters,” previewed in the YouTube video below
  3. A song by Jeremy Thurlow.

Barnard’s and Thurlow’s works were commissioned for this concert. The fourth work of the concert is Dominick Argento’s “From the Diary of Virginia Woolf” (1974, written for the English mezzo-soprano Janet Baker).

This concert is the second in a series showcasing music that inspired Virginia Woolf’s writing and that directly responds to her work, including new commissions, world premieres and little-known music by women composers.

Woolf famously stated , “I always think of my books as music before I write them,” and her writing continues to influence composers who have set her words or been inspired by her novels.

The series is a collaboration between pianist Lana Bode of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire and Dr. Emma Sutton of the University of St Andrews. Other performers include Annelies Van Hijfte, soprano; Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Nicola Rose, mezzo-sopranos; and Sian Cameron, pianist.

For more events in the Virginia Woolf and Music series, visit the website.

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Three songs from a new song cycle using Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, are available online via SoundCloud.

Composed by Richard Barnard, they are titled ‘As A Writer‘, Nessa and Duncan, and A Dancing Light. They were recorded by Rhys Maslen at St Augustine’s Chapel, Bristol, and this part of the project was supported by Arts Council Wales.

Here are the descriptions of the songs, as copied from Barnard’s blog:

  1. ‘As A Writer’: Woolf frequently used Vanessa’s art as a metaphor for her own work. Here she describes the writing process as feeling beauty “which is almost entirely colour”, condensing ideas like pouring “a large jug of champagne over a hairpin”.
  2. ‘Nessa and Duncan’: A brilliantly teasing letter in which Woolf imagines a scene at Vanessa and Duncan Grant’s home as they discuss her recently published novel To The Lighthouse (clearly nervous of their judgement!)
  3. ‘A Dancing Light’: Part of a letter of 1937 written soon after the death of Vanessa’s son Julian in the Spanish Civil War.


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Below is a comment from Elisa Kay Sparks and a link to her review of Woolf Works.

Dear All-
I’ve finished my review/ explication of Woolf Works, the new Wayne MacGregor ballet I was lucky enough to get to see in London.  All the time I was watching it, I was wishing all of you were in the audience with me; this is the best I could do to make that so.  At the end I’ve added links to a lot of the reviews which have photographs of the performance and to a series of videos that show the dancers in rehearsal as well as  conversations among the choreographers, dancers, and dramaturg.

Study Woolf: Review of Woolf Works, Royal Opera House, May 13, 2015.

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Thanks goes to @louisbarabbas on Twitter for the news about this song based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and written especially for Manchester After Hours for the 90th anniversary of the 1925 novel.

Musicians from Debt Records took part in the open recording of the song, which writers Louis Barabbas and Felix Hagan call “something of a tug-of-war between light and dark.” It was recorded in the Henry Watson Music Room at Manchester Central Library on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

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