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Who was Adelina Patti?

Image: Patti QuadrillesOne of the new sound files on the What’s the Score? website is of a piece called the Adelina Patti Galop. Among the sheet music selected for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, there are several pieces inspired by this lady, including the galop, The Adelina Patti Polka, The Adelina Waltz and the Patti Quadrilles.

Probably the most famous singer of her time, Adelina Patti has been described as the second most celebrated woman in the world in the year 1900, after Queen Victoria. Born in 1843, into an Italian family of singers while her parents were working in Madrid, she toured the USA as a child prodigy and made her London début at the age of 18 in the demanding role of Amina in Bellini’s La sonnabula. From that point, she dominated the stage at Covent Garden for a quarter of a century, as well as performing in all the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas.

Her personal life had a degree of turbulence not unusual in such circles. She married the Marquis de Caux in 1868, the French tenor Ernesto Nicolini in 1886 (after a lengthy affair) and finally the Swedish Baron Rolf Cederström in 1899. A shrewd businesswoman, she could command enormous fees and amassed a considerable fortune. In 1878, she purchased Craig-y-Nos Castle and its estate, near Brecon, where she built her own private theatre, a miniature version of La Scala, Bayreuth and Drury Lane, rolled into one. She retired officially in 1906, but continued to make charity performances until the beginning of the First World War. She died at Criag-y-Nos in 1919 at the age of 76.

Although singing was doubtless in her genes and Patti always claimed she was self-taught,
Image; The Adelina Patti Galopshe did receive lessons from family members when she was a child. In her heyday, she was renowned for her astonishing vocal agility and stamina, as well as for the beauty and purity of her tone. Her remarkable vocal technique meant that recordings she made in her 60s, in the early years of the 20th century, do more than hint at what she must have been like in her prime.

John Rosselli, in his book Singers of Italian opera: the history of a profession (CUP, 1992)
describes her in these terms: “The highest paid opera singer in history, in real terms, was probably the soprano Adelina Patti. Her doll-like looks and pure, even vocal emission masked a notable competence in running her career and a will of iron.”

MH

– Listen to the Adelina Patti Galop

– View the score

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So that’s what they sound like…

August 19, 2011 3 comments

On Thursday 11 August, three accomplished musicians and one tone-deaf member of the project team congregated in the new Ensemble Room in Oxford University’s Music Faculty to record some of the pieces which are to be included in What’s the score at the Bodleian?

Our sound engineer chose to use some rather less daunting equipment than this.

The pieces recorded are all by Charles d’Albert, and were selected on the somewhat unscientific basis that the collection is being digitised alphabetically by composer, and d’Albert is by far the most prolific of those composers whose surname begins with the letter A.  That and the fact that we rather liked some of his tunes.

The Faculty provided us with microphones and some portable recording equipment (and instructed us how to use it), as well as – crucially – a piano (for which instructions weren’t required).  Twenty-seven takes and a couple of hours later, we had five piano pieces in the bag, performed with aplomb by Ben Sheen and Tim Hawken, all ready for editing and post-production:

  • Nearest and Dearest (Waltz, on airs from Audran’s comic opera, Olivette), performed by Ben Sheen
  • Trial by Jury Polka (on airs from Arthur Sullivan’s operetta), performed by Ben Sheen
  • The Rink Galop (as performed at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster), performed by Ben Sheen
  • Adelina (on Jules Cohen’s Opera Les Bluets), performed by Ben Sheen
  • The Cleopatra Galop, performed by Tim Hawken

Meanwhile, having been thoroughly entertained by some live performances of parlour songs at the project’s introductory reception in June, and with plenty of studio time left, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss to also record some non-project songs which demonstrate other aspects of domestic music which were popular in the 19th century:

  • Come into the Garden, Maud, by M. W. Balfe (words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
  • Home! Sweet Home! by Sir Henry Bishop (words by John Howard Payne)
  • The Lost Chord, by Sir Arthur Sullivan (words by Adelaide A. Procter)

As at the June event, these were sung by Greg Skidmore, accompanied by Tim Hawken on piano.

All of these pieces have now been made available on a new Recordings page on the project’s website, and for each of the d’Albert piano pieces a PDF file of the score itself is also provided.  Once the crowd-sourcing aspect of the project is in full swing, it is hoped that any members of ‘the crowd’ with a modicum of talent on the ivories will make their own recordings of piano pieces delivered through the project and allow us to put them online.

With a bit of music

June 17, 2011 1 comment
Greg Skidmore and Tim Hawken performing parlour songs

Greg Skidmore and Tim Hawken performing parlour songs

What’s the Score at the Bodleian? was introduced to a number of specially invited guests at a small event in Oxford this week.  About 40 people gathered in the Denis Arnold Hall in the University’s Faculty of Music to hear Bodley’s Librarian, Dr Sarah Thomas, introduce the project, after which three members of project staff each gave short presentations.  Martin Holmes outlined the Bodleian’s extensive music collections and explained some of the problems currently faced in making them more accessible; Ylva Berglund-Prytz gave an overview of crowd-sourcing as a relatively quick and economic means of capturing data, citing in particular some of the initiatives undertaken by Zooniverse; and David Tomkins gave an overview of the project methodology and its potential for additional enhancements in the future.  The presentations provided a platform for much informal discussion about the project and its future directions between guests and project staff over drinks and canapes.

Before and after the presentations, Greg Skidmore and Tim Hawken stole the show with a series of outstanding performances of parlour songs and piano pieces selected from the first batch of digitised scores for the project.

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