Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘music’

Sunday, I published a post about Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s wartime music — and its availability as a Spotify playlist, thanks to Marielle O’Neill. Today, I want to share additional resources related to Virginia Woolf’s musical tastes and their influence on her writing.

  • On the Virginia Woolf Podcast page on the Literature Cambridge website, listen to a 2021 podcast titled “Emma Sutton on Virginia Woolf and Classical Music.” In it, Emma Sutton talks to Woolf scholar and Literature Cambridge lecturer Karina Jakubowicz about Woolf’s fascination with classical music, as well as the importance of music in Woolf’s life and writing. Sutton, professor of English at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, is the author of Virginia Woolf and Classical Music (2013).
  • How Virginia Woolf’s Work Was Shaped by Music” (2021), by Emma Sutton, which is available on The Conversation website.
  • The Virginia Woolf & Music project, which “explores the role of music in the lives and legacies of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group through concerts, research, workshops, public talks, exhibitions and commissions of new works of art.” The UK-based project was founded in 2015 and “embraces the feminist, pacifist and cosmopolitan spirit of the Bloomsbury Group.”

I always think of my books as music before I write them. – Virginia Woolf in a 1940 letter to the violinist Elizabeth Trevelyan

Read Full Post »

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the U.S., the day when we remember and honor those who died in the service of our country. Although I consider myself a pacifist, I feel a special sense of gratitude to those who fought in World War II, the conflict I often think of as “the Good War.”

I am not alone. Elizabeth D. Samet, author of Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness (2021), explains that this “flattering and seductive narrative” regarding World War II took hold in the 1990s, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the conflict. And it has become engrained in American consciousness since then.

The U.S., ambivalence and isolationism

Samet makes the case for a different reality, one of American ambivalence about the war, as well as a reluctance to become involved.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed that, but it still did not result in universal American support. The ambivalence, differences of opinion, and different levels of support for the war existed before, during — and even after — U.S. involvement, she explains.

“The idea that we went to war specifically or primarily to liberate Europe is largely a fiction, even though we obviously helped to accomplish that feat,” Samet explains. “We went to war because we were attacked and because we felt suddenly that there was an existential threat.”

The lives of the Woolfs during World War II

Virginia and Leonard Woolf, living in London and Lewes during the war years, experienced deprivation, bombing, and enemy planes flying overhead, leaving them no choice but to support the war. Leonard was a member of the Home Guard. Virginia wove messages about war and its consequences into her writing. Most notable from the mid-1930s on are three novels: The Years (1937), Three Guineas (1938), and the posthumously published Between the Acts (1941), as well as essays such as “The Leaning Tower” (1940) and “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940).

Nevertheless, they tried to live their lives as normally as possible, despite the enemy planes that flew above their heads at Monk’s House. This passage from Leonard’s Downhill All the Way (1967), volume four in his five-volume autobiography, provides a good example.

I will end … with a little scene that took place in the last months of peace. They were the most terrible months of my life, for, helplessly and hopelessly, one watched the inevitable approach of war. One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler — the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers. … Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.” Last March, twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard.

The Woolfs and wartime music

As part of their effort to get on with their lives, the Woolf listened to music on the wireless, as well as on their gramophone. And now, thanks to Marielle O’Neill, doctoral researcher at Leeds Trinity University and Executive Council Member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, we can listen in on the wartime music they enjoyed.

With the help of Stephen Barkway’s classical music expertise, O’Neill has created a playlist on Spotify of the Woolfs’ wartime music. She based her list on a purchase of Woolfs’ gramophone records made by Sheila Wilkinson, Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain co-founder.

Wilkinson purchased the records and their annotated storage box at a Lewes auction 20 years ago. According to Barkway, Leonard recorded — in his own shaky hand — the dates on which he and Virginia listened to each record on index cards cut in half. Wilkinson found four of these cards in the archive that corresponded with the records she had purchased.

Wilkinson donated the records to Charleston, who later sold them to the National Trust, which ultimately returned them to Monk’s House.

Listen to the Woolfs’ wartime music on Spotify

The Woolfs’ Wartime Music can now be accessed by everyone, thanks to O’Neill’s ingenuity. She has included old recordings that appeared on the 78 rpm records purchased from Monk’s House. They include music by Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms.

In addition, members of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain can read Barkway’s article about the Woolfs’ musical tastes around the time of the Second World War in the May issue of the society’s Virginia Woolf Bulletin. In “Some of the Woolfs’ Gramophone Records: A Spotify Playlist,” Barkway pairs the Woolfs’ musical selections with events from the Woolfs’ life, as well as with quotes from Virginia’s diary, letters, and autobiographical writing.

The article includes information that Wilkinson shared in a booklet she produced for delegates during a “Virginia in Yorkshire” study week in Settle. On the final night that week, Barkway introduced and played the Woolfs’ records at Wilkinson’s request.

Join the VWSGB

If you are not a member of the VWSGB but would like to be, you can easily join.

 

 

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle concert poster spotted in Cambridge last month.

Professional contralto and actress Lucy Stevens has developed a new show, Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle, to coincide with and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, the decisive step in the political emancipation of women in the UK getting the vote.

The concert will be staged Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Stapleford Granary. Tickets are £15 for general admission and £8 for those under 16.

About Ethel Smyth

Dame Ethel Smyth, a friend and frequent correspondent of Virginia Woolf and a political activist and composer, was imprisoned in Holloway Prison with Sylvia Pankhurst. As a composer, she wrote the anthem for the suffrage movement “The March of the Women” as well as six operas and many chamber, orchestral, and vocal works.  As an author she published ten books.

In 1902 Ethel Smyth was the first female composer to have an opera performed at Covent Garden and, in 1903, she was the first female composer to have an opera performed at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The next opera by a female composer to be performed at Covent Garden was in 2012 and at The Met in 2016.

About the concert

Grasp The Nettle weaves her music, songs and greatest opera, “The Wreckers,” with her battle for an equal voice.It is Illuminated with anecdotes from her confidants, her letters and her own writing “…which is peculiarly beautiful and all of it rippling with life” (Maurice Baring).

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: