Author: linklater (page 3 of 11)

Last Chance To See (But You Can Listen Anytime): Indigenous Siberian Fieldwork at the Loeb Music Library

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library’s Fall 2019 exhibition, Tree of Life: Cosmology and Environment in Yakutian Epic, features highlights from the Eduard Alekseyev Fieldwork Collection of the Musical Culture of Yakutia, 1957-1990. On display until Friday, January 24th are photographs and personal effects that document fieldwork in Yakutia (also known as the Sakha Republic) in the second half of the twentieth century by the ethnomusicologist Eduard Alekseyev, who was born there in 1937.

Dressed in a grey suit and holding a microphone on an extension stick, Eduard Alekseyev sits in a crowded auditorium. The date and location of this photograph are unknown.

Undated photograph of Eduard Alekseyev performing fieldwork. Image courtesy National Library of Sakha

Yakutia is located in the circumpolar region of Russia, straddling the Arctic Circle. Its capital of Yakutsk has the reputation for being the coldest city on earth. Dr. Alekseyev’s recordings of musical life in the region capture religious and cultural expressions of Sakha identity/nationhood that have survived Soviet repression, urbanization, and climate change. Also on display are musical instruments crafted in Yakutia and other locally made birchbark and metal handcrafts.

The Eduard Alekseyev Fieldwork Collection has been fully digitized and is available to stream. Among the different musical genres represented in the collection is olonkho, sacred epics sung by a narrator who differentiates between characters by alternating song and recitative. The texts traditionally describe a cosmography of lower, middle, and upper worlds, with the sacred tree, or tree of life, characteristically a larch, bridging across the layers. In the recordings, you will hear the khomus (also known as a mouth harp, jawharp, or Jew’s harp), the diungiur (shaman’s drum), and the bayan (button accordion). The collection also features musical traditions of Crimean Tatars recorded in Kiev, Ukraine. Listen here to Yegor Trofimovich Leveriev sing Siine tuhunan Toiuk (Song about the Siine River) in 1979, one of 689 freely available audio tracks in the collection.

Co-curated by Harvard graduate student Diane Oliva and Music Library staff member Christina Linklater, this exhibition marks the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, bringing special attention to indigenous language collections housed at Harvard Library.

The exhibition also details the process of preserving and digitizing sound recordings. Nineteen-sixties recording technologies relied on acetate and polyester audio tape reels and VHS PAL videocassettes: highly vulnerable for decay and breakage, these magnetic media are typically prioritized for preservation and reformatting. The original cases have been retained, which contain Alekseyev’s own annotations.

This reel case features handwritten notes by Eduard Alekseyev.

Loeb Music Library, AWM RL 16254


The Music Library holds several other audio and audiovisual fieldwork collections that capture musical expression around the world:

Lowell H. Lybarger Collection of Pakistani Music Materials

Stephen Blum Collection of Music from Iranian Khorāsān

Lara Boulton Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics

James A. Rubin Collection of South Indian Classical Music

Marie-Thérèse, Baroness Ullens de Schooten Collection (Iran)

Kay Shelemay, Collection of Ethiopian Music

Richard Kent Wolf Collection of Fieldwork (India)

Virginia Danielson Collection of Field Recordings of Muslim Calls to Prayer

This post was contributed by Diane Oliva, a candidate for the PhD in historical musicology at Harvard University. Diane Oliva is the May-Crane Fellow of the Loeb Music Library for 2019-2020. 

Elberfeld, Munich, Northampton

The Loeb Music Library is pleased to announce that The Werner Josten collection, 1917-1971 is now described online and available to use.

Born in Elberfeld, Germany in 1885, Werner Josten was educated in Munich, then in Switzerland and France. A 1917 concert programme shows that he returned home at least periodically as a young man, and this print of Elberfeld as seen from afar was among his belongings, both suggesting that he harbored good feelings toward his hometown after leaving it for larger cities and, eventually, America.

Concert program from a 1917 performance of Werner Josten's music in his hometown, Elberfeld

Merritt Room Ms. Coll. 173, Box 1

A print depicting the German town of Elberfeld, as seen from afar.

Merritt Room Ms. Coll. 173, Box 1

He toured the United States in 1920 and decided, while here, to emigrate. He became a professor at Smith College (whose Josten Performing Arts Library is named for him), conducting productions of the American premières of several Monteverdi operas, including, in 1969, L’Orfeo. Josten’s work was championed by Leopold Stokowski and by Serge Koussevitzky.

Manuscript score of a song entitled Abschied. Signed Werner Josten, 1920.

Merritt Room Ms. Coll. 173, Box 4

The collection consists chiefly of songs in both manuscript and print versions but there are also many manuscript transcriptions of works by other composers.

Werner Josten's arrangement of a piece by Lully and Rameau

Merritt Room Ms. Coll. 173, Box 5

All were the gift to this library of his late son-in-law, Charles Lowe ’42.

These and other special collections items are found in the Isham Memorial Library, which is located on the second floor of the Loeb Music Library. For directions to Isham as well as hours and contact information, please visit its website.

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