Month: March 2011

Polish Solidarity Tapes Digitized

Andrea Bohlman, a doctoral candidate in Historical Musicology in the Harvard University Department of Music, works on socialist and post-socialist music cultures, European popular song and hymns, musical media, and music in politics. In this guest post, she describes some of her discoveries in the stacks of the Harvard libraries, and their importance to her research:

Though the bulk of my dissertation research brings me to archives housed in basements of private homes, government organizations, and academic institutions across Poland, generous support from the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Houghton Library, and the Music Department at Harvard has helped to make some of the most unusual materials available on this side of the Atlantic: a selection of rare cassette tapes. The digitization of these materials, which were collected among members of the Polish opposition in the 1980s, makes radio programs, audiobooks, news montages, and more available to any user at Houghton Library. The creative sound documents recorded on the tapes had previously been inaccessible because of their fragile media. Now we have the opportunity to listen to the sounds of organized dissent and to understand the significance of music for Polish activists.

The Solidarity Collection itself (to which these tapes belong) is unique outside of Poland. It contains a variety of materials assembled from private collections of Polish-American supporters of the independent Solidarity trade union (Solidarnosc), and other dissident organizations from the late 1970s to the end of the Cold War. Members of Polish opposition depended on a variety of means of communication to organize meetings, discuss their demands, critique the ideologies behind the Peoples’ Republic of Poland, and create a culture of dissent. In scores of news bulletins and written documentation of organizational matters, “dissident culture” supported the publication of literature censored by the government and promoted its own agenda through stamps, posters, and other iconographic media.

The Solidarity Collection, because it represents not the record of a single organization, but the collections of individuals invested in the movements’ politics, speaks volumes about the way in which documents printed by the Polish underground presses—Polish samizdat—were actually disseminated and received. The Solidarity Collection offers a snapshot into the diverse means of expression at the heart of the Polish opposition, the local efforts in what came to be a nationally triumphant political party.

My dissertation concerns music and activism in Poland during the 1980s. It was when I was perusing the Solidarity Collection for songbooks that I noticed a reference to 38 cassette tapes. When I inquired about them, a Houghton librarian, Joseph Zajac, was kind enough to take me into the bowels of the stacks, where I got a sense for the richness of the sound materials. I began to talk with Richard F. French librarian Virginia Danielson about listening access, since Houghton has neither the digitization facilities nor the audio technology of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library.

The tapes represent the bulk of the output of two major underground presses. From 1983-1990 these presses used cassettes as a primary means of disseminating political cabaret, political anthems, and audiobooks (such as George Orwell’s 1984), as well as editorial essays read by their activist authors. Cassettes not only recorded the sounds of the opposition, they afforded journalists, workers, and literary figures the opportunity to create a sound object. The digitization of these tapes has made the material more accessible and has transformed the nature of my work with the cassettes: I can return to listen to interviews and audio montages repeatedly. But, most importantly, engagement with their form and content can alter historians’ understanding of music in the Polish opposition by underlining the vitality of sound and music at a crucial moment of Cold War history in Poland.

– Andrea Bohlman

Notes: David Ackerman, Bruce Gordon, and Darron Burke, of the library’s Media Preservation Services, digitized the tapes, which are stored in the University Library’s Digital Repository Service, a state-of-the-art permanent digital storage facility.

The Music Library acknowledges the continued, valuable support from the Andrew W. Van Houten Audio Preservation Fund for our work with rare and unique electroacoustic and ethnomusicological recordings.

Newly-Digitized 20th Century Opera Scores

Our latest collection of digitized scores focuses on early 20th century works of musical modernism: operas by Busoni, Schreker, and Zemlinsky. As always, these and many other scores from our special collections can be found in our collection of Digital Scores and Libretti.

Ferruccio Busoni

Ferruccio Busoni. Detail, showing extent of annotations, Die Brautwahl. Mus 633.5.621

Ferruccio Busoni. Detail, showing extent of annotations, Die Brautwahl. Mus 633.5.621 (click to enlarge)

1. Die Brautwahl. Klavier-Auszug von E. Petri [Leipzig? Breitkopf & Härtel? 1914?]. Mus 633.5.621

Busoni’s first opera, with a libretto by the composer based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story of the same title, from Die Serapions-brüder. This copy of the vocal score contains numerous cuts, corrections, and annotations – some pasted over the original score – which may represent a conductor’s revisions for performance.

2. Die Brautwahl: Orchester-Suite: Op. 45. Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel [c1917]. Mus 633.5.623

Ferruccio Busoni. Cover, Arlecchino. Mus 633.5.615

Ferruccio Busoni. Cover, Arlecchino. Mus 633.5.615

3. Arlecchino: ein theatralisches Capriccio in einem Aufzuge. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, c1917. Mus 633.5.615

A vocal score of Busoni’s Mozartian one-act number opera, centered on the acrobatic Harlequin figure of the Commedia dell’arte: his first stylistic foray into Junge Klassizität (Young Classicality). The work premiered on May 11, 1917, with Busoni’s Turandot.

Franz Schreker

4. Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin: Oper in einem Vorspiel und zwei Aufzügen. Wien: Universal-Edition, c1912. Mus 800.42.621

Schreker’s third opera, strongly influenced by Symbolism and later extensively revised to become Das Spielwerk. This copy of the score includes the spoken interlude “Des Burschen Traum in der Hütte des Meisters Florian” (“The Boy’s dream in the cabin of Meister Florian”), performed only for radio broadcast and not included in the libretto published in 1913.

Alexander Zemlinsky
Portraitserie Alexander von Zemlinsky
5. Eine florentinische Tragödie: Oper in einem Aufzug : Op. 16. Wien: Universal-Edition, c1916. Mus 887.575.621

As he would do several years later in commissioning Georg C. Klaren’s libretto for Der Zwerg, Zemlinksy based his own libretto for Eine florentinische Tragödie on a work by Oscar Wilde: in this case, his unfinished play A Florentine Tragedy.

6. Kleider machen Leute; musikalische Komödie in einem Vorspiel und zwei Akten. Wien, New York, Universal-Edition, c1922. Mus 887.575.616

A vocal score of the revised version of the comic opera, based on Gottfried Keller’s novella Kleider machen Leute. Originally produced as a three act opera in 1911, this two-act revised version premiered in Prague in 1922.

– Kerry Masteller

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