Five Christmas Jazz Numbers You Might Not Know

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year… But all that Christmas music can get a bit repetitive. While we love listening to Bing Crosby crooning about a winter wonderland and Nat King Cole creating dreaming images of roasting chestnuts and open fires, sometimes it’s nice to vary it up a bit. We’ve come up with 5 jazzy Christmas songs you might not have heard before, but which you should definitely add to your Christmas playlist this year.

  1. Louis Armstrong, ‘Zat You, Santa Claus?

King of Jazz Louis Armstrong has one of the most instantly recognisable voices ever recorded. He growls his way through this jazzy number in his characteristic style, which starts with the sounds of whistling winds and jingling bells.

  1. Ella Fitzgerald, Santa Claus Got Stuck in my Chimney

Little children always question how Santa Claus could possibly fit down a chimney. The inimitable Ella turns this into a quirky song about how Santa Claus got stuck in her chimney, and won’t be back this year.

  1. Louis Armstrong, Cool Yule

Yuletide: it might be chilly, but it’s not necessarily something you associate with being “cool”. But somehow Louis Armstrong manages to make it the coolest time of the year.

  1. The Christmas Blues, Dean Martin

Christmas is a time for joy and love, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood. If you need a little break from family fun time, pop on the Christmas Blues and let Dean Martin remind you that sometimes it’s ok not to be feeling the festive joy.

  1. Christmas in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong again, but his characterful voice somehow manages to capture the feeling of the best kind of Christmas party: great people, plentiful food and drink and a sense of happy anticipation that Christmas is coming.

 

Loved these? Find all these and more on our Christmas Jazz CD

Why Carols Haven’t Always Been Only for Christmas

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Contrary to popular belief, for most of musical history carols were not exclusively – or even especially – associated with Christmas. Some of the earliest songs to which we have extant words and music are carols: that is to say, they are songs with a repeating refrain or “burden”.

Some of the earliest carols are collected on the Trinity Carol Roll, an extraordinary medieval document held in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The songs it contains are beautiful, often filled with stunningly simple imagery and set to tunes that feel catchy even today:

Ther is no rose of swych virtu
As is the rose that bar Jesu
Alleluia!

For in that rose contained was
Heaven and earth in lytle space
Res miranda!

These songs often mix English lyrics with a refrain in Latin, suggesting that they helped to link secular and religious activities (since Church services and music would have been in Latin during the medieval and pre-Reformation eras). However, as Dr David Skinner points out in his booklet notes for Deo Gracias Anglia!, the association between carols and Christmas did not come until much later:

“In the 15th century, the Nativity was only one of a range of religious topics that inspired carol writers. Many early carols relate to other festivals of the Church’s year, and it is possible that they were intended to be sung at feasts or evening entertainments on such occasions; an account of a royal banquet in 1487 records that members ‘…of the King’s Chappell…incontynently after the Kings first course sange a carall’. Six of the Trinity Roll’s carols take up the theme of nativity, and one each is devoted to St Stephen and St John the Evangelist, whose feast-days fall within the broader Christmas season (26th and 27th December respectively). A further three praise the virgin Mary, and one is a more general moral text.”

The earliest mention in English of a “Christmas carol” appears in a 1426 work by John Awdlay, a chaplain who made a list of 25 “caroles of Cristemas”. These were probably sung by “wassailers”: groups of revellers who went from door to door during the festive season. However, this was only one type of carol, as they were used at a wide range of religious and secular festivals.

Carols became more popular in Northern European countries after the Reformation (which began almost exactly 500 years ago in 2017). Figures such as Martin Luther wrote carols and encouraged their use in services alongside other forms of religious music.

But it was in the Victorian era that carols became firmly associated with Christmas. This perhaps isn’t surprising, since many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate today have their origins in Victorian England. In 1833, William Sandys published a volume entitled Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, which contained some of the carols that are best known today, including God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, The First Nowell, I Saw Three Ships, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The nation’s newfound passion for carolling was further reinforced by the 1871 publication of Christmas Carols, New and Old by Henry Ramsden Bramley and Sir John Stainer.

Today, the association between Christmas and carols is firmly entrenched and for many people, singing carols in church, in the shower or around the streets is one of the most enjoyable things about the festive season and a sure sign that Christmas cheer has arrived.

Want to hear more medieval carols? Try Deo Gracias Anglia!

Classic Victorian carolling more your thing? Create a traditional Christmas atmosphere with Carols for a Victorian Christmas

How Katherine Parr Collaborated with Thomas Tallis to Create Musical Propaganda

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In an exciting announcement, Obsidian Records revealed their newest project, Thomas Tallis, Queen Katherine Parr and Songs of Reformation. In the year marking 500 years since the posting of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, this new recording by Alamire, Fretwork and David Skinner celebrates the music of Thomas Tallis, whose musical style famously evolved with the changing religious landscape of 16th-century England. The disc will be available online, in store and as a digital download from Friday 10 November 2017.

Katherine Parr_hi res

There’s an exciting story behind this disc involving the famed composer Thomas Tallis and the final (and surviving) wife of King Henry VIII. The revelation can be traced back to a once-in-a-lifetime discovery made during the renovation of an Oxford college…

In 1978 an extraordinary discovery was made behind plasterwork in the walls of Corpus Christi College, Oxford: music from Thomas Tallis’s grandest motet Gaude gloriosa, but with unidentified English words. The discovery remained more or less dormant until David Skinner recently identified the text as being by none other than Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen Katherine Parr.

The words are from her psalm paraphrase ‘Against Enemies’ in her first publication Psalms or Prayers, published in London in 1544. Parr’s work was published in tandem with Thomas Cranmer’s Litany, which was the first departure from the Roman rite in Henry’s reign, though we have known very little of its actual liturgical use until now.

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All was part of Henry’s famous war effort against the Scots and French in 1544; the English Litany was adopted so that the population might stand up and pray the King into battle — and for the first time in English — later that summer. Skinner has also discovered that the Litany, Parr’s text (set to music by Tallis), alongside the composer’s 5-part Litany (also now to be performed in the Festival) were first performed following an elaborately orchestrated series of events at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, which culminated on 23 May 1544 with a procession and sermon. Queen Katherine Parr, via the Chapel Royal singers, acted as Henry VIII’s mouthpiece with her evocative war-like text ‘See, Lord, and behold’, with sentiments such as ‘they are traitors and rebels against me’ and ‘let the wicked sinners return unto hell, and let them fall and be taken down into the pit which they have digged’! For the first time we can now suggest a specific date which marks the beginning of the English liturgical reformation — 23 May 1544 at St Paul’s Cathedral — which quite predates the introduction of the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

David Skinner says: ‘These discoveries are not only significant for cultural historians, but also fundamentally challenge our perceptions of Tallis’s music and chronology which have hitherto been fixed in their essentials for nearly half a century. We also have new insight into the role of a Tudor queen in Henry’s court politics. The musical Reformation seems to have come to England somewhat earlier than anticipated. Many fascinating avenues for further research, both musicological and historical, have opened up for the years to come.’

Thomas Tallis, Queen Katherine Parr and Songs of Reformation is now available to pre-order from Amazon.

Gift guide 2017: Christmas gifts for the person who has everything

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2017 is flying by and Christmas will be on us before we know it! To help you get planning, we’ve put together a list of suggested gifts for the people in your life who are a bit tricky to buy for. Perhaps there’s a work Secret Santa coming up, or your child needs a present for their piano teacher. From distant family members to friends with unusual hobbies, we hope our gift guide will inspire you to find something for everyone.

Nat King Cole CDFor the vintage queen…

For that person who loves everything retro, give the gift of a musical journey through the 50s accompanied by the beautiful baritone voice of Nat King Cole.

Unforgettable – 50s Iconic Classics of Nat King Cole

>> Click here to see more

 

Chopin Bag

For the pun lover…

Add a bit of humour to your shopping trips, with this practical bag, made entirely from plant materials so it’s 100% environmentally friendly.

The Chopin Bag – £7.99

>> Click here to see more

 

Mug with lid

For the constant tea drinker…

With its quirky quaver-shaped handle, this mug boasts a spill-proof lid with spiral keyboard motif, helping to keep your brew warm for longer.

Sheet music mug with lid – £5.99

>> Click here to see more

 

Lucrezia Borgia's Daughter CD

For the history buff…

Leonora d’Este, a member of the famed 16th century Italian family the Borgias, was a princess, a nun and a musician. Research shows she was almost certainly the composer of these magical motets.

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter – £12.99

>> Click here to see more

 

Remember – choose a FREE CD worth £9.99 when you spend more than £30!

 

England's Favourite Poems CD

For the closet poet…

An inspiring anthology of classics such as Wordsworth’s ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’, Kipling’s ‘If’, Masefield’s ‘Sea fever’ and Eliot’s portrayal of ‘Gus, the Theatre Cat’ interspersed with gentle music.

England’s Favourite Poems – £9.99

>> Click here to see more

 

Ukulele

For the discoverer of new hobbies…

Become the next George Formby with this ukulele starter set that contains everything you need to learn and play this hugely popular instrument. Includes instrument, case and book of instructions and music.

Ukulele Starter Set – £39.99

>> Click here to see more

 

Gregorian Chant CD

For the yoga nut…

Calm music for meditation. Timeless sounds of meditation from an earlier age. Men’s voices sing a selection of ancient plainchant to soothe the distractions of the modern age.

Gregorian Chant – £9.99

>> Click here to see more

The Story Behind Bing Crosby’s White Christmas

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Did you know that Bing Crosby’s version of White Christmas remains the best-selling single worldwide of all time? To coincide with the 40th anniversary of Bing Crosby’s death, we’re looking at the story behind this wonderful Christmas number and at what makes it so successful.

White Christmas was written by Irving Berlin in 1942 for the musical film Holiday Inn (1942), starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Berlin had been tasked with writing a song for every holiday of the year, but he found writing a Christmas song difficult because of his Jewish heritage. On humming the tune to Crosby, however, he was assured he had done a good job. But Crosby apparently didn’t see anything special about the song, simply saying “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.” It seems neither of these musical greats knew that they had created something magical.

The song was first performed live by Crosby on Christmas Day, 1941, on the Kraft Music Hall radio show. Crosby, a shrewd business man as much as anything else, hosted the show for a decade between 1936 and 1946, and used the opportunity to promote his own career as a singer, actor and celebrity personality.

Sadly, no extant recording exists of his performance, but, coming only a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the radio station was flooded with requests to play the song again. White Christmas’s nostalgic imagery of snow at home was perfectly pitched for a generation of servicemen forced to spend their holiday miles from their families.

Crosby recorded a version of the song in May 1942 and soon after the release of the film Holiday Inn in August it became very popular, with Irving Berlin receiving an Academy Award for it. A younger generation had been taught nostalgia by the difficulties of the war, and when Bing Crosby went to entertain troops overseas it was his most requested number. However, he once said in an interview that he was reluctant to sing it: “I hesitated about doing it because invariably it caused such a nostalgic yearning among the men, that it made them sad,” Crosby said in an interview. “Heaven knows, I didn’t come that far to make them sad. For this reason, several times I tried to cut it out of the show, but these guys just hollered for it.”

The version we are used to hearing today was recorded by Crosby in 1947, because – exceptionally – the original master of his 1942 version had got worn out from being overplayed. Since its inception, the song has sold 50 million singles and over 100 million copies have been sold if albums are included.

 


Inspired by Crosby? Discover more with our Bing Crosby CD

Hear White Christmas and other sing-along festive classics on our Frosty the Snowman CD

How Elvis Changed Popular Music Forever

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Elvis collage

Elvis Presley is undisputably the King of rock ‘n’ roll. But why was his music so influential?

It’s worth remembering that the biggest names in the world of music in the 1950s were singers and musicians who are still household names today, but they’re famous for a very different style from the one developed by Elvis: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and more.

Elvis, on the other hand, cultivated a radical and youthful new persona: that of the rebel. His look was informal, but still respectable, allowing him to appeal to teenagers and young people in a way that remained acceptable to their parents. The post-War youthful generation was moving away from the ideals of the older generation, as well as enjoying a new-found prosperity and a degree of disposable income that allowed them to spend money on clothes, socialising and, all-importantly, records. Elvis remains, to this day, one of the highest-selling musicians of all time.

Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. His youth in the southern states of the US would have a significant impact on his music. As a young man, he learned to play the guitar, and when his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, the variety of the local radio stations educated Elvis in a wide range of musical styles, from country music to big band and rhythm-and-blues. In addition to this, there was a significant gospel music tradition in the area, and Elvis frequently attended all-night gospel singing events.

One key influence Elvis experienced during his youth in Memphis came from African-American musicians. The young musician began to incorporate elements of black gospel music, jazz and blues into his songs. It was this ability to combine different musical cultures that was to have such a significant impact on the development of popular music. The 1950s saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, and the beginning of the end of racial segregation in America. Elvis’ songs helped the integration of elements of black music into mainstream popular culture.

Of course, Elvis didn’t change racial segregation overnight, nor did rock ‘n’ roll suddenly spring into being with his release of Heartbreak Hotel in 1956. Nevertheless, his public tributes to the African-American musicians who had inspired him helped to bring a lot of success to black performers who had previously been overlooked by the white population.

Elvis Presley’s story ends sadly, with his premature death of a heart attack at the age of 42 on 16 August 1977. Conspiracy theorists argue that he’s still alive, and that he faked his death in order to escape the pressures of celebrity. Whatever the truth is, it is undeniable that Elvis’ contributions to music before his untimely end changed the course of popular music forever.

Top 10 Classical Music Pieces for Summer

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Summer is here! School’s out, and the British public are escaping the unpredictable weather by fleeing to sunnier climes. Those long summer evenings are the perfect time to sit back, pour out a gin and tonic, and let yourself drift away to some classical music. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite musical works that evoke the sights and sounds of summer.

1. The Lark Ascending, Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Lark Ascending has got to be one of the most popular pieces of classical music of all time, and for good reason. Inspired by the poem of the same name by George Meredith, Vaughan Williams’ piece for violin and orchestra was first premiered in 1922. Meredith’s words, as well as Vaughan Williams’ soaring melody, evoke the image of a beautiful summer’s day:

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

2. Summer Night on the River, Frederick Delius

Frederick Delius wrote this beautifully evocative work soon after he had moved to the small French village of Grez. His villa backed onto the river Loing, and the composer spent hours contemplating the movements and sounds of the water on long summer evenings. The result is this impressionistic and atmospheric piece that perfectly captures rocking boats and gentle lapping currents.

3. Summer Days Suite, Eric Coates

Eric Coates (1886-1957) is an underappreciated great British composer. After establishing himself as one of the country’s foremost viola players, Coates turned to composition and produced a number of orchestral suites. Much of his work, including the Summer Days Suite, was strongly influenced by the work of another British composer, Edward German.

4. Summer Music, Arnold Bax

Arnold Bax’s Summer Music is wonderfully atmospheric, recalling the joy of a warm summer’s day in the countryside. Bax was particularly influenced by the poetry of WB Yeats and the folklore of Ireland. Bax spent years exploring the rural areas of Ireland, and this comes through in his idyllic pastoral music.

5. En Bateau, Claude Debussy

En Bateau is the opening movement from Debussy’s Petite Suite, a piano work for four hands. Inspired by a poem by Paul Verlaine, En Bateau brings to mind scenes of a romantic journey by boat, sailing across calm waters at dusk.

6. The Bluebird, Charles Villiers Stanford

The Bluebird is one of Stanford’s most contemplative and beautiful choral works. His rich and slow-moving a cappella arrangement is set to the words of a poem by Mary Coleridge:

The lake lay blue below the hill,
O’er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.

The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue,
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.

7. Espana: Tango, Isaac Albeniz

This piece by Isaac Albeniz is evocative of a warm Spanish night: sit back and imagine drinking red wine at a street side bar, watching the world go slowly by. Originally written as a piano piece, this sultry music was later arranged for two guitars.

8. A Somerset Rhapsody, Gustav Holst

Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody, composed in 1906, was dedicated to Cecil Sharp, the well-known collector of English folk songs. The composition draws on three songs collected by Sharp: “The Sheep-Shearing Song” (or “It’s a Rosebud in June”), “The Lover’s Farewell” and “High Germany”.

9. Three Small Tone Poems, No. 1, Summer Evening, Frederick Delius

Delius’ “small tone poems” were dedicated to three of the seasons: spring, summer and winter. In Summer Evening, Delius attempts to capture the feeling of a languid summer day in a fairly short piece. Its harmonious melodies recalls bird songs and whistled extracts from folk songs.

10. Sicilienne, Gabriel Faure

Faure’s well-known piece captures the atmospheric mood of sunny Sicily. Originally written for cello and piano, here you can hear it arranged for flute and piano. Tinged with nostalgia, Sicilienne perfectly evokes the last beautiful days of summer before autumn begins to draw in.

One for luck: Summer is Icumen In, Anonymous

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

Awe bleteþ after lomb
lhouþ after calue cu
Bulluc sterteþ
bucke uerteþ

murie sing cuccu
Cuccu cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu
ne swik þu nauer nu

Sing cuccu nu • Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu • Sing cuccu nu

Five Musicians You Should Know for African-American Music Appreciation Month

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The history of African-American music is long and complex. Coming out of the dark days of the slavery era, music by African-American musicians and composers in the twentieth century has been joyful, innovative and emotionally charged. In 2016, Barack Obama stated that African-American musicians have helped the United States “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Read more about Obama’s love for music in this post from Vibe.

In this blog post, we’ve drawn together five of our favourite musicians in celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month.

 

1. Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, known as “Satchmo” or “Satchelmouth”, really is the king of jazz. Multi-talented as both a solo trumpet performer and a scat singer, Armstrong changed the direction of jazz, developing group improvisation into a more performer-centric style, allowing for virtuosic solos.

In this scene from the 1956 film High Society, Bing Crosby introduces Louis Armstrong and his band to the members of upper-class white society at a ball, inviting him to show off his trumpet skills and scat singing. Although there’s still a very clear divide between the black and white characters, the clip shows how Armstrong had become such a household name by 1956 that he was invited to play himself in one of the most popular movies of the decade.

Find “Now You Has Jazz” and more songs from the Hollywood movies in Puttin’ on the Ritz

 

2. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald is known as the “First Lady of Song”, and for good reason. Hers are the definitive versions of some of the most famous songs written between the 1920s and 1950s. Known for her incredible scat singing, her renditions of quick numbers are as impressive as her emotional slow songs. She won thirteen Grammy awards, plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1957.

In Lullaby of Birdland, Ella shows off some of her most impressive scat singing. The title refers to Charlie Parker, also known as “Bird” or “Yardbird”, another highly influential African-American jazz composer and saxophonist.

Find “Lullaby of Birdland” and more of Ella’s classics in Anything Goes

 

3. Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole has a voice that is truly unforgettable. He first came fame as a jazz pianist, but it was his soft baritone voice that won over the hearts of so many of his fans. In 1956, he began hosting The Nat King Cole Show on American TV channel NBC, making him one of the first ever African-Americans to host a variety show on television.

A little inappropriate for June, but Nat King Cole is surely best-known for his Christmas songs. Who can go through the festive season without turning to Nat singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”?

Find “The Christmas Song” and other festive classics in Christmas Jazz

 

4. Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was both a talented performer and a singer-songwriter. From very humble and troubled beginnings in Harlem and Baltimore, where she became a prostitute as a young girl, Holiday turned to singing and began to make a name for herself in night clubs. Her big break came in 1935 when she was 20 years old: she was invited to do a series of recordings with African-American jazz pianist Teddy Wilson, where she was given free rein to improvise. From there she became on the most popular performers around, but she sadly became addicted to drugs and died when she was only 44 years old.

“You Go To My Head” is one of Billie Holiday’s classic songs, the slow, swaying style perfectly pitched for her voice. “You go to my head, / And you linger like a haunting refrain / And I find you spinning round in my brain / Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.”

Find “You Go To My Head” and other sultry jazz classics in Late Night Jazz

 

5. Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin lived from 1868/9 to 1917, and in that time he became one of the most famous ragtime composers ever. Born into a family of railroad workers (his father was an ex-slave), Joplin left to become an itinerant musician in the American South. In 1893, he found himself in Chicago at the time of the World Fair. Although the fair tried to exclude African-Americans, many visitors to the city discovered black culture in the saloons and institutions outside the fair, and Joplin found that music by him and his friends was very popular. The Chicago World Fair is generally credited as being fundamental to the spread of ragtime, and Joplin was at the heart of this.

In 1899, he published his “Maple Leaf Rag”, bringing him both fame and success. The piece would be influential for a whole generation of ragtime composers, and remains one of the most loved ragtime works to this day.

Find “Maple Leaf Rag” and other works by Joplin in Ragtime Classics

Our Guide to the BBC Proms 2017

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The highly-anticipated line-up for this year’s edition of the BBC Proms 2017 was announced last week. With an innovative mixture of old and new and an expansion to incorporate new locations including the Tate Modern and a former multi-storey car park in Peckham, it’s already got the music world talking. Tickets can be booked for many events from Saturday 13th May, so put the date in your diary now.

Read our guide to discover the top five Proms we’re looking forward to:

Scott Walker

1. Prom 15 – The ‘Godlike Genius’ of Scott Walker
22:15 on Tuesday 25 Jul 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

Scott Walker has travelled an unusual career path. Having originally found fame with pop group The Walker Brothers in the 1960s, he is well-known today for being a contemporary avant-garde classical musician. This Prom pays tribute to his talent, presenting tracks from his four self-titled albums with live orchestral backing for the very first time. The show will also see a number of special guests take to the stage, including Jarvis Cocker and John Grant.

Read more and book tickets here.

Dianne Reeves

2. Prom 27 – Ella and Dizzy: A Centenary Tribute
19:30 on Friday 4 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

This year marks the centenary of the births of both Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, two jazz legends who were highly influential for the genre and the culture which grew around it. The wonderful jazz singer Dianne Reeves is joined by virtuoso trumpeter James Morrison for a double tribute to these great figures. Conducted by John Mauceri, of Broadway and Hollywood fame, expect Afro-Latin beats contrasted with numbers from the Great American Songbook.

Read more and book tickets here.

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3. Prom 37 – Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3
18:00 on Sunday 13 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

A more traditional option: Alexander Gavrylyuk plays Rachmaninov’s demanding Third piano Concerto. All Rachmaninov’s piano concertos will be performed over the course of the Proms, but this is a particular highlight. The concert also features the composer’s Second Symphony performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, all complemented with elements of Russian Orthodox chant by the Latvian Radio Choir. These chants provide an insight into the Russian sound-world that inspired Rachmaninov’s orchestral works.

Read more and book tickets here.

Karen Kamensek

4. Prom 41 – Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar
22:15 on Tuesday 15 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

East meets West. In the mid-1960s, minimalist composer Philip Glass collaborated with Ravi Shankar, the ‘Godfather’ of the Indian classical tradition. The result was a stunning studio album that combined the sounds of these two masters. For the first time, the whole album will be performed live, with Shankar’s daughter Anoushka Shankar playing the sitar alongside western instruments from the Britten Sinfonia.

Read more and book tickets here.

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5. Prom 52: Beyond the Score: Dvořák’s New World Symphony
19:30 on Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 is a haunting work with a fascinating history. This Beyond the Score performance combines actors, projections and live musical examples to explore the story behind this orchestral classic. This immersive experience is followed by a complete performance of the symphony by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé, making this an unforgettable and dramatic musical evening.

Read more and book tickets here.

This is just a sample of the many brilliant things on offer at this year’s BBC Proms. Click here to see the full calendar of events.

International Women’s Day: Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter

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Lucrezia Borgia's Daughter CD

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician is out now from Obsidian Records

It’s International Women’s Day! To celebrate, we’re featuring the latest release by our sister label, Obsidian Records. Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician features never-before-heard music which recent research suggests may have been composed by the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia.

This was music composed for and by women; Eleanora d’Este, a daughter of the famous Borgia dynasty, was the abbess of a convent in Ferrara, where she took an active part in the institution’s musical life. Although we tend to think of them as silent, contemplative places, Renaissance convents were among the most active musical institutions in Europe, with female musicians at their centre.

So who was Lucrezia Borgia?

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1590) has been cast by popular history as a femme fatale, a power-hungry woman who was married to a succession of wealthy men. In truth, she seems more like a pawn in the plans of her male relatives, rather than an orchestrator of murder and seduction. She was used as a bargaining chip to form a series of alliances. When her husband became less useful to the family, the marriage was annulled or, in the case of Alfonso of Aragon, the inconvenient man was murdered. She became deeply religious in her later life, giving generously to the convent where her daughter would later become abbess.

Images of Lucrezia Borgia

Three paintings that might depict Lucrezia Borgia

What about her daughter?

When Eleanora d’Este was orphaned at the age of four, she was placed in the care of the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, Italy. It would have been dangerous for her to be raised in the household of her father, and she would almost certainly have been used as a political bargaining chip, as her mother had been. In the convent, however, she was safe from men and her talent as a musician was allowed to flourish.

As Laurie Stras, director of Musica Secreta, said in a recent interview, “it’s important to remember that nuns in the 16th century had more autonomy than women outside the cloister. Although they were contained in the convent, inside it they were doctors, they were writers, they were painters, they were musicians, they could do the sorts of things that women outside the convent couldn’t do.”

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician is out now. It features music from Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens.
See more here