Browning's Music: The L. L. Bloomfield Collection

by Rowena Fowler
Citation
Title:
Browning's Music: The L. L. Bloomfield Collection
Author:
Rowena Fowler
Year: 
1996
Publication: 
The Review of English Studies
Volume: 
47
Issue: 
185
Start Page: 
35
End Page: 
46
Publisher: 
Language: 
English
URL: 
Select license: 
Select License
DOI: 
PMID: 
ISSN: 
Abstract:

BROWNING'S MUSIC:
THE L. L. BLOOMFIELD COLLECTION

THEBLOOMFIELDCOLLECTIONin Brighton provides a unique insight into Browning's musicianship. In the Collection are some 400 items of music belonging to the poet himself, and to his father, his sister Sarianna, and his son Pen. Ranging in date from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century, they tell the story of a lifelong interest and enthusiasm nurtured on the popular composers and arrangers of the Regency, and developing into an appreciation of the music of his contemporaries, especially Chopin and Schumann.

Browning's music reveals many familiar names, some gaps, and a few surprises. We can follow his musical education and trace some distinct phases in his repertoire from the time before his marriage to the pieces he played in Italy and the new direction he took after the death of Elizabeth Barrett. We can form some appreciation of his taste and ability as a performer and appreciate how well versed he was in the theoretical and technical aspects of music-tonality, modulation, counterpoint, harmony-from which as a poet he drew so many of his most characteristic images. We are able to hear the pieces he was playing alongside the poems on music and musicians.

The Bloomfield Collection, which comprises approximately 15,000 books, manuscripts, prints, and incunabula, was bequeathed to Brighton Public Library, Museum and ,4rt Gallery in 1916. Leopold Bloomfield, the owner of a firm which made military headgear, was a general collector with a special interest in English and French literature, illustrated and first editions, and fine bindings. At the Browning sale at Sotheby's in 1913 he bought 26 lots, consisting mainly of inscribed volumes from the Brownings' library, with some manuscripts of Robert Browning senior. Lot 362, sold as three parcels, was listed by the auctioneers as consisting of specific keyboard works by Bach and Mozart (Collections A1697 and A1707) plus 'a large quantity of music, many pieces being presentation copies from the composers'.' The music belonging to, or associated with, the

' See P. Kelley and B. A. Coley, The Browning Collections: .A Reconstrrrction with other Al.femorabilia(LVinfield, Kan., 1984), 145 and entries A1697-1715. The 19 volumes of music from the Bloomfield Collection already listed by Kelley and Cole? will be referred to here by their identifying numbers in The Bmwning Collections. 'The 6 additional volumes not available to

RES New Series, Vol. XLVII, No. 185(1996) 0O.x/ord Cniuersit): Press 1996

Brownings is now gathered into various bindings and fascicles, its condition ranging from mint to worn and tattered. Bloomfield bound the sheet music into folio volumes, roughly sorted according to type and provenance, numbering the pages throughout and sometimes adding an index at the front. In this he was following the practice of Browning's father who bound and indexed his music (see, for example, A1709). Some of the pieces in the Bloomfield Collection are inscribed and dated, and several bear annotations such as fingering, tempi, dynamics, ornamentation, pedal marks, and other aids to practice and performance. Unfortunately, some parts of inscriptions were lost when the music was trimmed for binding.

The twenty-six volumes of music in the Bloomfield Collection can be arranged in an approximate chronological and thematic sequence, beginning before Browning's birth and ending with some of the many settings and arrangements of his work presented to him in the last years of his life.

Ikfusic of Robert Browning senior
Browning's parents both enjoyed playing the piano and singing. Although his first memory is of his mother's playing, we know little of what she played beyond Avison's 'March', and there is no music that is identifiably hers in the Bloomfield Collection. Browning's father liked the virtuosi pioneers of pianistic writing, Dussek, Clementi, and Cramer, as well as elegant new composers such as Moscheles and Herz. Hummel, Field, and Kalkbrenner were the major composers for the piano in the generation before Chopin. Earlier composers survive in arrangements and recensions and as popular airs and songs. There is a good representation of contemporary music, mainly vocal and operatic, from once-popular British composers.

As children, both Robert and Sarianna learned to play the simpler piano pieces their father owned, though later Sarianna seems to have preferred songs and piano arrangements of songs. Robert also had lessons in violin, cello, and voice.2 The whole family could throw

Kelley and Coley are listed in my Appendix, together with their new point numbers in the Kelley and Coley system.

See H. E. Greene, 'Browning's Knowledge of Music', P.llLri 62 (1947), 1095-9; Greene concludes that Browning, though a gifted amateur, did not have a deep or systematic technical understanding of music. See also LV. W. Roberts, 'Music in Browning', ,l.fusic and Letters, 17 (1936), 237-48; R. W.S. Mendl, 'Robert Browning, the Poet-Musician', Music and Letters, 42 (1961), 142-50. For the fullest account of Browning's interest in and references to music see N. Schoffmann, There is .Yo Truer Truth: The .Clusical Aspect of Brozozitzg's Poetv, Contributions to the Study of World Literature, no. 40 (New I'ork, Westport, Conn., and London, 1991). On Browning's music poems see H. J. Ormerod, 'Some Notes on Browning's Poems Referring to Music', Browning Society's Papers, 9 (1887-8), 180-95; G. M. Ridenour, 'Browning's Music Poems: Fancy and Fact', PLllLA78 (1963), 369-77; J. E. Neufeld, 'Some Notes on Browning's

BROWNING'S MUSIC 37

themselves into ad hoc arrangements and medleys. Both father and son developed their keyboard technique with exercises by Clementi and learnt their music theory from Hudl's tables. Two pieces by John Abel add to the little we know about Robert Browning senior's friend and the poet's one-time teacher, 'my old piano-forte master, Abel', as Browning remembered him many years later.3 There are also two pieces by Relfe, the 'Great John Relfe, ( Master of mine, learned, redoubtable', who was the young Browning's tutor in composition and theory.4 Much of this music is worn, marked, and annotated, though the Browning children never defaced it with doodles:

Scrawled them within the antiphonary's marge,

Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes,

Found eyes and nose and chin for '4's and B's.

('Fra Lippo Lippi', 11. 130-2)

The physical appearance of the printed music made a strong im- pression on Browning; his unnamed organist in 'Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha' pictures the composer

with brow ruled like a score, Yes, and eyes buried in pits on each cheek, Like two great breves, as they wrote them of yore, Each side that bar, your straight beak! (11. 42-5)

There are six volumes of Browning's father's music in the Col- lection.

1. His bound and indexed music-book (A1709), containing the oldest-looking and most worn sheet music, has 39 items (45 titles) ranging from piano arrangements of overtures by Rossini, Mozart, and Hook to settings of Thomas Moore and songs and glees by popular contemporary composers such as Henry R. Bishop and Alexander Lee. There is one Gluck overture, to Iphiginie, but no sign of the overture to Pam's and Helen which Browning especially remembered from his youth and 'played' on the table-cloth to Charles

Musical Poems', Studies in Browning and his Circle, 6 (1978), 4656; J. J. Joyce, 'The Music Poems and Robert Browning's Knowledge of Music', ibid. 8 (1980), 75-87; and A. H. Fox Strangways, 'Robert Browning's Music', London Mercury, 17 (1928), 699-700 (on 'Charles Avison'). On the relationship of Browning's poems to the musical theories of his time see P. Gay, 'Browning and Music', in I. Armstrong (ed.), Robert Browning (London, 1974), 21 1-30.

W. S. Peterson (ed.), Browning's Trumpeter: The Correspondence ofRobert Browning and Frederick J. Furnivall1872-1889 (Washington, DC, 1979), 147.

'With Charles Avison', 11. 81-2. All quotations of Browning's poetry are from The Poems, ed. J. Pettigrew and T. J. Collins (New Haven and London, 1981) and from The Ring and the Book, ed. R. D. Altick (New Haven and London, 1981). On Relfe, see J. Maynard, Browning's Ehuth (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), 423 n. 54. There is one other piece by Relfe in Browning senior's manuscript 'Book of Music' at Wellesley College (Collections, J93).

Hall6 more than thirty years later.; There are choruses, waltzes, and marches, culminating in 'La Victoire des Suliotes', a selection of martial airs by Rossini full of imitation gunfire, horses, victory shouts, and trumpet bursts, with notes and rearrangements which suggest that it was often performed in the Browning household. Some of the piano arrangements have parts for cello and violin or flute: the Haydn 'Surprise' Symphony, for instance, adapted for piano and violin with cello ad lib; theikfarm'age of Figaro overture for piano, flute, and cello. The song '0 ruddier than the cherry' (from Purcell's Acis and Galatea) has the piano part marked down an octave, perhaps to temper the effect of the accompanying flute and violins. Given Browning's lifelong love of Beethoven, his feeling that he was ultimately the greatest c~mposer,~

it is interesting to find here a piano recension of the Prometheus overture bearing his father's signature and markings7-perhaps the first work by Beethoven that he heard.

2. Another early volume (A1709.1), dated before 1811 by the Southwark address inside the front cover, has 32 pieces, mainly for piano, which reflect the Regency taste for bravura styles, programme music, and 'grand' fantasias, concertos, and divertimenti (Moscheles' 'The Fall of Paris', Steibelt's 'Grand Concerto for Piano Forte with Imitation of Storm'). There is a preponderance of compositions by the fashionable 'professors' of the day-Mezzinghi, Cramer, Dussek, Steibelt, Clementi, Salomon, and Latour-including a parody of their various styles by Latour himself, 'Pianiste to His Majesty'. There are also piano arrangements of themes and airs from oratorio and opera (The Creation, Der Freischiitz), and of traditional songs (such as a rondo version of 'The Old Highland Laddie'). Arne's 'Rule, Britan- nia', which the younger man's cousin in The Inn Album (1. 523) ironically likes to play on her fashionable new piano, turns up here twice, in arrangements by Kalkbrenner and by Ries. All the pieces bear some markings: as well as added fingerings, dynamics, tempi, and repeats there are reminders such as the capital 'A', for Antici- pation, which warns of approaching turns and trills in Viotti's Grand Concerto. Some pieces, such as the Marriage of Figaro overture (another copy, without cello part), have both Browning senior's and his son's fingering; others, such as 'Meteor Lights' by Ferdinand Ries, have just the poet's fingering.

Qobert Browning and Julia Wedpood: A Broken Friendship as rez'ealed in their Lrtters, ed.
R. Curle (London, 1937), 60. See e.g. The Lrtters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846, ed. E. Kintner (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), i. 504, 512, 704.

'Browning and his father used the 'English' system of fingering in which the fingers are numbered 1 to 4 from the index finger to the little finger, with X for the thumb. Music printed abroad followed the 'continental system', in general use today: 1 to 5 from thumb to little finger.

The volume which gives us the most insight into Browning's early musical education is the collection of 5 1 pieces ('41708. I), many of them relatively simple, well-used, and sometimes repaired by careful sewing. There are rondos, marches, and airs with a com- fortably small compass, perhaps played 'ere my hand I Could stretch an octave' ('With Charles Avison', 11. 51-2). The Browning children found compound time difficult and had to 'count 6 Quavers' in a 618 passage. Two pieces are by John Relfe: the 'Sinfonia' (No. 5 of Relfe's series of 'Classical Illustrations') and the 'Spanish March' are both heavily annotated with fingerings in ink. Other works which look well worn are Latour's 'Favorite Overture', Cardon's variations on 'Ah, vous dirai je mama', and a set of 24 pieces adapted from Don Giovanni, especially 'La ci darem la mano!'. We can see Robert and Sarianna working through favourite pieces, sometimes altering them or adding extra staves in neat ink. There are a few duets, including a version of the 'Hallelujah' chorus, and some parlour songs. 'S. Browning' has written her name on 'Mister Goose', a comic song, and someone, probably Robert, has annotated Matthew Locke's songs for ,+lacbeth.

More up-to-date music is found in the later volume (A1708) bound by Bloomfield and comprising 32 piano pieces, two with Browning senior's signature and one with Sarianna's. Many have added fingering (especially on semiquaver runs!), dynamics, and other marks. On the 'Piano Forte Sonata for the Left Hand' by Kalkbrenner one of the Brownings has written in 'pretend' Greek (English written in the Greek alphabet) 'A canon respecting reiterated notes with the thumb'. Apart from pieces by Hummel, Weber, and Kalkbrenner, more of Browning senior's favourite Cramer and Moscheles, and various 'brilliant' and 'grand' arrangements of marches and airs, there are four pieces by John Field and two by John Abel: Abel's 'Notturno for the Piano Forte' bears some fingerings, and his 'Impromptu for the Piano Forte, on the Air Say, Could I Live . . .'is inscribed to the poet's father 'To Robert Browning Esq. from his very faithful friend the Author'. Two of the pieces in this volume are particularly associated with Sarianna: a collection of 50 waltzes by Beethoven, which bears her signature, and 'Nina: Valse Elegant pour le pianoforte by Franz Bosen', which bears the cut-off inscription (presumably from the composer) 'To Miss Browning with . . .'. (Bosen was a German composer, mainly of songs, who was based in London and published several works in the 1840s and 1850s.) The piece is unmarked, except for a final 'e' scrupulously added to 'Elegant'.

Browning's father also owned substantial albums of piano studies by Clementi and Herz bound together in one folio by Bloomfield (A1705): volume 1 of Clementi's Gradus ad Pamassum is inscribed

'RB' [senior] in ink and 'Robert Browning' [junior] in pencil; the first book of Herz's Twenty Four Grand Studies for the Piano Forte has '20. Oct. 1832' on the title-page in Browning senior's hand.

6. The other item of Browning's father's to come to light in the Bloomfield Collection is his copy of J. J. Hudl's Tabellarische Uebersicht der Ausweichungen aller Tone der Octave nach allen Tonarten . . . (A1705. I), a table of cadences and chord progressions in all possible keys (1,008 examples in all) to which the poet ascribes his understanding of harmonic relations and his ability to 'Change enharmonically (Hudl to thank)', ('With Charles Avison', 1. 305). Browning senior has inscribed his name inside the front cover and on the first page has noted in pencil the English equivalents for the Continental nomenclature of notes and keys.

Browning's Music: Camberwell and Hatcham

In the years before his marriage Browning played the piano regularly, sang, and even tried his hand at composition, but references to his musical tastes and activities are tantalizingly few. We know that he admired the compositions of his friend Eliza Flower8 and two of these are to be found in the Bloomfield Collection. Also in the Collection is the one specific piece mentioned in his letters to Elizabeth Barrett: 'I kiss you dearest-this morning a very ordinary motivetto in the overture to "Nabuco" seemed to tell you more than I ever shall-I sit and speak to you by that, now!'9 Three volumes of music in the Bloomfield Collection belong to this period.

53 songs and vocal works (A1714) of various periods and styles. The two by Eliza Flower are the song 'Sleep, Heart of Mine' and the once-celebrated chorus 'Now Pray We for our Country'. There are arias by Haydn and Donizetti as well as songs by British composers such as Charles Horn (still remembered today for 'Cherry Ripe').

A volume of dance music (A1701) :mazurkas, galops, quadrilles, Scottish reels, and Strauss waltzes. These pieces are mainly unmarked but are fairly simple to play and would not need much in the way of practice. There are no inscriptions.

A volume of piano music, bound by Bloomfield as 'Schumann etc.', which brings together and lists 32 miscellaneous pieces (A1712). The Schumann work is the Phantasiestiicke, of which Browning owned at least two other copies (see A1703 and A1713). This copy has Browning's fingering and, on the first piece, the direction 'Tranquillo' added in his hand. There are also works by Czerny, Dussek, and other

* Mrs Sutherland Orr, Life andLetters ofRobert Browning (London, 1891), 136. Letters, ed. Kintner, ii. 632.

BROWNING'S MUSIC 4 1

minor nineteenth-century composers. No. 18 in the volume is the piano transcription (unmarked) of the overture to Verdi's ,\'abucodonosor (i\Tabucco) which Browning found unexpectedly expressive of his feelings for Elizabeth.

The Italian Years

During the first winter at Pisa Browning had no piano, but when he and Elizabeth settled at Florence in October 1847 they rented one immediately. After that, wherever they took lodgings, in Rome, Lucca, or Siena, they made sure that Robert, and later Pen, always had access to a piano. In Rome in 1859 Browning used to visit Frederic Leighton in his studio and 'buffet the piano'.1° Deprived of a keyboard, he may have shared his characters' irritating habit of playing on table tops:

Clavecinist debarred his instrument,
He yet thrums-shirking neither turn nor trill,
With desperate finger on dumb table-edge-

(TheRing and theBook,i. 1201-3)

Has to practise on a table-top,

When he can't hire the proper thing.

(TheInn Album, 11. 517-18)

No instrument is visible in the Mignaty painting of the Salon at Casa Guidi (1861)' probably because it was still positioned by the window, as Elizabeth described in a letter to Sarianna Browning: 'We have translated our room into winter-set off the piano towards the windows, and packed tables, chairs, and sofas as near to the hearth as possible.'11 Browning bought a quantity of new music after his marriage, both to play himself and to teach to Pen. Some books and music were shipped out to Italy but those belonging to his father remained at Hatcham until Browning senior moved to Paris in 1852. Four volumes of Browning's music in the Bloomfield Collection are associated with his years in Italy.

1. Browning's Mozart, the Holle edition of the complete piano works, two volumes bound in one (A1707).12 According to Brown- ing's inscription he, presumably with Pen, was playing the variations on an original theme for four hands [K501] in 'Florence, June '60'. The music then went with the Brownings to Siena where Robert

'IJOrr, Life and Letters, 227.
" The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. F. G. Kenyon (London, 1897),ii. 179.

l2 Editions of Mozart published before Kochel's catalogue used the older, inaccurate opus numbers-I have supplied Kochel numbers in square brackets.

noted that he played the Adagio [K540] and Gigue [K574] ('Siena, Aug. 10. 1860'). On what was to be Elizabeth Barrett's last birthday ('Siena, Septr. 12. 1860') he played the second piece in volume 2, the Rondo in A Minor [K511]. Other pieces which Robert and Pen probably played during this last year in Italy are the sonatas for four hands [K497 and K5211, which have bar numbers added to help the two pianists find or keep their places. In the first volume the Sonata in E flat [K282] has 'assai' optimistically added in Browning's hand to the final .Allegro.

A volume bound by Bloomfield as 'Strauss etc.' (A1715) also seems to belong to the Italian years. It comprises nine piano works, three of them arrangements for piano duet: the William Tell overture, the Beethoven second symphony, and an album of 'Petits Morceaux Favoris' (the March from Bellini's ,\'orma is a typical example). Music for piano solo includes Strauss's waltz 'An der schonen, blauen Donau', Loewe's 'Mazeppa', and other light occasional pieces.

There are two albums of major composers which seem to date from these years but yield almost no clues:
Friedrich Chrysander's collected edition of Bach keyboard works [1856], four volumes in two (A1697), is in near-pristine condition apart from the occasional fingering added to some of the inventions and symphonies.

The Beethoven piano sonatas in the Holle collected edition [?18571 are unmarked.

iVIusic of Pen Browning
Pen started to learn the piano with his father when he was 5 years old. Browning believed in scales and exercises; although Elizabeth at first thought his system 'rather dry for so young a child'13 she felt it had succeeded when at 10 Pen could play 'a sonata of Beethoven already (in E flat--opera 7) and the first four books of Stephen Heller; to say nothing of various pieces by modern German composers in which there is need of considerable execution. Robert is the maestro, and sits by him two hours every day'.14 At a party in Rome in 1861 Pen 'talked a great deal about Chopin, Stephen Heller, &c., with musical officers'. l5 There are three volumes of Pen's music in the Collection.

1. The four books of Heller studies are bound, together with Heller's 'La Chasse' study, in one volume in the Bloomfield Collection

l3 Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to her Sister, 1846-1859, ed. L. Huxley (London, 1929), 207, 211.

l4 Letters, ed. Kenyon, ii. 337. 'j
Ibid. 432.

BROWNING'S MUSIC 43

(A1704). Some are marked-with fingerings, alterations, and correc- tions-and dated in Browning's hand. We can see, for instance, that Pen began the first book of 25 Ctudes (op. 47) at 'Rome, Feb. 22 '59' and finished it at 'Rome May 5'.

Four other Heller pieces, including the 'Restless Nights' (op. 82) and 'Deux Tarentelles' (op. 85) are bound in a volume with a number of Chopin works (waltzes, polonaises, mazurkas, and the 'Marche Funi.brel) and the 'pieces by modern German composers' (Kullak, Mayer, and Sculhoff) which impressed Elizabeth. This volume (A1700.1) also contains Weber's 'Invitation to the Waltz' and an album of Czerny exercises (op. 337).

The third volume (A 17 10) contains a miscellany of Pen's music, ten fairly easy pieces including dances, 'reveries', and adaptations from operas: La Traciata has Pen's signature ('Robert Browning') and a 'Petite Fantasie' has 'Robert Browning. Penini'. 'Le Jour de l'an', a polka-mazurka by Joseph Del Bene, has been separated in the binding from its inscription to Pen 'A son ami Robert Browning pour se conserver dans son souvenir Emile Del Bene'. The Del Bene family often heard Pen play in Florence, and Giuseppe (Joseph) contributed a manuscript composition to his music book, now in the Armstrong Browning Library (Collections A32).

The Return to London

On his return to London after Elizabeth's death Browning immediately bought a pile of new music for himself and Pen: seven parts of Boosey's 'Musical Cabinet' series (A1699), comprising Mendelssohn's 'Songs Without FVords' (inscribed 'London. Nov. 30 '611), Schumann's Kinderscenen and 'Album for Young Performers', and twelve short pieces by Stephen Heller. Of these the Mendelssohn and Chopin were presumably for Browning himself to play, though they are unmarked.

Four days later he returned to Boosey's and bought four books of Czerny exercises (the 'ktude de la VClocitC' is inscribed 'London. Dec. 4 '61') and an edition of Herz's 'Exercises, Scales and Chords'. The elementary exercises may have been for Pen, who was having music lessons at home every day, though the more advanced studies suggest that Browning was hoping to do some serious work on his own technique while learning the new Mendelssohn and Chopin pieces. Perhaps he hoped that regular practising would help him cope with bereavement or felt uneasy at allowing himself to rattle 'rough-smooth through a piano-piece' when a tutor would prescribe a more disci- plined approach :

'roll up Raff again And exercise at Czerny for one month!' (The Inn Album, 11. 1242-3)

All the exercises remain unmarked, however. Bound up with them by Bloomfield in one folio (A1700.2) are two manuals: an unreturned loan copy of Plaidy's technical studies for piano, from Ewer's library in Regent Street, and an older-looking edition of Crivelli's Solfeggios, a tutor for voice with parallel English and Italian text. There is no sign of a composer as fashionable and distracting as Raff in the Collection.

A folio volume of miscellaneous piano music (A1703). Some of the 20 items may be older and have come with Browning from Italy but the Beethoven works are in the Hall6 edition and must therefore have been bought in or after 1861. Four are by Handel (some neat pencil fingering), one by J. S. Bach (unmarked), and two by Chopin (unmarked). Both Spohr's Rondetto (op. 149) and Weber's second Polonnaise (op. 72) look much played. Of the Beethoven, the Sonata No. 9 and Variations on an Original Air have most annotations. Several works are original compositions or adaptations by Ignaz Moscheles; his Sonate MClancholique has numerous fingerings, acci- dental~, and warnings in red pencil. Anton Rubinstein's Sonata No. 1 (op. 12) is unmarked; we know that Browning heard and greatly admired Rubinstein's playing16 but he may not have wanted or felt able to tackle Rubinstein's own technically demanding work. The last work in the folio is an unused first volume of Schumann's Phantasiestiicke (see also A1712 and A 17 13).

Music by Schumann (A1713) : a folio of 14 works, bound by Bloomfield. Robert Schumann (1 8 10-56) was Browning's almost exact contemporary and some interesting parallels can be drawn between the two in terms of their 'dramatic' method, their attitudes to their art, and their place in nineteenth-century literature and musical history.17 Browning first referred to Schumann in Fz3ne at the Fair (1871): the passage in which Don Juan plays through Carna~alis Browning's only extended commentary on a specific piece of music by an identified composer. Later he linked himself with Schumann to rebut the critics' charge that his poetry was 'unmusical':

l6 Dearest Isa: Robert Browning's Letters to Isabella Blagden, ed. E. C. McAleer (Austin, Tex., 1951), 274: 'he is a marvellous player, beyond what I remember of Liszt, and immeasurably superior to anyone else'.

l7 See e.g. L. Passarella, 'Carnaval and Carnival: Notes on Browning's Fifine at the Fair', Studies in Browning and his Circle, 5 (1977), 38-48; D. Vlock-Keyes, 'Music and Dramatic Voice in Robert Browning and Robert Schumann', L'ictorian Poetry, 29 (1991), 227-39.

'That chord now-a groan or a grunt is't? Schumann's self was no worse contrapuntist.' (Pacchiarotto, 11. 492-3)

In London he and Sarianna met Clara Schumann and heard her perform her husband's work; he paid tribute to her playing in a late poem, 'The Founder of the Feast'. A copy of the Phantasiestiicke, with 'Fabel' (p. 9) inscribed from Clara to Sarianna on 18 April 1870, has fingerings, possibly Robert's, added to 'In Der Nacht' and 'Ende vom Lied'. A second, identical, copy is unmarked.

The only other annotated piece in this folio is the 'Schlummerlied' (op. 126 no. 16). A Schott edition of Carnaval, Browning's only known extant copy, is in pristine condition. The remaining works (all unmarked) are 'Papillons', 'Arabeske', the 'Theme on the Name Abegg', 'Nachtstucke', three volumes of 'Novelletten', the 'Zigeunerieben fur chor . . .', and some children's pieces (op. 85) and other minor pieces.

Presentation Copies

The Bloomfield Collection also contains four volumes of presentation copies, mainly of song settings to poems by Robert Browning or Elizabeth Barrett.

Sir George Macfarren, Professor of Music at Cambridge and Principal of the Royal Academy of Music and a prolific composer, presented Browning with a copy of his Six Songs from Gwen (A1706.1), a 'drama in monologue' by Lewis Morris. His inscription is written in a sprawling, shaky hand; Macfarren was blind and Bloomfield notes that 'his hand was guided by Browning'.

18 songs (A1700). Bloomfield bound and listed these as 'Brown- ing Songs. Robert Browning's own copies'. As well as Stanford and Macfarren there are several women composers, with whom Browning seems to have been especially popular: Caroline Reinagle, Ethel Harraden, Virginia Gabriel, May Leck, Elizabeth Philip, and Mary Eleanor Ponssen.

An inscribed copy, from the composer, of Eleanor C. Gregory's Six Songs, the words by Robert Browning (A1702).

4. An inscribed copy of Ernst Liibeck's Grandes Etudes (A1706).

On the evidence of the Bloomfield Collection Browning's musical life was absorbing and convivial, his taste eclectic, if unadventurous and, from the start, rather old-fashioned. The pieces he preferred playing were by celebrated composer-performers of the early nineteenth- century concert circuit. His theoretical grounding was thorough and he was a demanding teacher, though his own keyboard technique was never as expressive or disciplined as he would have liked. Of the composers and musicians mentioned in his poems we find in the Collection Purcell, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, but no Vogler, Palestrina, Corelli, Liszt, or Wagner. Perhaps it is for the best that there is no Galuppi; 'A Toccata', along with the manuscript source Browning later provided for it,18 remains a brilliant creation of the poet's mind.

APPENDIX

Addenda to the music listed in Kelley and Coley, The Browning Collections, A1697-1715.

A1700.1 Chopin, etc. v.p., n.d. 21 pieces by various composers. [Brighton BCi786.4iM971
A1700.2 Czerny, etc. v.p., n.d. 7 works by various composers. [Brighton BC/786.3/C99]

A1705.1 Hudl, J. J. Tabellarische C'ebersicht der Ausweichungen aller Tone der Octave nach allen Tonarten . . . n.d. [Brighton BC/781.3/H86]

A1706.1 Macfarren, G. A. Six Songs from Gwen. No. 1 is inscribed: GA Macfarren with friendly greetings to Robert Browning. After the title of No. 1 RB has added the author's name in pencil: Sir Lewis Morris.

[Brighton BCi784.3iM161

A1708.1 Music-book. v.p., n.d. 5 1 printed compositions: 3 bearing SB's signature; one with RB sen.'s signature. [Brighton BC/786.4/M97]

A1709.1 Music-book. RB sen.'s music-book inscribed by him: 61, Ewer St. St Saviour Southwark. 32 printed compositions by various composers: one inscribed S. Browning. [Brighton BCi786.41M971.

'Although Browning later claimed to have known actual Galuppian toccatas from ms. volumes, we may assume that he was in fact filling in, a la Borges, a historical lacuna, and that the stop consonants of the Italian polysyllable "toccata" tripped across the tongue with an appropriate gallop' (J. Hollander, 'Browning: The Music of Music', in H. Bloom (ed.), Robert Browning (New York, 1985), 69-86, at p. 72).

Comments
  • Recommend Us