With some items in archives, you only realise their true historical significance after you’d researched them. You may not recognise the company name engraved into the red-rot spine of the minute book, the photograph may be undated and its occupants anonymous or you may not know to whom or from whom a letter was sent just by its signature.
Those euphoric reveal moments are wonderful and luckily an archivist’s life is full of them.
With some other items in archives, the historical value of something sparkles and dazzles as soon as you lay eyes on it. One such collection is the manuscript correspondence belonging to the Adolph Brodsky archive at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Adolph Brodsky (1851-1929), violinist, Principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music was a man of immense talent and charisma. He knew everyone worth knowing. Awaiting his Christmas cards were Sir Charles Halle, Edvard Grieg, Edward Elgar and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), composer still has the hearts and minds of the world falling in love with music. However, not all of his music was initially received with glorious thanks. His Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35 (1878) for instance, was dedicated to Leopold Auer who was one of Tchaikovsky’s favourite performers. He dismissed it is as unplayable in its difficulty and refused to perform it.
Not to be dissuaded by others’ exiling of the piece, Brodsky plays it in Vienna in 1881.
The critics are not impressed. Tchaikovsky however is over the moon with gratitude when his publisher informs him of the performance. He asks Lev Kupernik (1845-1905), lawyer and critic, to reach out to Brodsky.
Thus starts a fast friendship between them lived out through wonderful pen-pal relationship and rendezvousing when timetables and geography allows.
Here’s where being an archivist rules: I have held in my hand, to the skin of my palms, the manuscript correspondence from Tchaikovsky to Brodsky. I have turned the pages of score of Op.35, rededicated to Brodsky, and seen his annotations. I have touched what Tchaikovsky has created. The Tchaikovsky. His papers embossed with golden monograms and his messy Russian writing which I can’t read, paper that he has touched and ink that he has guided with the same hands that created Swan Lake, the 1812 Overture and the now much applauded Violin Concerto in D Major.
Classical music isn’t for everyone but no one can deny the power of its archives.
I love my job.