As part of my placement in Special Collections, I was made responsible for cataloguing the Andrew MacCunn collection. While the department already has an extensive and fascinating collection relating to his older brother, the composer Hamish MacCunn, the opportunity to learn about and make available material relating to another MacCunn proved to be hugely enjoyable.
Born in Scotland, Andrew MacCunn was a successful composer and conductor in his own right, serving as musical director at the J.C. Williamson Theatres in Australia for over 50 years. During this time, he conducted more than 200 stage works, including operas, musical comedies, operettas, and modern musicals. One of the most remarkable things which struck me about him was that he never needed the score on his music stand when conducting a musical. He once said “I can see every note of the instrumental score and the vocal parts in my mind’s eye.” (Quoted in Melbourne Age, 27 April 1966)
MacCunn often annotated his work giving a valuable insight into his thought process and methods. Often, parts are scribbled out and replaced, showing the constant tweaks and additions by MacCunn. For example, in the scores relating to ‘The Gardner’s Nightmare’, you can see that he crossed out Nightmare and replaced it with ‘Dream’. Obviously, this would have changed the nature of the piece to be performed. What makes these annotations all the more significant is that MacCunn performed all these pieces from memory. To enable him to do this, the scores must have presented a fairly accurate picture of the final piece to be performed.
Other items, such as published scores by composers including Wagner, contain notes from family. These notes reveal a deep personal connection that Andrew MacCunn had with his music, with his brother Hamish gifting two of the published scores to him.
My time at Special Collections has given me a wonderful insight into the valuable work which goes on, and the dedication of the staff to make these collections available. I hope that this collection can shed further light on Andrew MacCunn and his work, as he is perhaps overshadowed by his more illustrious brother Hamish. Nonetheless, Andrew obviously possessed a great deal of talent himself as this collection shows. There has already been interest expressed in this particular collection and I hope the work that I have done can be put to good use.
Chris Fryer, Postgraduate student (Information Management & Preservation) written while on placement in Special Collections.