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Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900 – 1937

9 November 2007 - 30 March 2008

Curators' Choice

In this series of podcasts, British Library experts talk about some of their favourite items.


Mayakovsky/El Lissitzky's For the Voice

Peter Hellyer : Slavonic and East European Collections

Peter HellyerThe bold, geometric lines of the Russian Constructivist school can be seen everywhere in popular culture today, from The Face magazine to adverts for Ladbrokes. A masterpiece of the movement is For the Voice of 1923, with Mayakovsky's vibrantly rhythmic poetry and El Lissitzky's inventive design. Peter Hellyer examines a remarkable collaboration that's as much for the eye as for the voice.

Detail from cover of Paris PhotobookListen now (MP3, 7min 28sec, 3.0MB)
Read transcript (PDF, 80K)
See full cover of book
See pages from book


Moi Ver's Paris Photobook

Carole Holden: Head of American Collections

Carole HoldenIn the 1930s, Paris was a hub of activity for immigrant photographers, recording the city's vibrant street and artistic life in books: Brassaï, Ehrenburg et al. But the extraordinary photo-book by Lithuanian Moï Ver (Moses Vorobeichic) stands out for its often breathtaking, cinematic originality in scope and technique. Carole Holden explains why this is a book of photographs unlike any other.

Detail from cover of Paris PhotobookListen now (MP3, 7min 48sec, 3.1MB)
Read transcript (PDF, 80K)
See full cover of book


Cendrars/Delaunay's Prose du Transsibérien

Chris Michaelides : Curator in Italian and Modern Greek section

Chris Michaelides at St PancrasA remarkable fusion of Sonia Delaunay's sunny abstract art and Blaise Cendrars' dark poetry, La Prose du Transsibérien tells the half-real, half-imaginary story of a long trip east in 1905 on the great Russian train. Today Cendrars might start from the champagne bar at St Pancras's glorious new station, from where Chris Michaelides tells us what new areas Cendrars and Delaunay explored – ones as far east as Mongolia.

Detail of cover of bookListen now (MP3, 9min 25sec, 3.8MB)
Read transcript (PDF, 90K)
See image of part of the work
Zoomable image


Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces

Rob Ainsley: Breaking the Rules website team

Rob AinsleyArnold Schoenberg overturned the old rules of music. Out went tunes and harmonic progressions, and in came the brave, dissonant new world of atonality. The Five Orchestral Pieces of 1909 unleashed the new sounds that Schoenberg considered inevitable and necessary. Rob Ainsley explains why critics scratched their heads, audiences rioted - and why not much has changed.

Detail of msListen now (MP3, 9min 10sec, 4.7MB)
Read transcript (PDF, 80K)
See more of the manuscript


Heym/Kirchner's Umbra Vitae

Susan Reed: Head of German Printed Collections

Susan ReedGeorg Heym's searing book of poems Umbra Vitae of 1912 – the year of his untimely death – was a powerful enough testament to the strident new emotional world of German Expressionism. But when the artist Ludwig Kirchner illustrated the second edition of 1924 with his mind-burning woodcuts, the result was a classic of book design, combining textual and visual art. Susan Reed tells its colourful story.

Detail of cover of bookListen now (MP3, 8min 49sec, 3.5MB)
Read transcript (PDF, 80K)
See full cover of book


David Gascoyne's notebook

Candida Ridler: Curator, Modern British Collections

Candy RidlerWithout English poet David Gascoyne, Surrealism may never have reached Britain. His 1930s notebooks are full of sketches, ideas for poems, personal reflections and even bizarre, Pythonesque lists of Surreal Objects. They provide a fascinating insight into the world of the Avant Garde artist. Candida Ridler reveals a world of lecturers in diving suits, furry breakfasts, and footballs smoking cigarettes...

Detail of page from Gascoyne's notebookListen now (MP3, 7min 34sec, 3.0MB)
Read transcript (PDF, 80K)
See image from notebook



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