Music blog

50 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

11 April 2017

New folk-dance arrangements discovered

Add comment

Imogen Holst, who was born on 12 April 1907, is well-known, among her many accomplishments, for her folk-song and folk-dance arrangements. Many of these published volumes, written for a variety of educational and recreational purposes, are available in the printed music collections here at the British Library.



Recently, however, we have come across a collection of Imogen Holst's folk-dance arrangements in her own hand which never made it into print. The manuscript, along with related correspondence, is contained within our recently-acquired Boosey & Hawkes archive, and gives further insight into Imogen Holst’s editorial approach to folk-song and dance, as well as her tireless commitment to the promotion of British music.

Imogen Holst folk dances

Newly-discovered Imogen Holst folk-dance arrangements in the British Library Boosey & Hawkes Archive. Reproduced with permission of the Holst Foundation

In June 1944, while she was busy running the music course at Dartington Hall, Imogen Holst received an invitation from the music publisher Boosey & Hawkes to edit and arrange two volumes of British folk-songs and dances for piano. She accepted with enthusiasm - ‘I cannot tell you what pleasure your suggestion gave me’ - and within 6 weeks had completed the manuscripts for both volumes.

The intention of Boosey & Hawkes was to promote the works internationally, capitalizing on pro-British sentiments in countries ‘where everything British will be much more appreciated after the war’. Imogen Holst replied that this was ‘a practical piece of internationalism that appeals to me very strongly’. Proofs for the first volume of folk-songs, complete with French and Spanish (but notably, not German) translations, were ready by January 1945, and publication followed in 1947.

However, the second volume of folk-dances remained in manuscript form. Languishing in the Boosey & Hawkes archive ever since, it contains piano arrangements for around 35 folk-dances from around the British Isles, along with handwritten introductions to both volumes. Imogen Holst had clear ideas about how folk-song and dance should be presented and was assertive about these in her correspondence with the company: ‘I feel very strongly indeed that most editions of traditional tunes are cluttered up with a lot of “expression” marks which might be all right in elaborate “composed” music of the 19th and 20th centuries but which are hopelessly out of place in simple tunes that sing themselves’.

Her keen stylistic sense, along with her understanding of traditional dance forms, also comes across in the introduction to the folk dances: ‘In the following piano arrangements the left hand has to supply the light, rhythmical accompaniment of the missing drum. Instead of providing solid harmonies it must let in the air between each rise and fall of the phrase, lifting the imaginary dancers off their feet’.

The related correspondence in the Boosey & Hawkes archive does not indicate why this second volume was never published. In 1951 Imogen Holst returned the volumes of folk-songs loaned to her by the publisher for the purposes of the project and a rather formal reply from Dr Rosen denied all knowledge of the current state of play regarding her work. By then Imogen Holst was set to leave Dartington and, after a period of travel in India, would soon become assistant to Benjamin Britten. Her subsequent dealings with Boosey & Hawkes were mostly concerned with this new creative partnership.

Emma Greenwood, Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer, British Library



Imogen Holst, composer, conductor, writer, and administrator, was born on 12 April 1907 and died at Aldeburgh on 9 March 1984. Her archive is held at the Britten-Pears Library and has recently been catalogued as part of the Holst Archive Project. Please note that cataloguing of the Boosey & Hawkes archive at the British Library is ongoing and that access to the archive is limited until the project is complete.



17 March 2017

British Library Music Collections welcomes King's music students

Add comment

A highlight of the work of British Library Music Collections this week has been hosting a visit of second and third year music students from King's College London studying sixteenth-century polyphony.

Display of C16 British Library music items

Display of printed items for the visit

Assisted by British Library music staff and her colleague Uri Smilansky, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow Elisabeth Giselbrecht gave a fascinating insight into a selection of items from the printed music collections. These included the Liber selectarum cantionum (Augsburg: Grimm and Wirsung, 1520), Motetti C (Venice: Petrucci, 1504) and the first edition of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Venice: Amadino, 1615).

King's music students with BL music books

Students and lecturer discussing early music printing

Students were also treated to a special introduction to some highlights from the collection of music manuscripts, including a set of partbooks belonging to Edward Paston (1550-1630) (Additional MS 29388-29392) and a choir book from the workshop of Petrus Alamire (Royal 8 G VII).

The choir book is available to browse in full online, and is also featured elsewhere on this blog. Dating from circa 1513 to 1544, it was probably produced for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. In colours and gold, it includes a miniature depicting the royal arms with dragon and greyhound supporters. Also present are the heraldic emblems of the Tudor rose and pomegranate (the latter being Catherine's emblem).


British Library Royal MS 8 G VII, folio 2 verso


30 January 2017

From the British Library Schubert archive: some collectors of Schubert's music

Add comment

The 220th anniversary of the birth of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) at the end of January 2017 provides a welcome excuse for us to explore the rich Schubert holdings at the British Library. Drawing on materials assembled by several important collectors, these range from curiosities relating to the man himself to sources documenting practical engagement with his music.

Collectors collect all sorts of things. The same Frederick George Edwards who gathered a leaf from Mozart’s grave also collected one from Schubert’s. 'Grave-leaf collecting' is admittedly an unusual activity. In a more conventional manner, the writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) began to amass famous signatures in his teenage years by waiting at stage doors and sending unsolicited requests to literary and artistic luminaries.

Leaf from Schubert's graveLeaf collected from Schubert’s grave in 1890. British Library, Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 13

As the years passed, Zweig's desire to collect developed further, and he went on to assemble a wide-ranging assortment of manuscripts of musical, literary and historical significance. In later life, he bought, sold and traded scores by many famous composers, including Mozart, Bach and Wagner as well as Schubert. The collection formed at the time of his death (along with a few later additions) was generously donated to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.

Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)]

Zweig's manuscript of Schubert’s An die Musik has already been featured in this blog, and seems to have been particularly important to him. Other Schubert examples include the Misero pargoletto (D. 42) (Zweig MS 78); Four German dances for piano (D. 146/2; D.769/1; D.783/1-2) (Zweig MS 79); Dance in A flat for piano (D.365/2) (Zweig MS 80); Schlachtlied, for double male-voice choir (D.912) (Zweig MS 82) and Mirjams Siegesgesang, for soprano solo, choir and piano (D.942) (Zweig MS 83).

Schubert Dance in A flat D 365-2Schubert's Dance in A flat for piano (‘Deutscher’) (D.365/2). British Library, Zweig MS 80, folio 1 verso

Zweig talks about collecting only the most representative examples of a particular composer’s work, and in so doing trying to capture the essence of creation itself. His memoir, The World of Yesterday, also makes it clear that, for him, collecting wasn’t purely about ownership:

Of course I never considered myself the owner of these things, only their custodian for a certain time. I was not tempted by a sense of possession, of having them for myself, but I was intrigued by the idea of bringing them together, making a collection into a work of art. I was aware that in this collection I had created something that in itself was worthier to last than my own works.

Stefan Zweig (trans. Anthea Bell), The World of Yesterday (Pushkin Press, 2011),  p. 377

To a certain extent, collecting will always be a reflection of the individual undertaking it and the context of their time. This is evident in the activities of a slightly earlier collector, the pianist and composer Ernst Perabo (1845-1920). Perabo assembled a collection that included music in the hands of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and other familiar names. This treasure trove also contains a number of autograph Schubert manuscripts, including the Mass in B flat (D.324), several songs, and the G major “Fantasie” piano sonata (D.894) (the latter to be made available on the Digitised Manuscripts website later this year). Most of Perabo’s manuscript collection is thought to have been purchased from a sale in Leipzig in 1882, having originally been in the possession of the Austrian publisher Tobias Haslinger.

Schubert Piano Sonata D 894 Add MS 36738Schubert's Piano Sonata in G Major, D.894. British Library Add. MS 36738, folio 1 verso

For several decades after his death, Schubert’s piano sonatas were rarely performed. Perabo was among the earliest pianists to introduce them to the public. He noticed differences between the text of the manuscripts and published editions which he described in a journal article. He pasted a copy of the text at the end of one of his Schubert manuscripts, and presumably went on to incorporate his observations into subsequent performances.

Perabo article on Schubert Add MS 36738Perabo's article on Schubert, British Library Add. MS 36738, folio 18 recto

The details of another pianist’s interactions with Schubert are also preserved in the British Library, courtesy of the collection of scores belonging to Clifford Curzon (1907-1982). These include Curzon's own copies of standard printed editions, marked up with annotations. Among them is the B-flat major piano sonata, D.960 (Add. MS 65057). The delicate and well-worn pages give a fascinating insight into his meticulous preparations for performance.

Curzon’s collection also includes scores of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ fantasy (D.760). Such ‘re-composition’ of Schubert’s works occurred frequently. Examples include  the Viennese-operetta stylings of Franz von Suppé, the Berté/Romberg/Clutsam sensation Lilac Time (as it was known in its UK version – Richard Tauber played Schubert in the film version, Blossom Time), Anton Webern’s distilled modernist orchestrations, and the postmodern re-imaginings of Luciano Berio and Dieter Schnebel (the latter based on the same piano sonata represented in the Perabo collection) .

Another example can be found in a printed score of Schubert string quartets formerly owned by the composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). This, along with other items from Mahler’s library, had passed to the musicologist and publisher Donald Mitchell, who then deposited the materials at the British Library. In the 1890s, Mahler made an arrangement of Schubert's ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet, D.810, for string orchestra. Mahler's lightly annotated copy of the score includes a few, characteristically fastidious, pencil annotations, providing an insight into the small amendments that he made in his own arrangement.

Schubert string quartet annotated by MahlerScore of Schubert’s 'Death and the Maiden' string quartet, D.810, annotated by Gustav Mahler. British Library MS Mus. 101


Chris Scobie
Rare Books & Music Reference Service

06 January 2017

Lew Stone and his Thirties Sound

Add comment

1 - MS Mus. 1746-3-4, f. 18 croppedTrumpet part for Lew Stone’s arrangement of ‘Sam, you made the pants too long’. British Library MS Mus. 1746/3/4, f. 18

In London’s 1930s high life, only the smartest entertainment and only the freshest music would do – and these are what the new Monseigneur restaurant, opened in 1931 at 215 Piccadilly, promised its clientele.  Lew Stone (1898-1969), having already made a name for himself as a craftsman of snappy arrangements, was originally pianist and arranger for the band in residence – he can be seen at his duties here – but found himself in charge when its leader Roy Fox fell ill.  The music Stone then brought to the Monseigneur’s dance-floor made the band so popular that, by mutual agreement, he was given the job permanently.  At the helm of a band ranked among the best in London, he made recordings with Decca and radio broadcasts on the BBC, and became a household name in Britain, his musical career lasting until his death in 1969.

Lew Stone’s widow Joyce, who promoted her husband’s legacy energetically, presented many of his original manuscript scores to the British Library for its music collections.  The Lew Stone collection (British Library: MS Mus. 1746) is now in the process of being catalogued and includes not only full scores from throughout his career but individual instrument parts actually used when the band performed.  Some bear the scribbled names of band-members well-known in their own right, such as Nat Gonella (trumpeter), Don Barrigo (saxophonist) or Tiny Winters (bassist).

2 - MS Mus. 1746-3-1, f.14 croppedWell-used parts for Lew Stone’s signature tune: a ‘fanfare if wanted’ followed by a few bars each of ‘Oh! Susannah’ and ‘Goodbye Blues’. MS Mus. 1746/3/1, f. 14

Many of the parts are scrawled over with cues and prompts: ‘Close in to ‘Mike’’, ‘Have Plunger Ready’ and ‘Remind Lew’ of how many bars to omit during broadcasts, or pencil drawings of spectacles to attract attention and avert disaster.  In some places the manuscripts are scorched, as if the musicians had perched lit cigarettes on their music.  Then there are the doodles: signs of missed vocations in the band?

3 - MS Mus. 1746-3-2, f.21 croppedDoodle, possibly by Nat Gonella, on the score of ‘The Three Trees’, of three trees and a geometric dog. MS Mus. 1746/3/2, f. 21

  4 - MS Mus. 1746-3-11, f. 11 croppedMeticulous annotation of the band-leader’s face. MS Mus. 1746/3/11, f. 11

In addition to arrangements of popular melodies, romantic numbers or nonsensical melodramas sung by members of the band, several sets of scores are Lew Stone’s original compositions.  One tune, ‘Whispering Waters’, was composed by Joyce and arranged by her husband (clarinets to play ‘liquidly’).  There are some initial drafts and sketches for songs and collaborations with lyricists, and also incidental music composed for the 1940 film ‘Under your Hat’ (directed by Maurice Elvey).  And throughout the collection Lew Stone’s own adjustments and re-adjustments appear on the scores, the proof of how finely he tuned a sound that once livened up dance-floors and the airwaves all over the country.

5 - MS Mus. 1746-3-40, f. 3 cropped Incidental music for the film ‘Under your Hat’ (1940). MS Mus. 1746/3/40, f. 3

6 - MS Mus. 1746-3-35, f. 10v cropped

The1st Alto Saxophone part of ‘Whispering Waters’, Joyce Stone’s tune, arranged by her husband (1940). MS Mus. 1746/3/35, f. 3v


Dominic Newman

Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer

The British Library always attempts to identify copyright holders in order to give proper acknowledgement when reproducing their material. Please email if you believe you hold rights connected with any of the content included in this article.

21 December 2016

It's pantomime time!

Add comment

Come Santa Claus!

The children wait for thee.

Now's the season of the year,

Held by children very dear.

Santa Claus,

Now at your call,

Comes to gladden one and all.

Horace Lennard's lyrics for the opening number of the 'fairy pantomime' Santa Claus, staged at London's Lyceum Theatre from December 1894, are quaintly (or perhaps cloyingly, depending on your taste) late Victorian. Oscar Bennett's music perhaps even more so.

Oscar Barrett Santa Claus coverSelected numbers from Oscar Barrett’s 'fairy pantomime' Santa Claus (Metzler & Co., 1895). British Library F.688.(3.), title-page

I found myself looking at it recently having recently visited the British Library's Victorian Entertainments: There will be fun exhibition (open until March 2017). A connection formed between pantomime (represented in the exhibition particularly by Dan Leno, music hall star and famous Victorian pantomime dame), and a large collection of manuscript music from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (where Leno regularly appeared).

Amongst that collection, now here at the British Library, are six boxes of music for the Santa Claus pantomime. Although the music that came from the Drury Lane theatre isn’t necessarily all from productions there, it includes a lot of material associated with the composer and theatrical producer Oscar Barrett (1847-1941). Barrett worked at the theatre as musical director for some time in the 1880s, but soon mounted rival pantomimes at the Lyceum. 

Through the 1870s, the productions of Sir Augustus Harris (both senior and junior), began a trend in pantomime towards scenic spectacle, rowdy audience participation, and star turns by music hall performers of the day such as Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd (who would often bring their own songs and routines with them). Under Barrett, the music at least seems to have become more tightly controlled and 'tasteful' (a term that crops up in a lot of the newspaper reports of these performances).

Barrett had a critical hit in 1893-4 with Cinderella, his first production at the Lyceum, which was seen by some as returning to earlier models of pantomime. Interestingly, this in turns seems to have influenced subsequent productions at Drury Lane. (Jeffrey Richards, The Golden Age of Pantomime, 2010, details the various rival productions, their mutual influences, and context in broader changing fashions for pantomime through the 19th century.)

1894-5 was the season for Santa Claus. The plot mixed Maid Marion, Robin Hood, the story of the Babes in the Wood, a dog called Tatters (a collie specifically, played by a Mr Charles Lauri), Queen Mab, and Santa Claus himself. The Bury & Norwich Post, 22 January 1895, tells us that William Rignold, who played him, was "admirably cheery" and delivered his speeches suitably "ore rotundo". Musically, it looks as though it was a similar hotchpotch, albeit one with a noticeable tendency towards certain ‘respectable’ styles (a kind of Arthur Sullivan-lite operetta one in particular). 

MS Mus 1716-65-1-sample-partSample orchestral part from MS Mus. 1716/65/1, orchestral packet 3

The manuscripts from the archive are fascinating for many reasons, but especially as testaments to a pragmatic and ephemeral world of music making – and a glimpse at the characters of the pit musicians themselves. (The most I could find about them was a brief mention of the "competent orchestra" in the Globe, 27 December 1894.)

Parts were clearly reused across different pantomimes, with various passages sometimes cut, sometimes reinstated; there are pieces of printed music by other composers (Mendelssohn at one point) that have been inserted and similarly reshaped as required.

There are also several doodles. The viola player in 'no.50 D', for example, has written 'sausage roll' and then a cryptic musical cipher!

Orchestral part for Queen of the Night MS Mus 1716-65-1Viola part for the song ‘Queen of the Night’, MS Mus. 1716/65/1,

The euphonium player for 'no.18' fancies himself a latter day van Dyck, and references the popular music hall song of the time "Where did you get that hat?"

Euphonium part Mus 1716-65-1 orchestral packet 2Euphonium part, MS Mus 1716/65/1, orchestral packet 2 

And then there is one of the second violins in 'no.21', who has left us a pencil sketch of some kind of bird. (I'd like to think it might be a turkey, but a colleague suggested it could be a goose in a bonnet ... !)

Second violin part MS Mus 1716-65-orchestral packet 2Second violin part part, MS Mus 1716/65/1, orchestral packet 2 

The ephemeral nature of this music and the kinds of productions it was used for has often left us with a sketchy and selective record of music for pantomime (and theatre productions more generally). In some cases this may not matter, but the insight into life and working practices that the surviving sources provide is fascinating. A case in point is a letter from Oscar Barrett detailing his vision for the choreography for a particular dance. A telling amendment to the score doubles the number of dancing robins for that scene from 12 to 24.

Chris Scobie - Rare Books & Music Reference Service

Notes on resources:

  • Newspaper content in this article was found via The British Newspaper Archive - also subscription based, but freely available in the British Library Reading Rooms
  • The Lord Chamberlain's Plays  contain scripts (although not music) for plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for licensing between 1824 and 1968 
  • A useful overview of 19th century pantomime can be found in Jeffrey Richards, The Golden Age of Pantomime: slapstick, subversion and spectacle in Victorian England, (London, 2010). British Library YC.2015.a.3620. ; and a collection of critical essays on the subject in Jim Davis (ed.), Victorian Pantomime, (Basingstoke, 2010). YC.2012.a.4426. 

19 December 2016

Benjamin Britten's A Boy was Born

Add comment

Among the many Benjamin Britten works within the British Library’s collection of music manuscripts are the autograph vocal parts for one of his earliest choral works, A Boy Was Born.

Available to browse in full on the Digitised Manuscripts website, A Boy was Born consists of a series of choral variations with festive subjects. The first is a dialogue between Mary and Jesus, the second tells of the massacre of the innocents, whilst the third sets the text "Jesu as Thou art our saviour". The next concerns the three kings, before moving onto a setting of Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter" and concluding with a return to the original theme.

Britten composed this work during his studies at the Royal College of Music. It proved to be the last project he completed at the College, and these parts date from the same period, 1932-33. However, it was not until over a year later on 17 December 1934 that it received its first public performance.  This took place at the Mercury Theatre under the baton of Iris Lemare.

Add_ms_59798_f001rTitle-page (with composer’s signature) from the boys’ part of A Boy Was Born, British Library Add MS 59798, folio 1 recto

This and the following images from Add MS 59798 are made available by kind permission of The Britten Estate Ltd and of Chester Music Ltd.

All publishing rights exercised.

Britten was not at all happy with the first performance. In his diary entry for 17 December, he reflected that it was ‘mostly very poor I’m afraid’, and added that he left immediately afterwards, ‘not being able to stand the strain.’ But to his surprise, A Boy Was Born immediately proved to be popular with audiences and performers alike.

In some respects, Britten's reaction was unsurprising, given that he was already known as a perfectionist even at this early stage in his career. Interestingly, the British Library’s set of parts provides further evidence of his attention to detail and tendency to revise: many of the pages feature numerous paste-downs where alterations have been made during the copying process. Although these could have been corrections of simple errors, it is significant that Britten mentions making ‘odd alterations’ to the piece with his teacher Frank Bridge in a diary entry for 11 May, 1933. Perhaps these amendments result from compositional revisions rather than from proof-reading?

Add_ms_59798_f001vPaste-down corrections (third stave from the bottom) in Variation 1 (boys’ part), Add MS 59798, folio 1 verso 

However, the general accuracy and legibility of the parts indicates that Britten intended them for performance rather than a simple run-through. The occasion was probably an earlier broadcast performance on the BBC, which was given in February. After a rehearsal at the BBC, the composer mentioned in his diary that he was impressed by the choir’s first reading: ‘They sang it excellently considering they were sight-reading it from M.S. parts (copied at 5.30 in morning!). I am very pleased & bucked.’

Add_ms_59798_f011vAn example of Britten’s clear copying in the Soprano 1 part of ‘Herod’, Add MS 59798, folio 11 verso

Perhaps most intriguing is Britten’s admission that he had found the final variation extremely difficult to complete. Both in his diary and letters he mentions his difficulties in constructing the work’s finale, and the autograph score shows many revisions and crossings out. Yet in the parts, the final movement is the only one which has no corrections at all, either as paste-downs or in pencil.


The last page of the final movement, ‘Noel’ (alto part), Add MS 59798, folio 34 verso

It is possible that Britten’s earlier agonising over this movement simply meant that he took greater care when copying the parts, or maybe that the notes were simply more present in his mind. On the other hand, it may shed some light on the young composer’s mode of working – perhaps this movement’s difficult inception meant that he felt it needed less attention and revision later on. Whatever the answers to these questions, this set of parts provide a fascinating record of one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest successes and given an insight into his working methods at the start of his career.

Isobel Clarke

Doctoral student, Royal College of Music, and PhD placement student, British Library Music Collections

16 December 2016

Music Collections acquires Vincent Novello album

Add comment

We are delighted to announce that a fascinating album has recently been added to the British Library's Music Collections, thanks to the diligent work of the Arts Council's Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

The album was compiled by Vincent Novello (1781-1861), organist and founder of the Novello music publishing house. Comprising 78 leaves, it is bound in leather with a gold-tooled harp crest on the front board and an elegant metal clasp.  It is featured in the Cultural Gift Scheme and Acceptance in lieu annual report 2015/16 (see page 70), and has now been formally added to the British Library's extensive collection of music manuscripts.

Novello-Album-front-coverThe recently-acquired Novello Album, British Library shelfmark MS Mus. 1816

The album contains autograph manuscripts by Liszt (58 bars from his Grand Galop Chromatique), Paganini (6 bars marked presto), Rossini (3 bars), Hummel (10 bars) and Mendelssohn (34 bars for an organ piece), Donizetti, as well as fragments by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. It also contains autographs of other performers, actors and artists, as well as literary figures such as Charles Dickens.

Novello-Album-folio-49-recto-MozartLeaf containing  a fragment of music in Mozart's own hand, together with a description by Vincent Novello

Vincent Novello was a major figure in London musical life in the first half of the 19th century and was well connected socially and professionally to key figures in the arts. The contents of the album reflects the importance of Novello and charts a fascinating period of British musical history. Born to an Italian family, he settled in England when he was 16 and devoted the rest of his life to furthering the cause of musical life and education in Britain. Novello’s interest in the music of previous generations meant that he built up a significant collection of music manuscripts from previous centuries. His work as an editor and publisher led to the formation of the company Novello & Co, which still exists today. Novello began compiling the album in 1829 when he and his wife journeyed to Austria to meet Mozart’s widow, Constanze, and son in Salzburg. Constanze contributed to the album herself, as did their youngest son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (known as Wolfgang Amadeus Jr), with a choral piece of his own, Die Nacht.

The album remained in the Novello family until it was consigned to auction in 1951 where it was bought by Novello & Co. Ltd. Novello & Co. was acquired by the Granada Group in 1970 and in 1989, Granada consigned the album and other Novello manuscripts for sale at auction where it was bought by the late Sir Charles Mackerras, the prominent conductor.


05 December 2016

A leaf from Mozart's grave: curiosities from British Library Music Collections

Add comment

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died 225 years today on 5 December 1791.

To mark the occasion, we’re showcasing a very unusual item from our extensive music holdings.

Found within a miscellaneous collection of letters, locks of hair, and photographs of notable musicians, is a single leaf, neatly preserved in a polyester sleeve.


Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 11: leaf gathered from Mozart’s grave on 6 April 1890

This leaf is the smallest item in our collection of music manuscripts. A note preserved with it suggests it was gathered from Mozart’s grave by one Frederick George Edwards during a trip to Vienna in  April 1890. 


Description of the leaf in Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 11

Edwards was organist of the Surrey Chapel, moving to the newly-built Christ Church, Westminster Bridge, in 1876. He transferred to St John’s Wood Presbyterian Church in 1881, where he remained as organist until 1905. He was also a notable music historian. Besides books on hymn tunes and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, he wrote articles on cathedrals and the English Bach revival for the Musical Times, some 21 entries on 19th-century musical figures for the Dictionary of National Biography, and further articles for the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary. The leaf forms part of a 13-volume collection of his papers held at the British Library.

Mozart died just before 1am on 5 December 1791. The cause of his death was registered as ‘hitziges Friesel Fieber’ or severe miliary fever (‘miliary’ referring to a rash resembling millet-seeds). It was later diagnosed as ‘rheumatische Entzündungsfieber’ (rheumatic inflammatory fever).

The common belief that Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave appears to be without foundation. Instead, in accordance with Viennese custom, he is thought to have been buried in a common grave at the St Marx cemetery outside the city of Vienna two days after his death. The term referred to an individual rather than a mass grave, belonging to a non-aristocratic citizen. The precise location of the grave is unknown.

The funeral arrangements were made by Mozart’s friend and patron Baron Gottfried van Swieten. The tale of stormy and snowy weather conditions also now appears to be false. In fact, the day was thought to have been calm and mild.