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57 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

16 March 2018

Latest Music Manuscripts available online

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 At the core of what we do at the British Library is our mission to make our collections available to the public. In line with these values there are over 300 Music Manuscripts from our collections available in high resolution on our Digitised Manuscripts Portal:
 In the past weeks we have uploaded some more, which we are proud to share here. All the manuscripts are Autograph.

Add MS 29801 - Ludwig van Beethoven, The Kafka Sketchbook (c1786-99)
 One of the most complete earlier repositories of Beethoven's Sketches, partly assembled by the composer himself. It takes its name from the Johanm Nepomuk Kafka, from whom the manuscript was purchased by the British Museum in 1875.
 Digital Version:
 Catalogue Record:

Add MS 29997 - Ludwig Van Beethoven, Sketches (early 19th century)
 Sketches of musical compositions, including C sharp minor quartet, Op. 131, 
 Digital Version: 
 Catalogue record:

Add MS 29802 -  Franz Schubert, Die Verschworenen (1823)
 Singspiel in one act with libretto by Ignaz Franz Castelli. The manuscript includes its printed pianoforte score at the end. The work was commissioned by Vienna's Hofoper in 1823, but it wouldn't be premiered until 1861 
 Digital Version: 
 Catalogue Record:

Add MS 28613 - Francis Joseph Haydn, Collection of songs  (18th-19th century).
Songs, with symphonies and accompaniments for violin, violoncello, and pianoforte, in score.
Digital Version: 
Catalogue Record:

Add MS 29803 - Cadenza by Beethoven & Canzonetta by Rossini (19th century)
Catalogue Record:
Digital Version: 


08 March 2018

International Women's Day 2018

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Women’s day is of course, every single day and not just today. However let’s take this opportunity to briefly mention only a few of the many many great women composers represented in our Music Collections. 


Ethel Smyth (b. 1858, d.1944) was an English composer and one of the leading figures of the Suffragette Movement. Against the wishes of her father, she went to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. Smyth composed in a wide range of formats: symphonies, operas, choral and chamber works. Her second opera Der Wald (1899–1901), whose manuscript is shown below, was premiered in 1902 in Berlin. The following year it was performed at the New York’s Met, remaining until 2016 the only opera by a woman to be staged there.

In 1910 Ethel Smyth put her music career aside to concentrate fully on the Suffragette Movement, spending two months in prison in 1912 for breaking the window of a politician that opposed women’s suffrage. Her composition The March of the Women became the anthem of women's suffrage movement.

Add MS 45938 aSmyth, Ethel (1902), Der Wald. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 45938 

Francesca Caccini (b. 1587 ,d. 1641) was an Italian composer, singer, music teacher and poet. Her opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina (c. 1625) was not only the first opera to be written by a woman, but it is also thought to have been the first opera to be staged outside of Italy. Pictured is the first edition, printed in Florence in 1625.

K.8.g.17. bCaccini, Francesca(1625). La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'Isola d'Alcina Firenze: Pietro Cecconcelli. British Library K.8.g.17.

Thea Musgrave (b.1928) is a Scottish-American composer whose career spans seventy years. She has written both vocal music (especially operas) and instrumental pieces. Her works are performed in major concert halls, festivals, and broadcast on the radio both in Europe and America.

Thea Musgrave studied composition with Hans Gal and Nadia Boulangier, among others. In 1970 she became a guest professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and has resided in the United States ever since. In 2008 the British Library acquired her archive and continues to acquire subsequent papers as they are completed.

MusgraveThea Musgrave Archive at the British Library.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (b.1665, d.1729) was French harpsichordist and composer. She was a child prodigy and played for Louis XIV at the age of five. Then she was accepted into the French court where she continued her musical studies before becoming a well known composer.

The item below is a 1644 edition of CĂ©phale et Procris, an opera in five acts taken from the myth which appears in in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was staged  in 1694 at the AcadĂ©mie Royale de Musique, a first for a French woman composer.

I.298.a. 3Jacquet de La Guerre, Elisabeth-Claude. (1644). Cephale et Procris, tragedie mise en musique. Paris: Christophe Ballard. British Library I.298.a.

British composer and violinist Ethel Barns (b. 1874 d.1948) studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Emile Sauret. In 1911 the Society of Women Musicians was conformed and she served on its first council.

Among her compositions is included her Violin Concerto, for which the manuscript of a piano and violin arrangement is at the British Library. The full orchestra concerto was performed in 1907 at a Promenade Concert with herself as the soloist.

Add MS 63058 aBarns, Ethel (1904) Violin Concerto, reduction for piano and violin Manuscript. British Library Add MS 65038

The Benedictine abbess, writer, philosopher, composer (and of course, Saint) Hildegard de Bingen (b.1098, d.1179) was one of the most fascinating and multifaceted personalities of the High Middle Ages.

One of her musical compositions, the Ordo Virtutum (c.1511) is a 'morality play' which eschews biblical stories for the allegorical struggle of the human soul. This 1487 manuscript in our collection is a copy of this work, said to have been taken directly from a Manuscript in the hand of St Hildegard.

Add MS 15102 207pSaint Hildegard (1487), Liber Epistolarum Manuscript Copy. British Library Add MS 15102 

Rebecca Clarke (b. 1886, d. 1979) was a British composer and violist best known for her chamber music works. She is considered one of the most important interwar female composers. Her setting of the motet Ave Maria, for unaccompanied women’s voices, was her first published choral work and its manuscript is in our music collections.

MS Mus.1694A 2Clarke, Rebecca (1937?) ‘Ave Maria’, for unaccompanied women’s voices. Autograph Manuscript. British Library MS Mus. 1694 A 

Germaine Tailleferre (b. 1892, d. 1983) was born Germaine Tailefesse although she changed her name as a young woman in defiance of her father, who was against her musical studies. She was a pupil of Ravel and became part of the denominated Group des six French modernist composers along Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud and Georges Auric.

The Royal Philharmonic Society Archive includes a manuscript copy with annotations by Tailleffere of the soprano vocal part of the The Cantate du Narcisse (1938), for soprano and baritone soloists, women’s chorus and orchestra. Unlike the Greek myth this work shows Narcissus insensitive to the charm of nymphs and lovers of his only reflection. The nymphs end up putting him to death.

RPS MS 236 aTailleferre, Germaine. Cantate du Narcisse. Manuscript copy with autograph annotations. British Library RPS MS 236 

English composer Elisabeth Lutyens (b. 1906, d.1983) began her musical studies in 1922 at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, before accompanying her mother to India in 1923. Upon returning she studied with John Foulds and later continued her musical education from 1926 to 1930 at the Royal College of Music. Lutyens is credited to have brought the serial technique of Schoenberg the UK , although through a very particular personal interpretation.

The extensive catalogue of his work includes compositions in various fields: pieces for solo instrument, chamber music (including thirteen string quartets), works for orchestra and for the stage. She also wrote the music of twenty-two films, many of which for the Hammer Production Company. The British Library holds an important collection of her manuscripts, among which is the soundtrack for the horror film The Skull (1965).

Add MS 64762 bLutyens, Elisabeth (1965). The Skull. Autograph Manuscript. British Library Add MS 64762-64764

02 March 2018

A few steps (and mis-steps) in the early years of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

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Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D op 61 is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the violin repertoire: a rite of passage for all violinists against which they measure their maturity as musicians. But the early life of the work was rather chequered, both before and after its premiere. Let’s have a brief overview to understand more:

Beethoven 1808 detailJoseph Willibrord MĂ€hler (1804-1805), Portrait of Ludwig Van Beethoven (detail). Beethoven Pasqualatihaus, Vienna

 In early 19th century Vienna, public performances of music looked very different. They were usually considerably longer than what we are used to today, often with more than one session featuring many works in each. For instance, on 22 December 1808 Beethoven premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, his Fourth Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy
 and that was just half of the programme! 

Untitled+These types of performances were mostly single events like charity or benefit concerts organised by a musician to raise funds for his upkeep. A Great Musical Academy was then announced for 23 December 1806 for the benefit of the virtuoso violinist Franz Clement. This was the occasion on which Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was premiered.

The Violin Concerto shares that particular characteristic with other chef d’oeuvres in the sense that it was not appreciated as a masterpiece during the composer’s lifetime. A few weeks after the performance, the critic Johann Nepomuk Möse wrote on the Wiener Zeitung:

“With regard to Beethofen’s [sic] concerto, the opinion of all connoisseurs is the same: while they acknowledge that it contains some fine things, they agree that the continuity often seems to be completely disrupted, and that the endless repetitions of a few commonplace passages could easily lead to weariness. It is being said that Beethofen ought to make better use of his admittedly great talents....”1 

One of the reasons that could explain this kind of reception lies in the process of composition, whose circumstances were far from ideal. This was perhaps reflected in the performance. Carl Czerny, a friend of the composer and celebrated musician himself, recounts that Beethoven finished the work barely two days before its premiere2. If this was the case the musicians wouldn’t have had enough time to prepare.

The myth tells us that Franz Clement, as the soloist, had to sight read his part during the premiere. Although this could have been partially true, particularly in the later passages of the concerto, in reality Clement would have seen much of the violin part before the concert, acting perhaps as an advisor to Beethoven. Another doubtful detail of the story says that Clement interrupted the performance of the Concerto between movements to show off his virtuoso skills. His motivation for this would have been to prove what he was capable of when able to rehearse a piece. As we can see above in the poster for the premiere this had been previously included in the programme, albeit with the same intention, as a ‘Sonata on a single string played with the violin upside down’.

A  f1Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61 Autograph Manuscript.. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538

Only in November 1806, a few weeks before the premiere, did Beethoven start the first full scale writing down of the work in his autograph manuscript, which is part of the Music Collections of the Austrian National Library. There is a digital version which can be seen in full on their website.

The dedication to Clement contains a humorous pun pleading the violinist to show his clemency to the composer. Particularly in the last movement, we find signs of how hurried the creation of this masterpiece was.

A f104vBeethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f 104v. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538

The violin part was written six staves from the bottom, under which we have the cellos (when they are not playing ‘col bassi’) and the double basses. The last three staves are left blank but interestingly in several passages they show alternative melodies for the violin. The variants in darker ink in seem to have been added after the premiere.

A 122 with notesBeethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f.122. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538

What was the immediate cause for these revisions? At least in part they were carried out because of a music publisher from London, eager to publish some of Beethoven works, took a somewhat tangential interest in the Violin Concerto.

Muzio Clementi g.323  frontispieceClementi, M. (1830). Gradus ad Parnassum Op. 44. Frontispiece.  British Library g.323. 

The Italian-born English composer, pianist and music publisher Muzio Clementi met Beethoven in 1807 as a partner of the firm Clementi, Banger, Collard, Davis & Collard.  He managed to obtain the English publishing rights of six works, among which was the Violin Concerto. Clementi was probably aware of its frosty reception the previous year and wanting to reap its commercial potential asked Beethoven to create a piano version. The composer obliged and an agreement was signed in April 1807.

Autograph manuscripts are often too messy for engravers to use as a reference against which to prepare the plates that produce a printed score. For that matter a copyist is employed to transcribe the work by hand from the original to a more legible document. We call this a manuscript copy. One such manuscript was prepared in mid-July 1807 for the first printed edition. The resulting document is held in the British Library, coming into our Music Collections almost 65 years ago as part of the Meyerstein Bequest. For the sake of clarity we’ll adopt Alan Tyson’s terminology and call this manuscript the ‘Meyerstein Copy’ from now on.

 A f104 barsRondo, bars 77-82. Beethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, f 104. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538

Add_ms_47851_f086v barsBeethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. Manuscript Copy. f86v British Library Add MS 47851

After it was completed, the Meyerstein Copy was returned to Beethoven who added corrections, mainly in pencil which were subsequently inked over by the engraver. There are several additions by Beethoven in characteristically Red Rottel, however not all of these are in the composer’s hand.  Almost exclusively these rectifications concern expression, dynamics, phrasing and accidentals. No notes are modified by Beethoven. This makes evident that between both manuscripts there was at least one more document where both the solo violin (especially for the first and third movements) and its piano transcription took their final form. Since this document hasn’t survived the Meyerstein copy has the significant value of being the primary source for the solo parts of one of the most highly regarded Violin Concertos.

  MakrsBeethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, ff.43,16v. Add MS 47851

Beethoven’s skills at the piano are beyond dispute, but whether he was skilled at the violin is not well documented. As proposed above, it is plausible that a violinist would have advised him during the composition of the Violin Concerto. In the Meyerstein Copy there are signs of a similar collaboration. Franz Clement is, of course, a possible candidate. However, at the end of the Meyerstein Copy we find the message in French (not in Beethoven’s hand) “Pössinger Pressant [Urgent]”, perhaps a clue that the violinist and personal friend Franz Alexander Pössinger was also involved in these revisions.

Add_ms_47851_f120v possinger pressant +Beethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, f.120v. Add MS 47851

A clear instance of a violinist’s advice in the final form of the solo part is evident on several long slurs –seemingly unplayable- which appear in the autograph manuscript. In the Meyerstein Copy these have been split into bar-long segments.

  A f11 slursBeethoven, L. (1806) Violin Concerto op 61. Autograph Manuscript, ff. 11,11v. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Mus.Hs.17538

Add_ms_47851_f033v slurs aBeethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, f.33. Add MS 47851

It is through the composer’s association with another violinist, George Bridgetower, that the British Library Music Collections holds one of its most fascinating items: Beethoven’s tuning fork. You can read more about it in another post of this blog.

G70094-31Beethoven’s tuning fork, Add MS 71148 A

The business relationship with Clementi’s firm wasn’t the best: Beethoven didn’t receive payment for almost two years. War in Europe was partly to blame. The Violin Concerto and its piano arrangement were instead printed first by the Viennese publisher Bureau des Arts et de l'Industrie in about August 1807.

One of the signs that the Meyerstein copy was used as the Stichvorlage (engraver’s copy) are the brackets in red crayon (not by Beethoven) that appear throughout the score. These mark the page ends of the printed parts of the first edition:

Add_ms_47851_f081v detailThe Pianoforte staves with a number 23 bracket. Beethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, f.81v. Add MS 47851

23+Viennese first edition (piano arrangement). Beethoven, L, (1807) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. Piano part, p.23 Hirsch IV.301

A few mistakes that survived from the Meyerstein Copy through to the first edition provide evidence of the direct relationship between these documents. They also show that Beethoven and his collaborators weren’t the most diligent proof readers.

In bar 301 of the allegro, Beethoven adds the marking “Espressivo”. However the writing is not clear and the engraver understood sempre fortissimo, which is what was published in the first printed editions

Add_ms_47851_f035r espressivo+The Pianoforte and Violin staves with the expression mark espressivo. Beethoven, L. (1807) Violin Concerto op 61. Meyerstein Copy, f.35. Add MS 47851

IMG_0007+Viennese first edition (piano arrangement). Beethoven, L, (1807) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. Piano part, p.11. Hirsch IV.301

 A 1822 reprint of the Vienna first edition shows the mistake corrected. The image featured below is taken from a rather special score that belonged to Ferdinand David. He was a violinist who worked with Felix Mendelssohn in the composition of his Violin Concerto. There are numerous bowing and fingering indications annotated in his handwriting throughout the score, reflecting performance practice of the mid-nineteenth century.

CEspressivo mark on the 8th staff. Beethoven, L. (1827) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. First Violin part, p 6. British Library Tyson P.M.46.(1.)

Another instance of not-so-careful proofreading appears in the second violin part of the first edition. If we look closely there is a 5/4 bar! Can you find it?

IMG_0002+Viennese first edition (piano arrangement). Beethoven, L, (1807) Violin Concerto in D op. 61. Second Violin part, p.2. Hirsch IV.301

The Violin Concerto remained in relative obscurity until a crucial performance took place during the Philharmonic Society Concert on the 27 May 1844 in the Hanover Square Rooms in London, with the 13-year-old virtuoso Joseph Joachim making his debut as the soloist. The orchestra was conducted by no other than Felix Mendelssohn himself, who composed his own Violin Concerto in E minor op.64 shortly after his return from London.

23jun43Illustrated London News, 23 June 1843. British Library P.P.7611.

By 1844, musical tastes had changed and audiences were more receptive to the scale and melodic qualities of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The tremendous success of Joachim’s performance steered the piece into the musical repertoire, helping it to be recognised as the masterpiece we consider it to be today.



Many thanks to Andrea Harrandt  and Peter Prokop from the Austrian National Library for kindly granting us permission to feature images from the autograph manuscript on this blog post.


1. Wiener Theater-Zeitung, 8 January 1807
       2. Carl Czerny, Pianoforte-Schule op.500, Part IV, p117

       1. Autograph Manuscript: Musiksammlung, Austrian National Library (Vienna) Shelfmark Hs.17538
                Available online:
       2. Meyerstein Copy: British Library Shelfmark Add MS 47851
                Available online: 

  1. Viennese first edition (Piano arrangement): British Library Shelfmark Hirsch IV.301
  2. London first edition (Orchestral parts only): British Library Shelfmark 383.a.(1.)

    Tyson, A. (1962). The Text of Beethoven's Op. 61. Music & Letters, 43(2), 104-114. London : Oxford University Press British Library Shelfmark
    Beethoven, L.; Clarke, R (ed) (2007). Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major = D-Dur : Op. 61 / London: Eulenburg. British Library Shelfmark:  D.856.j./30
    Beethoven, L, & Del Mar, J (ed). (2010). Konzert in D fĂŒr Klavier und Orchester : Nach dem op. 61. Kassel: BĂ€renreiter. British Library Shelfmark h.383.vv./1-3
    Stowell, R. (1998). Beethoven: Violin concerto (Cambridge music handbooks). Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. British Library Shelfmark YC.1999.a.2995 

28 July 2017

Digitised Music Manuscripts Summer 2017

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Since our post last spring summarising digitised materials from our music manuscripts collection, we’ve been busy adding to this content.

From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.

At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 335 music manuscripts on the site. Additional content is added regularly.

Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Lansdowne MS 763. Dating from the fifteenth century and written on vellum, this is a collection of music treatises by various authors.

Lansdowne MS 763

For a full list of what is currently available, please see this file: Download PDF of BL digitised music manuscripts summer 2017.

This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download spreadsheet of BL digitised music manuscripts summer 2017.


27 May 2017

Musgrave at 89

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Today (27 May 2017) is the eighty-ninth birthday of the Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave, born in Barnton, Midlothian, but, since the mid-1970s, resident in the USA. Following a major purchase in 2009, with assistance from the Eccles Centre for American Studies, the British Library has the world’s largest institutional collection of Musgrave archival papers, which include music manuscripts, programmes, correspondence, and photographs.

Musgrave studied at the University of Edinburgh, enrolling initially as a medical student, before switching to study music, under Hans Gál and Mary Grierson. An important influence during that time was the legacy of one of Edinburgh’s former Reid Professors of Music, Donald Francis Tovey: Musgrave says she “read absolutely every word of Donald Francis Tovey”. After graduating from Edinburgh in 1950, having won its Tovey Memorial Prize, Musgrave moved to Paris to study with the celebrated pedagogue Nadia Boulanger.

It is from these Paris years (1950–1954) that the earliest material in the collection originates: the manuscript for a set of five songs to poetry by Ezra Pound and Louis Macneice, premiĂšred at the Cercle de l’Union InteralliĂ© in Paris, on 16 May 1951, with Musgrave herself as the pianist and Doda Conrad as the baritone. Although Musgrave does not use opus-numbers (with the exception of her Divertimento for string orchestra, op.15), she refers to this set informally as her opus one.

01_paris1Front cover of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l’Union InteralliĂ© on 16 May 1951

02_paris2Inside of the programme for a concert at the Cercle de l'Union InteralliĂ© on 16 May 1951. The Musgrave songs are listed as the sixth item (the items are demarcated by Roman numerals). In this programme, the make of the pianoforte (in this case, a Pleyel) is specified.

03_5-songs_contents-pContents-page of the autograph manuscript for the set of five songs to poems by Pound and Macneice (misspelt as "Macniece"). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

The programme has some evident typographical errors, misspelling Macneice (as “Macniece”) and ‘An Immorality’ (as “An Immortality”). More interesting, however, is a discrepancy in the syntax: when compared with the manuscript, ‘An Immorality’ and ‘The return’ have been swapped. Meanwhile, the title of the concert, “jeunes compositeurs et vieux maütres anglais”, characterises Musgrave as an English composer — this is probably an erroneous conflation of English and British, rather than a belief that Musgrave were English.

Among the other performers in the concert was the pianist Luise Vosgerchian, who, although not involved in performing Musgrave on this occasion, was the dedicatee of a subsequent Musgrave composition, the first pianoforte sonata, completed in January 1952. The British Library has the fair copy for this work, which is withdrawn.

04_withdrawn-sonataTitle and dedication from the fair copy of the first pianoforte sonata (withdrawn). Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Musgrave also withdrew three of the five songs in the aforementioned set, resulting in a pair of songs, both settings of Ezra Pound.

05_2-songs_title-pTitle-page of the fair copy of the two songs, both to texts by Pound, not withdrawn from the set of five songs. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Whatever Musgrave’s reasons for this partial withdrawal, the manuscript is a fascinating record of an early case of Musgrave’s wont for collecting texts from more than one author in a single song-cycle — this approach of text-setting as anthology becomes more pronounced in several of her later vocal and choral works, the most recent of which is The Voices of Our Ancestors, which was premiùred, in London, on 9 July 2015.

Following her studies with Boulanger, during which she was awarded the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize, Musgrave returned to the UK, where she was in demand not only as a composer, but also as a pianist, lecturer, and, in due course, conductor of her own work. From the late-1950s, Chester Music was her publisher, until she moved to Novello in the mid-1970s.

Yet, a number of her subsequent works remain unpublished. Of the unpublished works represented in the collection, a suitably festive example is her contribution to a set of variations on Happy Birthday.

06_walton-festschrift_title-pageTitle-page of the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

07_walton-festschrift_p1First page of music in the fair copy of Musgrave's variation on Happy Birthday, written as part of a set to celebrate the seventieth birthday of William Walton. Copyright (c) Thea Musgrave, Chester Music Ltd, and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

Musgrave’s “variation in one minute” is third in the set, with the other composers being Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Arnold, Nicholas Maw, Robert Simpson, and Peter Maxwell Davies (the latter's contribution now housed in the British Library as Add MS 71323). The set was premiĂšred by the London Symphony Orchestra on 28 March 1972, the day before William Walton’s seventieth birthday, in the Royal Festival Hall. A recording is available in the British Library’s Sound Archive, at shelfmark C1398/0775.

Although the Musgrave collection does not include the programme for this concert, there are hundreds of other programmes relating to Musgrave — some were collected by her, and many more were sent to her by performers, promoters, and friends. These document the significant influence and reach of Musgrave’s oeuvre in various continents, and not just in the English-speaking world.

For example, in 1988, Musgrave and her husband, Peter Mark, visited Jerusalem for a tour in which each of them conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Musgrave’s concert comprised four of her own compositions from various points in her career to date, cumulatively spanning a period of twenty-three years. Conveniently, the programme is bilingual:

08_jerusalem1A page, in Hebrew, from a programme for a concert of Musgrave orchestral works in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem on 27 March 1988, performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Musgrave.

09_jerusalem2The corresponding page in English from the same programme.

Not all programmes have a translation into English so readily available. In respect of the world premiĂšre of Orfeo III, which took place in Moscow on 9 October 1993, Musgrave annotated the programme with a translation of the key information.

10_moscowProgramme for a concert in the Rachmaninoff Hall, Moscow State Conservatoire on 9 October 1993, featuring the world premiĂšre of Musgrave's /Orfeo III/, performed by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Musgrave was not present at the concert, but has annotated the programme with an outline translation. Annotations copyright (c) Thea Musgrave and Novello & Co Ltd; reproduced by kind permission of the same.

As the numeral suggests, Orfeo III, scored for flute and string quintet, is a transcription based on two earlier compositions. This transcription was written for Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. Here, Musgrave is presented as an American composer, sharing the programme with Thomas Whitman, Gerald Levinson, and Richard Wernick. By 1993, Musgrave had been permanently resident in the USA for almost two decades.

This performance in Russia is by no means the only case of Musgrave’s compositions touring continental Europe. Indeed, some of her works have received greater attention on the continent than in the UK, her country of birth. Indeed, Musgrave’s opera Simón Bolívar, completed in 1992, received its European premiùre in Regensburg on 7 April 1995, and has yet to be performed in full in the UK.

11_regensburgFront cover of programme for the first European production of Musgrave's opera SimĂłn BolĂ­var, at the StĂ€dtische BĂŒhnen Regensburg in April 1995.


Sasha Millwood, Doctoral Researcher (Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Partnership), Music Collections, British Library, and University of Glasgow 

24 May 2017

Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017

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From Byrd to Britten and Monteverdi to Mozart, a wealth of British Library music manuscripts are available to browse, free-of-charge, on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

My Ladye Nevells Books MS Mus 1591

MS Mus. 1591, My Layde Nevells Booke (1591)

At the time of writing, you can view no fewer than 323 music manuscripts on the site. For a full list of what is currently available in PDF format, please see this file: Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.

This is also available in the form of a spreadsheet (although this format cannot be downloaded on all web browsers): Download BL Digitised Music Manuscripts Spring 2017.

Additional content is added regularly. Our last digitised manuscript, published just a few days ago, was Additional MS 29996. Dating from the seventeenth century, this is a collection of motets, madrigals and fancies, by Thomas Tomkins and others, interspersed with political verses, satires, recipes.

Add MS 29996

Additional MS 29996: a recently-digitised music manuscript, including works by Thomas Tomkins 

If you are looking for something more specific, why not consult our blog posts on the material we’ve digitised relating to Handel, Mozart, Purcell and Wagner. For more general advice on using the site, we highly recommend this blog post.

We'll be posting updated versions of these lists quarterly, so be sure to check the blog again in a few months time for an updated edition. In the meantime, to get the latest news about our digitisation projects, acquisitions and events, please follow us on Twitter: @BL_Music_Colls

15 May 2017

Monteverdi 450

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This year sees the 450th anniversary of the birth of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. This milestone is currently being commemorated, among a wide range of celebrations, with a series of performances by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Although we do not know the exact date of Monteverdi’s birth, his baptism was recorded at the Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso in Cremona on this day (15 May) in 1567.

The British Library’s printed music collections contain extensive Monteverdi holdings, with many editions of the composer’s works which were published in his own lifetime: these include various parts of first or early editions of his madrigal books (B.252.a, Hirsch III.942, D.195.a, D.195.b), as well as an early edition of his opera Orfeo (R.M.15.c.6).

Perhaps the Library’s greatest Monteverdi treasure is a letter written by the composer in 1627 (MS Mus.1707). This was acquired from the private collection of the late Albi Rosenthal in 2009. Monteverdi wrote the letter to Ferrarese nobleman Enzo Bentivoglio, who was in the process of organising the celebrations for the wedding of Odoardo Farnese and Margherita de’ Medici, and had commissioned Monteverdi to write a set of five intermedi for the marital celebrations in Parma.


Ms_mus._1707_f002v_signatureMonteverdi letter, 1627: opening and signature (British Library MS Mus. 1707)

Sadly, the five intermedi are not known to have survived; however, the letter remains a useful indicator of the commission, as well as an interesting testament to Monteverdi’s characteristically adventurous musical practices. In the letter, he discusses possibilities for musical representations in the intermedi of the Greek goddess Discord. He suggests that Discord’s part should be recited in an inharmonious voice (‘recitar in voce et non in armonia’) and not be built on instrumental harmony (‘appoggiato sopra ad armonia alcuna di ustrimenti perĂČ’): these suggestions could variously be interpreted to mean that the voice be in some way tuneless and dissonant, not accompanied by instruments, or even performed in some sort of half-spoken manner.

Monteverdi was, of course, well-versed in the use of dissonance for dramatic or textually-symbolic purposes. After attracting criticism for supposedly improper use of dissonance, he famously began a defence of the composer’s right to harmonic discretion in his fifth book of madrigals. The text is preserved, among other places, in an extremely rare first edition of the Quinto Libro in the British Library's music collections (D.195.a.), dating from 1605.


D_195_a_Al_LettoreMonteverdi's Quinto Libro (Venice, 1605): frontispiece and Al Lettore (British Library D.195.a)

The British Library’s Monteverdi letter also has indications of a more personal discord in the composer’s own life; indeed, he mentions an accident or misfortune (‘acidente’) which had recently interrupted his compositional activity. Musicologist Denis Stevens interpreted this as a reference to the imprisonment of Monteverdi’s younger son, Massimiliano, who had been arrested by the Roman Inquisition for reading a forbidden book. While we don’t know which text got Massimiliano into trouble, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum lists what was forbidden at the time; Massimilano, who is known to have had interests in astrology, might well have been reading the particularly controversial books about helio-centrism by authors such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei, and he was clearly a source of grave concern for his father at this time.

James Ritzema. Collaborative PhD student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and British Library

11 April 2017

New folk-dance arrangements discovered

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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.