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Introduction

We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

01 September 2021

Digitised music manuscripts update

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Following our recent blog post about newly digitised material from the Royal Music Library, we thought it might be useful to provide an updated list of all the digitised music manuscripts now available online, which you can download via this link: Download British-library-digitised-music-manuscripts-online September 2021

Over the years we have digitised high-profile treasures such as music manuscripts from the Stefan Zweig collection, 97 volumes of Handel autographs, and many by other famous names such as Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. There are also many other early sources for instrumental and vocal music to explore, digitised either as part of research projects or for preservation purposes. These include some key 16th- and 17th-century sources of keyboard music, such as the Mulliner book (Add MS 30513), the ‘Cosyn’ (R.M.23.l.4) and ‘Forster’ (R.M.24.d.3) virginal books, as well as that of Elizabeth Rogers (Add MS 10337). 

Table of contents from the virginal book of Elizabeth Rogers
The table of contents from the virginal book of Elizabeth Rogers, dated February 27 1656. British Library, Add MS 10337, f. 1v.

The most recent images to have be published on Digitised Manuscripts include a number of vocal partbooks that formed part of the Tudor Partbooks project. These six sets of partbooks (Royal Appendix MS 12-16; Royal Appendix MS 17-22; Royal Appendix MS 23-25; Royal Appendix MS 26-30; Royal Appendix MS 31-35; and Royal Appendix MS 49-54) join other partbooks of a similar period, such as those known by the names of previous owners: ‘Hamond’ (Add MS 30480-4), ‘Gyffard’ (Add MS 17802-5) and ‘Lumley’ (Royal Appendix MS 74-76). Images and more detailed information about these can also be found on the DIAMM website (Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music) website.

The last owner’s name mentioned above, John (Lord) Lumley (c. 1533-1609), also owned the six sets of partbooks now available online, as we can see from the ownership marks inside.

Ownership mark of Lord Lumley
The ownership mark of Lord Lumley in Royal Appendix MS 13, f. iv-r

Lumley is perhaps now best known for his immense collection of books, the largest private library in England at the time. A lot of it came from the collection formed by his father-in-law, Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel. The Earl of Arundel was a prominent Catholic figure in England through much of the Tudor age, having held influential positions at the courts of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and, for a time, Elizabeth I. His collection contained some notable music manuscripts and publications, including works dedicated to him and pieces collected on his travels around mainland Europe. Accounts also survive of music making at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, which had been sold to the Earl of Arundel by Mary I. Lavish court entertainments are the most vividly described events, but the Palace’s chapel will have been the site of more regular music making, perhaps using the partbooks described above.

A page from the cantus part of ‘Christus factus est’ from a set of partbooks associated with the Flemish composer Derick Gerarde
Cantus part of ‘Christus factus est’ from a set of partbooks associated with the Flemish composer Derick Gerarde. Royal Appendix MS 31, f. 1r

Some of these sets of partbooks are especially interesting because they preserve repertoire from a particularly turbulent period of religious change. Royal Appendix MS 12-16, for example, contain polyphonic liturgical music from pre-Reformation England, while Royal Appendix MS 74-76 (the ‘Lumley’ partbooks) are among the earliest sources for church music of the Reformation itself. For various reasons – be it deliberate destruction or perceived obsolescence – relatively few comparable examples survive. The ‘Lumley’ partbooks show us one reason why some things may have been kept even after their original use became superseded: at some point the books of sacred music were repurposed as instrumental parts for secular pieces.

Instrumental parts for an ‘Allemand d’amour’, at the back of a triplex part book.
Instrumental parts for an ‘Allemand d’amour’, at the back of a triplex part book. Royal Appendix MS 74, f. 44r.

After Lord Lumley’s death in 1609 his collection entered the Royal library (see http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/TourRoyalStuart.asp for more information), which eventually became part of the British Museum’s collections when it was presented to the nation by George II in 1757. It is perhaps worth pointing out that, slightly confusingly, this Royal library is a separate one to the Royal Music Library that was given to the British Museum in 1957, having been on loan for several decades before that (see https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/royal-music-library for more information).

Of the other digitised material to have been recently published, there are also various treatises including some of those from the collection of John Hawkins (Add MS 4920; Add MS 4922); more sources of 16th- and 17th-century music – including keyboard pieces by Frescobaldi (Add MS 40080), tunes and dances arranged for lute (Egerton MS 2046); violin and bass music by William Lawes (Add MS 17798) and, continuing the royal theme, a book of instrumental fantasias by Giovanni Coperario/John Cooper, music master to the children of James I (Add MS 23779). 

References:

Charles W. Warren: ‘The Music of Royal Appendix 12-16’, Music & Letters, vol. 51, no. 4 (October 1970), pp. 357-372.

Charles W. Warren: ‘Music at Nonesuch’, The Musical Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 1 (January 1968), pp. 47-57.

Judith Blezzard: ‘The Lumley Books: A Collection of Tudor Church Music’, The Musical Times, vol.112, no. 1536 (February 1971), pp. 128-130.

John Milsom: ‘The Nonsuch Music Library’ in Sundry Sorts of Music Books: Essays on the British Library Collections Presented to O. W. Neighbour on his 70th Birthday, edited by Chris Banks, Arthur Searle, and Malcolm Turner (London: The British Library, 1993), pp. 146-82. 

Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts

25 August 2021

Important information for email subscribers

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Unfortunately, the third-party platform that the British Library uses for email notifications for our blogs is making changes to its infrastructure. This means that from August 2021 we anticipate that email notifications will no longer be sent to subscribers (although the provider has been unable to specify when exactly these will cease).

To find out when new blog posts are published we recommend following us on Twitter @BL_Music_Colls or checking the Music Blog homepage on the British Library website where all our blogs are listed.

We want to assure you that we are actively looking into this issue and working to implement a solution which will continue your email notifications. However, we do not know whether you will continue to receive notifications about new posts before we are able to implement this. We promise to update the blog with further information as soon as we have it. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we resolve this matter.

We appreciate this is inconvenient and know many people are not on social media and have no intention of being so. Many rely on email notifications and may miss out without them. As soon as we have been able to implement a new solution we will post about it here. Thank you for bearing with us.

04 August 2021

Digitised Manuscripts from the Royal Music Library

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In the last year we digitised nearly 40 manuscript volumes from the Royal Music Library, including autographs by Agostino Steffani, J.C. Bach, Alessandro Scarlatti, and other composers.

Among the manuscripts digitised are 24 volumes with works by Agostino Steffani (1654-1728), who served as Kapellmeister and diplomat at the court of Duke Ernst August of Hanover from 1688 until 1703. The manuscripts in the Royal Music Library, some of which are in his own hand, are thought to have been brought from Hanover to England by King George I. They include numerous volumes with Steffani's chamber duets and operas, which survive in their original bindings.

The binding of volume X of Agostino Steffani’s 13-volume set of vocal duets The opening of the duet ‘Gia tu parti’ in Steffani’s own hand

The original leather binding of volume X of Agostino Steffani’s 13-volume set of vocal duets, and folio 59r with the opening of the duet ‘Gia tu parti’ in Steffani’s own hand. British Library R.M.23.k.18.

Original binding of Agostino Steffani’s opera La superbia d’Alessandro
The volume with the 1st Act of Agostino Steffani’s opera La superbia d’Alessandro (1691) in its original leather binding. British Library R.M.23.f.12.

All surviving volumes of Steffani’s 13-volume set of vocal duets at R.M.23.k.13-20 have now been digitised, with volumes R.M.23.k.16-20 available to view via our Archives and Manuscripts catalogue and Universal Viewer. The operas by Steffani that have been digitised include the Hanoverian operas La Superbia d’Alessandro, Orlando Generoso and Henrico Leone (the latter is available to view on our Digitised Manuscripts portal).

Other manuscripts that were digitised include autographs by Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), music master to Queen Charlotte from 1763 to 1782, including his 3-act opera Artaserse from 1761 (R.M.22.a.18-20), and two Te Deum in D major (R.M.22.a.14, R.M.22.a.15) and Magnificat in C major  (R.M.22.a.11 and R.M.22.a.13).

Opening page of J.C. Bach’s Magnificat in C major in the composer’s hand
Opening page of J.C. Bach’s Magnificat in C major in the composer’s hand. British Library R.M.22.a.13, f.1v.

Also digitised is a volume with 12 autograph symphonies by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) (R.M.21.b.14).

Opening page of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Sinfonia Prima
Opening page of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Sinfonia Prima & Concerto grosso con due flauti. British Library R.M.21.b.14, f.1r.

Other highlights include autographs by Francesco Bianchi (1752-1810), and François Hippolyte Barthélémon (1741-1808), the opera Semiramide by Francesco Araja (1709-1770), and volumes with operatic arias and duets by Steffani, Pietro Torri (1650-1737), and Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739).

Title page of Francesco Araja’s opera Semiramide riconosciuta
Title page of Francesco Araja’s opera Semiramide riconosciuta stating his position as 'Maestro di Capella' at the court of Empress Anna Iovanovna at St. Petersburg in 1737.
The volume is preserved in its original velvet binding and with the note ‘this volume belongs to the Queen 1788’ on the flyleaf which we find marked on a number of volumes in the Royal Music Library that belonged to Queen Charlotte. British Library R.M.22.a.6.

Alongside the digitised autograph Handel manuscripts in the Royal Music Library, the digitisation of these volumes is helping to highlight examples of well-represented composers in this collection and their autograph manuscripts, and also preserve manuscripts that survive in their original, and quite often fragile bindings.