Music blog

3 posts from December 2021

20 December 2021

Beethoven at the British Library – a list of online resources

Our Beethoven exhibition draws on the British Library’s rich collection of Beethoven material to reflect on the composer’s creativity, his struggles, and the impact and legacy that he has left to future generations. This is a rare opportunity for visitors to see a wide range of Beethoven material together and up close.

To mark the occasion, this blog post draws together all the digitised Beethoven sources that are freely available via the British Library website.

Inside the Beethoven exhibition at the British Library. Photography by Justine Trickett
Inside the Beethoven exhibition at the British Library. Credit: Justine Trickett

Autograph scores and sketches

Central to the exhibition, and the British Library’s Beethoven collections, are the autograph scores and sketches for works from across the composer’s life. These include collections of miscellaneous loose pages, later bound together, as in the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany (named after a previous owner, Johann Nepomuk Kafka, 1819-1886) which includes a draft for an early symphonic movement in C minor.

Draft for an early symphony in C minor
Draft for an early symphony in C minor. British Library Add MS 29801, f. 70v.

There are also examples of the bound sketchbooks that Beethoven used from 1798 onwards, mostly dedicated to specific works, such as the one for The Ruins of Athens, found at the front of the ‘Kafka’ miscellany (ff. 1-37). A particularly magnificent example is the sketchbook for the ‘Pastoral’ symphony, which also includes ideas for the op. 70 piano trios, among other things. Also featured are finished scores of complete pieces, such as the op. 30 no. 3 violin sonata and various songs.

The opening movement of Beethoven's Violin sonata op.30 no.3
The opening movement of Beethoven’s sonata for violin and piano in G major, op. 30 no 3. British Library Add MS 37767, f. 1r
The manuscript of Beethoven's song 'Der Kuss'
Manuscript of Beethoven’s song, ‘Der Kuss’, op. 128. British Library Zweig MS 10, f. 1r.

Musical sources with Beethoven’s annotations and corrections

Three items here are sources, either printed scores or copyist manuscripts, with annotations and corrections in the composer’s hand. These include Beethoven’s own copy of his very early piano sonatas and a score of the violin concerto sent to London for publication in a version for piano and orchestra. You can find out more about this manuscript in this blog post.

A page from Beethoven's early piano sonatas
Beethoven’s early piano sonatas, WoO 47, published in 1783. British Library Add MS 41631, f. 2r.

Autograph documents

The collection of the Austrian writer and collection, Stefan Zweig, contains many documents that show us something of the human side of Beethoven’s life – from the humdrum, such as food and laundry lists, to letters, poetical reflections on nature, and even a moving sketch of the composer on his deathbed.

Beethoven's notes on nature
Copies by Beethoven of the text of five poems from ‘Morgenländische Blumenlese’ by Johann Gottfried Herder, with brief observations on nature by Beethoven (1815?). British Library Zweig MS 15.
  • Zweig MS 30. Drawing of Beethoven on his deathbed by Josef Danhauser (1827).
  • Zweig MS 207. Drawing of Beethoven on his deathbed by the artist Josef Teltscher (1827).
  • Zweig MS 208. Letter to Stephan von Breuning between 1805 and May 1813.
  • Zweig MS 209. Beethoven’s kitchen accounts (before 1827).
  • Zweig MS 210. Beethoven’s last laundry list (1827).
  • Zweig MS 213. List of those contributing to a collection for Beethoven’s servants after his death, with receipts from two servants (1827).

Printed music

Over 200 published editions of Beethoven’s music are also available online, with around 80 dating from the composer’s lifetime. These can be searched in the main online catalogue at, and using the filter options to select the ‘Online’ viewing option.

Images from the first movement of the Piano part for Beethoven's Piano Trio in B flat major, op. 97
Piano part for the Piano Trio in B flat major, op. 97, 1st movement. British Library Tyson PM.49.(2).

You can also visit our Discovering Music pages, which feature further articles, people pages and collection items relating to Beethoven.

Our Beethoven exhibition is open until 24 April 2022. During the festive season our hours vary, so please check our opening times before you visit. Everyone must wear a face covering while they’re here, and we’re working really hard to keep everyone safe.

Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts

15 December 2021

Exploring the Provenance of Italian Manuscript Editions in the Royal Music Library (2)


In the first part of this blog, it was established that a particular sub-collection of Italian manuscript editions present in the Royal Music Library are likely to have been acquired in Italy by members of the Cawdor family in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. How did this personal collection become part of the Royal Music Library today?

The Concert of Antient Music

The story continues with the musical pursuits of John Campbell, 1st Earl Cawdor (1790-1860), who, in addition to creating an impressive personal music library, was a member of the ‘Concert of Antient Music’, also known as the ‘Ancient Concerts' or ‘The King's Concerts’. This influential London concert series ran between 1776 and 1848, and was one of several musical clubs and societies in the late 18th century devoted to performing exclusively ‘ancient music’.[1]

To some extent, series like the Concert of Antient Music represented a reaction against the fashion for the melody-driven music of the early Classical period, and indeed, any work performed at their concerts had to be more than 25 years old. The fact that John Campbell, 1st Earl Cawdor, was heavily involved with this series is significant, for it was linked, explicitly from 1785, to the musical circle of traditional nobility surrounding the monarch, and is described by McVeigh 'almost as a court activity'.[2] This was particularly the case from 1785, after which date George III regularly attended the society’s concerts, and influenced their programming.

It is unsurprising that George III became personally involved in the performance of ‘ancient’ music: he was known for his ‘old-fashioned’ musical tastes, preferring the works of Handel to newer, galant works by composers such as Johann Christian Bach, his wife’s music master. The British Library holds a number of programmes written in his hand, revealing his music choice for performances held at Windsor Castle.[3]

Notably, the Concert of Antient Music sourced unusual works from Europe for performance in London, and in such a way built up a substantial library of printed and manuscript works.[4] It is possible that John Campbell, 1st Earl Cawdor, as one of the directors of the Concert in the 1840s, was partly responsible for the maintenance of this library. In 1844, Cawdor directed the sixth concert of the year, conducted by Henry Bishop, which was recorded in detail in the Musical Examiner. [5] The first item in the programme was Jommelli’s Te Deum, a work which is present in manuscript (albeit in a different binding style) in the Royal Music Library.[6]

It is possible that at some point between 1817 and the 1840s, the Cawdors’ personal music collection became practically linked with that of the Concert, as the first Earl became more involved. A small number of individual editions bound in these volumes bear the initials ‘T.G.’, presumed to be Thomas Greatorex, the conductor of the concerts from 1793 until his death in 1831. Cawdor may very well have been gifted these by Greatorex, or acquired from him upon his death. Certainly, music belonging to at least two members of the Concert of Antient Music must have been absorbed into this collection and subsequently bound together.

Title page for an Aria by Domenico Cimarosa with the inscription ‘Cawdor’ at the top
Title page for an Aria by Domenico Cimarosa with the inscription ‘Cawdor’ at the top. British Library R.M.22.b.17.(1.)


Title page for an Aria by J.C. Bach with the initials ‘T G’ at the top
Title page for an Aria by J.C. Bach with the initials ‘T G’ at the top thought to stand for Thomas Greatorex. British Library R.M.23.d.5.(11.)

Prince Albert, the Concert’s Last Director

Another keen member of the Concert of Antient Music was Prince Albert himself, who became the series’ final director before it folded in 1848.

Portrait of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Replica by Franz Xaver Winterhalter 1867, based on a work of 1859. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Albert directed several concerts during the 1840s, including one on 16th April 1845, in which a significant amount of ‘ancient’ music was performed. Queen Victoria, aged 25, recorded her response to the concert programme in her journal:

It was a beautiful Concert, full of curious productions of old world music. My beloved Albert has such exquisite taste and takes such pains in collecting rare and curious, as beautiful pieces of music. There was a Concert of the date of 1600 by an Italian, Emilio del Cavaliere… which was performed on all the ancient instruments of those days, and this was very curious, and the effect very pleasant. A ‘Romanesca’ of the 15th Century was played on the same instruments and was very simple and beautiful.[7]

Not everyone enjoyed the timbre of the Prince Albert’s collection of old instruments: The Musical World expressed derision typical of the period, describing the sonic effect as that ‘of a tooth comb, covered with paper, blown upon with the breath…’[8] Nonetheless both accounts attest to Prince Albert’s personal interest in music of previous centuries. Indeed, for this concert, Albert sourced a viola da gamba, an instrument now held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, though it is unclear to what extent players of this period used historical performance techniques.[9]

Indeed, his personal dedication to the series is borne out by his 1875 biographer, Sir Theodore Martin, who declared that, “The Prince made the selection of music for these performances themselves a never-failing source of delight. As every year brought a heavier strain upon his thoughts and energies, his pleasure in them appeared to increase. They seemed to take him into a dream-world, in which the anxieties of life were for the moment forgotten.”[10] Given his musical interests, and his position as director of the series until 1848, it is not at all surprising that Prince Albert acquired the extensive library of the Concert of Antient Music, which was moved in the same year to Buckingham Palace. 

Yet the Cawdor manuscript volumes do not appear to have been explicitly part of the Concert’s library, which was presented to the Royal College of Music in 1883 by Queen Victoria, forming one of its founding collections. Furthermore, despite similarities in content, (the Concert’s library also contains Italian 18th-century manuscripts), a brief comparison with bindings held there has confirmed that these volumes bear no visual resemblance to volumes in the Concert’s library, and do not appear in its 1791 catalogue.

Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to assume that these volumes, alongside others acquired by Prince Albert, were moved to Buckingham Palace in 1848 as part of his personal collection. Unlike the official library of the Concert of Antient Music, however, these vellum manuscript volumes remained at Buckingham Palace after 1883, and remain in the Royal Music Library to the present day. It is possible, of course, that they represented duplicates within the Concert’s library, or for some other reason were not deemed suitable to be included in the bequest to the Royal College of Music. There is at least one other volume within the RML which bears the annotation ‘for the Antient Concert’, suggesting that some volumes were left behind.

Title page of Sacchini's aria 'Lieta quest’alma' with the annotation on the top left 'for the Antient Concert'.
Title page of Sacchini's aria 'Lieta quest’alma' with the annotation on the top left 'for the Antient Concert'. British Library R.M.23.g.7.(6)

More probably, these volumes, associated with directors and conductors of the Concert rather than forming part of its library, were acquired, perhaps in the 1840s, by Prince Albert, though the exact moment of acquisition will remain a mystery. It is possible that Albert purchased the collection from Cawdor, or was gifted it, and that Albert himself ordered them to be rebound at this stage. However, this plain vellum binding seems perhaps too practical a choice for a monarch. On the other hand, few volumes of Prince Albert’s presumably extensive music collection have been positively identified within the Royal Music Library; it is quite possible that parts of his collection may be visually unspectacular. Alternatively, these volumes may have been bound by Cawdor before they passed to Prince Albert; they feature an index in the same hand (as yet unidentified), presumably added at the point of binding.

Further research regarding Prince Albert’s music collection within the RML may in future enable a more certain context for the last link in the chain of provenance of this fascinating sub-collection. 

Mary-Jannet Leith

PhD Placement Student, The British Library


[1] Davies, J.E. The Changing Fortunes of a British Aristocratic Family 1689-1976: The Campbells of Cawdor and their Welsh Estates (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) (2019), p. 280.

[2] McVeigh, S. ‘The Professional Concert and Rival Subscription Series I London, 1783-1793’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 22:1 (1989), p. 19.

[3] British Library MS Mus. 1780.

[4] McVeigh, S. ‘London: Musical Life: 1660-1800: Concert Life’, Grove Music Online (2001).

[5] CONCERTS, &C. The Musical examiner: an impartial weekly record of music and musical events; May 25, 1844; 2, 82, p. 594.

[6] British Library R.M.22.g.1.

[7] Queen Victoria’s Journals: Volume 19, p. 138: Wednesday 16th April 1845.

[8] The Musical World, XX (April 1845), p. 192.

[9] Cawse, J.R. “Prince Albert’s Early Music”, The Galpin Society Journal, Aug. 1989, Vol. 42, p. 7;

[10] Martin, Sir Theodore: ‘Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort’, London, 1875: Appendix A: ‘Memorandum as to the Influence of H.R.H. the Prince Consort upon Musical Taste in England’, pp. 486-487.

02 December 2021

Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon exhibition

A new exhibition celebrating the life and music of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most influential composers of the Western classical tradition, opens on Friday 3 December at the British Library.

Beethoven exhibition billboard

Against the backdrop of war and revolution raging in Europe and the United States, Beethoven grew up in Bonn inspired by the ideals of freedom. He battled the blank page to compose some of the most inspiring pieces of music ever written, challenging conventions along the way, whilst also struggling with his own progressive hearing loss.

See the mind of this creative genius at work through items belonging to the composer himself and manuscripts scrawled in his own distinctive hand – we’ve picked a selection which you can find below.


A page from Beethoven's sketchbook for the Pastoral Symphony
Beethoven’s sketches for his Pastoral Symphony. British Library Add MS 31766

Beethoven started using bound sketchbooks to jot down and develop musical ideas in 1798. Before this time he had been using loose pages, like examples from the ‘Kafka’ Miscellany, which are also on display in the exhibition. The image shown here is from the sketchbook for his Symphony No. 6, op. 68 (known as the ‘Pastoral’), and contains material for the second movement (‘By the Brook’). Beethoven has marked at the top ‘Memories of country life’ (Erinnerungen an das Landleben).

Beethoven’s cadenza to a Mozart piano concerto
Beethoven’s cadenza to a Mozart piano concerto. British Library Add MS 29803

Shown here is Beethoven’s cadenza for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor (K. 466). Beethoven is known to have admired Mozart’s D minor concerto, and it is possible that he performed it in a benefit concert for Mozart’s widow, Constanze, in 1795. His cadenzas for the first and last movement were probably realised in notation at some point before 1809, when he published cadenzas for the first four of his own piano concertos. Perhaps significantly, it was also around this time, in 1808, that his increasing deafness forced Beethoven to give his last public performance with orchestra.

At the exhibition you’ll also have a chance to meet the man behind the music by getting close to the personal belongings that shine a light on his everyday life, such as his tuning fork, and even a hand-scrawled laundry list.

Beethoven's tuning fork
Beethoven’s tuning fork. British Library Add MS 71148 A

Tuning forks were invented in the early 18th century, and were used primarily for tuning string instruments (violins, violas, cellos guitars) to a common resonance for the note ‘A’ above middle ‘C’. Tests have shown that Beethoven’s tuning fork resonates at 455.4 Hertz, over half a semitone higher than today's standard ‘A’ pitch of 440 Hertz. As well as seeing it in the exhibition, you can hear what it sounds like.

At the end of your journey in the exhibition, reflect on your own relationship with Beethoven’s music today, found in film, comics and literature. Learn how the Ninth Symphony – and its choral section based on Friedrich Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy – became the soundtrack to political and social movements worldwide, played everywhere from the Tiananmen Square student protests to the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

View of the Kärntnertortheater where Beethoven’s Ninth symphony was first performed in 1824
View of the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna where Beethoven’s Ninth symphony was first performed in 1824. British Library K.Top.90.41.g

Explore Beethoven’s music, life and legacy further through a series of events, including talks, discussions and performances by David Wyn Jones, Adrian Brendel and Simon Callaghan, Jessica Duchen and Viv McLean, the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, Boxwood & Brass, and exhibition curators Richard Chesser and Rupert Ridgewell. Visit also our Discovering Music Beethoven pages to uncover more about the composer’s creative genius, and the context in which he lived and worked.