12 April 2022
Of the exhibits in our current Beethoven exhibition, no fewer than 12 come from the collection of autograph manuscripts assembled by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, and generously bequeathed to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.
Stefan Zweig as a collector
Zweig was a keen collector of autographs from an early age and built up one of the finest collections of its kind. He particularly sought out examples which he felt showed the process of creativity in the writers, composers and other historical figures he most admired. Beethoven was certainly one such, and fitted Zweig’s image of the true creative genius, but most of Zweig’s Beethoven material in fact comprised not music manuscripts that show Beethoven the genius composer at work, but items such as letters and notebooks that shed light on Beethoven the man.
This was no doubt in part because Zweig had an equally wealthy and eager rival when it came to collecting Beethoveniana, the Swiss bibliophile Martin Bodmer, but Zweig also had a liking for ‘relics’ of great men as well as actual examples of their work. One of his happiest moments as a collector came in 1929 when he was able to purchase Beethoven’s writing-desk and various other realia once belonging to the composer, such as a lock of hair, a violin and even a compass, from the descendants of Beethoven’s friend Stephan von Breuning. (These were later acquired by Bodmer and are now in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.)
Exhibits from the Zweig collection in the Beethoven exhibition
Two of the items from the BL Zweig manuscripts currently on display show a very humdrum side of Beethoven’s life: a laundry list and a page of kitchen accounts. The latter gives a glimpse into Beethoven’s diet: a lot of meat, bread and potatoes, spiced with mustard and horseradish, and washed down with wine and rum. Vegetables do feature, but usually lumped together as ‘Zuhspeis’ (literally a ‘side-dish’). Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his frequent ill health, referred to with a dash of self-deprecating humour in a letter of 1817 inviting his friend Johann Bihler to visit and mentioning that ‘Dr Sassafras’ will also be in attendance – a reference to the diuretic sassafras root.
Other items show more ‘elevated’ aspects of Beethoven’s life. A notebook from the early 1790s lists expenses from his first months in Vienna, including a series of composition lessons with Joseph Haydn, the main reason he had come to the city. Another collection of notes from 1815 contains transcriptions of poems by Johann Gottfried Herder with some snatches of music and some reflections on nature by Beethoven. By this time Beethoven’s loss of hearing loss was very advanced, but he writes that this seems not to trouble him in the countryside and that “every tree seems to speak to me, saying ‘Holy! Holy!’” Despite a number of health and personal problems at this time, another piece from 1815 strikes a similar note of optimism: a short three-part canon written in the autograph album of fellow-composer Ludwig Spohr sets words from a play by Friedrich Schiller, “Kurz ist der Schmerz und ewig ist die Freude” (“Pain is brief and joy is eternal”).
Beethoven’s admiration for Schiller’s work would culminate of course in the setting of the ‘Ode to Joy’ in his Ninth Symphony, but he also set works by the other literary giant of the age, Goethe. Zweig was particularly pleased to acquire the manuscript of the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ (‘The drum is beaten’) from Beethoven’s incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont as it combined the work of both men. In the play the song is sung by Egmont’s mistress Clärchen, who dreams of dressing as a soldier to follow her beloved to war. It is one of the pieces that forms the soundtrack to the exhibition, along with another work owned in manuscript by Zweig and on display, the 1808 Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major.
The last Zweig items displayed relate to Beethoven’s death and funeral. A book of sketches by Josef Teltscher includes two studies of the composer on his deathbed. Teltscher was in attendance and his moving images of an exhausted Beethoven are no doubt more realistic that the legend that Beethoven died shaking a fist in defiance. A list of expenses for Beethoven’s funeral shows what a costly affair it was, with details of money spent to pay the priests and to provide candles and roses. It was one of the most lavish funerals ever granted to a commoner in Vienna and the streets were packed with onlookers. Access to the service was by invitation only; the invitation on display is thought to have belonged to Stefan von Breuning. Finally there is a list of donors to a fund to help Beethoven’s servants after his death, something that brings us back to the household accounts and laundry list and reminds us of the people behind them who ran Beethoven’s various households in Vienna.
Some of Zweig’s contemporaries – and more recent critics – may have been cynical about the relic-hunting aspect of Zweig’s collecting, something nowhere more obvious than in his Beethoven holdings. But these items can help us to see a more rounded picture of Beethoven and his world rather than just the genius at work.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Arthur Searle, The British Library Stefan Zweig Collection: Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts (London, 1999).
Oliver Matuschek (ed.), Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig, mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005).
Oliver Matuschek, Three Lives: a Biography of Stefan Zweig (London, 2011).
Michael Ladenburger, Das “kollektive Sammler-Empfinden”: Stefan Zweig als Sammler und Vermittler von Beethoveniana: Begleitbuch zu einer Ausstellung des Beethoven-Hauses Bonn, 12. Mai-4. Oktober 2015 (Bonn, ) (A brief PDF guide to the exhibition that this book accompanied can be found here:)
02 February 2021
We are pleased to announce a number of new subscriptions to our Music e-resources offer this year, as well as changes to remote access for some of our existing subscriptions:
Remote access to RILM and RIPM (full text)
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text contains more than 200 full-text journals, many of which are not available anywhere else online, with content spanning 50 countries and 40 languages. The full-text content encompasses all disciplines related to music including: Ethnomusicology; Jazz studies; Musicology; Pedagogy; Performance; Popular music and Theory. It also covers interdisciplinary subjects, such as: Archaeology; Dance studies; Dramatic arts; Literature; Philosophy; Psychology; Therapy.
Thanks to a kind offer by RILM we are pleased to offer this resource to our users until 30 September 2021.
This new RIPM series is a collection of unique and rare full-text music titles, which complements RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals, which the Library also subscribes to. The resource includes over 100 titles of music periodicals published in Europe and North America ranging from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.
This is a new subscription which is available in all reading rooms. The resource is also available via remote access to registered readers until 30 September 2021, and can be accessed via Explore.
This is a new subscription which offers access to an online Library of contemporary music. The BabelScores catalogue contains music in full score by composers of the last 40 years and includes audio and video content for some of the music scores, and also short composer biographies and work descriptions.
This resource is currently only available in our readings rooms but we are working towards making it available remotely in the future.
For any enquiries on how to search and use these e-resources please contact our Music Reference Team.
05 July 2019
The archive of Susan Bradshaw (1931-2005) is now catalogued and available for consultation in the Library’s Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Proceeds from the British Library's purchase of the archive went towards the Royal Philharmonic Society's establishment of the Susan Bradshaw Composers’ Fund, as arranged by Brian Elias, composer and Bradshaw's close friend.
Susan Bradshaw pianist, teacher and writer on music, was born in Monmouth on 8 September 1931. After spending time in India and Egypt during her childhood, where her father’s work in the army had taken their family, Bradshaw embarked on learning piano and violin. She later studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Harold Craxton (piano) and Howard Ferguson (composition). Then, in 1957, Bradshaw seized the chance to expand her musical world, taking up a French Government Scholarship to study composition with modernist figurehead, Pierre Boulez, and Max Deutsch in Paris.
That year in France proved a catalyst for melding musical partnerships and alliances. Bradshaw formed a piano duo with her close friend Richard Rodney Bennett, and the Mabillon Trio with Philip Jones (oboe) and William Bennett (flute). However, the year in France signalled the decline of her activity as a composer, and on her return to the UK, Bradshaw moved her energy to accompaniment and performance.
Bradshaw was an ardent advocate of new music. She helped contemporary composers by including them in ensemble programming, promoting new works with first performances and using broadcasts to share what she recognised as important and progressive about such music. Concert ephemera, cuttings from radio show advertisements and draft programme scripts in her papers record her efforts and enthusiasm.
Inside Bradshaw’s Archive
Bradshaw’s archive reflects the breadth of her own musical experience and contains:
- Draft scores of over thirty of Bradshaw’s compositions, largely from the period 1951-1958
- Drafts of her writings on music, on individual composers/works/musical aesthetics
- A collection of printed materials compiled by Bradshaw into composer information files
- Scrapbooks and collected programmes, tracing Bradshaw’s musical career
- Select correspondence from composers and friends
- A box of 60th birthday tributes: musical compositions, letters and cards
- Publicity photographs and documents relating to her wider musical involvements.
Related Resources at the British Library
Many items in the British Library Sound Archive complement and enhance the vibrant resource of Bradshaw’s paper archive. Examples include:
- A recording of Bradshaw’s Eight Hungarian Folksongs, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1978. Catalogue reference: M7663.
- Susan Bradshaw’s talk with recorded illustrations, In search of Pierre Boulez, given at the National Sound Archive in their Spring Lectures, 1985. Catalogue reference: B627/1.
- A recording of an event dedicated to the music and literary work of Lord Berners, Lord Berners: an entertainment in words and music, 1972. Susan Bradshaw and John Betjeman both performed at this. Catalogue reference: T706, M5087.
- William Bennett and Susan Bradshaw performing Boulez’s Sonatine for flute and piano. Catalogue reference: 2LP0048923; 1LP0073897.
Translating the ‘Shapes and Sounds’ of Composers’ Imaginings 
Bradshaw was well-positioned to act as a mediator between composers and audiences. She had a deep understanding of musical composition, performance and analysis, and used her knowledge of all three to interpret the works she encountered and to bring composers’ imaginings to life. Bradshaw believed that these three strands of musical endeavour were inter-related, and mutually nourishing. She appreciated that each was essential for advanced musical understanding, and furthermore, that the true product of this understanding was the communication of meaning. Whether that communication was musical (in performance), linguistic (for example, in academic writing), or pedagogical, Bradshaw saw the need to balance emotional experience with enquiry:
Passionate involvement precedes – must precede – cool appraisal; but when narcissistic pleasure starts to cancel out enquiry, when the sense of striving to understand and to reveal ceases to be the outcome of delight, when wonder becomes complacency, then great art becomes commonplace in the mind of the beholder and creation and recreation lapse into mere repetition. 
Bradshaw’s influence on the musical world can be seen in the archive. To trace it, one might begin with her scrapbook programmes (signalling, for example, her involvement with the Darmstadt International Summer Courses) and move to the exchange of ideas with fellow musicians in her correspondence, before visiting the vividly-expressed opinions in her writings.
New Ways of Hearing: “Untuning the Tempered Scale” 
The catastrophic destruction brought about by two world wars permeated all aspects of social existence; many composers felt that the old musical systems were inadequate for the development of the art. In a parallel to the destruction of societal structures through war, it was as if the hierarchies of the diatonic tonal system had to be broken down also. Composers looked to expand the resources available to them – the boundaries between music and noise blurred, and the number of notes in the conventional system increased with experiments in microtonality.
As musical modernism turned from the tradition of western diatonic tonality, it wrenched audiences from their familiar sound worlds. To the modernist composers, the rules and patterns of diatonic harmony represented predictability and constraint. Bradshaw’s broadcasting demonstrates her use of radio as a medium to promote modern music but also to challenge audiences to question the nature of listening: Why do we listen to music? What function does it have in our lives? She strove to help listeners navigate contemporary music, pointing out features and techniques, and highlighting composers’ search for truth in music.
As an individual whose influence and reach in the contemporary classical music scene was extensive, and well-evidenced in her archive, it is fitting for her papers to sit alongside those of many composers and musicians who so appreciated her support, here at the British Library.
Sarah Ellis, Archivist and Cataloguer of the Susan Bradshaw Papers (MS Mus. 1755)
 Susan Bradshaw, untitled (London, British Library, MS Mus. 1755/2/3, f. 152, undated).
 Susan Bradshaw, draft letter to the editor of Music Analysis journal (London, British Library, MS Mus 1755/2/3 ff. 45-46, undated).
 Susan Bradshaw, untitled (London, British Library, MS Mus. 1755/2/3, f. 152, undated).
10 October 2018
William Byrd, one of the most prolific English composers of his time, was born in 1543 (or possibly late in 1542) and died in 1623.
A devout Roman Catholic, Byrd was also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal with a secure position at court. Well known among the Catholic nobility, with whom his ties were naturally close, Byrd also enjoyed a wealth of connections across Protestant society, including major cultural figures such as Sir Philip Sidney.
This post explores Byrd's music for the Roman Rite.
William Byrd. [Mass for three voices] Cantus. London: Thomas East, 1594. Cantus. British Library R.M.15.d.4.
In 1593 Byrd moved from Harlington in Middlesex, where he had lived since the 1570s, to Stondon Massey in Essex. This was only a few miles from Ingatestone, the seat of his friend Sir John, afterwards Lord, Petre. It was almost certainly for clandestine Mass celebrations at Petre’s house that Byrd composed his three Masses, issued separately without title pages, dedicatees or any indication of the printer (Thomas East), but with Byrd’s name placed courageously at the top of every page. The four-part work was printed (and composed) first, the three-part next (shown above) and the five-part last, all between about 1592 and 1595. Second editions of the three- and four-part Masses appeared about 1600.
Gradualia Book I, 1605
William Byrd. Gradualia, ac Cantiones Sacræ, quinis, quaternis, trinisque vocibus concinnatæ, Lib. Primus
Excudebat Humphrey Lownes. Londini: Impensis Ricardi Redmeri. Superius. 1610.. British Library K.2.f.7.
Byrd followed the publication of his three settings of the Ordinary of the Mass with an even more daring venture. His Gradualia is one of the most comprehensive provisions of Mass Propers and related music for the Roman church’s year ever attempted by a single composer. When the first book appeared in 1605 he evidently felt that the times were less dangerous, for it was printed with a titlepage and a dedication to the Catholic Privy Councillor Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton.
But the moment proved ill chosen: it was the year of the Gunpowder Plot and anti-Catholic sentiment was rife. Despite having been approved before its publication by Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London and an ecclesiastical censor of books, Byrd’s Gradualia became dangerous currency. The Frenchman Charles de Ligny was arrested merely for having a copy of the ‘papistical books’ in his possession. The image above shows the communion sentence from the Corpus Christi mass and Ave verum corpus, a Eucharistic prayer in the version printed in the Primer, for private devotions.
Gradualia Book II, 1607
William Byrd. Gradualia: seu cantionum sacrarum quarum aliæ ad quatuor, aliæ verò ad quinque et sex voces editæ sunt.
Liber secundus. London: Thomas East, assign of William Barley, 1607. Bassus. British Library K.2.f.6.
Despite the hostility shown to Book I of Gradualia, Byrd went ahead and published Book II in 1607, openly declaring that the music had been composed for use in the house of its dedicatee, Lord Petre. But he may have found it necessary to withdraw both books until 1610, as the sheets were reissued then with new title pages. The partbook of Book I shown here has the substitute title page of 1610, but those of Book II are from the only surviving set with the original 1607 title pages. On the wrapper of the bassus part the unknown first owner has written ‘Mr William Byrd his last Sett of Songs geven me by him Feb. 1607.’
William Byrd. Gradualia: seu cantionum sacrarum quarum aliæ ad quatuor, aliæ verò ad quinque et sex voces editæ sunt.
Liber secundus. London: Thomas East, assign of William Barley, 1607. Bassus. British Library K.2.f.6.
Byrd’s handwriting: Certificate concerning an annuity granted to Dorothy Tempest.
The letter below, a similar copy of which is also in the British Library (Egerton 3722), along with the two signatures to his will are the only known examples of Byrd’s handwriting.
One of those implicated in the Catholic plot of 1570 in favour of Mary Queen of Scots was Michael Tempest, who was convicted of treason but managed to escape to France entering the service of Philip II. His wife Dorothy and their five children were left without means of support, and Queen Elizabeth granted her an annuity of twenty pounds a year, to be paid quarterly. On 17 October 1581 Byrd wrote to his friend William Petre (son of Sir John, discussed above), an official at the Court of Exchequer, reminding him that a payment was due, at the same time sending the letter below to certify that she was alive and well.
02 October 2018
The British Library has the pleasure of bringing you an exciting free educational resource providing unparalleled access to our music collection: Discovering Music.
Aimed at A level students, teachers, undergraduates and the general public, the site features manuscript and printed sources as well as recordings to support the study of particular music topics. The site also sheds light on the historical, political and cultural contexts in which key musical works were composed and musicians operated.
The first stage focuses on music from the early 20th century, while other periods will be explored in the future. This present web space highlights some of the Library’s most treasured collection items, in high-resolution digitised images, including manuscripts by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and others. In addition, the site features a rich range of contextual material, including letters, notebooks, illustrations, newspapers, photographs and other forms of ephemera.
The Second Viennese School: Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern
Mark Berry introduces the three composers labelled as key members of the ‘Second Viennese School’, each influential in his own way on musical modernism throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
Music and the creative process: Elgar’s Third Symphony
The composer Anthony Payne, who completed Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, describes Elgar’s compositional methods as seen in the surviving sketches for this work at the British Library.
Delius in performance
Joanna Bullivant explores how Delius’s compositions were brought to life by various interpreters. Did he give his performers enough information? How important are the contributions made by the famous musicians with whom he worked: the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, the pianists Theodor Szántó and Evlyn Howard-Jones, and the violinist May Harrison?
Folksong revival in the early 20th century
Eric Saylor surveys the social contexts and musical impact of the folksong revival in the early 20th century.
Ballet in Paris in the early 20th century
Jane Pritchard discusses the ballet companies and their artists who were active in Paris in the early 20th century.
British composers in the early 20th century
Jeremy Dibble gives an overview of British composers in the early 20th century and their context.
Delius, Paris, Grez
Lionel Carley explores Delius’s long association with France, and how the distinctive landscapes of Paris and Grez-sur-Loing inspired some of his most famous scores.
Exploring Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations
Julian Rushton discusses the early history of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations.
The use of the instruments of the orchestra
Lucy Walker surveys three orchestral masterpieces of the early 20th century.
Music and the First World War
Kate Kennedy examines the impact of the First World War on British composers and the music composed both during the war and in its aftermath.
Music and the Holocaust
Stephen Muir examines the impact of the Holocaust on musicians and musical life in Germany and Austria in the Second World War.
Music for film: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten
Music formed an important component of the propaganda and educational films produced during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. In this article, Nicholas Clark explores the film scores composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten between 1940 and 1948.
Music and the Russian Revolution
Pauline Fairclough discusses the impact of the Russian Revolution on Russian composers’ lives and careers.
Delius and America
Daniel M. Grimley explains the significance of America in Delius's life, music, and career.
Stravinsky and Neoclassicism
Stephen Walsh discusses Neoclassicism as a concept focussing on the music of Stravinsky who extensively used this compositional ‘attitude’ in his music.
The Society of Women Musicians
Sophie Fuller discusses the history of the Society of Women Musicians and some of its leading members.
Daniel M. Grimley examines Delius's compositional routine and looks at the processes involved in assembling a large-scale musical work.
Tonality in crisis? How harmony changed in the 20th century
Arnold Whittall explores changing approaches to harmony and the concept of tonality in early 20th-century music.
Vaughan Williams and The English Hymnal
Simon Wright explores the role of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in selecting and arranging the music for The English Hymnal.
These 19 articles are accompanied by three teaching resources to support the study of 20th-century classical music at GCSE and A Level.
Composition: learning from Delius and Elgar
Use Delius's and Elgar's sketches to develop compositional skills and understand their music.
Music and place: sacred music and folksong
Learn how English composers were inspired by folksong and ideas of the sacred.
Overturning tonality: into the 20th century
Explore new ways of composing in the early 20th century
10 July 2018
As part to our commitment to bring our collections to everyone, we have digitised over sixty first editions of piano music by Frédéric Chopin, which are now available online.
As is the case with most composers, first editions of Chopin’s music are important to study the text of a given piece. Chopin would often add expression marks to the printing proofs, marks which weren't in the manuscripts provided to the publisher. Sometimes these additions were so numerous that a second proof had to be prepared for Chopin to approve for publication. In these cases they reveal a more advanced compositional state than the autograph manuscripts.
You may download a spreadsheet with the complete list by clicking here. The links on the right hand side will take you to the corresponding catalogue record. To view the score click on the "I want this" tab, and then on the red “GO” button next to "Digital Content, Collection Item". This newly digitised set will no doubt be a welcomed complement to the Chopin Online Resources, which includes other first editions from our collections.
19 June 2018
We have the pleasure of bringing you some more highlights from our collection which we have digitised in high resolution and uploaded onto our website so anyone can enjoy them remotely.
All the below are autograph, unless noted.
Egerton MS 2954 - Musical treatises (15th century)
Italian Musical Treatise by Johannes de Muris
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2954
Add MS 36738 - Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata in G major D. 894, Op. 78 (1826)
Published as the Fantasy, Andante, Menuetto and Allegretto, is the eighteenth sonata of Franz Schubert composed in October 1826.
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_36738
Lansdowne MS 763 - Musical treatises (15th century)
Treatises transcribed, and probably to a great extent compiled, by John Wylde, precentor of Waltham Holy Cross Abbey, about 1460.
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Lansdowne_MS_763
R.M.19.d.9 - George Frideric Handel, Il Trionfo del Tempo HWV 46a (c 1710)
Manuscript copy, except for the Overture on ff. 69-78, and the corrections which are in the hand of Handel.
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=R.M.19.d.9
Add MS 47849 - Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 40 in F major (1763)
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_47849
Egerton MS 2327 - Ludwig van Beethoven, Rough copies of twelve airs for pianoforte, with accompaniment for flute or violin (c. 1817)
These are connected with his arrangements of English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish airs. They were all published in Sechs variirte Themen (op. 105) and Zehn variirte Themen (op. 107), about the year 1817. From op. 107 are taken nos. 1-4 (nos. 9, 10, 2, 8, respectively), no. 9 (no. 4), and nos. 11, 12 (nos. 1, 5); and from op. 105, nos. 5-8 (nos. 1, 2, 4, 5), and no. 10 (no. 6).
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2327
Egerton MS 2746 - Miscellaneous, including:
Robert Schumann, March in G minor, op. 76/2
Richard Wagner, Sketch of the people's chorus (melody and bass only) from Act ii of 'Rienzi' (1839)
Richard Wagner, Largo maestoso (introductory movement) and Allegro con brio (beginning only), in C, for 4 hands
Draft of a letter, apparently by Richard Wagner, but unsigned
Digital Version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Egerton_MS_2746
04 May 2018
It's April 1764 and Leopold Mozart was standing on the French shore of the Channel, waiting for the ferry to England. He was accompanied by his wife Anna Maria and their two children, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) and Wolfgang, aged 12 and 8 respectively. They had never seen the sea and any apprehensions they might have had were met with a rough crossing. Leopold reported in a letter that they made “a heavy contribution in vomiting.”1
On the 23 April they finally arrived in London from Paris, lodging above a barber’s shop near Trafalgar Square. They had left Salzburg almost a year before, as Leopold showed the prowess of his two child prodigies across different European courts. Britain wasn’t included in their initial plans, but they had been urged to make the journey by two Englishmen in the French Court: London was at the time the richest, the biggest and most successful city in Europe. It contained a wealthy class of merchants who patroned public performances. This was an important difference from previous countries they had visited, where concert life was mainly confined to the courts.
The Mozart family spent around fifteen months in the British capital, but their experience was not as successful as they had hope so. Let’s find out more about their story through these three items from our collections
Violin Sonatas, KV 10–15
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Six Sonates Pour Le Clavecin ... Oeuvre III. London: Printed for the Author, 1765. British Library Shelfmark R.M.11.f.5
The start of the trip was nonetheless auspicious. The letters of introduction from France had been very effective, as within a week the family was summoned to Buckingham House (a more modest predecessor to the current Palace), for the first of their three visits to the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Here Wolfgang’s skills were put to royal test:
The King placed before him not only works of Wagensil, but those of Bach, Abel, and Handel,2 and he played off everything prima vista. Then he accompanied the Queen in an aria which she sang, and also a flautist who played a solo. Finally he took the bass part of some airs of Handel and played the most beautiful melody on it and in such a manner that everyone was amazed. In short, what he knew when we left Salzburg is a mere shadow compared with what he knows now. It exceeds all that one can imagine.3
The Queen asked the Mozarts to be the dedicatee of one of Wolfgang's compositions. Leopold obliged, printing at his expense a run of three sonatas. The copy shown above, is the very one which was presented to the Queen.
God is our refuge, K. 20
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.: ‘God is our Refuge’, K. 20; 1765 (detail). British Library Shelfmark K.10.a.17.(3)
Towards the end of their London stay the Mozarts received an invitation to visit the British Museum (from which the British Library was born). It seems now hard to believe, but children weren’t allowed then. Wolfgang and Nannerl were indeed very privileged. Leopold and his daughter kept a travel diary and she recalls to have seen “the library, the antiquities, birds of all kinds, fishes, insects and fruits.” in the Museum 4
They presented the Museum directors with a copy of his first two sonatas (also in our collections); a copy of a print showing Leopold and his two children (in the British Museum); and the manuscript of ‘God us our Refuge’ K. 20 shown above (a digitised version is available here). This motet for four voices was especially composed and presented to the Trustees of the Museum. It was to be his only setting of English words during his life. Little Wolfgang seems to have had trouble fitting the words to their corresponding notes (noticeable in bars 7-9), so his father wrote them in the rest of the piece.
At the British Library we can boast that our collection of Mozart manuscripts is certainly the first to have been started by the composer himself!
The British Library has an important collection of Newspapers gathered by the Reverend Charles Burney (b.1757, d.1817), mostly published in London between 1604 and 1804. The collection has been digitised and can be viewed on any of our Reading Room terminals.
Leopold Mozart was no doubt an astute marketer, paying for several adverts on London papers where he announced performances by his children. They were often described as “prodigies of nature” and Leopold was more than ready to bend the truth slightly, purporting his children to be one or two years younger. The adverts here shown appeared on the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, where Leopold published more frequently.
Their first few months of their London stay saw them play in the most fashionable gardens of London. However their luck changed in early July when Leopold fell gravely ill, developing from what he described as “a kind of native complaint, which is called a cold”5. Without his guidance and promotion, performances stopped for a few months and by the spring of 1765 public interest in the child prodigies began to wane. Wolfgang in the meantime, occupied himself composing -among other works- his first symphony, which premiered in February at the Little Theatre in Haymarket.
Their bad fortunes may have also been influenced by external forces, as there are indications that malicious rumours were being spread about the family. One of the most outrageous no doubt, said that Wolfgang wasn’t a child but a small adult with a growth deficiency. His father Leopold was forced to deny this in an open letter.
Understandably, by mid-1765 the Mozarts started to arrange their long return to Salzburg. Private concerts were being offered at reduced fees. By July 1765 the young Mozarts, who had started performing for the Royals, were now playing during lunchtime at the Swan and Hoop pub near Moorgate in the City...
Special thanks to Maddy Smith, curator of printed heritage collections 1601-1900, for her assistance with this article.
- Letter from Leopold Mozart to his merchant and friend, Johann Lorenz von Hagenauer. London, 25 April May 1764 (extract)
- Composers Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Christian Bach, Karl Friedrich Abel and the King’s favourite composer, George Frideric Handel
- ibid 1. London, 28 May 1764 (extract)
- Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Gesamtausgabe. (Kassel 1962) Vol I. pp196, 198-9. British Library Shelfmark 07902.e.4.
- ibid 1, "Chelsea near London", 13 September 1764.
Music blog recent posts
- Beethoven and Zweig
- Update on Music E-resources
- The Susan Bradshaw Papers: Archive of an Insightful Communicator
- William Byrd, catholic composer
- Welcome to Discovering Music
- Chopin First Editions available online
- More Digitised Music Manuscripts available online
- The Mozarts in London
- Latest Music Manuscripts available on our website
- Latest Music Manuscripts available online