Music blog

Music news and views


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

07 March 2022

New Music E-resources

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We are pleased to announce a number of new additions to our Music e-resources offer this year:


Medici.TV is a world-leading classical music channel, offering access to live performances and classical music programmes to viewers worldwide. More than 150 live events are broadcast each year, in partnership with the world's most prestigious venues, opera houses, festivals and competitions. Their platform also features over 3,000 programmes, including: concerts and archived historical concerts; operas; ballets; documentaries, artist portraits; educational programmes and masterclasses, which are available to stream in HD.

Medici.TV is currently available in our reading rooms and can be accessed via the Find Electronic Resources webpage. opera banner

RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals (Full text) and RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals (Full text)

RIPM (Répertoire international de la presse musicale) offers online access to thousands of European and North American music periodicals from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. This includes articles in music journals, daily newspapers, literary periodicals, theatrical journals, and magazines, constituting a remarkable documentary resource to music historians.

We now subscribe to the full-text versions of both RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals and RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals, which can both be accessed in our reading rooms via the Find Electronic Resources webpage.

An example of RIPM content on the EBSCO platform

Music Online: Classical Scores Library Volumes I-IV

This multivolume series contains more than 53,000 titles of the most important scores in classical music, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. More than 4,600 composers are included, from traditionally studied composers such as Mozart and Tchaikovsky to contemporary artists including Kaija Saariaho, Peter Maxwell-Davies, and John Tavener.

Music Online Classical Scores Library Home page

Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music

Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music is the first comprehensive online resource devoted to music research of all the world's peoples. More than 9,000 pages of material and 300 audio recordings, combined with entries by more than 700 expert contributors from all over the world, make this the most complete body of work focused on world music.


Music Online The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Home page


Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries

Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries is the largest and most comprehensive streaming audio collection of world music. With nearly 3,000 albums and more than 40,000 individual tracks of music, spoken word, and natural and human made sounds, this collection includes the published recordings owned by the non profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label together with the archival audio collections of the legendary Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels.

Music Online Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries Home page

You can browse the full range of Music e-resources available in our reading rooms and/or remotely via the Find Electronic Resources webpage:

Find Electronic Resources web page

For any enquiries on how to access and use our e-resources please contact our Music or Sound & Vision Reference Teams.

21 February 2022

Beethoven exhibition update: some new arrivals from Berlin

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We’ve had two very exciting additions to our Beethoven exhibition recently, in the form of loans from the Music Department and Mendelssohn Archive of the Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

With a big drumroll…

Detail from Beethoven's 9th symphony printed score

We are thrilled to announce that the autograph manuscript of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has arrived – its first time in the UK. The piece is often thought to be among Beethoven’s greatest achievements and, with its famous ‘Ode to Joy’ movement, one of his most immediately recognisable works. Its arrival in the UK is especially significant as the piece was first commissioned by the Philharmonic Society in London. It is even more of a privilege that the manuscript has been lent for the exhibition, since it became the first musical score to be added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2001.

A page from the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony autograph score
Autograph score of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, p. 89. Beethoven, L. v. 2; Beethoven, L. v., Artaria 204. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv.

The first complete score

The autograph score from Berlin represents the first complete manuscript of the symphony, committed to paper by Beethoven between 1822 and 1824. The pages on display show a climactic passage in the final part of the setting of the ‘Ode to Joy’, a poem by Friedrich Schiller celebrating universal friendship and equality.

How does it relate to London and the exhibition?

In November 1822 the Directors of the Philharmonic Society in London decided to offer Beethoven £50 for a new symphony for their season the next year: this was to become the Ninth. The minute books from that meeting are among the objects in the exhibition showing some of the realities behind the creation of famous works of art – a receipt, signed by Beethoven for his £50 fee, is another one. 

Opening showing the Minutes of the Directors of the Philharmonic Society, agreeing to offer Beethoven £50 for a new symphony
Minutes of the Directors of the Philharmonic Society, agreeing to offer Beethoven £50 for a new symphony. British Library RPS MS 280, f.2.

The commission was supposed to have given the Philharmonic Society the premiere of the new work and exclusive rights for 18 months after, but Beethoven in fact arranged for the first and second performances of the piece to be held in Vienna in May 1824.

A neat manuscript, prepared by copyists under Beethoven’s supervision and incorporating some changes in his hand was sent to London in fulfilment of the commission at some point in 1824, probably after those first Vienna performances. This, a star item from the Royal Philharmonic Society Archive, acquired by the British Library in 2002, is also on display in the exhibition: the first time the two manuscripts will have been side by side since 1824.

Side-by-side, the autograph manuscript of the Ninth Symphony together with the copy sent to the Philharmonic Society
Side-by-side, the autograph manuscript of the Ninth Symphony together with the copy sent to the Philharmonic Society. On the left: Beethoven, L. v. 2; Beethoven, L. v., Artaria 204. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv, p. 89, and on the right: British Library, RPS MS 5, f. 143r.

Conversing with Beethoven

Another artefact on loan from Berlin, of no less significance in telling the story of Beethoven’s life, is one of the composer’s conversation books. By 1818 Beethoven’s hearing had deteriorated to such an extent that he carried with him a ‘conversation book’ so that his companions could write down their contribution to the dialogue. Beethoven normally replied verbally, so only one side of the conversation survives in most cases. The book on display dates from April 1824, with several visitors giving insights into an assortment of unconnected and unremarkable issues from Beethoven’s daily life. However, a musical excerpt in the composer’s hand appears on one of the pages on display, showing him explaining that the emphasis in the final line of the ‘Ode to Joy’ should be on the word ‘Sternen’ (‘stars’).

A page from one of Beethoven's conversation books with notes in pencil
A page from Konversationheft 61, on loan to the British Library from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv. Beethoven, L. v. 51,59.
Persistent URL to digitised content:

Beethoven’s hearing loss

The conversation book joins several other items in the exhibition that help to illustrate Beethoven’s struggles with increasing deafness through his life. This theme is reflected in some of his own writings, in the accounts of people who met him and in a specially-created installation that allows visitors to experience Beethoven’s music through vibrations and visualisation.

Visit the exhibition!

Both loans had had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions that were implemented before the opening of the exhibition in December 2021. Happily though, the loan has now been able to go ahead. With the exhibition open until Sunday 24 April, we hope as many people as possible get to see these iconic manuscripts from Berlin, alongside the diverse and surprising range of scores, letters and other artefacts from the British Library’s own collections.

Photograph from the British Library exhibition showing the section about the 9th symphony
Inside the British Library Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon exhibition. Photo by Chris Scobie.

Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts

07 February 2022

Conserving creativity – the case of Beethoven’s ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany

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In this blog post we look at a recent conservation project involving an important Beethoven manuscript known as the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany (Add MS 29801).

How did the manuscript come to be in the British Library?

The manuscript’s name comes from its previous owner, Johann Nepomuk Kafka (1819-1886), an Austrian pianist, composer and manuscript collector.

The British Museum bought it, together with a manuscript of Beethoven’s cadenza for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor and some scores by Franz Schubert and Gioachino Rossini, in 1875 for a total of £323.

A page from the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany
A page from the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany, Add MS 29801, f. 88r

What is contained in the volume?

Although the ‘Kafka’ volume is sometimes referred to as a sketchbook, that is only really true of the first 37 folios, which would have originally formed a bound entity in their own right. This section dates from about 1811 and shows the in-demand Beethoven at work on music for the play Die Ruinen von Athen (‘The Ruins of Athens’) – now most famous for its overture and ‘turkish’ march.

Sketches in Beethoven's hand for the play ‘The Ruins of Athens’
Sketches for Beethoven’s music for the play ‘The Ruins of Athens’, Add MS 29801, f. 8r

The rest of the volume (ff. 39-165) is actually something of a jumble. The earliest of these pages date from about 1781 when Beethoven was just 11 years old. There are also examples from throughout his early life, charting his formative years, his move from Bonn to Vienna in 1792, and the period following that when he was busy establishing a name for himself.

Beethoven probably kept leaves like this unbound, perhaps revisiting them at different points in his life. It seems unlikely that he kept them in any kind of consistent order, but even if he had, they are unlikely to have retained it after his death. There was a lively market for manuscripts and mementos of the composer through the 19th century, and such relics changed hands frequently – often, sadly, with the result of related pages being separated and scattered among different owners.

An opening of Add MS 29801 showing vulnerable folia
An opening of Add MS 29801, showing leaves mounted on guards. Photograph by Zoë Miller.

This particular bundle of miscellaneous leaves were brought together with the 1811 sketchbook into a composite volume at some point after Beethoven’s death, with each individual folio eventually mounted on a small stub of paper (known as a guard) and bound together.

The contents of these pages range from relatively neat drafts of complete pieces – like this movement of a sonatina for mandolin and piano – to barely legible scribbles, capturing ideas quickly in a burst of inspiration.

A folio showing Beethoven developing ideas for an uncompleted song in C major
A folio showing Beethoven developing ideas for an uncompleted song in C major, Add MS 29801, f. 46v.

Many examples show initial musical ideas being worked over and over, developed on the page. Sometimes these ideas came to nothing, but other times they ended up as pieces we know today.

Beethoven’s creative process, and how it is reflected on paper, has been the subject of a lot of discussion over the years, but there is a useful introduction by Barry Cooper.

What was the conservation journey of the ‘Kafka’ volume?

The ‘Kafka’ volume was flagged for conservation attention in 2019 due to a number of pages displaying wear and tear along the edges. Of particular concern was the potential loss of Beethoven’s annotations at the extremities of sometimes fragile and weakening paper.

What were the challenges?

The range of different paper and ink types in the volume, as well as the jumbled nature of the contents, presented a varied situation though, and meant that careful consideration and close collaboration between curators and conservators was important. Whatever we did needed to balance a respect for the object and its history with long-term preservation needs.

The general approach to treatment was to make the volume fit for purpose but with minimal intervention. So, we took a targeted approach, retaining the structure of the object but identifying vulnerable leaves where the paper was particularly weak or worn at the edges, or where text was in danger of being gradually worn away.

Image showing vulnerable and exposed paper at the fore-edge of the volume.
Vulnerable and exposed paper at the fore-edge of the volume. Photograph by Zoë Miller.
Image showing a fragile leaf on removal from its guard, prior to repair work.
A fragile leaf on removal from its guard, prior to repair work. Photograph by Zoë Miller.

Another factor we considered was how the volume is used, both now and in the future. It had already been digitised, and a facsimile and transcription of the contents were published in the 1970s, and these have helped reduce the number of times the volume is handled for study.

What’s next for this iconic manuscript?

As an iconic manuscript in public ownership, it is something that we want to be able to display periodically, both at the British Library and occasionally on loan to other institutions.

Given the disparate content there are many possibilities as to what might be chosen to be exhibited. The fact that the manuscript is bound means either displaying the whole volume or else needing to lift individual leaves from the guards. The latter is certainly possible, but not something to be undertaken regularly or repeatedly. In prioritising leaves for conservation work, we took into account the likelihood of use in future displays.

Image showing work in progress inside the British Library Conservation Centre.
Work in progress – inside the British Library Conservation Centre. Photograph by Zoë Miller.

As well as some small paper repairs to support areas of fragile ink and small tears to the edges of some folia, the main solution was to remove the identified leaves from the original guards and hinge them onto a sheet of archival handmade paper with fine Japanese tissue.

Image showing Add MS 29801 after work to create support pages.
Add MS 29801 after work to create support pages. Photograph by Zoë Miller.
Detail showing the new support pages.
Detail showing the new support pages. Photograph by Zoë Miller.

This both helps to reduce direct handling of the manuscript pages and to create a buffer between the inks, which themselves can have a deteriorating effect over time. Additionally, this treatment will help make it easier for particular folios to be removed from the volume for display without damage or disruption in a sufficiently stable condition to withstand transport and display requirements.

Finally, a custom–made drop back box was constructed to better support the volume while in storage, providing a buffer against the environment and a safe way to transport it.

This conservation work was undertaken with generous support from the Idlewild Trust and has meant that several leaves from this unique volume are now on display in our exhibition Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon. – open until Sunday 24 April 2022.

Selected pages of this volume are also featured on our Discovering Music webspace, where you can find out more about it – and images of all 162 folios are available to view up on Digitised Manuscripts.

Inside the British Library Beethoven exhibition
Inside the British Library Beethoven exhibition. Image credit: Justine Trickett


Zoë Miller, Conservation Team Leader

Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts

20 December 2021

Beethoven at the British Library – a list of online resources

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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)

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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 very likely that John Campbell, 1st Earl Cawdor, as director of the Concert in the 1840s, was partly responsible for the maintenance of this library. In 1844, Cawdor conducted the sixth concert of the year, 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 society 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 directors of the Concert of Antient Music 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 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. 593.

[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

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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.

23 November 2021

Exploring the Provenance of Italian Manuscript Editions in the Royal Music Library

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The Royal Music Library represents the music interests and collecting efforts of several British monarchs and members of the royal family. Establishing the line of provenance for the majority of individual volumes in the collection is a challenging task, however, as apart from notable exceptions, such as the Handel autographs that formed part of George III’s music collection[1], volumes with music by Agostino Steffani that were brought to England from Hanover by George I, volumes belonging to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and other examples, it is not possible to ascertain to which member of the royal family individual volumes belonged to. This is especially the case with pre-19th century volumes, as both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were also keen collectors of antiquarian music, which means that 17th- and 18th-century volumes in the collection were not necessarily acquired then.

A three-month project at the British Library is helping to answer some of the questions regarding provenance of individual volumes in the collection, through bibliographical research on certain characteristics of manuscript and printed volumes, such as binding types, copyists’ handwriting, ownership marks, and other. This blog discusses a particular sub-collection in the Royal Music Library and its Italian connections.

Volumes of Italian Manuscript Editions

A number of volumes in the Royal Music Library are bound in cream vellum, with a (faded) title on each spine [Figure 1]. The vast majority contain what we might call ‘manuscript editions’ - a manuscript copy of a piece of music designed to be sold in a music shop as with a printed edition. These are often identifiable by the presence of an ornate title page or price, or the publisher's imprint, engraved or handwritten, though these are not always present. In the volumes examined in this sub-collection, each contains a number of manuscript editions of works by late 18th-century/early 19th-century Italian composers, such as Jommelli, Paisiello, and Cimarosa, most commonly short selections from Italian operas of the period.

Binding of R.M.22.a.4
Figure 1: Aprile (Giuseppe), 16 Vocal Duets and a Canon, British Library R.M.22.a.4.

Upon first glance, the variety of copyists and publishers contained within individual volumes suggests that binding occurred much later than purchase, and was undertaken by persons other than the first owner(s). Indeed, in some volumes, editions bearing the initials of more than one former owner have been bound next to each other. In general, each volume contains the musical hands of a number of different copyists, based mainly in Venice or Naples, both major music publishing centres in the late 18th century. There are significant overlaps in copyists’ hands across the collection, suggesting that the editions were acquired by their original owner(s) at around the same time. Indeed, even where several copyists’ hands are present, editions often bear the same style of title page, pointing to groups of copyists associated with specific publishers.

In some cases, it is possible to identify a publisher (though not the copyist) by name, based on the presence of ornate title pages. The name of the publisher Alessandri e Scattaglia (active 1770-1803), for example, is printed clearly on the example in Figure 2.

Title page of R.M.22.a.3 (1)
Figure 2: Aprile (Giuseppe), Arias and duets, British Library R.M.22.a.3 (1).

It is sometimes possible to extrapolate this kind of information across volumes. The title page in Figure 3, for example, bears the name of the publisher Luigi Marescalchi, active first in Venice (1770-1775) and then in Naples (1785-1799). The distinctive design also appears on the title page of an entirely different edition in another volume; we can surmise therefore that this was also sold by Marescalchi.

R.M.22.a.3 (1) title page
Figure 3: Paisiello (Giovanni), Arias and duets, British Library R.M.8.e.8.
R.M.22.f.10 (6) title page
Figure 4: Jommelli (Nicolo), Opera arias and duets, British Library R.M.22.f.10 (6).

However, it is best to be cautious when identifying the publishers of manuscript editions. The functions of publisher and distributor in late 18th-century Italy were vaguely defined, and publishers sometimes moved around, muddying the waters when it comes to establishing the location of a particular publication.[2] For the purposes of establishing the line of provenance for this sub-collection, however, this kind of detail is not essential. It is enough to conclude that the broad similarities encountered here between volumes suggest that most of the music contained therein was acquired in Italy, in the late 18th century, probably in Naples and Venice, and subsequently brought back to England.

Traces of ownership of Italian manuscript edition volumes

There are several indicators of former ownership which help us to establish who may have purchased these manuscript editions in Italy. On the title pages of several individual tracts, and on one front binding, the names 'Cawdor' and 'Elizabeth Campbell' denote ownership. This couple were John Campbell (1790-1860), 1st Earl Cawdor, and his wife Elizabeth (née Thynne of Bath) (1795-1866). The first Earl’s father, 1st Baron Cawdor (1753-1821), also John Campbell, was a dedicated antiquarian, acquiring such an extensive art collection that he was able to exhibit it in his own home on Oxford Street from 1790 to 1800.[3] Both he and his wife Caroline were keen patrons of the arts, particularly Italian opera, and visited Italy on numerous occasions, where they are known to have purchased numerous pieces of art and sculpture, particularly in Naples and Sicily. Extensive travel diaries of the European travels of both John and Caroline are held at the Carmarthenshire Record Office.[4]

It is likely therefore that much of the manuscript music in this sub-collection may have been purchased in Italy by John Campbell, 1st Baron, and inherited later by his son, John Campbell, 1st Earl. The Earl inherited his parents’ love of music, and retained a serious and scholarly devotion to the subject for the rest of his life, so he is likely to have cherished his father’s music, and no doubt added to the family collection. John and Elizabeth married in 1816, and in 1817 travelled to Italy as part of their honeymoon trip, and it is possible that they purchased music during their travels.[5] 

Portrait of John Frederick Campbell, 1st Earl Cawdor
Figure 5: John Frederick Campbell by Richard James Lane, after James Rannie Swinton. Lithograph, 1848 (1848). NPG D22186. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Portrait of Elizabeth Campbell
Figure 6: Portrait of Elizabeth, Countess Cawdor after Lawrence. 1832. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is often Elizabeth’s name (either as Campbell or Cawdor) that appears on an individual edition, sometimes accompanied by ‘1817’, suggesting either that she acquired in Italy in 1817 or, perhaps, that she was gifted it by her husband upon marriage. Elizabeth’s travel diary from the trip survives, and in it, she frequently provides criticisms of pieces of art she encounters, demonstrating more than a passing knowledge of artistic quality and taste.[6] With further research, it may therefore be possible to establish whether she did in fact buy music in Italy during her honeymoon. Overall, although it may not be possible to establish exact circumstances of purchase by the Cawdor family, it is reasonable to conclude that, by the 1820s, the vast majority of individual editions in this sub-collection belonged to John and Elizabeth, First Earl and Countess of Cawdor.

The second part of this blog, to be published in a few weeks’ time, will follow the journey of these vellum volumes from the Cawdor family to Prince Albert, and through him, to the Royal Music Library of today.

Mary-Jannet Leith,

PhD Placement student, British Library


[1] Donald Burrows, 'The Royal Music Library and its Handel Collection', Electronic British Library Journal (2009), pp.1-40. All volumes of Handel’s autographs in the Royal Music Library have been digitised and are available to view on Digitised Manuscripts.

[2] Macnutt, R. ‘Alessandri & Scattaglia’, Grove Music Online (2001)

[3] 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. 276.

[4] Ibid.

[5] 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. 279.

[6] Ibid.

06 October 2021

Lithography and the satirical song sheet

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Alongside the religious and art music published during the 19th century, there was a substantial market for printed popular songs. The music of the London theatres and pleasure gardens had cultivated a steady demand for engraved song sheets throughout the 18th century, but the invention of lithography by Alois Senefelder (c.1797) injected a new graphic vitality into the genre. In a flurry of editorial experimentation brought about by lithography, printers played with the combination of music and image through the production of satirical song sheets. These were typically musical scores which featured a title page image as well as humorous caricatures that surrounded the notation adding a visual accompaniment to the musical narrative.

Title page of Robert Southey’s Quadrilling: A favourite Song, ascribed to the Authors of ‘Rejected Addresses' A page from Robert Southey’s Quadrilling: A favourite Song, ascribed to the Authors of ‘Rejected Addresses  A page from Robert Southey’s Quadrilling: A favourite Song, ascribed to the Authors of ‘Rejected Addresses' A page from Robert Southey’s Quadrilling: A favourite Song, ascribed to the Authors of ‘Rejected Addresses'

Figures 1-4: Robert Southey’s Quadrilling: A favourite Song, ascribed to the Authors of ‘Rejected Addresses’. British Library

Lithography offered a number of benefits over the engraving and etching that dominated music printing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead of engraving images onto metal plates with punches and burins, artists could use familiar materials such as crayons and pencils. It was even possible for the artist to work directly onto paper (with a special greasy ink) and for the printer to then transfer the image onto the absorbent stone used for making impressions. Drawing on a stone could be done ‘in the same way as one would execute a drawing on paper with ink or common chalk.’[1] This made it easier to reproduce maps, topographical plans, landscape drawings, portraits, and other works and, as Senefelder put it, ‘it has been generally observed that drawings of the less excellent artists, appear to greater advantage on stone, than on copper.’[2]

The precision of etching and engraving meant that it remained the dominant method for printing music in the 19th century, but the graphic flexibility and accessibility of lithography encouraged non-musical printers to experiment with music notation. Printers who specialised in graphic prints, keen to show off the capabilities of the new technology, jumped at the chance to apply lithographic techniques to printed music. One such publisher was William Hawkes Smith (1786-1840) of Birmingham. Smith was primarily an author and draughtsman who notably produced a set of illustrations for Robert Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer.[3] In 1821 he published QUADRILLING; A favourite Song, ascribed to the Authors of ‘REJECTED ADDRESSES.’ [Figures 1-4] The edition was designed to show off Smith’s lithographic skills as the title page boasts, ‘Decorations designed and executed by WILLIAM HAWKES SMITH,’ and explicitly advertises the work as ‘printed by the Lithographic process.’

The song satirises the quadrille, a popular contemporary square dance for four couples. The title page features images of four respectable-looking couples standing in formation preparing to dance, setting up for the cacophony of humorous imagery on the following pages. The score contains just three lines of music overwhelmed by images that visualise the musical comedy: surrounding the stave and song text are depictions of different social classes attempting the dance.  Courtiers and citizens dance together, a man is pickpocketed as he falls over, Terpsichore (Greek muse) dances amongst men holding her lyre, and baronets, moneylenders, brokers, lawyers, and scullery maids are all made fun of in the commotion.

Although the combined novelty of a song sheet and a satirical cartoon must have impressed contemporary print- and music-buying audiences, this edition reveals a technology in its infancy. The smudging, inconsistent thickness of the text and the almost illegible publisher information at the foot of the title page [Figure 1] suggest that Smith had not yet mastered the new printing technique. Teething issues like these slowed down the uptake of lithography in the early 19th century, but technical treatises were published outlining solutions to the problems faced by those new to lithography.

Raucourt's A Manual of Lithography (1832) addressed some of the issues Smith faced. It explained in some detail what the printer should do if ‘the impressions are pale’, ‘The impressions are uneven’, ‘A part of the impression is wanting’ with over 100 other pieces of advice on mixing ink, cleaning and polishing the stones, etching drawings, imitating woodblocks etc. To fix the uneven impressions in this edition (most noticeable on the third line of notation (figure 2 and at the top of figure 3), for example, Smith would have had to ‘Increase the pressure of the scraper until it [took] up all the ink.’

Part of the image is missing at the top of the second page [Figure 3]. The manual suggested that this meant 'The stone, or the scraper, is not level: if this accident proceeds from the stone, some paper must be pasted on the leather of the box.' A later copy of Quadrilling (held at the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection) suggests that these problems persisted throughout the process with faded and incomplete sections appearing in different parts of the score as the publisher worked to correct the mistakes. In the later copy Smith has also omitted the illegible text from the title page of the previous edition.

Manuals like this one helped to improve the quality of lithography in Britain and by the mid-1820s Smith seems to have perfected the process. In 1825, Smith published Washing Day: a proper new Ballad for wet weather [Figures 5-8]. The song was a popular ballad that made fun of a wife’s temperament on washing days. Clearly more confident in his abilities Smith was now trading as ‘the Lithographic Press.’ The title page of Washing Day attests to his technical improvement: the precise lines and contrasting textures of the text and image show a fluency not apparent in the comparatively clumsy printing of Quadrilling.

Title page of W. Hawkes Smith’s Washing Day: a proper new Ballad for wet weather A page from W. Hawkes Smith’s Washing Day: a proper new Ballad for wet weather

A page from W. Hawkes Smith’s Washing Day: a proper new Ballad for wet weather A page from W. Hawkes Smith’s Washing Day: a proper new Ballad for wet weather

Figures 5-8: W. Hawkes Smith’s Washing Day: a proper new Ballad for wet weather. British Library H.1652.n.(21.).

Inside the score, we also see a printer more confident in his experiments. Rather than the images following the stave, the music physically bends around Smith’s cartoons and the lines of the stave become part of the graphic comedy. The notation yields to the windy weather depicted on the title page as it is literally blown out of shape by cherubs (top right of figure 6) and as the husband is told ‘with a frowning look, To get out of [his wife’s] way,’ the staves also move to avoid her. Women were often satirised in 19th-century popular songs and here the visual and musical comedy combine to reinforce the sharply defined gender roles of Victorian society.

The printed music collections at the British Library are particularly rich in this kind of visual material but satirical song sheets are currently difficult to find. They are usually catalogued as ordinary song sheets (with the first line of the song used for the catalogue title) and the graphic elements of the scores are seldom included in catalogue record. Satirical song sheets have thus received little scholarly attention, but each of these editions provides a unique insight into the creative responses of publishers to new printing technologies and help us to understand the interplay between the print and music trades during the 19th-century.


[1] Colonel Raucourt, A manual of lithography, or memoir on the lithographical experiments made in Paris, at the Royal School of the Roads and Bridges ... Translated from the French, by C. Hullmandel., ed. Charles Joseph Hullmandel, Third edition corrected. ed. (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman, 1832), 86-7.

[2] Johann Nepomuk Franz Aloys Senefelder, A complete course of lithography ... accompanied by illustrative specimens of drawings. To which is prefixed a History of Lithography ... With a preface by F. von Schlichtegroll. Translated from the German by A. S[chlichtegroll] (London : Printed for R. Ackermann, 1819. (W. Clowes [printer]). 1819).

[3] Robert Southey, Essays in design drawn and etched by W. H. Smith, ... illustrative of the poem of Thalaba the Destroyer, by R. Southey, ed. William Hawkes Smith (Birmingham, 1818).

Dominic Bridge, Collaborative PhD student, University of Liverpool and British Library