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Bodleian Library

Bodleian Library

History and scope of the Music collection



From its opening in 1602 until towards the end of the 18th century the Bodleian possessed relatively little music. Although books concerning music were received under the terms of Sir Thomas Bodley's agreement with the Stationer's Company in 1610, almost no printed music was received. The library's copy of Parthenia (1613), already recorded in the 1620 printed catalogue, is a rare exception.

There were, however, amongst the collections which accumulated rapidly in the 17th and 18th centuries, many medieval liturgical books and manuscript treatises on music, and it is these that attracted scholars like Charles Burney and Sir John Hawkins to use the library for work on their histories of music.

For actual music of the 16th to 18th centuries the university had another resource, the Music School Collection. In addition to the mid-16th century 'Forrest-Heather partbooks', it was rich in madrigal books, 17th-century English consort music, 17th-century Italian printed instrumental music, and the complete court odes of William Boyce. The collection was transferred to the Bodleian in 1885.

Early donations and acquisitions

From the 1780s the Bodleian's own collection of music began to grow appreciably, when a regular inflow of British printed music finally started to be received under legal deposit, and this has continued to the present day. Even once this intake of music had begun, however, it was not until the 20th century that anything approaching fairly complete receipt of current British musical publications was achieved. That the library nevertheless has remarkably comprehensive collections of British printed music from the 16th century onwards is due not so much to its purchases of individual items to 'fill in the gaps' (although this has been, and continues to be, part of its policy) as to its good fortune over the centuries in attracting the donation of substantial collections of antiquarian material. Even primarily non-musical collections (such as those of Anthony Wood, Francis Douce and Edmund Malone) have often included extremely interesting musical items.

The first significant purely musical collection came in 1801 with the bequest of Osborne Wight, Fellow of New College, who offered the library whatever manuscript and printed music from his library it chose to select. The selection included a strong collection of 17th- and 18th-century English music, including autographs of Purcell, Greene and Boyce, as well as 18th-century printed editions of Handel and the like. 

For the remainder of the 19th century relatively few non-copyright additions were made to the music collections. The period did, however, see the acquisition of two of its most famous music manuscripts, MS. Canonici misc. 213, with music of Dufay and others, which came as part of the Canonici collection in 1817, and the so-called Sadler partbooks (MSS. Mus. e. 1-5) purchased in 1885.

20th century and beyond

Although major new foreign books on music were sometimes acquired in the 19th century, no attempt was made to buy foreign musical editions, so that not even the collected works of Bach or Mozart were obtained for the library at the time of publication. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that serious attention began to be given to building up the foreign holdings, and through steady purchases of antiquarian as well as current material a remarkably well-rounded research collection has been built up, comprising in excess of 500,000 items of printed music and 60,000 books.

It has only a small collection of sound recordings, mostly received as adjuncts to books; the Music Faculty Library houses the University's main collection of recordings. In recent years the Music Section has also developed its collection of concert and opera programmes to include not only Oxford items, but many from London and other centres from the mid-19th century onwards, complementing material in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, and forming the largest such U.K. collection outside London.

On the manuscript side the Bodleian developed a policy from the 1920s of encouraging the donation of the manuscripts of British 19th- and 20th-century composers, particularly those with Oxford connections. In this way substantial collections of the manuscripts of Hubert Parry, Basil Harwood, Percy Sherwood, George Butterworth, Ernest Farrar, Gerald Finzi, Robin Milford, Ernest Walker, Alfred Hale, Howard Ferguson, Bruce Montgomery and Clifton Parker have been collected, as well as isolated manuscripts of Bax, Elgar, Holst, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Maxwell Davies and others.

The library has also been exceptionally fortunate in the acquisition of five major music collections since 1970. The immense Harding Collection, received from Chicago in 1975, impressively strengthened the library's already considerable resources in the fields of English secular music and English and foreign opera scores, as well as making it the major holder of American song material on this side of the Atlantic.

The M. Deneke Mendelssohn Collection, acquired mostly by donation directly or indirectly from descendants of the composer, has led to the Bodleian becoming one of the two principal centres for Mendelssohn research. It is rich in autographs, letters, drawing books, and other personal items, as well as containing a considerable part of the composer's own library. With the generous help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the library was able to add the final autograph score of the Hebrides Overture to this collection in 2002.

The famous music library of St. Michael's College Tenbury came to the Library in 1985. The collection has added to the Bodleian's holdings over one thousand music manuscripts, 600 printed treatises and 5,500 items of printed music ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries, including the celebrated 'Batten Organ Book' and Handel's own conducting score of Messiah. Its acquisition has enabled this notable collection to be essentially kept intact (only printed items already duplicated in the Bodleian's collections were not acquired) and made readily accessible to future generations of scholars.

In 1998 the Bodleian received the donation of 2,200 music editions and 200 books from the library of Alan Tyson. With a concentration on music of the Viennese Classical composers, and rich in first editions of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and others, it has enhanced the Bodleian's holdings of this material in a most remarkable manner.

More recently still, in 2006 the Mozart holdings were also greatly strengthened by the acquisition, in lieu of Inheritance Tax, of 87 first and early editions from the collection of the late antiquarian music dealer Albi Rosenthal.


Manuscripts kept in the library:

Ballade F minor op. 52; Incomplete Stichvorlage autograph
Mazurka A-flat major op. 59 nr 2; Presentation autograph

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