The Big Picture: Bibliographic Control

Whilst I was postdoctoral research assistant to the AHRC-funded Bass Culture project, I authored a blogpost about how/where to locate all the fiddle tune-books we were researching.  I revisited that 2015 posting today, because the same resources are pertinent to the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall (CFSH) historical legal deposit music research network.

Bibliographic control of early printed and manuscript sources is key to historical research.  In musicological discussions about British publications, it doesn’t take long before someone mentions Schnapper and BUCEM, although they’ve largely been superseded by RISM (the Répertoire Internationale des Sources Musicales).  It was hardly surprising that RISM (UK) came up in conversation at the recent CFSH meeting that I attended at the British Library just before Christmas, because our whole network centres around firstly tracing eighteenth and early nineteenth century British legal deposit music in libraries, and secondly raising the profile of this corpus of material.

Let’s set this meeting in context by explaining who Edith Schnapper was; what she achieved with BUCEM; and how it fits in with RISM.

1957 – Schnapper

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British Union-Catalogue of Early Music / Schnapper

Dr Edith Schnapper was a bibliographer who listed British published music prior to 1801, in a two-volume bibliography entitled British Union-Catalogue of Early Music printed before the year 1801: a record of the holdings of over one hundred libraries throughout the British Isles (London: Butterworth Scientific Publications, 1957).  Behind this huge undertaking was the Council of the British Union-Catalogue of Music, chaired by C. B. Oldman, with representatives from the great and the good of music and music librarianship of the time – ASLIB, the Bibliographical Society, the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library, the British Council, the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Music and the Worshipful Company of Musicians, along with other private individuals.  Editorship had commenced with O. E. Deutsch in 1946, succeeded by Schnapper in 1950.

1912, 1940 – Squire, Smith

220px-william_barclay_squireAround 60% of the material listed in BUCEM came from the British Museum (now the British Library), and Schnapper was able to draw upon an earlier publication for this:- W. Barclay Squire’s, The Catalogue of Printed Music published between 1487 and 1800 and now in the British Museum (2 vols, 1912) and William C. Smith’s supplement of 1940.  For the rest, Schnapper consulted over one hundred other libraries, in person and through correspondence.  Although inclusivity was key, a significant category was not fully listed.  Oldman, in the preface to BUCEM, noted that,

The only substantial exception consists of sheet-songs of the 18th century, which were published in vast quantities, especially from 1730 onward.  While a considerable proportion of them has been catalogued in their entirety, notably the important early songs in the Chetham Library at Manchester, there remain several extensive collections mostly of the later 18th century, which had to be left uncatalogued through lack of time.

The collections alluded to were other legal deposit libraries (Oxford, Cambridge, and the National Libraries of Ireland and Scotland), and two significant public libraries (Glasgow’s Mitchell Library and Manchester’s Henry Watson Library).  Even though the British Museum probably had the largest and most complete collection of music deposited under legal deposit, we have to face the fact that not all music was actually registered or deposited.  The unregistered material is an unknown quantity, and copies could be scattered pretty much anywhere.

1952 onwards –  RISM

RISM logo

Contemporaneously with BUCEM, and eventually supplanting it for early British printed music, emerged RISM, a huge international undertaking which began in print and more recently moved over to digital format.  RISM has been produced in various series covering different categories of musical material, both published and manuscript, and including writings about music as well as the music itself. See the RISM website for full details ( ).  Under Publications, the website summarises,

“The RISM publications represent RISM’s activities that began in 1952 and continue to the present day. The online catalog is the focus of RISM’s current activities and is freely available online. Series A documents musical sources in two parts: printed music (A/I) and music manuscripts (A/II). Series B is designed to cover specific categories of repertory. Series A and B are supplemented by Series C, the Directory of Music Research Libraries.  Special volumes have also been published on the Tenorlied and RISM library sigla (now available as an online database).”

Different countries have branches of RISM, and the UK branch is of course highly pertinent to our present research:  Since 1984, this branch has been run by the RISM (UK) Trust.  Again, the opening summary is helpful,

“This database holds details of pre-1850 music sources preserved in libraries and archives in the UK. It includes manuscripts from national, public and academic libraries, county and city record offices, cathedral and chapel libraries and some private collections.  It also now includes more than 300 printed anthologies from the 16th century, with links to digitised copies of the music in the Early Music Online collection at Royal Holloway. We estimate that about two-thirds of surviving manuscript sources in the UK have now been documented. Work has recently begun to document music sources in Ireland.  Some music collections in Dublin libraries, notably the Mercer’s Hospital Collection at Trinity College, Dublin, are included in the present database.  A new database dedicated to sources across Ireland has recently been launched by the RISM Ireland working group.”

See also the UK RISM page, ‘About RISM’, published in 2011:-

“The UK’s contribution to RISM is overseen by the RISM (UK) Trust, which was also historically responsible for documenting music source material in Dublin. An Irish working group has been set up to oversee the collection of data in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and a new list of repository sigla has been drawn up (please see RISM Ireland’s webpage at

“Between the 1950s and 1990s, cataloguers in the UK concentrated largely on documenting printed music, along with manuscripts dating from before 1600. The data was published in RISM Series A/I and B. Work is now ongoing on the cataloguing of music manuscripts from the period 1600 to 1850, a key period in music history and one for which much significant material is held in the UK. That data is being made available via this website, as Music Manuscripts after 1600 in British and Irish Libraries.”

RISM A/1 for the UK was based on BUCEM, as is clear from Hugh Cobbe, ‘RISM A/II: The United Kingdom Contribution’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association Vol. 113, No. 1 (1988), pp. 146-148) :-

“In the United Kingdom the national contribution to A/I was swiftly completed, largely thanks to the earlier publication of the pioneering British Union Catalogue of Early Music (London, 1957); all that was required were addenda et corrigenda, and it proved possible for librarians to provide these in the normal course of their work.”

As a trust, RISM (UK) is dependent on external funding.  Between 2001 and 2007, AHRC funding supported the cataloguing of UK music manuscripts; and in 2011, JISC’s Rapid Digitisation Programme supported the digitisation and documentation of over 300 early printed music anthologies at the British Library. However, with no current funding, the work of RISM (UK) is currently dormant.

2017 – Legal Deposit Music: Visits to the British Library 1200px-british_library_londonand Lambeth Palace Library

Prior to organising a workshop for stakeholders (those who curate or work with the historical legal deposit music collections) and other interested librarians, musicologists and historians, I’ve been meeting with key individuals and groups to talk about the aims and projected outcomes of the network.  My meetings at the British Library and Lambeth Palace Library a couple of weeks ago were part of this process.  At both meetings, I explained that the network has a steering group, which hopes to run a workshop for key players and other interested parties in Spring 2018.  I also outlined the outcomes that I had committed myself to in the AHRC funding application:-

  • Blog, newsletters, social media. Guest blogposts. These are all well up to speed.
  • Conference papers
  • Workshop leading to published papers of some kind.
  • Journal articles
  • Raising the profile of collections by social media and by public events
  • Performing the collections – small-scale local events? Local history groups? At a National Trust property or another stately home? Ideally, it would be good to have at least one public performance or other event, volunteered by a participant, participant’s library or other group.
  • Bibliography (currently being compiled)

Various threads emerged, different at each meeting.  At the British Library, the potential of such a large corpus of music for big data analysis was a significant interest, but it led on to discussion of the whole issue of bibliographic control, and the fact that RISM (UK) currently has no funding to continue bibliographic documentation beyond the present cut-off circa 1800.  However, the situation is more complicated than you might think.

For example – leaving RISM aside for a moment – the British Library and Glasgow University Library have all their legal deposit music catalogued.  I have yet to explore the situation at the Bodleian and the University of Cambridge.  The University of St Andrews availed itself of funding for retrospective cataloguing of post-1800 material at individual libraries at the beginning of the present century; this way, they were able to catalogue a large proportion of their post-1800 copyright music collection, but not the earlier copyright music.  Some of the University of Aberdeen’s copyright music is catalogued online – this is a work in progress.  2017-12-06 15.27.56The National Library of Scotland still depends on the paper slip Victorian music catalogue for much of its nineteenth century printed music.  Meanwhile, the University of Edinburgh has been able to undertake basic-level cataloguing of rare music materials that were in the Reid Hall collection, using volunteer assistance – it can be found on a spreadsheet on the University’s Research Collections website.  Some of this material may well have arrived via the legal deposit route, though we don’t yet know which.  However, these examples in themselves highlight the fact that uncatalogued material, material still catalogued on paper, or indeed, just not accessible via union catalogues such as Copac or WorldCat, is now effectively invisible, in an age where so much is catalogued online, or even available digitally.  So, there’s a big research question – what do we do with analogue materials? What approaches could be taken, to the cataloguing of, and digital access to, the Stationers’ Hall copyright collections or indeed on a wider basis?  This could form the basis for a much larger funding application.

If RISM (UK) had further funding, then the copyright music repertoire could be considered as a starting point for reviving RISM (UK) documentation activity.  As a potential launchpad for a much bigger enterprise, the CFSH network acquires much greater significance!

We also talked about the “gap” between RISM with its detailed documentation, and IMSLP, with less detailed metadata but invaluable digital repertoire.  How could we bridge the gap?  (Could the early legal deposit music be digitised? There is a vast amount of it!)

This was by no means all that we talked about – another interesting strand was our discussion of a mass of music imported to Australia from the likes of Manchester and Liverpool in the late nineteenth century, and more recently acquired and repatriated by the British Library.  The story of this separate corpus of material sounds fascinating!

Meeting at Lambeth Palace Library

2017-12-13 11.55.36Mention of Lambeth Palace inevitably conjures up pictures of the Thames and views of the Houses of Parliament; of archbishops and Anglican clergy; not to mention walled gardens, and impressive interiors literally oozing history.  But of most importance to the present project is the fact that in 1996, the Palace Library took over the custodianship of Sion College Library’s pre-1850 materials, including some music.

Sion College was one of the legal deposit libraries throughout the eighteenth century until 1836, having been founded in the early seventeenth century:

“The Reverend Thomas White (c.1550 – 1624), Vicar of St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street, left £3000 in his will “for the acquisition of a house for the maSion College Wikipedia imageking of a College of Ministers, Rectors (Readers) and Curates within the City of London and the suburbs of the same.”

The most historical and valuable material from Sion College (just a handful of music falls into this category) is kept as a separate special collection, but there could be further material as yet uncatalogued apart from this.

Before the acquisition of this material by Lambeth Palace Library, its retention was sometimes threatened by financial exigencies, because books were occasionally sold to raise funds for the college coffers!  This means that not all of the legal deposit books and music Sion College might have had, was still in their possession at the time when the surviving stock was transferred to Lambeth Palace.

Rather to my surprise, I learned that Sion College Library had provided its clerical readers with wide-ranging reading matter, and was by no means confined to sermons, lectionaries and theological treatises.  So … did they keep secular as well as sacred music, for the enjoyment of the clergy?  The four surviving early music rarities indicate that they did!

2017-12-13 11.31.54
Sion College Benefactors’ Book

I was able to inspect the Sion Benefactors’ Book – a very old volume indeed, commenced in 1633 and maintained through the centuries, itemising books gifted to the library.  This does include Stationers’ Hall material, but in the 18th century, it basically lists gifts and copyright material up to circa 1789; after that, “See” lists provide references to later gifts documented elsewhere.

I also learned that Lambeth Palace Library occasionally holds concerts and visits for various groups – including current members of Sion College, which now functions mainly as a sociable society for the clergy.  And of course, the Palace is a near neighbour of the modern-day Vauxhall Gardens project.  (I walked past it, in pouring rain – it’s very difficult indeed to visualise the eighteenth century gardens vibrant with theatrical, musical and sociable activity, such David Coke and Alan Borg describe in Vauxhall Gardens: a History.) In other words, there could be distinct audiences out there, if sufficient music could be pulled together into a programme or illustrated talk.

The big question first, though, is what can be identified apart from the four ‘special’ music books that were stored with the most valuable materials.  Even if Lambeth Palace turned out not to hold very much historical copyright music, the library is still a stakeholder, insofar as it holds the rare books that once belonged to one of the copyright libraries.  And so, too, in an indirect sense, are the members of Sion College itself.  Wouldn’t it be exciting if a live music event could be coordinated?  We’ll have to wait and see!



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