Curation and Documentation

In our research into the legal deposit music collected in British libraries during the Georgian era, a key thread is obviously the histories of individual collections between then, and now.  Two hundred years is a long time, so contemporary evidence is significant.

For example, in 1826, the pseudonymous Caleb Concord wrote in the (short-lived) Aberdeen Censor that the students at Aberdeen’s Marischal College should be more concerned about what had happened to the legal deposit music that had been claimed by Aberdeen’s other higher education institution, King’s College.  Corroborating this, Professor William Paul, who had once been librarian at King’s College, told an official commission in 1827, that he believed some of the music had been sold at some time before he went to the college, ie, before 1811.  (Commissioners for Visiting the Universities and Colleges of Scotland, Evidence, Oral and Documentary, Taken and Received by the Commissioners … for Visiting the Universities of Scotland.  Vol.4, Aberdeen (London: HMSO, 1837).  There is evidence for Stationers’ Hall music having been sold at Edinburgh University in the late eighteenth century, too.

In St Andrews, by contrast, there are not only archival records documenting senate decisions about the library, but also the borrowing records, which I’ve written and blogged about quite a bit over the past couple of years – not to mention the handwritten catalogue by a niece of a deceased professor of the University.  A payment was made to her in the 1820s, but the catalogue continued to be updated until legal deposits ceased to be claimed by the University in 1836, when the legislation changed. (Miss Lambert married and moved to London in 1832, so the later years were not completed by her.)

Bibliographic Control

In the middle few decades of the nineteenth century, some of the libraries began to attempt better control and documentation of their music.  However, I don’t propose to write about every legal deposit library in this posting, because my main reason in writing today is to share a small but interesting excerpt from William Chappell’s first book about English national songs.  Now, in my own doctoral thesis and subsequent book, I focused on Chappell’s later work, Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-1859), and its later iteration, Old English Popular Music.  I mentioned that PMOT had grown out of his earlier Collection of National Airs (1838-1840), and I highlighted a few key features of that work.

A Rare Find

2018-08-17 11.12.52Today, sifting through a library donation of largely 20th century scores, I was astonished2018-08-17 11.15.05 to lift two obviously older volumes out of one of the boxes.  We’re now the proud owners of the third set of Collection of National Airs known to be held in Scotland.  Since I haven’t looked at this title for a decade or so, I leafed through both volumes briefly, to remind myself what they were like.  (The volumes had belonged to a Mrs Chambers, and either she or a young relative had practised their drawing skills on the flyleaves, but we’ll overlook those for now!)

2018-08-17 11.13.56Chappell’s work is in two volumes: the first contains the subscriber’s list and a preface, with the rest of the volume devoted to the tunes themselves. The second volume contains commentary, winding up with a conclusion and then an appendix.

England has no National Music

The preface opens with the words which have echoed (metaphorically speaking) in my ears since I first read them:-

“The object of the present work is to give practical refutation to the popular fallacy that England has no National Music,- a fallacy arising solely from indolence in collecting; for we trust that the present work will show that there is no deficiency in material, whatever there may have been in the prospect of encouragement to such Collections.”

Of course, Chappell was preoccupied with national songs (“folk songs”) and ballads – as was I, at the time I first read it.  So I hadn’t paid attention to a footnote later in the Preface.  But, as I read on, there it was – William Chappell commenting on the legal deposit music in what is now the British Library!  It is clear that the music – in Chappell’s eyes, at any rate – was in need of organisation.  (We now know that  it was much the same in Oxford, Edinburgh or Edinburgh’s Advocates’ Library – the forerunner of the National Library of Scotland.)

On page iv, Chappell named various key collections of British tunes, naming the British Museum (the forerunner of our British Library) as the repository for some of these collections.  A footnote afforded him the chance to make an aside about the contemporary custodial arrangements there.

Attentive, Obliging … Inaccessible, Not Catalogued

It is to be hoped that the attention of the Trustees may be soon drawn to the state of the invaluable Library of Music in the British Museum; for whilst the publisher is taxed a copy of every work, it is but just that it should be open to inspection.  At present, with the exception of a few works on Theory, which, being almost entirely letterpress, are included with the books, the Music is perfectly inaccessible, – not being catalogued or classed in any manner.  No persons can be more attentive or obliging than the attendants in the Reading-room, but in this they are unable to render any assistance.  It is not generally known that the manuscripts of the great Henry Purcell and many others are also in the Museum; but they are in the same state as the music, and are not to be seen.”

2018-08-17 11.09.45

Changing the subject, it’s interesting for us as modern readers to note that Chappell’s conclusion at the end of the second volume winds up with a sorrowful observation about the decline in musical education, since an unspecified time when music was a key part not only of a young gentleman’s education, but also of young children’s.

Merry England

“The Editor trusts, however, that he has already satisfactorily demonstrated the proposition which he at first stated, viz. that England has not only abundance of National Music, but that its antiquity is at least as well authenticated as that of any other nation.  England was formerly called “Merry England.”

Music taught in all public schools

“That was when every Gentleman could sing at sight;- when musical degrees were taken at the Universities, to add lustre to degrees in arts;- when College Fellowships were only given to those who could sing;- when Winchester boys were not suffered to evade the testator’s will, as they do now, but were obliged to learn to sing before they could enter the school;- when music was taught in all public schools, and thought as necessary a branch of the education of “small children” as reading or writing;- when barbers, cobblers and ploughmen, were proverbially musical;- and when “Smithfield with her ballads made all England roar.” Willingly would we exchange her present venerable title of “Old England,”, to find her “Merry England” once again.”

Chappell should read the commentary in today’s social media about the self-same topic!



RISM’s Updated Catalogue

RISM and Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek announcement – new version of RISM online catalogue

This was noted in social media recently – a makeover for the Repertoire Internationale des Sources Musicales, the database which logs early printed and manuscript music in many countries.  The link came with a full announcement and a YouTube video, which we share with you here:-


Hans Gal, Bibliographer and Musicologist

Hans Gal in Wikipedia
Hans Gal (Wikipedia)

Hans Gal (1890-1987) catalogued Edinburgh University’s Reid Music Library during the summer and autumn of 1938, at the instigation of Sir Donald Tovey. The latter was keen to find work for the gifted composer and musicologist, who had emigrated from Vienna when Hitler annexed Austria.  (Here’s a recording of his earlier Promenadenmusik for wind band, which he wrote in 1926. )  A grant from the Carnegie Trust enabled Gal’s catalogue to be published in 1941. When the Second World War ended, Gal joined the University music staff, and remained there beyond retirement age.

The reader is referred to the Hans Gal website for further biographical information (I am checking this weblink, which occasionally falters):- 

Gál, Hans, Catalogue of manuscripts, printed music and books on music up to 1850 : in the Library of the Music Department at the University of Edinburgh (Reid Library) (London, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1941)

2018-05-30 10.27.47
(Partially) catalogued by Gal

The catalogue is in three parts, listing manuscripts, printed music, and books on music. Gal did not list every individual piece of music in the library, but prioritised more serious classical music, whether vocal or instrumental. One might suggest that there were various reasons for Gal’s decision.

In his preface, he explains that, ‘for practical reasons I confined this catalogue to the old part of the library, namely the manuscripts, printed music and books on music up to 1850, which is the latest limit of issues that might be looked upon as of historical importance’. [Gal, vii]

However, this was not the only limitation placed on the listing. Gal omitted many of the pieces of sheet music that must have arrived as legal deposit copies during the Georgian era, until copyright legislation changed in 1836.  The Reid music cupboards contained a number of Sammelbänder, or ‘binder’s volumes’, ie, bound volumes of assorted pieces of music.  Occasionally Gal made oblique reference to these, eg, to cover the 44 items in volume D 96:-

“Songs, Arias, etc., by various composers (Th. Smith, D. Corri, Bland, R. A. Smith, Rauzzini, Davy, Kelly, Urbani; partly anon.)  Single Editions by Longman & Broderip, Urbani, Polyhymnian Comp., etc., London (ca. 1780-1790). Fol.             D 96″ [Gal, 44]

Longman & Broderip were prolific music publishers, amongst the most assiduous of firms making trips to Stationers’ Hall to register new works. They published a lot of theatrical songs and arrangements, and much dance music, as well as the more serious, ‘classical’ music repertoire.  The catalogue entry cited above details some more commonly known composers of decidedly middle-of-the road, if not downmarket material.  One does not need to speculate as to whether Gal considered such material less respectable, for he made no secret of his disdain for much of the music published in this era!  In the preface, he asserts that,

“The gradual declining from Thomas Arne to Samuel Arnold, Charles Dibdin, William Shield, John Davy, Michael Kelly, is unmistakeable, although there is still plenty of humour and tunefulness in musical comedies such as Dr Arnold’s “Gretna Green”, Dibdin’s “The Padlock”, Shield’s numerous comic operas and pasticcios.

“After 1800 the degeneration was definitive, in the sacred music as well as in songs and musical comedy. […] It is hardly disputable that the first third of the nineteenth century, the time of the Napoleonic Wars and after, was an age of the worst general taste in music ever recorded in history, in spite of the great geniuses with which we are accustomed to identify that period.” [Gal, x]

Faced with several hundred of such pieces in a number of bound volumes, and quite possibly a limited number of months in which to complete the initial cataloguing, it is hardly surprising if Gal was content to make a few generic entries hinting at this proliferation of ‘bad taste’. (One might add as an aside, that Gal’s wife at one point observed that Gal ‘hated swallowing the dust in archives’, in connection with an earlier extended project in the late 1920s – clearly, he was able to overcome his distaste when the need arose! (See, citing private correspondence of 10.10.1989)

Interestingly, it is evident that Edinburgh, like several other of the legal deposit libraries, must have been selective in what was retained, but it’s significant that national song books were certainly considered worth keeping. Gal, in turn, included some of the prominent titles in his listing.

Thus, Gal’s catalogue is another reminder to us that the history of music claimed from Stationers’ Hall under legal deposit in the Georgian era, actually and actively continues beyond the Georgian era, for the material has already been curated by musicologists and bibliographers prior to our own generation.  In St Andrews, Cedric Thorpe Davie took an active interest, whilst Henry George Farmer was involved in curating the University of Glasgow collection.

Meanwhile, in connection with the current Claimed From Stationers’ Hall network research, the priority is to establish which volumes – formerly in the Reid School of Music cupboards, but now in the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections – were received under legal deposit. Two spread-sheet listings enable us to examine the contents of different volumes, by volume:-

Centre for Research Collections: Directory of Rare Book Collections: Reid Music Library:-

Where publication dates are not given in the spread-sheet, they can be looked up in Copac, and even if there are no decisive dates, then their presence in other legal deposit collections will suggest that these copies arrived by the same route. If music predates 1818, then works can be looked up in Michael Kassler’s Music Entries at Stationers’ Hall, 1710-1818, from Lists prepared for William Hawes, D. W. Krummel and Alan Tyson.  (Click here for Copac entry.)

Essentially, the first task is to ascertain which volumes contain legal deposit music, and then to look not only at what survives, but whether there are any patterns to be discerned. In terms of musicological, book, library or cultural history, the question today is not whether the music was ‘degenerate’ or in ‘bad taste’, but to ask ourselves what it tells us about music reception and curation in its own and subsequent eras.

I’d better get back to the spreadsheets!

Here’s a piece Gal wrote in 1939, only a short while after his cataloguing months: Hans Gal “What a Life!” – Die Ballade vom Deutschen Refugee (The Ballad of the German Refugee)

Postscript: as an interesting twist in the world of library and book history, my own copy of Gal’s catalogue was purchased secondhand – a withdrawn copy from a university library where the music department closed a few years ago.  What goes around, comes around, as they say!

Rare Music Cataloguing Event

This is a London event organised by one of the groups of the professional organisation that I belong to, CILIP.  I’m taking the liberty of sharing details in case you know any librarians interested in attending.

Rare Music Cataloguing Training

“CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group (RBSCG) is pleased to be able to offer training on the cataloguing of rare music.

  • Date: Monday, 4 June 2018
  • Time: 10am – 4.30pm
  • Venue: The British Library
  • Cost: £50 (+ VAT) for CILIP members / £60 (+ VAT) for non-members

When is a sinfonia not a symphony? What is a trio sonata? When was this piece of music published?

This rare materials training day will introduce participants to issues specific to music publications, in the context of RDA (Resource Description & Access) and DCRM(M) – Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Music). You will be shown how to recognise and describe:

  • different score formats
  • types of notation
  • medium of performance
  • musical genres and forms

There will also be guidance on:

  • production methods, publishers’ plate numbers, and ways of dating music publications
  • the MARC music format and the use of MARC tags for describing music
  • when and how to create music preferred titles

The training is intended for those new to music or early music cataloguing but with some experience of AACR2 and/or RDA. The trainers will be the British Library’s Caroline Shaw (Music Cataloguing Team Manager) and Iris O’Brien (Early Printed Collections Cataloguing Team Manager).

Tea and coffee will be provided but attendees will need to make their own arrangements for lunch.”

To book, here is a web link for this cataloguing event:

Victorian Catalogues – This Might Help


Copac searchWe tend to take catalogues for granted.  We expect them to tell us everything about a book, score or recording – author, title, publisher and publication date, pagination, unique identifying numbers (ISBN, ISMN or publishers’ code), and the contents of an album or collection of pieces. We look for the author or composer, the editor(s) – and expect to be able to know which is which.  In modern, online catalogues, this metadata is all carefully entered into special machine-readable fields as a “MARC record”.  That’s a MAchine-Readable Cataloguing record.

Not so Long Ago

When I began work as a librarian, I was taught how to catalogue onto pre-printed MARC data entry forms which the library assistants then entered into the library computer system.  Computer tapes were run overnight to upload the data to a cooperative system hosted in the Midlands, and shared by a number of libraries.  Things are more streamlined now!

A Couple of Centuries Ago

Vol 40 Miss Lambert catalogueBut what about our Victorian forefathers or the Georgians before them?  By the early 19th century, library catalogues of books were often prepared as printed volumes, but this wasn’t the case for the music I’ve been looking at.  Take the University of St Andrews’ handwritten catalogue made by Miss Elizabeth Lambert in the 1820s.  If there were (for example) three completely separate pieces making up a set of sonatas or songs, then it was not unusual for her to write a composite entry: “Three sonatas”, “Six Quadrilles on airs from Le Comte Ory” or whatever.

In 1831, a meeting of the Curators at the Advocates’ Library – the precursor to the National Library of Scotland – agreed that their copyright music had been handled with a worrying degree of laxity, and decided that things had to be tightened up by appointing a music committee.  Rules were drawn up regarding the handling and curation of this material, from arrival through to borrowing (yes, borrowing! It wasn’t yet a national reference library, after all) – not to mention calculating replacement costs and barring readers who had lost books, until they paid up!

However, it took until 1856-7 – by which time John Donaldson had become the Fourth Reid Professor at the University of Edinburgh – for the committee to decide that formal cataloguing rules were needed.  Donaldson was at least a musician. Several committee members seem to have been in the legal profession. They spent a week thinking about how to set about it, debating whether to enter items under the composers’ names, or the publishers.  And then they asked the experts at the British Museum.  They received, by return, the rules used for cataloguing music, and adopted them for their own use.

This week, I looked at the National Library of Scotland’s Victorian Catalogue.  I was trying to identify items on those two mysterious lists of music from 1830.  They presumably wouldn’t have been catalogued until after 1857, if I’m interpreting the facts right.  It took a little while before I realised just how far things have come since then!

Filing Systems

2017-12-06 15.28.25In the Victorian catalogue, music is entered alphabetically by composer, and then alphabetically by title within each composer’s output.  However, the alphabetical titles were often alphabetical by genre rather than by exact title, so Selected Marches might be followed by Fourth March then Fifth March and then would come Favorite Quadrilles on airs from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory.  (“Quadrilles” are alphabetically after “Marches”, and never mind about the words before them in the title!)  Today, we create “uniform titles”, which standardise titles for filing purposes.  By comparison, the Victorians had uniform titles in their heads but nothing like that on the catalogue slip!

Statements of Responsibility (aka, Entry Points)

This is modern library-speak for the names of people involved with creating the book or composition, whether they wrote, edited, or arranged it, or supplied some specialised service such as the fingering or bowing in a piano or violin piece, or indeed, writing an introduction or compiling an index at the end.  Things are sometimes a bit more complicated than that.

For example, if Halevy wrote a piece, then clearly he was the main author.  If he wrote a duet arrangement of themes in someone else’s overture, then in today’s parlance, he’d be the arranger.  If he wrote variations on a theme, then you could argue that he was an author in his own right – the variations wouldn’t exist without him writing them.  Thanks to online cataloguing, you’d find the piece regardless of what his contribution was, and in the case of sets of variations, the original composer of a theme would probably get a mention too.  (The rules are clear, but if you check Copac, you find that sometimes the same piece has been catalogued by different libraries with either composer as the main entry, because it’s admittedly a slightly grey area – it doesn’t matter hugely, so long as the piece can be found!)

IMAGES FROM AACR2 (Anglo American Cataloguing Rules 2nd Edition)

Now, in the days before online cataloguing, say, fifty years ago, an arranger or editor would have had an “added entry” with his name above the name of the original composer, so two catalogue cards would have been typed, and one filed under each individual’s name.

However, in the Victorian catalogue, you’d find Halevy’s compositions, sorted from A-Z, as I’ve just described, and then a second series of pieces sorted from A-Z, that he’d edited or arranged in some way.  And the second sequence weren’t always complete entries.  Sometimes, the card was just a cross-reference: it didn’t tell you which volume the piece was in, but the original composer’s name was underlined.  So you’d then go and look under their name, to find out which volume contained the piece you were seeking.

As for publication and physical details – most records in the Victorian catalogue seem merely to inform us that the work was published in London, and was folio size. Not really very informative!

Those two lists from 1830 contained some 147 pieces, a few of which I had been unable precisely to identify.  I made a valiant start trying to see how many of the identifiable ones could actually be traced in the Victorian catalogue.  I didn’t get to the end of the lists!  However, it did look as though the majority were there in some form.  Had I been prepared to spend quite a few more hours on the task, looking for cross-references and arrangements in other places, maybe I’d have found more of them.  I was at least able to establish that these lists seemed to be of pieces that the Advocates wanted to keep, rather than pieces they intended to sell.  The lists didn’t look like Mr Greenhill’s lists from Stationers’ Hall; the Stationers’ Hall lists came quarterly, in books, and more closely written, whilst the Advocates’ lists were on loose sheets of paper, more spaced out, and dated as consecutive months: February and March 1830.

Of the pieces that I managed to trace in my two-hour session, most appeared to be bound into music volumes numbered from 1 to 68.  I traced a handful in later-numbered volumes, but it was a bit difficult to be certain, when the handwritten lists themselves had given me little to go on!

2017-12-06 15.27.11It always pays to enquire whether there are other old card catalogues that may not be on general public access.  The National Library of Scotland’s Victorian catalogue, and Glasgow’s main public reference library, The Mitchell’s Kidson collection, are just two examples.  Because they’re paper slips in long trays, you have to be a bit careful with them, and access may have to be arranged under supervision of a member of staff.  But these are valuable resources, and may be the only way of accessing a historical collection of music.  Who would have thought it, in these days of online catalogues – or OPACs*, as we fondly refer to them.

*Online Public Access Catalogues, to those in the trade!

The Aberdeen-Norfolk Link


To say that an expert on the Aberdeen copyright music collection lives less than fifteen miles away from my mother in Norfolk sounds too coincidental to be true. But retired special collections cataloguer Richard Turbet does indeed live in Holt, which is where we met this morning.  A small market town, buildings faced with traditional Norfolk flints, it wears its age well, many of the properties as old as the music we had met to talk about.

Richard was able to tell me the names of some people who had worked with him, or just after him, when he was occupied cataloguing the University of Aberdeen’s old legal deposit music online, in the days when original cataloguing was more usual, and dowloaded records were just becoming a possibility.  The names of cataloguers and university librarians now retired, served to remind me that the histories of collections have a lineage leading right up to the present day. Time didn’t just stand still after the tide of historical copyright music stopped flowing to the Scottish university libraries.

Richard also confirmed an interesting difference between the bound collections of music in Aberdeen and St Andrews. The latter were at least roughly categorized before binding. However, Aberdeen’s collections were apparently completely randomly bound.  We also know that, unlike the steady borrowing of music from St Andrews’ University Library, access to the library at King’s College was so severely restricted at that time, that any borrowing would have been limited, still less of the musical collection. (If there are loan records, I urgently need to find out about them and to seek them out!)

This was a thoroughly enjoyable, as well as an informative meeting. IMG_20170912_001955Driving back through heavy showers, I was largely oblivious to the weather. I had a pageful of notes to think about and follow up, and the possibility of further future contact. The Aberdeen-Norfolk connection is indeed a good thing, and I’m delighted to have made contact again after a gap of several years.

Might my next expedition be to Aberdeen???