From Glasgow to Edinburgh re Dundee: the Wighton Collection [My talk, Part 1]

Yesterday (11 June 2022), I travelled through to Edinburgh to a conference at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The topic was, ‘Towards a Scottish Traditional Music Archive’. I was there in my capacity as Honorary Librarian of the Friends of Wighton. Professionally, I combine two roles as a Performing Arts Librarian and as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  It was unusual for me to be speaking at a conference with neither my Conservatoire librarian nor musicologist hat on.

Much of the discussion was about sound archives and digital preservation, but I was there to talk about the Wighton Collection, which is firmly rooted in physical materials, even if there are also microfilm copies and an online website. If even one person there confessed that they had ‘never heard of the Wighton Collection before’, then it made me wonder how many other people have similarly not heard of it. So, I thought I’d share my talk here on my blog, too. The talk essentially fell into two halves – the background, and some comments about finding aids in general for this kind of repertoire. Here goes for the first half!

PowerPoint title screen: The Wighton Collection, Dundee

I began by explaining that I’ve worked in libraries for nearly four decades, and I’m a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – so I have a strong librarianship background, as distinct from that of an archivist. 

The Wighton Collection lives under the care of the Local History Library in Dundee’s Wellgate library.  This is a public library on the top floor of the Wellgate shopping centre, and it’s the Central Library for the city of Dundee.  Although I have an honorary role, I don’t have any paid connection with the city of Dundee.  My honorary role is to take a professional interest in the Wighton Collection and its curation, and to help answer queries needing specialist input.  In this respect, my doctoral and postdoctoral work on historical Scottish music certainly come in useful.

The Wighton Collection consists of about 700 music publications – some are bound together, so there aren’t as many as 700 bound volumes.  They were left to the city by Andrew Wighton, a merchant, violin-restorer and music collector who died in 1866.  Wighton had initially considered gifting his collection to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, but negotiations broke down concerning some of his preconditions.

Dundee adopted the Free Public Libraries Act shortly before Wighton died, and the council accepted Wighton’s bequest with a view to it forming one of the cornerstones of their new public library. I might add that there was some grumbling amongst the councillors as to whether it had been wise to accept so many music books before they even had anywhere to house it properly.  The insistence in Wighton’s bequest that it should be stored in a fire-proof room must have been an extra burden. 

However, one Dundee councillor made an observation which now seems laughable with hindsight, when he said it would cost three times as much to compile a catalogue as the volumes were actually worth.

Wighton’s collection has proven to be a jewel in the crown as far as the city library service is concerned – the books are almost beyond value, and certainly beyond the cost of cataloguing them.  Wighton’s avowed aim was to collect a copy of every Scottish music publication that existed.  In correspondence, one of his friends commented that he must have pretty much succeeded, and they were only half-joking.  Wighton was an assiduous, and knowledgeable collector, visiting Edinburgh, London and even travelling abroad in pursuit of his hobby.  I read in an 1894 newspaper article that, having no descendants to leave his money to, he was able to indulge his book-collecting passion all the more, though I hasten to add that Mrs Wighton was also left comfortably off!

The Wighton collection itself is a finite collection – self-contained in being the collection that he himself amassed.  I won’t attempt to highlight particular volumes – suffice to say that about half of the collection consists of very rare eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish music, but the remainder is equally rare English, Irish and Welsh material along with some ballad operas.  As published material, the library is a natural home for it, but there are a few unique items that would be described as more archival – specifically, a few manuscripts that Wighton himself copied – such as his copy of the Blaikie viola da gamba manuscript, which itself is now lost – and a copy of Alexander Stuart’s 1726 publication, Musick for the Scots Songs in Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany.  Other unique handwritten materials are textual rather than musical, and include his own annotated copy of Laing’s additional Illustrations of the Lyric Poetry and Music of Scotland (that’s the additional notes Laing contributed to William Stenhouse’s original Illustrations, the companion volume to Johnson’s earlier Scots Musical Museum.)  There is also correspondence (mostly incoming, obviously) between Wighton, his fellow book-collecting enthusiasts and specialists (David Laing, William Chappell, and Aberdonian music publisher James Davie), and some letters concerning Dundee municipal matters, in his capacity as a town councillor.  This would definitely count as archival material, were it not for the fact that the Wighton material must perforce be kept together – and it has added value as an entire collection.


The Wighton Collection has always been known about by musicologists and scholars of traditional music. Very early on, the books were expertly bound, and have always been kept as a closed access collection, to be used within the library under supervision.  As far back as January 1894, the Dundee Evening Telegraph reproduced a lengthy article by the City Librarian, Alexander Hastie Millar, FSA Scot (who lived from 1847-1927), which had originally been published in the Scottish Musical Monthly, highlighting the significance of the collection and its availability for visitors to study.


1948 saw another profile-raising article by Dundee librarian Harry M. Willsher,  ‘The Wighton Collection of National Music’, in the Review of the Activities of the Dundee Public Libraries, ii/July (1948), 12–13.  And of course, the collection is mentioned in Oxford Music Online – the former, Grove Dictionary of Music.

More recently, we have seen the development of the Wighton Heritage Centre, along with other initiatives that have enhanced the usefulness and appeal to today’s musicians and scholars, and it’s to these that I turn now.


The Heritage Centre was master-minded by librarian David Kett.  Filling in a space between the Local History Library and another part of the main library, it was opened in November 2003.  It’s a beautiful space beside the Local History Library, designed for small, intimate performances such as the Cappuccino Concerts on Saturday mornings, mid-week lunchtime concerts, adult music classes and study purposes.  Events have also been arranged to showcase particular volumes in the collection. 


All these activities are supported and promoted by the Friends of Wighton.  In pride of place, of course, are the locked bookcases containing the treasured Wighton Collection.  Whilst the volumes can be examined by bona fide scholars by arrangement with the Local History Library, the books were microfilmed in their entirety some years ago, to lessen the wear-and-tear on the original volumes.


To make the largest possible impact at the time of opening, a three-year residency – Historical Musician in Residence – was created from September 2003.  This residency was held by Dr Sally Garden.  Her remit was to oversee a programme of performances and events; to bring together amateurs and professionals; to research the collection; and to raise its profile as an educational resource and opportunity.

The contents of every volume were also indexed around this time – every song, every dance tune – and saved as a massive Excel spreadsheet which was then interrogated via the Library website as the Wighton Database.  It’s a vastly useful resource, and one for which I have had many opportunities to be grateful.

However, at some stage, the local authority stopped hosting the database.  Undeterred, a search facility was devised by a committee member of the Friends of Wighton, so that the spreadsheet could still be explored. 

This was subsequently – in 2018 – superseded by links to four lists:- the complete, 451 page catalogue; the list of imprints (a list by publisher); a title index, and a short-title list.  The information is still there, albeit not searchable in quite the same way as the original facility had intended.  The links are all accessible via the Friends of Wighton website.  A link from the local authority library website leads to the Friends’ page, so if you know where to look, the material is still very much accessible:-


Wighton Complete Catalogue (451 pages)
Wighton list of Imprints (135 pages)
Wighton Title Index (109 pages)
Wighton Short Title List (108 pages)


In recent years, the Wighton Collection has been augmented by a few donations, the most significant of which are the Jimmy Shand Collection, and a handsome donation of scores by Stuart Eydmann.  Lottery fund money enabled the Friends to buy at auction, a collection of historical scores that had belonged to the late Jimmy Shand.  These have been professionally restored and re-bound by a conservation expert, and they’ve also been digitised and uploaded to IMSLP, with links from the Friends’ website and indices to the contents.  A few years later, Jimmy Shand junior gave some further scores to the Friends, which I assume the auctioneers had considered of less value.  In one sense, they would have observed that only a few of these were of any great age, but at the same time, this secondary collection represents the working collection of a famous musician with local connections, and they are also of an era which has too often been overlooked as neither “ancient” nor “modern”.  Without them, a chunk of popular Scottish music history would be missing.  In just a few decades, even the music published between 1900 and 1960 will be more than a hundred years old, and of potential interest in ways we can only imagine now.*  I’ve made a listing of all the volumes, and some have been bound – it will not be financially feasible for every item to be bound. The pandemic has meant I haven’t yet discussed with the Friends how best to handle the unbound material, or arranged for the listing to be uploaded to the Friends’ website.  Similarly, Stuart Eydmann’s donation has been listed, but not uploaded.  As life returns to the ‘new normal’, these tasks once again become a priority.

Read the second part of my talk here. It’s about lots of other collections of historical Scottish music publications and how to find them.

  • The talk was all about Wighton, not all about me, so I didn’t mention the fact that I’ve just signed a contract to write a book about Scottish music publishing between 1880 and 1950 – but it does mean that I can certainly see the historical value of the secondary Shand collection!

Networking with Other Networks: Panellist at ISECS – International Congress on the Enlightenment

Edinburgh skyline, via Pixabay

I’m excited to be part of a panel talking about paratext at the forthcoming ISECS Congress, 14th – 19th July 2019, hosted by the University of Edinburgh.  Registration is now open, though the detailed programme isn’t yet finalised.  (There’s an early bird rate until 30 April.)

ISECS Congress website


ISECS – International Congress on the Enlightenment: Call for Papers

Edinburgh skyline, via Pixabay

Everyone loves a good CFP,  and I’m delighted to share this particular CFP, which I’m quite excited about:-

The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

is proud to host

The International Congress on the Enlightenment

on behalf of the

International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ISECS)

at the University of Edinburgh, 14-19 July

Theme: ‘Enlightenment Identities’


Call for papers link, please click here.


National Songs and Georgian Legal Deposit Locations

This week I’ve been focusing on my paper for the EFDSS conference, Traditional Folk Song: Past, Present & Future, on Saturday 10 November, 9:30am – 5:00pm at Cecil Sharp House, London. I’ll be talking about ‘National Airs in Georgian British Libraries’, and particularly focusing on the collections in St Andrews and Edinburgh.  I’ll also be alluding to that old nineteenth century irritation – the allegation that England had no national music!

As it happened, I needed to take a day’s annual leave for a non-work related reason yesterday, but I hoped that for most of the day I would be free to concentrate on my presentation.  Well, it didn’t work out quite that way, but I did start writing in the evening.  Today, I spent the first couple of hours teaching library research skills, then it was back to the laptop in the research room for the rest of the day.

  By the end of the working day, I had written just over 4,000 words and felt I deserved a treat: I left my papers on the desk and came home to spend the evening sewing!  (Better still, another little indulgence had arrived in the post for me: a silver sixpence dating1821 George IV sixpence holed from 1821, the year of George IV’s coronation, and with a hole pierced in it by a previous owner so that it could be worn on a ribbon.  As of course I already am!)

The conference will actually be the culmination of a particularly busy week for me: I’ll be visiting the two Irish Georgian legal deposit libraries in Dublin earlier in the week, and Stationers’ Hall and the British Library on the day before the conference. One of my choir-members looked somewhat surprised when I remarked that I’d be fitting in choir practice between Dublin and the overnight sleeper between Glasgow and London!
I’m particularly looking forward to this conference because it will be a completely different audience to those at the conferences I’ve already been to this year. I’m intending to give a fairly wide-ranging paper. If I unearth any surprises in Dublin, then there will be last-minute tweaking to add them into the mix!

NB  If you liked this, you might like a post I wrote on a related topic, earlier this year – essentially a continuation of the story after the period that I’ll be describing in my latest conference paper:- England has no National Music? Chappell Set Out to Refute This

Enthusiasm in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Alison House Nicholson Square Historic Environment Scotland image



My research lecture at Edinburgh University went well last week (though I say it myself!) – I was delighted to have received such a warm reception.  Here’s my powerpoint, also uploaded to the Calendar tab of this blog.  It was good to have the opportunity to give a talk focusing on a collection (well, what’s left of the legal deposit music!) that hasn’t had a great deal of exposure before, and I was absolutely delighted to make the acquaintance of a former Edinburgh academic who is probably the only person to have investigated Edinburgh’s legal deposit music in a systematic way.  Apart, of course, from Hans Gal’s bibliographic efforts, which noted some but not all of the Reid Music Library’s contents dating pre-1850.  I’m about to start reading some notes that I was generously given after my lecture – it’s a great privilege to be given them.

Whilst St Andrews has its magnificent collection and all the related documentation and archival material, I’m keen to stress that Edinburgh has different strengths: not nearly as much legal deposit music, but an entire historical musical instrument collection, and the wonderful St Cecilia’s Hall which not only exhibits them, but also offers unique performance spaces.  Nothing would make me happier than to learn that students were inspired to explore the music on the historical instruments!  Early printed music is fascinating in musicological terms, but bringing it back to life in terms of sound is something special – as the Sound Heritage network has been keen to demonstrate in many wonderful ways.

Next stop, meetings in Dublin and London – and then the EFDSS conference.  Better get writing again!

Mystery in a Music Book

I was at Edinburgh University Library yesterday – I’m trying to work out which bound volumes might contain music that arrived through the legal deposit route.  I was looking at one particular volume, and came to a batch of pieces all by the same Edinburgh-based  composer.  I looked him up – and found he spent some time in Italy in his youth, under the direction of a particular teacher.

Then I remembered that I’d encountered some music BY that teacher, in a different volume.  And then – exploring the University Library catalogue – I found more by the Edinburgh composer AND more by the Italian musician.  Is it remotely possible that the individual who arranged for that legal deposit volume to be bound, also knew the Edinburgh musician?  It was some decades before music would have an official, recognised place in the University curriculum, but obviously some music was being collected.

Equally, might the music by the Italian – in another volume, not necessarily legal deposit, and in other volumes definitely not so – have come to Edinburgh in some way connected with his British pupil?

You might argue that this doesn’t have much to do with legal deposit.  In one sense, that’s true.  But if we’re thinking about what the University decided to keep, out of the legal deposit material that they received, then this is – if nothing else – quite interesting, surely?

As to the identity of these guys – well, let me enjoy the mystery a bit longer, once I’ve worked out if there’s any more to be discovered!

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)

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(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!

New Mental Images Since Oxbridge Trip

Bodleian 9 Book of SongsIn the past month, I’ve been to Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford in connection with the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall research network.  I’ve chatted with Almut Boehme in the National Library of Scotland, Elizabeth Lawrence and Jenny Nex at the University of Edinburgh, Margaret Jones and Jill Whitelock in Cambridge, and Martin Holmes and Giles Bergel in Oxford.  We’ve talked about how different libraries stored and curated their legal deposit collections, attitudes towards music and cataloguing, and the influence of the British Museum’s mid-nineteenth century cataloguing rules.  Several libraries began by categorising their music as instrumental or vocal – so to anyone wondering why our library does it that way – well, we’re following the Library of Congress, and they seem to have followed the British Museum too!

As I’ve mentioned before, our Victorian forbears periodically attempted to impose order on the never-ending stream of music that just kept on flowing into their libraries.

Both in Cambridge and in Oxford, we looked at old bound books of legal deposit music, Cambridge 30 King opera Up all Nightand the lists of music – lists that came from Stationers’ Hall at regular intervals, and lists that were made of material as it was accessioned.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing – Margaret looked out scores corresponding to material in the lists, and came up with a bound collection of various national songbooks – always a popular genre – not to mention an English opera that might have made no ripples in nearly two centuries, but certainly raised a few smiles in that meeting room in February 2018!

Bodleian 8 Miss Sarah Allison Heward A Grand FantasiaMeanwhile, Martin’s selection of scores included a composition by a young English woman whom I’d never heard of before – Sarah Allison Heward – and a network member in Germany has since unearthed a whole wealth of information about her and her musical family.  Watch this space – there’s a blogpost coming up!

A tour of shelves at Cambridge University Library was enough to change the mental pictures in my mind from a general impression of scores gently drifting towards the various libraries, to a picture of a very, very large fountain – or an overflowing bathtub.  You see, whereas the Scottish university libraries and Sion College lost their right to legal deposit books in 1836 – a very long time ago – the flood simply never stopped when it came to the national libraries, Oxford and Cambridge.  For someone working in a conservatoire library – large enough on its own terms, but certainly tiny compared to the legal deposit giants – it’s quite overwhelming to see just how much music has actually been published.   And then, to realise that it hasn’t all been catalogued online – a backlog of these proportions is a frightening thing to get one’s head around!  I didn’t ask how many linear miles of bookshelves each library is responsible for – offsite storage and all – but they are certainly amazingly big institutions.

In Oxford, a large data-input exercise in the Philippines meant that most of the legal deposit music has now been listed online, but only by accepting that the catalogue data would be less clearly formatted, and more incomplete, than a modern cataloguer would consider acceptable.

My meeting with Giles, on the other hand, afforded me the opportunity to find out more about two projects using Stationers’ Hall data – one, a commercial database, and the other, a website that will go live in April this year.  I also learned about optical recognition software being tasked with identifying different imprints of ballad texts and woodcuts – all fascinating stuff.

Our forthcoming research network meeting will bring together all the legal deposit library ‘descendants’ with a responsibility for the surviving sheet music.  There might have been meetings or correspondence between groups of these libraries in Georgian times,  but I think we can safely say that there has never before been a gathering quite like this before.  We’ll be looking both backwards (at the history) and forwards (at documentation and access issues, not to mention big data considerations.  It promises to be quite a day!


National Library of Scotland Slam Week

Nothing is more satisfying than talking about one’s research passion. So, clearly, this announcement from the National Library of Scotland would prove irresistible:-

NLS Events – Slam Week

“The National Library of Scotland Slam Week offers a platform to tell an audience and a judging panel about your work.

“Compete in one of our slams and you will have three rounds (each two minutes long) to convince the judges that you are the worthy winner.There are two slams to choose from — research or poetry — and both are free to enter. “

I saw the announcement a few weeks ago, and initially hesitated. I could say plenty about our research network, but could I say enough about my research in NLS? But then I saw another online announcement, thought again, and realised that actually, there was plenty I could say. Without further ado, I signed up! I wonder if anyone I know will be there?

2018-01-21 10.58.19

The research slam is on Wednesday night, 24th January, at 6 pm. Sitting here in Glasgow this weekend, and scowling balefully at the snow outside, I have been praying that the weather forecast will prove correct and that both the pavements and public transport will have returned to normal by Wednesday!

There are three rounds in the research slam, and we can now speak for a maximum of three minutes in each session (there are only seven entrants):-

  1. Overview of research topic
  2. Using the Library’s collections, and approach/methodology
  3. Research impact

I’ve written my three contributions – and there’s still time to polish my prose! I felt a little wobble when I realised that the 2017 winner produced their contributions in poetry! I can only write limericks or metrical verse, and my last effort at poetry fell flat on its face, so I think I’d best stick to normal sentences for my own attempt!

Maybe I’ll see you there, dear reader?

Send Tea! The Librarian-Musicologist version of Data Crunching

2017-12-18 22.23.31
Batt-printed porcelain contemporary with the copyright music era

No disrespect to my day-job, but years of cataloguing have trained me to tolerate repetitive tasks to a very high degree!  Cataloguing can be repetitive and, I’m afraid, monotonous.  However, in terms of endurance training, this background stands me in good stead.  I just  keep on going, like the Duracell bunny in the battery ads!

My innocent vacation amusement this week has been the rather slow-moving exercise of comparing one database with another. Why would anyone spend hours, days, starting to go through a list that amounts to some 2000 pieces of music? Ah, for a very good reason. This is the list of Edinburgh University Library’s Reid Hall Cupboard collection, and I’m finding out how much legal deposit music was actually retained. First, I compared it with the entire registered output of 1810 as listed in Kassler. Very little was there. Then with the registered output for 1818, the last year listed there. Possibly one match. Then I compared the Reid Cupboard contents with the material listed by the Advocates in 1830 – twelve years after the period itemised in Kassler. Very little correlation there, either.

A Significant Sample: 68 Hits

However, at different periods, copyright music WAS selectively retained at the University of Edinburgh.  I concluded that there was nothing for it but to go through  that a significant sample of that spreadsheet, just to begin with. Some music is continental (mainly French or German) in origin, and some is in manuscript; these categories don’t form part of my investigation.  The problem is that no single approach can be taken to the whole corpus. We’re not comparing like with like, and different listings cover different periods, apart from any other considerations:-

  • There is the option of checking Kassler’s listing (if Copac indicates that the piece Kassler Music Entrieswas published before 1819); checking Kassler in digital format is generally easier than in the paper edition, because one can check by title in the e-book.  The physical book has various indices, but there’s no alphabetical title listing, and only the composers’ names are listed, not their works.
  • The Advocates 1830 lists merely cover February to March of one year.  Even if much of this material turns up in the Victorian catalogue at NLS, it’s not a huge sampling.
  • It’s marginally quicker checking the EUL Reid cupboard material against the St Andrews copyright music spreadsheet (which did arrive by the legal deposit route) than it is checking against Copac, but it has to be said that checking Copac is the more thorough way.  Having said that, we can’t be totally certain that the Copac-listed material was registered at Stationers’ Hall if it postdates 1818, short of actually checking the Stationers’ Hall records.  An item appearing in the British Library, and one or more of the other copyright libraries, was probably accessioned under legal deposit, but not categorically so.  And not everything that should have been registered and legally deposited, actually was.
  • The St Andrews collection is only catalogued online for material dating from 1801 onwards, and of course, will not include items that were discarded rather than being bound in the big composite volumes.

After several lengthy sessions checking and cross-referring, I had nearly finished composers beginning with “G”!

Thursday – the brightness of a [rainy] new dawn …

Faced with a very large collection of Haydn publications, I concluded that although the most comprehensive approach would be a complete comparision of the EUL Reid Hall cupboard contents with Kassler, St Andrew’s online copyright collection, and items listed in Copac, maybe this isn’t necessary immediately.  Instead, a few broad statistics give us an overview of what’s there.

  • Comparing Kassler’s listing for 1810 with the Reid Hall cupboard: a maximum of 9 matches, and possibly only 7.
  • Comparing Kassler’s listing for 1818 with the Reid Hall cupboard: possibly one match.  It’s a very popular Irish selection, so it could have arrived by other routes than legal deposit, eg by donation.
  • Comparing the Advocates’ lists of February and March 1830 with the Reid Hall cupboard: only three matches, which are European editions.
  • Comparing an initial sample of 68 Reid Hall cupboard items matched either with the St Andrews copyright collection or Copac: obviously, percentages could only be calcuated if the entire list was compared; they’d be meaningless with a small sample.  Nonetheless, we can observe that in Edinburgh, items seem to have been retained very intermittently between 1770 and 1811; there’s no real pattern.  Between 1812 and 1821, noticeably more material was retained, although nothing like the St Andrews collection.  After that it appears to be even more intermittent than in the earlier period.