Summertime at Stationers’ Hall

BenchI’m currently taking annual leave, and although I’m covertly pushing ahead with a couple of queries I’ve set myself, strictly speaking there should be a silence whilst I’m on holiday!

Polite Request

However, if any followers of this blog were to feel inspired to author a blogpost in some way connected with historical Georgian legal deposit music, or indeed, on any aspect of music legal deposit, then please do email me at the Royal Conservatoire of  Scotland.  I’m glancing at my emails intermittently, and I won’t be able to resist an intriguing subject heading!

Thanks in advance ….


The wonders of the Spanish Legal Deposit, or: what can theatrical and musical plays tell us about cultural attitudes to the phonograph?

El Fonografo ambulante - Eva blogpost
Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Today, we share with you something completely different.  Dr Eva Moreda Rodriguez, Music Lecturer at the University of Glasgow,  writes for us about Spanish legal deposit and its value in terms of historical sound recordings. It underlines the importance of legal deposit in a much wider variety of contexts than one would at first imagine.


Shortly after Claimed from Stationers’ Hall was set up, I had the opportunity to experience first-hand how the requirement to submit copies of every printed work to a library can, if satisfied, change our understanding of music and musical cultures of the past in radical ways. Indeed, when I started to research the arrival of recording technologies in Spain from 1878 onwards and the responses of Spaniards to them, I was faced with the issue of a lack of sources. I did indeed have newspaper and magazine articles – but these were often brief announcements or texts intended for scientific dissemination which did shed little light on how the average Spaniard would have reacted upon hearing a phonograph for the first time. References to the phonograph in Spanish literature were surprisingly scarce, and memoirs and journals did not shed much light on the issue either. Discovering, at the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (BDH), a zarzuela by successful composer Ruperto Chapí named El fonógrafo ambulante (The travelling phonograph) and dated 1899 prompted the question: did any other theatrical and musical plays of the time feature phonographs and gramophones, and if so, can they shed any light on cultural attitudes towards recording technologies at the time?A search at the BDH website, as well as at The Internet Archive and at the premises of the Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE) revealed that at least fifteen plays were premiered in Spain between 1885 and 1914 which featured a phonograph or gramophone in a significant role. Most of those works (libretti and, on some occasions the music) arrived at the BNE through the legal deposit mechanism. This, in itself, tells us a lot about both legal deposit in Spain and the significance of theatrical genres in the late 19th and early 20th century. Indeed, some sort of legal deposit requirement (privilegio real) had existed in Spain from 1716, but a full, comprehensive legal deposit norm was not introduced until 1957. In practice, this meant that, through the 19th century and early 20th century, legal deposit requirements were often met haphazardly, and not all authors deposited copies of their works at the BNE, then the only legal deposit library in Spain.

Boletin Fonografico y Fotografico - Eva blogpost
Source: Biblioteca Valenciana


Theatrical authors, though, had an incentive to do so. Theatre-going was, at the time, one of the preferred pastimes of Spaniards of all social classes, particularly in urban areas. A number of popular theatre genres, combining music with the spoken word to different extents (sainete, zarzuela, revista, invento, pasillo), flourished in an ever-growing number of theatres. Intended for consumption and entertainment, many of these plays were replaced after a few runs, forcing the authors to constantly come up with new ideas: there was, indeed, money to be made, but the environment was competitive. In this climate, one of the few weapons authors had in order to protect themselves from unscrupulous impresarios who might stage their works without compensating them financially was to deposit copies of their works at the BNE so that authorship could be conclusively proven in case of legal disputes.

A happy consequence of this practice is that works that might not have survived otherwise – because they were generally ephemeral, inconsequential and often of limited artistic merit – have made it to our days, providing us with a fascinating corpus to study both theatrical culture in Restoration Spain and broader social and cultural issues during this period. These plays were written primarily to entertain, and as such they satirized certain aspects of contemporary politics and society – but they never decisively challenged the status quo and ultimately celebrated the Spanish pueblo as a community of individuals happy to live by traditional, conservative values: for example, a number of these plays may feature fiery, memorable female characters, but at the same time the genre mocked the nascent first-wave feminist movement relentlessly.

In my research, I have been working under the hypothesis that these plays would have presented ideas and discourses around recording technologies that would have resonated with their audiences – always within the generally conservative, paternalistic framework I have described above. For example, several of the plays develop the idea of the phonograph being able to reproduce reality with the utmost fidelity – by recording in private, by accident, statements that individuals would not have dared making in public – and then playing them back. Wives are found out not to love their husbands, and vice-versa, and politicians are found out to lie to their electorate in pursuit of votes. Such episodes, however, were developed purely for comic effect, and one never finds even the slightest suggestion that technological modernity – which was generally seen as critical to the advancement of Spain – should be coupled up with social or political modernity. This is too the case with El fonógrafo ambulante, to which I have referred earlier: the travelling phonograph that arrives in a remote Andalusian village at first threatens to destabilize the social order by making the heroine, Araceli, consider breaking her engagement to the town’s mayor and instead marrying Antero, the phonograph operator, instead. However, once it is established that both Araceli and Antero are true representatives of the Spanish pueblo, young and resourceful but ultimately attached to traditional values, the phonograph, which has brought them together, becomes a guarantee for social order, and the play ends with all villagers gathered around the device and listening in fascination.


Latour – Piano Professor & King’s Pianiste

Followers of this blog will know that you can look at historical piano teaching materials in the libraries that hold legal deposit collections.  Nowadays, there are a handful of big national and university libraries in the UK that still receive one copy of everything published, under statutory legislation.  But there are other libraries – especially in Scotland – that also received this material, until the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Theodore Latour was pianist to King George IV – Victoria’s uncle.  He taught privately and at girls’ schools, played and composed, and also wrote some piano tutor books.  As it happens, Emily Bronte had music by Latour in her collection, including one of his books of progressive exercises, although I haven’t examined that particular publication.  (Robert K. Wallace mentions it, in his Emily Bronte and Beethoven: Romantic Equilibrium in Fiction and Music.)

It’s possible to find copies of some of Latour’s works online via Google Books, IMSLP or, so if you’re interested, we could point you in the right direction.

I have been experimenting with other ways of talking/writing about the Stationers’ Hall Georgian legal deposit music corpus. Here are my Saturday afternoon efforts.  Have you tried any such audiovisual presentations in your own research?  Do you find them helpful?



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!

Sharing a blogpost from Harvard

Ramsay, Allan, 1713-1784; George III (1738-1820)
George III, by Allan Ramsay


Houghton Library, Harvard (image: Wikipedia)

We’ve just had our attention drawn to a wonderful blogpost on Houghton Library Blog, uploaded on 24th June, 2016.  The author, Andrea Cawelti, is a Rare Music Cataloguer at Harvard, and she had just attended Ian Gadd’s course on The Stationers’ Company to 1775, at Rare Book School – a summer school at the University of Virginia.Andrea spotted the registration of an additional verse to “God Save the King”, just three weeks after an assassination attempt.  She mentions George Greenhill at Stationers’ Hall – the man who managed to get himself paid multiple times, but still struggled to keep on top of the job – and patriotic songs during the Napoleonic Wars.  We know all about them too!  Read on …

Son of the Heroism of King George

It’s Snow Day for Staying At Home – Too Much News to Share!

The last day in February, and Scotland grinds to a halt.  I had places to go and people to see, not to mention a blissful research day ahead of me. Still, if we get Snowmageddon over and out of the way, then we can look joyously ahead to the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall research network’s impending workshop here in Glasgow on Monday 26th March.

Workshop Monday 26th March

We’ll be talking about the heritage collections of Georgian/Victorian legal deposit music up and down the UK, looking at ways to promote it, contemplating the many ways it sheds light on contemporary cultural and social history, pondering how we can improve access to it, whether by finding aids or digitisation, and considering how big data might be used to reveal stories hitherto untold.  Representatives of almost all the old (and the current) legal deposit libraries will all be there.  (This must be a first!  Assuredly, there would not have been a nationwide meeting of university librarians in the late Georgian era.  Nonetheless, the Scottish universities were certainly in touch with one another, if only to liaise about their London agents, working more or less effectively to secure the publications they were owed!  Getting their fair share of sheet music was probably the lowest priority on the libraries’ agenda back then!)

We have a limited number of workshop places left, so if you’re working or researching in this field and can manage a day-trip to Glasgow, do get in touch to tell us about your interest and secure one of those places!  Our recent February Newsletter tells more about it.


As you know, every week or so, I check Michael Kassler’s invaluable bibliography, Music Entries in Stationers’ Hall 1710-1818, and see if I can find a piece of music whose anniversary of copyright registration falls on that day.  Sometimes the piece is good, sometimes deservedly forgotten, but all of them tell us something about musical tastes and trends at the time they were written.

Today, as I cool my heels (and my toes) at home on an enforced snow-day, I turned to 1798 to see whose anniversary it might be today.  I found Stephen Storace’s ‘O Strike the Harp. For one, two or three voices, with an accompaniment for the harp or piano forte. The poetry from Ossian‘, which the publisher Joseph Dale registered on 28 February 220 years ago.  As Kassler states, the song can be found in the British Library: GB Lbl G.352.(42.).

Could I find an image of this song, clearly inspired by the late 18th century trend for minstrelsy, and still drawing on Macpherson’s Ossian poetry, despite the fairly well-proven doubts about its authenticity?

Storace O Strike the Harp 28 February 1798 page 1Well, yes!  Coincidentally, I used an image of this very song in my write-up of Sandra Tuppen’s  Big Data talk at IAML(UK & Ireland) 2015.  See ‘ASW 2015: The Bigger, the Better – A Big Data History of Music’  (17 April 2015)

The wheel certainly does come full circle: in earlier research, I spent considerable time thinking about minstrelsy as it appears in national song collections, and here’s a song that’s not a “national song”, but certainly has links with literary literacy.  I was beginning to get interested in big data, which is why Sandra’s research attracted my attention.  And big data is one of the themes at our forthcoming workshop, with two of her colleagues in attendance.   Isn’t it satisfying when links join into a chain?

Postscript.  Today, I discovered that the song has also been referenced in a new book, Figures of the Imagination: Fiction and Song in Britain, 1790–1850, by Roger Hansford.  He comments that the song is about relationships, and that the lyrics might have been written from a minstrel’s standpoint.  Another book to go on my “must read some day” reading list!

A Guest Blogpost on another Website

I authored the following piece for the UK Copyright Literacy website. New readers are warmly encouraged to explore our Claimed From Stationers’ Hall blog, and please do sign up to the Jisc mail list if you would like to join the conversation.

Legal Deposit (Copyright Behind the Scenes) – and Scores of Musical Scores