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!


Halfway Round the Globe and Back

My talk in DunedinI returned from New Zealand yesterday morning.  If you’d like to read about the University of Otago’s Centre for Book Research Seminar and the UNESCO Creative Cities Southern Hui, please follow this link.  (And here’s a quick YouTube flick-through of my slides – don’t worry, it’s not the whole presentation!)


Pixis and his Hommage to Clementi

johann_peter_pixis_by_august_kneiselDuring the reign of King George IV, Johann Peter Pixis wrote his Hommage a Clementi, a set of piano variations on ‘God Save the King’, op.101.  Published in 1828 by S. Chappell, and also distributed by Henry Lemoine, copies went to all the copyright libraries.  As I’m transcribing each item on the two Advocates’ Library music lists, I’m looking to see where copies survived, and it’s rare to trace such near-complete coverage as I did with this piece.   Playing my game of ‘Happy Families’ with the list dated March 8th, 1830, I checked off an almost complete set still extant, in Aberdeen, St Andrews, Glasgow, Oxford, Cambridge and the British Library.  Clearly, variations on ‘God Save the King’ were generally considered worth keeping.  Indeed, St Andrews and Cambridge each hold two copies.  The popularity of the tune is corroborated in a recent book, Taking it to the Bridge: Music as performance, edited by Nicholas Cook and Richard Pettengill, p.114. 

Were the Advocates selling theirs?  Moreover, who knows what happened to the copy that presumably also went to the University of Edinburgh (aka ‘Edinburgh College’)? As for Sion College – I haven’t started investigating what happened to their music, yet.  I hope to visit my counterparts in Lambeth Palace soon, but my travel plans are a bit up in the air at the moment …

Pixis Variations op.101
“Difficult and devoid of interest” – Harmonicon, 1828

After several hours of transcribing grey, enlarged camera photos, I thought it might be fun to play this apparently desirable score.  It’s lucky I was able to visit Glasgow University Library, because a quick search online didn’t turn up a digitised copy.  Admittedly, I didn’t look very hard.  However, I did find a review of the piece in The Harmonicon of 1828, the music magazine which was enormously popular with library users in St Andrews!  Two of Pixis’ sets of variations are reviewed.  Do I really want to bother with something fit only for ‘crazy amateurs of Vienna’,  or nimble-fingered pianists with no judgement? 

I did find a rather dull piano rondo online …  but then again, his Double Concerto for violin and piano in F# minor is rather lovely! So who knows?

Storify: Wunderkind, Johann Peter Pixis

This posting sparked a veritable Twitter storm of enthusiastic commentary from German musicians and musicologists.  I have saved the entire conversation as a Storify story, involving Clara Wieck, Scottish tunes and variations, piano prodigies and virtuosi, frothy ephemeral music and the abovementioned lovely concerto.  Read on!

  • This is a link to an impromptu SoundCloud recording.  Some will say I have no shame.  My argument is that an average amateur pianist sight-reading the introduction to Pixis’ Hommage a Clementiin a chilly November Edinburgh house, would probably have sounded no better!  I promise to work at it ….
    Pixis Hommage a Clementi TP
    Title page of Hommage a Clementi, by Pixis. Image from copy in Glasgow University Library Collection, with thanks.

A Breathless Whirl

Edinburgh_-_University_Library_01-e1478712223864This week, I visited Elizabeth Quarmby-Lawrence at Edinburgh University Library, where we had a very useful discussion about library history, legal deposit, and the fate of the University’s legal deposit music.  Some great ideas arose out of our chat, of which more anon!  I now have more to read, more people to make contact with, and a brand-new copy of the University’s recent publication, Directory of Collections, edited by Head of Special Collections Joseph Marshall, and published by Third Millenium Publishing in 2016 (ISBN: 9781908990891).

This morning, I have made a start on the bibliography that will be one of the outcomes of the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall music research network project.  The coverage is already looking good, but bibliographical pride prevents me from putting it online quite yet!

And if all that isn’t breathless enough, then the press release about a new Adam Matthew Digital online resource, Literary Print Culture: The Stationers’ Company Archive, is enough to make any bibliographer’s heartbeat race.  There’s a video about the database, here.

Open Invitation to Join the Conversation

Stationers Hall fabricAnyone with a research interest in early UK legal deposit music, its publication, its distribution or subsequent curation and use, can join the network.  If you let us know your email address, you can be added to the mailing list.  (You’ll find our contact details here.)  You can also follow on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

To take your involvement to the next level, why not consider joining our Jisc mailing list, which allows us to discuss with one another in a safe and supportive environment.

The AHRC-funded Claimed From Stationers Hall music research network gets a JiscMail Discussion List

JiscMail offers the facility to set up discussion lists about education or research interests on a particular topic, carried out by email.  Correspondents generally have some connection with higher education, but this is not compulsory.

We have set up a list for sharing information about research interests in the historic British legal deposit music registered at Stationers Hall, and our groupname is MUSIC-FROM-STATIONERS-HALL.

How to subscribe?  Basically, there are two ways of subscribing:-

  1.  You can use this link: New subscribers can complete their details to join the list.
  2. Subscribers can also join the list by sending an email to as follows:-

Subject: Subscribe Message: SUBSCRIBE MUSIC-FROM-STATIONERS-HALL Firstname Lastname

You should receive a confirmation email; if it doesn’t pop up in your inbox, it may be worth checking “junk” or other filter folders.  You then need to confirm the Jisc confirmation, quite promptly (otherwise they assume you didn’t mean to subscribe)!  Please get in touch if you have any problems.


  1. You’ll find instructions at the FAQ for Subscribers page:
  2. What is JiscMail?  Visit
  3. Can I use institutional access?  Certainly.  If you’re in a British HE institution, you can use institutional access (Shibboleth), as you would with most electronic resources.
  4. Are there any rules?  The JiscMail Service Policy document, describes the way in which Jisc expects the service to be used, by list owners and subscribers.


We’re also aiming to set up a workshop of some kind in early Spring 2018, so do watch this space.

Social Media Activity

Please feel free to tweet, “like” or share on Facebook, and generally make a big noise about this exciting new venture.   (I made a Pinterest board, for what it’s worth – I read that it was a good marketing tool.  At the moment I’m not quite sure …!)

Could You be a Guest Blogger?

I’m trying to blog at least weekly, and have also posted three podcasts to date, so do keep looking in.  But this is a network – so we need more bloggers!  Here’s your opportunity to raise your research profile.  Could you offer a guest-blogpost to this blog on any topic that has some loose connection with early British legal deposit music, its libraries, the publishers, the composers or music users? Or do you know anyone who has any expertise about legal deposit in other nations in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries?  This would all be exciting, too!  (We’ve had two offers along these lines already, which we are very much enthused about.)  If anyone has even a little half-idea about something that you could share, please do get in touch.  Blogposts should be approximately 500-1000 words, but please run your idea past us first before you start writing it.  We’re hoping to post a guest-blogpost roughly once a month, but more would  be welcome, of course.

Networking is the Name of The Game

Pinterest British Library Spiders Web

The first network steering group meeting took place a couple of weeks ago, and in the past week more networking has taken place.  I’ve already blogged about Monday’s highly satisfactory meeting with retired University of Aberdeen music librarian Richard Turbet, in Norfolk.

Back in Glasgow, on Friday I attended a collaborators’ meeting for another new network, this time at the University of Glasgow: the Royal Society of Edinburgh-funded Romantic National Song Network.  It is spearheaded by Principal Investigator Professor Kirsteen McCue and Postdoctoral Research Assistant Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland.  My own doctoral research was about late 18th and 19th century Scottish song-collecting; I had examined collections both with and without accompaniments.  The new network focuses largely on collections with accompaniments, and certainly – like my own research – on collections with music, aka, “songs with their airs”.

Although the focus of my research has changed slightly since my PhD, I can see that the work I did on the borrowing of “national song” collections from St Andrews University library could be pertinent in the context of the RNSN.  I am also enthusiastic about the possibility of revisiting some of my favourite nineteenth century Scottish song collections!

Mrs Bertram’s Music Borrowing: Reading Between the Lines

Moving on to another research network, I recently wrote a blogpost for the EAERN (Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network) .  “Mrs Bertram’s Music Borrowing” occupied quite a few evening hours when I stumbled across a reference to her in my perusal of the early nineteenth-century St Andrews University borrowing records, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to write it up in to a coherent piece for EAERN.  Yes, I’ve stretched a point – we’re talking about the long eighteenth-century here!  Nonetheless, I think it will demonstrate the value of interrogating archival records in minute detail.  After my many years spent cataloguing music materials for the Whittaker Library, my endurance levels for dealing with repetitive detail are exceptionally high!  It’s very rewarding when hours of capturing data can be turned into a human story about someone who lived, breathed and – most importantly – borrowed music from the library!  Do visit the EAERN website.

And lastly – some more networking news about the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall network.  We now have a Facebook page:- – and I’ve also set up a Jiscmail list, so at some stage this week I’ll be sharing details with people whom I think might be interested in joining in the discussion about this fascinating, but often overlooked body of music.

What does St Andrews have in common with Vanity Fair?

I’ve just written a blogpost about one of the Copyright Music borrowers, to go on the Eighteenth-Century Arts Education Research Network blog.  It’s not published yet – but won’t be long.  Watch this space!  We’re looking at mid-September.