On the pleasures and sorrows of cataloguing 19th century sheet music

One of our on-going projects at the moment is to finish cataloguing the Bridge Memorial Library, the historic library of what was Trinity College of Music. Most of the collection was catalogued as part of a major project several years ago and is searchable online via the Jerwood Library catalogue, but there are a few odds and strays left over.

Here’s a case in point:

Les hirondelles de Félicien David: variations brillantes pour piano, op.5 / par Henri Streich.

Les hirondelles de Félicien David: variations brillantes pour piano, op.5 / par Henri Streich.

On the outside this volume is rather unprepossessing. It’s not in great condition: the front board is missing, the back board is loose, there are some torn pages and it’s rather filthy. And the first item – a little-known piano arrangement by a little-known composer – doesn’t give much away. In fact it’s what we know in library circles as a ‘bound-with’ – lots of different items of sheet music all published separately and then bound together. This particular volume contains 25 items of piano music from the mid-nineteenth century.

Cataloguing these things can be extremely time-consuming. Not only are there a lot of different items to describe but the music tends to be obscure and the title pages not very helpful (no dates of publication for example). Most of the composers in this volume are now long-forgotten and not represented in standard reference works – Jacques Herz, Theodore Oesten, H. W. Goodban, Theodor Döhler, Wenzel Plachy to name just a few.

On the other hand, bound-withs often give great insights into contemporary music making. The market for the material in this volume was amateur and domestic so looking at it is like eavesdropping on a middle-class drawing room around 1850. The preferences of this particular owner are clear: adaptations of Italian opera themes, and dance music by Charles d’Albert (1809-1886). D’Albert was a German-born Frenchman who lived in England for most of his life and was so popular that he was able to issue his music with expensive colour illustrations on the covers. Like this one:

Serenade: valse a deux tems / Charles d'Albert

Serenade: valse a deux tems / Charles d’Albert

We have digitized more covers from this volume over on our Flickr page, and if you get a taste for nineteenth-century music covers, there are hundreds more over at the Spellman Collection of Victorian Music Covers on VADS. As ever, to view this or any other item from the special collections, just drop us an email.

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2 thoughts on “On the pleasures and sorrows of cataloguing 19th century sheet music

  1. Rare books librarians tell me this is called a Sammelband. (Which is very descriptive, but hard for English musicians to remember!) They’re unbelievably time-consuming, but fascinating for all the reasons you’ve given! Sadly, they can also be in a dire state of repair, which makes the job more distasteful than it otherwise would be…

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