Skip to main content

Finding Aids - Music Collections: Manuscripts and other special collections

A guide to the finding aids available for the music collections in the Bodleian Library.

Finding Music Manuscripts

The catalogues of music manuscripts and other special music collections in the Bodleian are rather complex in arrangement. Please see elsewhere on this page for more information. A series of web pages describing the music special collections in more detail is in preparation.


Manuscripts - accessions up to 1915

For accessions up to 1915 the basic catalogue is the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (available in special collections reading rooms but also now in a digitised form). The index volume leads enquirers to the short descriptions in the other volumes - most of the descriptions of the post-medieval music manuscripts will be found in either vol.4 pp.1-36 (Wight MSS) or vol.5 pp.210-73 (Music School MSS). An offprint of these sections is shelved at MUS.AC.1*.

Records for the Bodleian's pre-1800 music manuscripts are gradually being added to the RISM-OPAC database but coverage is, as yet, far from comprehensive.

Manuscripts - accessions since 1915

Descriptions of music manuscript accessions since 1915 can be found in the green binders at MUS.AC.3, on open access in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room.  Until such time that resources permit the creation of an online catalogue for music manuscripts, it is intended that scanned versions of some of the typescript descriptions will gradually be mounted online on the Music web pages.

The only complete index to these manuscripts, is the card index to post-1915 accessions in Duke Humfrey's Library.  However, music manuscripts catalogued between about 1965 and 2009 are also indexed on handwritten cards in a section of the main music card catalogue, now available for browsing online.  There are two sequences, one for names of composers or other people associated with the manuscripts and the other for titles, especially of anonymous works. In common with the other handwritten cards, their style reflects the handwriting of successive generations of cataloguing staff and their legibility varies accordingly.

Please note that music manuscripts were not included in the recently published continuation of the Summary Catalogue, the New Summary Catalogue (covering accessions for the years 1916-1975), although letters and other papers of musicians will be found there - copies of the New Summary Catalogue can be found in special collections reading rooms.

Records for the Bodleian's pre-1800 music manuscripts are gradually being added to the RISM-OPAC database but coverage is, as yet, very limited.

Medieval music manuscripts

In addition to their entries in the formal series of Bodleian catalogues, the library's medieval music manuscripts may also be found described in the following works:

Composer index, up to 1800

A Catalogue of ascribed music in pre-1800 music manuscripts deposited in British libraries is available on microfilm at MUS. FILMS 12. This consists of a reproduction of cards prepared for the RISM manuscript series in the 1960s, and therefore does not include Bodleian material acquired since then. These microfilms, however, do go some way towards providing a detailed composer index to, amongst others, Bodleian and Tenbury manuscripts up to 1800. The introductory material on the films should be read carefully, as it makes clear the limits of the catalogue. Much of the information on these films (including many of the Oxford references) has yet to appear in the online versions of RISM.

Music School manuscripts

The original manuscript catalogue of the Music School Collection compiled by Robert Hake c.1850 is shelved at MUS.AC.2.

Revised descriptions of many of the Music School MSS can be found in the folder at MUS.AC.4, and a detailed index of names and titles in these revised descriptions can be had on application to the staff.

Oxford B.Mus. and D.Mus. exercises have been deposited since the 18th century, and were originally part of the Music School Collection (see Music collections subject guide). A complete typescript list will be found at MUS.AC.5.

St Michael's College, Tenbury

The music manuscripts formerly at St. Michael's College, Tenbury are now in the Bodleian and, with a few exceptions, are owned by it.

The printed catalogue (E.H. Fellowes: The Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of St. Michael's College Tenbury), annotated 2nd edition shelved at MUS. AC.8, still serves as the catalogue and the existing manuscript numbers have been retained – readers' orders should give the shelfmark in the form 'MS. Tenbury 899' (for example).

A recently prepared Index of Copyists and Owners for this collection is shelved at MUS.AC.8*.

M.Deneke Mendelssohn collection

The M.Deneke Mendelssohn collection has its own published catalogue (Catalogue of the Mendelssohn Papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), shelved at MUS.F.MEN.5.

The Harding Collection

This immense collection bequeathed to the Bodleian by W.N.H. Harding of Chicago was received in 1975. The musical parts of the collection may be divided into seven main categories:

  1. English secular song (including folk songs and ballads) from 1650;
  2. English opera (including libretti);
  3. French songs from 1700;
  4. French opera libretti c.1680-1800;
  5. French opera full scores c.1680-1820;
  6. French, German and Italian opera vocal scores c.1800-1950; 
  7. American songs from c.1800.

There is also a first-line analytical index to English song books (both with and without music) c.1600-1850. The material is now almost all catalogued on SOLO, with the important exception of the American songs (c. 100,000 items) – these can, however, be located with the help of the donor's own indexes, and readers should consult the staff for access.

Local music societies

The records of many local music societies, both town and gown, are deposited in the Bodleian. A brief list will be found at the end of the 'Post Summary Catalogue Music Manuscripts' folder (shelfmark MUS.AC.3).

Harold Rosenthal opera programmes

The opera programmes collected over several decades by the late founder and editor of Opera magazine are available for study. Many include press cuttings relating to the productions. They are arranged by opera title, so that programmes relating to different productions of a particular opera are kept together. Although British productions predominate, there are also many foreign programmes. For access please ask the Music staff in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room.

Concert programmes

The Music Section maintains a collection of posters and programmes of local concerts from the Holywell Music Room concerts of the 18th century to the present day. Please ask the staff for such material. In addition the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera has a large collection of non-Oxford concert posters, programmes and other printed ephemera concerning music. Some important sets of concert and opera programme material will also be found in the SOLO catalogue. The library has also recently acquired several large collections of London and other concert programmes for the period 1870 to the present day.

Further details on the programmes collections can be found in the leaflet available in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room and online. More detailed descriptions of many of the collections are available on the recently instituted Concert Programmes Database for the UK and Ireland.

Press cuttings

In 1976 the library acquired a substantial collection of press cuttings on composers and performers, covering the period c.1950-1972. For access please ask the staff in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room.

Subject Guide

Special Collections's picture
Special Collections
Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG
+44 (0)1865 277150