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The Hirsch Collection - About the collections

Aspects of the life of Paul Hirsch, collector of music, librarian, musician and exile from Nazi Germany, with photographs taken from the Hirsch Collection at the British Library.

Balet comique de la Royne

Hirsch was particularly interested in decorated editions and fine engraving. This description of a court ballet performed in celebration of the marriage of the Duc de Joyeuse in 1581 includes illustrations of the costumes and sets, as well as the full text, and music for the songs and dances.

 Balet Comique de la Royne

Balet Comique de la Royne © The British Library Board

An early Bach edition

Collecting rare first editions was one of Hirsch’s prime concerns. Among the music of Bach in his library was a set of parts for Cantata no. 71, the first work of Bach’s to be published, and the only cantata to be printed in his lifetime. These parts were printed at Mühlhausen, where the work was first performed, in 1708. Only three copies of the publication are known to have survived.

Bach's Cantata No. 71

Johann Sebastian Bach, Glückwünschende Kirchen Motetto. Mühlhausen, 1708. British Library, Hirsch III.620.Copyright © The British Library Board

Musical playing cards

The vogue for dancing and singing in the early eighteenth century led to a huge increase in the publication of popular music. Some was published in unusual forms, for instance on fans or playing cards. Hirsch acquired a rare pack of 52 playing cards dating from around 1725, still with its original woven case. Each card bears a song for voice and flute.

Musical playing cards

British Library, Hirsch IV.1444. Copyright © The British Library Board

A Mozart Library

Hirsch’s favourite composer was Mozart, and he went to great lengths to assemble a vast collection of first and early editions, producing a catalogue of his Mozart holdings in 1906 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Among these scores was the first edition of Mozart’s Musical Joke, the title-page of which shows the type of village band Mozart was caricaturing in the work.

Mozart's musical joke

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Musikalischer Spass. Offenbach, 1802. British Library, Hirsch IV.128. Copyright © The British Library Board

Hirsch and Goethe

Hirsch acquired many musical settings of the poems of Goethe, and in 1920 prepared an exhibition on Goethe and music for the Gesellschaft der Freunde des Frankfurther Goethe-Museum, loaning music from his own collection for the occasion. Among the scores on display was the first edition of five Goethe settings by Franz Schubert, published in 1821.

Goethe songs

Franz Schubert, Rastlose Liebe, Nähe des Geliebten, Der Fischer, Erster Verlust, und Der König in Thule. Vienna, 1821. British Library, Hirsch IV.478. Copyright © The British Library Board

Catalogues and further reading

The printed scores and books in the Hirsch collection are catalogued in the Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library.  The small number of manuscripts in the collection are listed in the Manuscripts Catalogue. Short descriptions of these manuscripts may also be found in Pamela J. Willetts: Handlist of Music Manuscripts acquired [by the British Museum] 1908-67 (London, 1970).

Paul Hirsch, with Kathi Meyer, published his own four-volume catalogue of the library, Katalog der Musikbibliothek Paul Hirsch (Berlin, Frankfurt and Cambridge, 1928-47).

P. H. Muir: 'The Hirsch Catalogue', Music Review, ix (1948), 102–17

O. Hirsch: A Handlist of some Articles and Catalogues Written or Published by Paul Hirsch, with a List of Publications of the Paul Hirsch Music Library (Cambridge, 1951)

A. H. King: 'Paul Hirsch (1881–1951): some Personal Recollections', Monthly Musical Record, lxxxii (1952), 98–100


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