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Finding music: printed music

How to find out what printed music the British Library holds.

The reference collection

Online catalogue

You can search the British Library's collection of more than 1.5 million printed music scores using the main catalogue, Explore the British Library. To restrict your search to printed music, select Advanced Search, and choose 'Scores' from the drop-down menu 'Material type'.

Explore the British Library includes the printed music from the special 'named' music collections - The Royal Music Library, Hirsch Collection and Royal Philharmonic Society - as well the general music collections. Newly-acquired printed music is added to Explore the British Library as soon as it has been catalogued.  Unpublished (manuscript) scores are not listed in Explore the British Library.  See Finding manuscript music and music archives for more details.

Other catalogues

During the 1980s, a 62-volume catalogue of the printed music in the British Library was published in book form, as The Catalogue of Printed Music in the British Library to 1980 (CPM) (London, 1981-1987). CPM contains details of printed music published before 1980 and acquired by the Library before the catalogue went to press. It is available in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at the British Library, and in many other reference libraries.

The data in CPM has been incorporated into Explore the British Library. However, the printed volumes can still be a useful research aid, as you can see a list of works of each composer, at a glance, with all editions of the same musical work gathered together and listed in date order. This can be especially useful when looking for a work that appeared in many different editions, such as a Beethoven symphony. CPM also includes some useful subject headings - e.g. Hymns, Psalms, Chants - under which collections of material are gathered by type.

Uncatalogued printed music

A small amount of printed music is not yet listed in the catalogues. This comprises popular instrumental tunes and teaching material that was published between 1900 and 1980. This sheet music has been sorted and arranged by decade of publication and by composer. If you would like to know whether a particular piece of music in this category is held, we can check in the relevant box of material on your behalf. N.B.This applies only to popular instrumental pieces. All popular vocal music is included in Explore the British Library.

The lending collection

As well as the main reference-only collection of scores, the British Library holds a collection of modern printed scores and sets of chamber parts which can normally be borrowed on interlibrary loan via your local library. This is also listed in Explore the British Library. To restrict your search to the lending collection, change 'Everything in this catalogue' to 'Remote supply' in the menu.


Music Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7772
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7751

E-mail: Ask the Music Reference Team