We hold a large collection of books and periodicals on music, together with concert programmes, posters and other ephemeral material relating to music and musicians.
Description of the collections
Among the earliest printed books on music in the British Library are treatises by the 15th-century Italian music theorist Gafori, and the music dictionary Terminorum musicae diffinitorium (c.1494) by Johannes Tinctoris. Early and modern biographies of composers and performers are held, together with books in all languages on opera, church music and dance. Some of the early books on musical instruments, such as Sebastian Virdung's Musica getutscht (1511), contain fine illustrations.
The Library's collection of music periodicals ranges from 19th-century journals such as The Musical World through to the latest issues of current monthly magazines. N.B. Current magazines published fortnightly or weekly are held at British Library Newspapers in Colindale, North London. Back-issues of many music journals are available online in the Library Reading Rooms.
Illustration from Sebastian Virdung's. Musica getutscht (1511)
Although they were never systematically collected, there are many 19th- and 20th-century concert programmes in the Library's collections. Among these are programmes collected by Sir George Smart in the first half of the 19th century. Some of these include Smart's handwritten comments - not always complimentary - about the performances.
Examples of posters and playbills from the Library's Evanion Collection of Ephemera, including some music-related items, may be seen in the Online Gallery.
Books and journals on music are described in the Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library.
For details of other relevant catalogues, please see Finding books on music, music periodicals and concert programmes.
Poster for the Royal Music Hall, 1880. Evan. 967, 967. Copyright © The British Library Board
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