Among the British Library's collections are music manuscripts (and papers relating to music and musicians) dating from the middle ages to the present day.
John Taverner, Mass 'The western wynde'Add. 17803, ff. 23v-24r © The British Library Board
Description of the collections
Among the earliest examples of manuscript music in the collection are liturgical settings and medieval songs. Some examples of early music notation can be seen among the illuminated manuscripts in the Online Gallery.
There is much primary source material relating to the history of music in Britain in the British Library. Among the sixteenth-century English manuscripts in the Library's collections is the Mulliner Book of keyboard music. Autograph manuscripts from the seventeenth century include volumes of music by Locke and Purcell.
Twentieth-century British musical autographs now form one of the largest elements of the collection. Among them are major holdings of the manuscripts of Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Tippett, Britten, and Maxwell Davies.
The collection also includes many important European musical autographs, notably the second book of Bach's 'Well-Tempered Clavier', and music by Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and other great composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these were acquired as part of the Zweig Collection.
Also held are archives of music publishers, and the private papers of composers, performers and musicologists.
The Library actively collects new manuscripts and archives relating to music through bequests, donations and purchases.
Music manuscripts dating from before the year 1500 are consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room, while music manuscripts dating from 1500 onwards are generally made available in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room.
Most music manuscripts and papers relating to musicians and music publishers are described, at least briefly, in the British Library's Manuscripts Catalogue.
In many cases, however, there are other sources (either printed or online) which give more detailed information about individual music manuscripts, including an item-by-item inventory of the contents. For details of these other catalogues and finding aids, please see Finding music - manuscript music and music archives.
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