The collection amounts to some 4,500 items of printed music, 1,000 manuscripts and a small number of books about music.
The collection was deposited on loan in the British Museum in March 1911 by George V, and in November 1957 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presented it outright to the nation, on the bicentenary of George II's presentation of the Old Royal Library to the British Museum in 1757, four years after its foundation in 1753.
Part of the 'Hallelujah' chorus from Handel's 'Messiah'. The British Library, R.M.20.f.2., f. 100r. Copyright © The British Library Board
Since the books were not catalogued until the 1920s, most of what we know about the development of the collection comes from other sources, notably the armorial bindings. Throughout its evolution, the library has been a mixture of acquisitions through personal interest and presentation copies. Unlike the royal music collections of other countries, it has never served the function of being a repository for ceremonial music. With a few exceptions, such music has generally found its way into other archives. Instead, it has reflected the private music-making interests of various parts of the royal household over some ten generations.
Dr Nicolas Bell
The British Library
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