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Royal Music Library - Frederick Nicolay (1728-1809)

By the second half of the 18th century, the Royal Music Library had expanded to the extent of requiring somebody to maintain it, a role that was filled in the person of Frederick Nicolay. From a childhood in Saxe-Gotha, Nicolay had emigrated to England and by 1751 had entered the Royal Household as Assistant to the Dancing Master to the Prince of Wales (the future George III).

Ten years later he became Page of the Backstairs to Queen Charlotte, and in due course was elevated to the position of considerable responsibility of Principal Page. He associated with the members of the Queen's private band, and met both Mozart and Haydn. It is clear that Nicolay's duties extended to upkeep of the Queen's Music Library. The ascription 'This Volume belongs to the Queen' is written in his hand in more than fifty of the books in the Royal Music Library, and throughout the Handel autographs there are interleaved sheets on which Nicolay has meticulously noted omissions, mixed-up leaves and other points.

Inscription by Nicolay in a score by Carl Heinrich Graun

Inscription by Nicolay in a score by Carl Heinrich Graun. The British Library, R.M.21.f.12., flyleaf. Copyright © The British Library Board

From these it would appear that he was entrusted with the job of preparing the Handel manuscripts for binding, probably in the 1780s. Nicolay also acquired for the Royal Music Library some 19 volumes from the public sale of the music library of William Boyce, which was offered at auction at Christie's in 1779. His choice of lots from this sale was particularly astute, and included the famous Cosyn Virginals Book, autographs of the twelve sinfonie of Alessandro Scarlatti and his opera Tigrane, some Lully operas and several volumes of Italian madrigals and church music otherwise virtually unknown.

'A fancy for a double orgaine' by Orlando Gibbons

'A fancy for a double orgaine' by Orlando Gibbons, in The Cosyn Virginals Book; circa 1620. The British Library, R.M.23.l.4., ff. 102v-103r. Copyright © The British Library Board


Dr Nicolas Bell
Music Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

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