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Searching the Sound and Moving Image catalogue for classical music

The Sound and Moving Image catalogue provides access to details of nearly three-and-a-half million recordings of which more than 500,000 are of classical music.

The collections of classical music recordings, details of which appear in this catalogue, include

  • published recordings from all over the world
  • tapes of BBC broadcasts recorded off-air by the British Library Sound Archive between 1961 and 2000
  • donations by organisations such as Voice of America, and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
  • collections of privately-made recordings such as those assembled by John Ireland, Elisabeth Lutyens, Elizabeth Maconchy, and Shura Cherkassky; recordings of lectures on music and musicians presented by the Sound Archive.

The British Library Sound Archive provides access to the tapes and discs of BBC programmes or extracts from programmes held by the BBC Sound Archives; details of these recordings will not be found in this catalogue but information about them can be obtained through the British Library Sound Archive's enquiry and reading room services.

All published recordings have been documented to product level and so you can find out if the Sound Archive holds copies by searching of record labels and numbers. A significant percentage of this material is catalogued and can be searched by artists, instruments, titles, dates, recording locations and subjects but if you cannot find what you are looking for it is probably because our copies (possibly as much as 30% of the classical music collection) are awaiting further documentation. New catalogue records are added daily.

The Sound and Moving Image Catalogue holds and displays information in three linked files for works, recordings and products:

The WORK entry

The WORK entry: this is an entry relating to a single, authored work, such as an opera. For example:

Work title:Tosca
Author/Composer:Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924 (composer)

(Please note: you may encounter a lot of unnecessary duplication of entries in this file. We are aware of this and have made it our top priority in this area to remove all duplicate works entries).


The RECORDING entry: you will find one entry per unique recording. There may be only one, or many, of these, depending on how many different performances we hold of, say, a particular opera or aria. As for Puccini's Tosca, we held 111 different recordings in September 2000, including commercially released performances (e.g. David Parry conducting an English version on Chandos from 1997, De Sabata on EMI with Callas in the title role from 1953), broadcast only performances (e.g. Badea at the 'Met', Cillario at Covent Garden in 1964) and a live video recording of the RAI performance in 1992 with Mehta conducting.

You can find these recordings by linking from the work entry. Here is a typical recording entry:

Performer:Mehta, Zubin, 1936- (conductor)
Performer:Malfitano, Catherine (soprano ; Tosca)
Performer:Domingo, Plácido, 1941- (tenor; Cavaradossi)
Recording date:1992.07.11
Recording location:Rome



If you wanted to make a listening appointment to view this recording you would quote the recording call number 1CV0000597.

Note that many recordings of Tosca will be of excerpts, e.g. a popular aria such as Vissi d'arte. Not all of the entries for this aria are properly identified at present but those which are can be found by looking up the name of the aria and following the links,

e.g. search for TITLE = VISSI D'ARTE and link to the recordings.

In September 2000 the number of recordings held of this aria was 347, ranging from Medea Figner in 1901 to Raina Kabaivanska in 1999. You can go directly to these particular entries by searching VISSI D'ARTE AND FIGNER, etc.

Many classical works exist as arrangements and in special performing editions. Arrangements of Vissi d'arte in the catalogue include Mantovani's arrangement for his orchestra and an arrangement for cornet and brass band. To go directly to arrangements search for the composer's and the arranger's name together, i.e. PUCCINI AND MANTOVANI

The PRODUCT entry

The PRODUCT entry: this represents the physical format . It may be an LP, a reel of tape, or a compact disc, and it may link to one recording entry, or many (in the case of, say, an LP of songs or arias). This entry will contain technical information, such as date of dubbing, whether it is in stereo or mono, etc., and, in the case of commercial products, record company details and album or compilation title.

Here is the product entry that relates to one of the broadcast recordings of Tosca mentioned above:

Broadcaster:BBC TP 19640124
Broadcast title:Tosca - Puccini's opera in three acts
Format:tape 3 reels mono

1) P22R-P23R + NP493RTAPESTP

This is one of the many recordings from our off-air recording project that ran until 2000. Please note that, unless specifically stated, these are audio-only recordings.

Getting started

There are various ways in which to search the catalogue. For beginners, the 'Search Everything' function in SIMPLE SEARCH is recommended. This trawls every word of every catalogue entry and is thus the most comprehensive search mode. If it has a drawback it is that it can be unwieldy. For instance, if you search for GIACOMO PUCCINI in this way you will find that your search results in more than 1200 records, some of which may not relate to Puccini the composer but simply happen to contain the words "Giacomo" and "Puccini" somewhere within their description.

Let's be more specific. One way is to search for the NAME = GIACOMO PUCCINI. But suppose you are searching for recordings of a particular opera or aria:


You will find your search brings up more than 300 items: the work entry, the 347 recordings listed above, plus product entries that list the aria in a contents listing.

As you become more familiar with the way the catalogue works, try other kinds of search. Try PLACE = Royal Albert Hall to obtain only those recordings made in or about London's Royal Albert Hall or try linking between different entries by performer name, collection title, or browsing by name or title.

Other kinds of search can be carried out successfully using SIMPLE SEARCH and KEYWORD. You can find a particular record release by typing in the label name and/or the prefix and the serial number. This will return a product entry for that release from which you may link to all of the recordings it contains (provided it has been catalogued, of course) or to other releases on that label. If you do not find what you are looking for you may use left-hand truncation (substitute $ for the final character, $$ for two characters, etc) or wildcards (substitute ? for a character within the search string).

Individual compositions (and their recordings) can be found by typing in thematic catalogue or opus numbers. Keyword = K488 (or K 488) will take you to entries for Mozart's A major piano concerto; BWV232 will take you to Bach's B Minor Mass; OP.111 to Beethoven's last piano sonata. This example would also find other works designated 'op.111', so if all you wanted was Beethoven's Op.111, then search BEETHOVEN OP.111, or SONATA OP.111. A work's key signature may also be used, e.g. Sonata$ B flat major, but please note that certain letters and words (e.g. A, AN, THE, OF, etc) will be treated by the catalogue as search delimiters or ignored because they are 'stop words' (i.e. the word occurs so frequently that it is not indexed). If you need to look up a composition in A or A flat major/minor, or if the title contains words such as "with", "not", "and", you must either omit them or include the letter A or other 'stop word' in inverted commas: this will tell the catalogue to search for those letters or words rather than ignore them, e.g. SONATA$ "A" MAJOR.

If you want to be very precise, select ADVANCED SEARCH. Here you can combine different terms and use additional SEARCH LIMITS, e.g. a date range or arias sung in a certain language (just type the first two letters of the language).

If you want to obtain a list of recordings of a particular composer by a particular performer the best way is to write the composer's surname in Keyword and the performer's name (or performers' names) in Name, e.g.
Keyword = Brahms
Name = Haitink
You may also choose to sort this list by title or recording date: select TI or PBYR or in the Sort By box in the Search Limits part of the screen.

It is even possible to use these SEARCH LIMITS as search terms by themselves:

BROAD CLASS[IFICATIO]N = CHAMBER will list entries with this classification;
YEAR = 1890-1925 AND CLASSIFICATION = VOCAL will list entries for vocal music dating from the acoustical recording period;
CLASSIFICATION = INTERVIEW will list interviews with classical musicians.

Not every scrap of data is perfectly typed or spelt and the lists of works for some composers, especially from the Classical period (Bach through to Beethoven) can be very confusing. We are aware of this and put a high priority on our ongoing data cleansing operations. Should you notice any serious errors please let us know.

Further information

Sound & Vision Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691

E-mail: Ask the Sound & Vision Reference Team