Hirsch Collection

Hirsch Music Library stamp
Hirsch Music Library stamp

Ca. 18,000 items of printed music and music literature and 76 manuscripts collected by Paul Hirsch and dating from the late-12th to the mid-20th centuries.

About the collection

During his lifetime, Anglo-German industrialist, collector and keen amateur musician Paul Hirsch (1881-1951) amassed one of the world’s finest private music libraries. When collecting, his guiding principles were scholarly importance, physical condition, rarity, typography, binding, and any special features such as illustrations or annotations.

Hirsch began to assemble his collection in 1896, focussing on early printed editions of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, 19th-century opera and early theoretical works. In addition, he acquired many examples of early music printing. The manuscript holdings are small but significant and also show a particular strength in 19th-century opera.

His library was originally housed at his home in Frankfurt am Main. By the 1920s, he was employing a librarian, and opening his collection to the public on two afternoons a week. As a Jewish citizen fearing for his safety, he migrated to Cambridge, England, in 1936. Incredibly, he and his family managed to transport his library out of Germany in several train wagons.

His books found a temporary home at Cambridge University Library, where they became a working collection for local students. In 1946, Hirsch sold his library to the British Museum for £120,000.

When Hirsch died in 1951, he had secured for the British Library one of its most significant acquisitions. He shared his passion for collecting with his wife Olga, who bequeathed her collection of decorated papers to the British Library in 1968.

What is available online?

The printed scores and books in the Hirsch collection are catalogued in the Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library. A small number of these have been digitised. Where this is the case, a link to the digital version is included in the catalogue record.

Manuscripts in the Hirsch Collection are described in the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. A handlist of this collection can be downloaded here.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Items from the Hirsch Collection are available for consultation in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room, and can be ordered via the Explore the British Library catalogue. If you experience difficulties with ordering, please ask staff.

Further information

With his librarian Kathi Meyer, Paul Hirsch published his own four-volume catalogue of his library, Katalog der Musikbibliothek Paul Hirsch (Berlin, Frankfurt and Cambridge, 1928-47). Short descriptions of the manuscripts may also be found in Pamela J. Willetts, Handlist of Music manuscripts acquired [by the British Museum]1908-67 (London, 1970).

See also:

P. H. Muir, ‘The Hirsch catalogue’, Music review 9 (1948), pp. 102–17

O. Hirsch, A handlist of some articles and catalogues written or published by Paul Hirsch, with a list of publications of the Paul Hirsch Music Library (Cambridge, 1951)

A. H. King, ‘Paul Hirsch (1881–1951): some personal recollections’, Monthly musical record, 82 (1952), pp. 98–100

For further enquiries, contact:

Music Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)20 7412 7772
Reference Enquiry Team