The British Library's vast collection includes commercial discs, tapes of radio broadcasts, and rare or unpublished recordings.
About the collection
We have tens of thousands of commercial recordings of classical music. Most UK record companies donate copies of their new releases and foreign labels are bought selectively. For example, the series Musique Française d'Aujourd'hui, sponsored by the French Ministry of Culture with the SACEM Foundation and French-Radio; Musica Sveciae, an anthology of Swedish Music produced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in collaboration with leading Swedish record companies; and the Canberra School of Music's Anthology of Australian music on disc.
Important donations of commercial discs have been made by the Czech, German, and Polish governments, the German Radio Lautarchiv, the Vienna Phonogramm-Archiv, the New York Public Library and many individual donors.
All types of pop music are collected and the collection contains representative samples of pop music from all over the world, such as:
- 7- and 12 inch singles, cassettes, LPs and CDs, together with new formats as they emerge
- hundreds of thousands of 78rpm discs covering earlier forms of popular music
- a large collection of music videos including compilations of promos and live concert footage
The Sound Archive provides the only public access to the BBC's sound archives including radio sessions, interviews, documentaries and live performances. Vintage John Peel sessions, a 10-part history of reggae, broadcasts from Glastonbury Festivals and the world-famous' Beatles at the Beeb' programmes are among the highlights accessible through the Archive.
Broadcast recordingsWe have made recordings of radio broadcasts for more than 30 years, many of which are unique. In addition, we provide the only public access to the material held in the BBC Sound Archives. We hold most of the recordings issued by the BBC Transcription Service and a large collection of tapes donated by Voice of America which includes live performances by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera from the 1940s to the 1960s. Since the mid-1980s television programmes have also been preserved in increasing numbers.
Many privately-made recordings and test pressings have been donated. Important examples include John Ireland performing and talking about his music; the pianist Egon Petri recorded at his home and at Mills College, Oakland, California; a tape of Stravinsky trying out the revised version of his Symphonies of Wind Instruments with some Hollywood film studio musicians in January 1948; Peter Stadlen in the same year playing the Piano Variations Op. 27 by Webern, with whom he studied when preparing for the first performance in 1937; and an extended interview with Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen recorded in January 1993. Notable private collections include those of the composers Elizabeth Maconchy and Elisabeth Lutyens and of performers such as Sir Alexander Gibson, Tamás Vásáry and Shura Cherkassky. We also provide access to BBC Sound Archives recordings.
What is available online?
A selection of music recordings is available for online listening on the British Library Sounds website.
There you can search and browse the Classical Music collection, Jazz and Popular Music recordings and World and Traditional Music collection.
British Library Sounds contains a very small proportion of our music recordings. Much material cannot be made available online for copyright reasons. However, you can listen to thousands more music recordings on the SoundServer computer terminals at the British Library.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?British Library Sounds contains a very small proportion of our music recordings. Much material cannot be made available online for copyright reasons. However, you can listen to thousands more music recordings on the SoundServer computer terminals at the British Library.
For more information, please contact:
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7772
Email: Ask the Reference Team