Founded in 1813, the Royal Philharmonic Society is the oldest surviving public concert-giving body in the UK and the second oldest in Europe. Through its commissions and concert management, the Society has engaged with the greatest composers and performers, resulting in a rich archival legacy.
About the collection
The Royal Philharmonic Society has played a major role in shaping musical life in London and beyond for over two hundred years. The Society’s archive was purchased by the British Library in 2002 with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund and many other foundations and individuals.
The Archive has been described as the single most important source for the history of music in England in the 19th century. It comprises over 270 manuscript scores and an astonishing collection of correspondence files, working papers and minute books which detail many of the negotiations with composers, performers and publishers in preparation for each season's concerts.
The manuscripts include many important autograph scores or copies of works performed at the Society’s concerts, including the autograph score of Mendelssohn's First Symphony and a copyist's score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (which was commissioned by the Society), annotated by the composer.
Other composers represented in the archive include Weber, Schubert, Sterndale Bennett, Cherubini, Cramer, Ries, Moscheles, Neukomm, Pleyel, Onslow, Spohr, Méhul, Schumann, Wagner, Verdi, Smyth, Tailleferre, Alun Hoddinott, Andrzej Panufnik, Thea Musgrave, and Witold Lutosławski.
The correspondence files include autograph letters from many composers, including Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Britten, Dvořák, Elgar, Debussy, Delius, Grieg, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Vaughan Williams.
What is available online?
The Royal Philharmonic Society Archive is described in the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.
An overview of the music manuscripts in the archive is available here.
An overview of the archival documents in the collection is available here
The Archive has also been digitised in its entirety and is available to view via the Nineteenth Century Collections Online portal, in subscribing libraries.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
Items from the Royal PhilharmonicSociety Archive are available for consultation in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Descriptions can be found via the catalogues mentioned above. Material can be order via the Explore the British Library catalogue. If you experience difficulties with ordering, please ask a member of reading room staff or contact the Music Reference Team.
Please note that access restrictions apply to some of our most vulnerable and important manuscripts, including a number from the Royal Philharmonic Society (noted under ‘Access conditions’ in online catalogue descriptions). In these cases researchers are asked to consult a digital or microfilm surrogate in the first instance; access to original material should be made by application in advance.
The digitised content is also available to view in the Library’s reading rooms via the Nineteenth Century Collections Online portal.
Cyril Ehrlich, First Philharmonic: A History of the Royal Philharmonic Society (Oxford, 1995)
Robert Elkin, Royal Philharmonic: The Annals of the Royal Philharmonic Society (London, 1947)
Myles Birket Foster, History of the Philharmonic Society of London, 1813–1912 (London, 1912)
Arthur Searle, 'Some Nineteenth-Century Orchestral Parts from the Library of the Royal Philharmonic Society', Brio 45/1 (2008), pp. 3-13
For further information, please contact:Music Collections
The British Library
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Email: Ask the Reference Team