The British Library has a world-famous collection of printed and manuscript music, music recordings, concert programmes and books and periodicals on music.

Collection guides

  • John Taverner, Mass 'The western wynde'Add. 17803, ff. 23v-24r

    Music manuscripts and archives

    Sources for vocal and instrumental works from the Middle Ages to the present
  • Afton Water part 04

    Printed music

    Material published in every European country, from the beginnings of music printing to the present day
  • Hirsch Music Library stamp

    Hirsch Collection

    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
  • Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah

    Royal Music Library

    Printed and manuscript music scores collected by several generations of the royal household
  • Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

    Royal Philharmonic Society Archive

    Over 270 manuscript scores and an astonishing collection of correspondence files, working papers and minute books
  • pop record

    Music recordings

    Our vast collection includes commercial discs, tapes of radio broadcasts, and rare or unpublished recordings
Desks and Readers in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at the British Library

Rare Books and Music

  • Find information on the shelves
  • Access online databases and electronic books and journals
  • Order collection items to the Reading Room via our catalogues

If you need help, please ask our Reference Specialists at the enquiry desk, or contact the Rare Books Reference Team or Music Reference Team.

We offer a range of free Reader sessions and 1-2-1 consultations to help you make the best use of the Library's collections.

You’ll need a Reader Pass

Mon 10.00 – 20.00
Tue – Thu 09.30 – 20.00
Fri – Sat 09.30 – 17.00
Sun & English Public Holidays closed

Opening hours for all Reading Rooms

Blog posts

Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon exhibition

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A new exhibition celebrating the life and music of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most influential composers of the Western classical tradition, opens on Friday 3 December at the British Library. Against the backdrop of war and revolution raging...

Nelson Freire – a great pianist remembered

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Jonathan Summers and Nelson Freire (photo © Jonathan Summers) By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music When Brazilian Nelson Freire died last month at the age of seventy-seven, the world lost one of its greatest pianists. A naturally talented child...

Exploring the Provenance of Italian Manuscript Editions in the Royal Music Library

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Introduction The Royal Music Library represents the music interests and collecting efforts of several British monarchs and members of the royal family. Establishing the line of provenance for the majority of individual volumes in the collection is a challenging task,...

Recording of the week: Preserving the Peruvian jarija

Monday, November 1, 2021

This week's selection comes from Catherine Smith, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. Last autumn, while cataloguing the Neil Stevenson Collection made in Peru in the early seventies, I gradually started to develop a mental image of Santiago...

More blog posts

Projects

Delius, Modernism, and the Sound of Place

Using manuscripts and digital technologies to understand the composer Frederick Delius

All projects

Case studies

More Case studies
…Book historical research has transformed the way we look at books and their role in society.…

Researching the social and political impact of printed music in the long eighteenth century.

…There is a wealth of primary source material…

Sasha is doing collaborative PhD research on the music of Scottish-American composer, Thea Musgrave.