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Arts Department, Special Collections

Introductory guide to special collections in fine arts, music, photography, prints & drawings.

Music

Opening pages of an early copyist's manuscript of Johann Sebastian Bach's 
Italian Concerto, BWV 971, Allen A. Brown Collection of Music (ca. 1742) 

Music collections at Boston Public Library contain over 150,000 volumes related to every facet of musical study, including scores and parts, biography, history and criticism, theory and composition, and music education; collected editions of all major composers (and less well-known composers); and important music indexes, encyclopedias, and bibliographies. The collections include current periodicals, American and foreign music journals--including those devoted to musical instruments--standard recording reviews, and popular music magazines.

Special music collections include autograph scores from a wide variety of composers, first editions, early printed music (both European and North American), and rare monographs and periodicals. To complement its rich collections of published materials, there are ca. 75 special and archival collections related to music, composers, and performers with a specific focus on local Boston music making.

***Materials in this collection include, but are not limited to:***

  • Printed music (scores and parts)
  • Collected works
  • Monographs (books on music, musicians, and musical topics)
  • Manuscripts (autograph scores, manuscript scores, annotated scores, etc.)
  • Sound recordings
  • Journals and serials
  • Collections of essays and Festschriften
  • Performance ephemera
  • Archival collections
  • Files on American composers, performers, and performing ensembles.

Autograph score of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Fugue for String Trio, K. 404b (K. 443),
Allen A. Brown Collection of Music (1782)

***Please note that the following collections are currently inaccessible due to a renovation of our facilities.***

Allen A. Brown Musical Library

The nucleus of the music holdings at Boston Public Library is the Allen A. Brown Musical Library, named for the donor who presented it to the Library in 1894. The collection contains many first editions, early American and European imprints, scrapbooks, and annotated scores. It continues to grow through purchases from trust funds--including the Allen A. Brown Fund--and presently contains more than 40,000 books, scores, and manuscripts relating to music and musical topics. 

Boston Public Library published a comprehensive 4-part catalog of Brown's original donation titled Catalogue of the Allen A. Brown Collection of Music in the Public Library of the City of Boston between 1910 and 1916. These volumes contain all items added to the Brown Collection between 1894 and 1916. Digitized versions can be accessed via the following links:

Allen A. Brown Collection of Music Catalog: Volume 1
Allen A. Brown Collection of Music Catalog: Volume 2
Allen A. Brown Collection of Music Catalog: Volume 3
Allen A. Brown Collection of Music Catalog: Volume 4

Materials added to the Brown Collection after 1916 can be accessed via card catalogs and BPL's online catalog. (More information is available under the "Discovering and Searching" tab.)

Handel & Haydn Society Archives

Founded in 1815, Handel & Haydn Society is one of the oldest continually operating performing arts organizations in the United States. This archival collection includes scrapbooks, programs, business and legal records, musical anthologies, and journals. Printed items include books and scores (both manuscript and published) used by the Society, which include early imprints of Handel's music and autograph scores of commissioned musical compositions. 

Additional Music Special Collections include:

  • Arthur Fiedler Collection
    • Scrapbooks, photographs, periodicals, catalogs, programs, correspondence, and memorabilia from 1898-1980 from Arthur Fiedler's personal library.
  • Grace Warner Gulesian Collection
    • Autograph scores spanning 1911-1967 by a Boston-area composer, pianist, and playwright.
  • Joseph Koudelka Collection
    • Comprised of rare musical works and treatises from the 15th to 18th centuries.
  • Serge Koussevitzky Collection
    • Serge Koussevitzky (1875-1951) was the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949. The collection contains annotated scores marked by Koussevitzky, correspondence, concert programs, scrapbooks, and photographs.
  • B.J. Lang Scrapbooks
    • Contain concert programs and clippings from 1861-1906, which document his music career as pianist, organist, and conductor of the Apollo Club, Cecilia Society, and the Handel & Haydn Society.
  • Marchard Orchestra Collection
    • Contains 130 songbooks, over 1,500 musical scores and parts (published and manuscript) performed by the orchestra, publicity materials, reviews, and news clippings. 
  • Water Piston Collection
    • Contains ca. 2,275 books, scores, antique musical instruments, and personal effects upon his death.
  • Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1853-1917) Theatre Music Collection
    • Contains manuscripts and published scores of incidental music for over 60 plays produced by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, manager of London's Haymarket Theatre from 1887, and later of Her Majesty's Theatre from 1897 until 1916. Materials include full scores, orchestral parts, stage band music, typescripts, books, song lyrics, libretti, correspondence, and production-related items. Specific items include unpublished full scores by Mascagni (The Eternal City, 1902) and several autograph full scores by composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, including four of his five known sets of incidental music, and six short pieces composed for Israel Zangwill's The God Of War.
  • Victor Young Collection
    • Contains 1400 items, primarily conductor’s scores, vocal/piano scores, lead sheets, and instrumental parts, used by film composer, arranger, and conductor Victor Young. Best known for his Academy Award winning score for Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Young also composed the music for more than 300 films, 2 Broadway shows, and numerous hit songs and commercials.

***For more information about these collections, please inquire through arts@bpl.org***

Excerpt of shape-note notation [p. 92] from Musical Primer, 3rd edition, by Andrew Law,
Allen A. Brown Collection of Music (1811)

Boston Public Library began collecting music shortly after its founding in 1848; although access tools (for instance, card and online catalogs) have significantly evolved since 1848, multiple legacy resources still exist as the primary methods to search the music collections. Card catalogs were the main access tools for over a century; in 2022, cards have been supplemented with online catalogs and finding aids. Given the age and magnitude of BPL's music collections, the vast majority of music holdings are not available to search online.

To help navigate searching our music holdings, please use the following step-by-step guidelines:

Step 1: Search Polaris, BPL's online catalog.

  • Collections and items that were added to our holdings before ca. 1980 may not be in Polaris.

Step 2: Search ArchivesSpace (previously Archon).

  • This tool will search finding aids for music archival collections; however, most archival collections have not yet been added to ArchivesSpace.

Step 3: Search RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales) for materials created before 1800.

Step 4: Consult print research tools available in-person at the Central Library in Copley Square.

  • Most music materials added to BPL before ca. 1980 are not available to search using online tools. For these items and collections, please consult the complete Research Library Catalog, which is available on microfiche at:
    • The Research Services desk in Bates Hall (2nd floor); and
    • The Information Desk in the Washington Room on the 2nd floor of the McKim Building.
  • In 1972, all music card catalogs were microfilmed and published into a 20-volume series titled Dictionary Catalog of the Music Collection.
    • In 1977, an additional 4-volume supplement was published.
      • Unlike the Research Library Catalog (which is a complete catalog of all BPL holdings available on microfiche), these volumes only list music holdings and are available in print.
  • The Arts Department also maintains print inventories of many collections not available online. For these collections, please e-mail arts@bpl.org.

Step 5: E-mail arts@bpl.org for further information.

  • If you are unable to consult print research resources in-person, please e-mail arts@bpl.org with your request. We would be happy to help you!
  • Some music archival collections are not available in the Research Library Catalog, the Dictionary Catalog, and ArchivesSpace. Please e-mail arts@bpl.org for assistance with navigating these collections.

Autograph score of Franz Schubert's Der Geistertanz [fragment],
Allen A. Brown Collection of Music (1814)

Although most music special collections have not been digitized, the following collections can be accessed online: 

Philip Hale Photograph Collection

The Philip Hale Photograph Collection contains items owned and used by Boston music critic Philip Hale in his writings. The photographs, taken between 1953 and 1931, contain professional photos of composers, conductors, musicians, actors, dancers, vocalists, and other performers. 

Philip Hale Scrapbook Collection

The Philip Hale scrapbooks contain letters and programs, along with clippings with reviews and criticisms written by Hale and others, all compiled by Hale, of Boston musical life between 1877 and 1933. This scrapbook collection contains 60 volumes organized by year and two separate index volumes.

Sheet Music Lithograph Covers

This set of digital images includes lithographs of sheet music covers from 19th-century U.S. publishers from Boston Public Library's music special collections.

***To locate additional digitized music materials and collections, please search:***

Digital Commonwealth

Flickr [Boston Public Library]

Internet Archive

New acquisitions of music materials will be featured on this page as they become available. Please check back for updates.