The Bodleian Libraries house rich collections of music manuscripts dating from medieval times to the present and include such highlights as Handel’s conducting score of Messiah, Holst’s suite The Planets and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture. Anyone who has used the Bodleian’s music manuscript or archival collections over the years will be used to grappling with a confusing array of different findings aids. Apart from a few old collection-level entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, we have had to rely on various paper catalogues and handlists, published and unpublished, which readers can rarely navigate successfully without help from Music section staff. These include: the published Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts (for manuscripts acquired up to 1915), supplemented by large numbers of typescript revisions to the Summary Catalogue descriptions; typescript descriptions of post-1915 acquisitions, the more recent of which also exist as MS Word files; published catalogues for the Deneke-Mendelssohn and Tenbury collections, both of which have accumulated long lists of corrections and amendments over time; boxlists for various uncatalogued collections, such as Ella and Sterndale Bennett. Such finding aids were only partially indexed so locating material has always been dependent to a large extent on the knowledge and experience of staff.
Original conducting score of Handel’s Messiah (MS. Tenbury 346, fol. 66r)
Thanks to a very generous donation, we are now well into a three-year project which aims to incorporate the content of these various finding aids into the online catalogue as well as tackle a range of music manuscripts and archives which have hitherto had no catalogue description. So far, a number of uncatalogued manuscripts and collections have been catalogued while the existing finding aids were sent off to have their contents keyed into machine-readable form for the online catalogue. The two strands of converting the existing finding aids and new cataloguing will continue side-by-side for the remainder of the project which is due to finish in the summer of 2021. By this time, if all goes to plan, all of the Bodleian Libraries’ music manuscripts and music-related archives will have entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, which is itself undergoing a system upgrade and facelift. The first collections should start to appear online in the Autumn of 2019 and will be added to gradually as catalogues are completed.
Catalogues of the Bodleian’s Music holdings
To have online access to any of this information is a major step forward for users of our collections and the beauty of an electronic catalogue is that it can be added to and improved over time.
Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music