Arnold and the thorough-bass

In the context of the Shelf Lives exhibition, the music collections are putting some music collectors in the spotlight, both in the form of physical exhibitions and through blog posts.

Shelf Lives exhibition (18 January – 16 June 2012) ©CUL

One of these collectors is Franck Thomas Arnold (1861-1940), who studied in Cambridge at Trinity College. Although by profession a German lecturer, he is best known today for his interest in music, and in particular for his studies into the history of music theory and ‘thorough-bass’ technique, nowadays probably better known as basso continuo (subscription only link – your academic or public library may be of help).

It was his seminal work The art of accompaniment from a thorough-bass as practised in the 17th & 18th centuries (London, 1931) – library copies are at M588.b.90.1 and Rb.588.19A.A1 – that established him as a foremost authority in this field, a position he would retain for much of the twentieth century.

F. T. Arnold bookplate ©CUL

The Arnold Bequest came to Cambridge University Library in 1944. It contained printed scores and books on music as well as manuscripts. It exhibits a very strong link between music research and music collecting.

In 1945, a catalogue of the collection with some bibliographical notes was compiled by the then music librarian D.R.Wakeling. This is of interest in itself, not least for its annotations indicating which items were believed to be unique or significant, and why. The illustration below shows one of the pages from the section of theoretical works on music and it gives a good reflection of the core content of the collection in this area: 18th-century musical treatises on the thoroughbass (or Generalbass or basso continuo).

Page from the Arnold catalogue by D.R. Wakeling ©CUL

About one third of the works listed in the catalogue are musical treatises and a very small section scores and notebooks in manuscript form. The majority of the collection however (about two thirds) are music scores, almost all of which are 18th-century compositions with basso continuo. An example of such a music score can be seen in Handel’s Solos for a German flute, a hoboy or violin with a thorough bass for the harpsicord or bass violin : being all choice pieces / compos’d by Mr. Handel, curiously fitted to the German flute. (1733). Another copy of this is currently on display in the music corridor exhibition.

Handel. Solos for the German Flute…. London, J. Walsh, ca. 1733. MR380.a.70.3 ©CUL

Handel. Solos for a German flute. London: J. Walsh, ca. 1733. MR380.a.70.3 ©CUL

However, Arnold wasn’t exlusively interested in 18th century works. A very interesting example of an earlier musical treatise is Syntagma musicum by Praetorius. The work in itself is extremely detailed and has excellent documentary value (with lovely illustrations of musical instruments).

Praetorius. Syntagma Musicum. Wittenberg: J. Richter, 1614-1615 and Wolfenbüttel: E. Holwein, 1619. Title page with puzzle date. MR410.c.60.1 ©CUL

There really aren’t that many complete copies of the original edition(s) in existence, so it is with pride that Wakeling describes it in the catalogue as follows: “The complete work is extremely rare. This copy is perfect except that the title-page to Vol. 1 is wanting. […] An incomplete copy was offered for sale by Otto Haas for £56. This copy was purchased by Arnold from Liepmannsohn for £62 in 1930. On the general title-page the curious puzzle date (1614) is given twice.”


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3 Responses to Arnold and the thorough-bass

  1. Pingback: Music collectors: Richard Pendlebury | MusiCB3 Blog

  2. Pingback: Music collectors: Hedli Anderson | MusiCB3 Blog

  3. Pingback: At the event: UL Friends talk by Margaret Faultless | MusiCB3 Blog

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