Music collectors : Frederick Booth

How does a score end up in the UL? They arrive here in many different ways. Some are bought, some arrive via Legal deposit, others are given to us. Of the items that are donations, some are gifts from a kindly publisher or author, while some are deposited following the owner’s death. Sometimes great consideration goes into the donations that are given to us. The Booth collection is an example of this.

Signed Stravinsky score with further annotations in blue pencil possibly by Serge Koussevitsky, who conducted the first performance. MRS.8.3761. Photographed by Sarah Chapman.
Copyright Cambridge University Library

Frederick Booth was an undergraduate at Corpus Christi in the mid-1930s. He read Natural sciences, but was also a passionate amateur musician, and, as his letter to the then Music librarian reveals, spent much time in the Music department at the UL. The music collections back then were much narrower than they are now. They consisted largely of what had been received under the Copyright Act along with antiquarian material that had been given to the library, and core scores principally the German “greats”. Booth had a passion for contemporary French and Russian music, and noticed that the UL had a gap in this area of its collections.

Following graduation Booth went on to become a schoolmaster at Rothwell Grammar School (later the Rodillian School) in Lofthouse, West Yorkshire. He taught biology here, and later became Deputy Headmaster. His interest in music continued, and he became a staunch supporter of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, while continuing to build up an enviable collection of Russian and French music.

When writing his will he thought of the time he’d spent in the Music Department here at the UL, remembered the gap in our collection, and offered us his beloved collection of scores – around 3,500 items including works by Prokofiev, Stockhausen, Berio, and Poulenc, along with a liberal selection of twentieth-century British music. Most of his music literature went to Huddersfield Polytechnic, and was later distributed to music libraries and archives throughout the UK. His record collection comprising around 3,000 LPs was also given to us, and reflects the musical taste that can be seen in the scores.

A quick scroll through the volumes that can be found at MRS.7-10 reveals an eclectic mix of twentieth-century music. There’s everything from the avant-garde (Stockhausen, John Cage), British composers (Arthur Bliss, Constant Lambert, Elisabeth Lutyens), Russian and French greats (Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Boulez, Honegger), and many rare or unusual items including several different versions of Sorabji‘s Fragment written for Harold Rutland, and Kak griby na voĭnu sbiralisʹ (How the mushrooms went to war) by Stravinsky.

Many of the Booth scores that we have are extremely rare. There is a copy of Stravinsky’s Concerto for piano and winds, signed and corrected by the composer, and a numbered copy of the first edition of Satie‘s Sports et divertissements with colourful plates by Charles Martin.

Two other rare works, both on the same theme, include Muradelli‘s popular heroic opera October, published in Moscow in 1967. Even rarer is Prokofiev’s cantata, written for the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution, with words by Stalin, Lenin and Marx:

A selection of scores from the Booth collection in their distinctive colour-coded dust-jackets. Photographed by Sarah Chapman.

I suspect that Frederick Booth would be thrilled to discover that his collection has become such an important part of the library. It’s one of the most used sections of the closed access materials with a wide range of music all attractively packaged in Booth’s distinctive paper covers (orange for Russian, blue for French etc.). If you ever need an obscure, twentieth-century music score you may have good cause to be very grateful for the kindness of Mr. Frederick Booth.

Come and have a look at the Stravinsky and Satie scores mentioned above. They’re on display in the Anderson Room until June 25th.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Fairweather, Amy Cameron-Williams and Richard Buxton, all of Huddersfield University, for their helpful advice and memories of Frederick Booth.


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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8 Responses to Music collectors : Frederick Booth

  1. Mark Doran says:

    I first had cause to bless the name of Frederick Booth when I suddenly needed to see Alfredo Casella’s piano duet arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony No.7 (Bote und Bock, Berlin; ~1908).
    I certainly think Mr Booth deserves a raised glass every now and then…!


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  7. Peter Johnson says:

    I was a pupil at Rothwell Grammar School where Fred Booth taught. I remember driving him to the Edinburgh Festival in 1963 whilst I was in the sixth form and we went to some of the concerts together. His LP collection was most impressive. Peter Johnson


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