This display, which includes facsimiles of items from Special Collections in the Pendlebury Library, will be on view 19th March – 13th June 2014. Readers who are interested in viewing the originals may ask the staff for assistance.
Several posts on this blog have described the active performance culture of Cambridge’s musicians in the eighteenth century, but most of the music they played was published in London. Nonetheless, music shops and booksellers in Cambridge competed fiercely for local custom, and some also ventured into publishing. A few locally published items are preserved in the Pendlebury Library, and they provide a fascinating glimpse into the musical life of Cambridge and the commerce it supported.
Robert Smith (1689-1768) was professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy, master of Trinity College, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also an avid amateur musician, an accomplished cellist and a scholar of music theory and acoustics. Smith’s Harmonics laid out a mathematical basis for harmony and tuning, and it met a growing appetite among university students for such specialized guides as the natural sciences grew ever more diverse.
Thomas and John Merrill Booksellers occupied a shop on Regent’s Walk (now the site of the Senate House), from which they vied with their largest competitor, William Thurlbourn, for Cambridge’s lucrative book market. The first edition of Smith’s book (1749) had been published by the Cambridge University Press and sold through all the major outlets in Cambridge, London and Oxford. By bringing out the second edition under their own imprint, the Merrills were able to exclude their chief rival from its local distribution.
The original copper plates from the first edition are preserved in Trinity College Library.
In his book Smith argues for an idiosyncratic scheme of mean-tone tuning that creates more consonant harmonic intervals but requires finer increments than the twelve semitones of the chromatic scale. As a practical accommodation, Smith proposes an elaborate system of buttons or levers to be added to keyboard instruments to facilitate playing in the more remote keys. His 1762 “Postscript” (above left) gives the technical specifications for such a modified instrument. The diagram on the fold-out page (above right) summarizes his design for a “changeable harpsichord.”
The binding of this copy preserves a nice example of gold tooling, the embossed monogram of Richard Pendlebury (1847–1902). Pendlebury, the library’s namesake, was a graduate and later Fellow of St. John’s College, and eventually a University Lecturer in Mathematics. The extensive collection of scores and books on music that were bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum upon his death came to form the core of library’s collection.Morris Barford was active in Cambridge ca. 1775–1810. Aside from a few publishing ventures, he ran a music shop on Union Street (now Peas Hill) bought and sold instruments and provided instruction. A cellist himself, he often performed at Cambridge’s Black Bear.
Barford’s publications may have seen relatively small print runs, or they may have been consumed by use, for very few copies are known to survive. The Pendlebury has only Book II of this collection, while the UL has only Book III. The British Library has the only documented set of all four books.
(Barford’s catalogue of publications also includes this curiosity: “Duet for two performers on one violin composed by Mr. Charles Hague.” A copy of that score is available in the University Library.)
This collection is a hodgepodge of popular tunes in various arrangements. It includes melodies by Arne, Corelli, Handel, and Pleyel, among others, in versions for one to three treble parts (with or without words) and bass accompaniment. The layout allows a keyboard player to provide accompaniment or to realize the music alone.
Dutch violinist and composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721–1799) moved to Cambridge in 1762 and lived here for the rest of his life. In addition to composing and performing, he gave private lessons and ran a music shop out of his home on Trumpington Street, opposite Peterhouse.
The many surviving copies of this psalm collection suggest that it was widely used in its day.
The first part of the book, the psalter proper, is organized according to the liturgical year. Two unusual features of Hellendaal’s setting are the small notes added below the soprano line and the inclusion of figures in the bass part. Both of these innovations facilitate performance at the keyboard.
At least one stage in this copy’s provenance is documented by the writing on the endpapers and flyleaves. In what appears to be a child’s hand, the inscription “John Green, Fen Ditton” is copied multiple times, as if for practice in writing with a quill. The front flyleaf also includes a (somewhat mangled) fragment of a folk rhyme that often appears as an inscription in school children’s books.
The title pages of both Barford’s collection and Hellendaal’s psalter include advertisements for other goods and services. Although both identify themselves primarily as publishers, the small print describes musical jacks-of all-trades. Both are trying to use their provincial status as an advantage compared to their larger rivals in London. Barford promises “orders from the Country strictly attended to & executed with punctuality,” while Hellendaal insists that “orders for every Article in the Musical line are Executed as Cheap as in London and with the Utmost Punctuality and Dispatch.”
Guest contributor Bruce Durazzi is a music scholar, a student of library and information science and currently an intern in Cambridge’s music collections.