Over the past 25 years the focus of the Pendlebury Library has gradually but clearly shifted from being a research intensive library owning a collection of manuscripts, concert programmes and rare books, to a faculty library primarily supporting teaching. Although music manuscripts and concert programmes have been housed at the University Library’s manuscript and music departments for several decades, the Pendlebury Library does still support Music Faculty specific research and this is where the Rare Books and Scores collection fits in. It is closely related to our core collections and has therefore remained on the Sidgwick site.
The Pendlebury Library Rare Books Room is well known to a relatively small number of researchers and contains some unique items that continue to attract interest. What may be less well known is that part of this collection hasn’t quite made it onto our online catalogues. We are generally very proud of having had our full borrowable collections available for online searching for a good number of years now and the time has come to tackle this modest antiquarian collection that has patiently been sitting on our shelves. We do have some references in hidden card drawers but we can do much better than that!
When I say modest I mean of course modest in number of physical items. Most of the volumes that still need tackling consist of collections of flimsy sheet music, nicely bound together in the 17th-19th centuries. This means that one volume can contain a significant amount of individual titles and that instead of whizzing through like we do with new acquisitions, it can take weeks of cataloguing research properly to identify everything contained in one physical volume.
The content however is turning out to be absolutely fascinating and so far we have already discovered additional holdings of many less well known editions. Also, the fact itself that the volumes have been bound not by the library, but by the original owners, collectors and donors, provides us with a very interesting area for research into musical taste and practice in centuries past.
Let’s look at an example. I have very gradually worked my way through two volumes of keyboard music collected by Rev. T. H Coles D.D. I don’t know that much about the Reverend, but have quite a good idea about his piano playing. The volumes contain a collection of pieces from the late 18th and early 19th century, suitable for playing at home by a good amateur. There are studies and exercises as well as sonatas, rondeaux, and quite a few variations by lesser well known composers of famous pieces. Contrary to some of the other collections I have catalogued, there is a mixture of English and continental editions. For our holdings that is not really typical, since English editions of both English and continental repertoire tend to predominate.
The volumes have a half leather binding with central gold tooled plate naming Rev. T. H. Coles D.D. and have been well looked after. One of the volumes bears the signature of Charles Cudworth so presumably both volumes have come via him to our Pendlebury Collections.
We are hoping to make many more exciting discoveries as and when our work progresses.