Why “Not worth a mention”?

You may have wondered why our latest exhibition, in and around the Anderson Room, celebrating the work of female composers has the odd title of “Not worth a mention“. The idea for the exhibition came about through a chance conversation with a music librarian at another Legal Deposit library. Looking for some music that had been entered at Stationer’s Hall to show a researcher, the first score he plucked from the shelf had a piece by a little known nineteenth century composer, a Miss Heward. Researcher was delighted and wondered if the library had anything else by her. Librarian went confidently to the catalogue, and was puzzled to discover that there was NOTHING by Miss Heward, not even the piece he held in his hand. Perhaps it had been missed out of the electronic catalogue during the migration from cards? But no, there was no evidence of it in the card catalogue either, though it did turn up in the accessions registers.

Heward

Miss Heward makes it to Cambridge.
Item no. 12 in volume MUS.25.19.

The only conclusion was that if music received under the Act pre-the mid-nineteenth century was not deemed suitable for academic research, it was considered to be “Not worth a mention” even in the library’s catalogues. This was a huge surprise to the current librarian, who hadn’t realised that this had happened in the library’s past. Indeed there was no documentation to suggest that this had happened, though it clearly had. Intrigued, he did a little more research and found more composers who were also not mentioned in the catalogues. There were many men, but more women were excluded from the catalogues along with Miss Heward.

It’s a librarian’s worst nightmare. So what happened in Cambridge?

In some ways our story is worse than my fellow librarian’s. In common with many of the other Legal Deposit libraries, Cambridge initially struggled with the influx of items. There was so much of it! (As a modern day librarian, you do want to say to the eighteenth century academics and staff of the University Library – you think that was bad? Just see how much is coming in now!).

An art display in Toronto, but the flood of books does feel rather like this at the UL!
Photo: Luzinterruptus / Lola Martinez

As a result Cambridge was very selective in what it kept – plays were immediately discarded, music generally was too, while fiction usually went the same way. A few oddities survived, a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels was allegedly kept because of a mix-up at the accessions stage – it was believed to be a work of non-fiction. As far as music was concerned academics must have been rubbing their hands and rushing to their harpsichords and fortepianos as music was given away, or sold. Some was simply lost. Conditions were cramped in the old UL buildings. There was little or no heating, and much of the building was damp. Inevitably books and scores deteriorated.

Cambridge University Library in the late C18th.

Cambridge, incidentally, was by no means alone in its initial response, or struggle with, Legal Deposit. A recent workshop at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland showed that this was a common story, especially among libraries that already had sizeable collections and, even at that stage, space issues. Libraries in Scotland seem to have been more enthusiastic in claiming Legal Deposit items during the eighteenth century, with some libraries, such as St. Andrews, acquiring unexpected stashes of Legal Deposit music. There has been some fascinating preliminary research done on this already, as St. Andrews also kept helpful registers of borrowers. So, for example, it was discovered that in St. Andrews religious music tended to be borrowed more by academics, who were using it for teaching purposes; while military men were keen on dance music, presumably for the Assembly balls beloved of Jane Austen.

Dancers. Courtesy of the British Library.

As the law changed and fewer libraries were covered by the Act, attitudes in these libraries changed. The move towards carefully looking after the mass of music material that comes to CUL began seriously in the 19th century. In 1871 a decision was made to divide the music stock into primary and secondary (i.e. what, at the time, or by that particular librarian, was deemed more academically important, and what wasn’t). “Popular” music was rescued from dark corners of the old library, and boxed up, and the A-4figure and B-4figure classmarks were created. A quick flick through the A1871 boxes reveals music from 30-40 years earlier that presumably wasn’t considered important enough to bind, but (thankfully) was no longer discarded.

Here are some examples of the sort of material that made it into A-4fig, that may formerly have been given away.

Nowadays the Legal Deposit libraries are immensely proud of the contribution they make to the cultural life of the country. We are a repository of memory. Where else just by looking at a music collection, can you find commentaries on fashion, health issues, an unexpected craze for a particular musical instrument, or a passion for a musical genre?

Black Sabbath

A passion for a particular instrument and genre.
A2010.408

And that’s why music collections in Legal Deposit libraries are so important. The material that is deposited via the Agency covers all kinds of music from minor composers to household names, from popular to the avant garde and new editions of favourite works. There are challenges, especially as we move into a digital environment where more music is published online, or in other digital formats. How do we capture and preserve this? But in a time where much that appears on the net is ephemeral, the challenge to preserve the music that is being published however it is being published, is more relevant than ever.

As for Miss Heward, you’ll be pleased to know that CUL holds many of her works. She hailed from Clare in Suffolk, so it may be that an earlier librarian decided to keep her music for its “local” interest, or perhaps they just knew that it was the sort of work that some future librarians researching Stationer’s Hall would be interested in. Several other members of Miss Heward’s family are also represented in our collections. Indeed thanks to Legal Deposit the names that appear in our card catalogue range from the Family Bach to the Family Heward. A variety of composers from major to minor.

MJ

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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2 Responses to Why “Not worth a mention”?

  1. Reblogged this on Claimed From Stationers' Hall and commented:
    Wonderful! A lovely read, especially for followers of the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall network!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Happy IWD! | MusiCB3 Blog

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