Missing in action

It’s not unusual in a library to get questions about “missing” books. Some, sadly, are genuinely missing – in the time I’ve been working here, I have come across such tragedies as books left on trains, stolen book bags (the reader, touchingly, was more concerned about their lost library book than their new, and also missing, laptop), and a book vs a flood (the water won). I have a lot of sympathy for these bookish calamities, not least because in my non-librarian dog-loving life I once had to say quite honestly to a council librarian that “My dog ate my library book” (oh, the embarrassment).

The culprit.
Guilty as charged.

Occasionally books are stolen from libraries, although in my personal experience that’s relatively rare. However, there are two areas in which “missing” books, and I’m referring here primarily to music scores and parts, are very common, and that’s what I thought I would look at here.

The first variety is the case of the (not-so-complete) Complete works. The M200s in the Anderson Room are packed full of complete works. Here, you can hope to find everything that the Waltz King, Johann Strauss, ever composed, or Mendelssohn, or Bach. But hold on, is that really true?

When you think about it there are a few problems. Depending on when the edition was completed, i.e. the planned series ceased publication, a lost, or previously unknown work may have surfaced, and that won’t have been included in that earlier set of the complete works.

If you’ve got a shiny new complete works, the lost-now-found work should be published, but complete works are usually not published as a single set, i.e. published at the same time, so although you may have volumes 1-6, it may be some years before volume 7 with the missing work appears. To add to the confusion, complete works are often not published in sequence. For example, we have Volume 5, no. 16:2, no. 17 and no. 18 of the complete Rachmaninoff, but as yet the rest of the series is still awaiting publication.

Numbers 17 and 18, but no sign of number 1, yet…

Even when you think it’s all over, there’s nearly always room for new additions. The New Bach Edition, for example, was 56 years in the making and included 104 volumes of music, and 101 critical commentaries. Once the series was completed, a new series evolved, so as well as the original Bach edition (M200.a.13) from the late nineteenth / early twentieth century, there’s also the New Bach edition (M200.a.34 – scores, M200.c.13 – critical commentaries), and there will be at least some elements from the new revised “New” edition joining its colleagues in the Anderson Room (M200.a.34.1001 onwards).

The second variety of missing works are the ones that truly have been lost in action. They’ve had an exciting music filled life, and it’s as a result of this that they have become separated from their fellow parts. We, for instance, have a number of part-books from the sixteenth-seventeenth century. In a few cases we have a complete set, but this is remarkably rare. And the reason is easy enough to spot, for once you start performing a work, it is incredibly simple for parts to stray.

You take your part home to practice the First violin part, you forget to hand it back immediately after the concert, it slips into your case, and there you are on a plane to Chicago with a missing part. If you’re lucky, and the original home of the part is sensible, it will have been marked in some way. One day, you will find it, remember where it came from, and post it home, but that doesn’t always happen. The part gets mislaid, or misfiled, and is then lost.

It’s easy to mislay a part

So, for example, we have some delicate part-books published by Ballard in Paris between 1559-1578. Twenty part-song books were published for four voices, with a different book for each voice (i.e. if you had the complete set, you would have 80 little books). We have ten. Five for the soprano voice, five for the bass. The two voices have been acquired from different sources, and sadly they are different volumes of the song-books too, so can’t be sung together. We hope though, that one day, we might chance upon their missing partners. Other libraries however may have these missing books, and together researchers can make a whole.

Just five volumes out of eighty

What’s missing can often provide an unexpected insight into how the music may have been used at the time of performance. A librarian colleague approached me recently about an early British edition of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (op. 80), surely they couldn’t be the only Legal Deposit library to have that particular edition of the piano part?

It certainly looks as though we never received this under the Act, although, as has previously been mentioned on MusiCB3 in the earlier days of Legal Deposit, we didn’t always treasure what we were given in quite the way we would now. However we do have a number of sets of parts for this work, courtesy of the old library of Cambridge University Musical Society. Surely the part must be there?

The Choral Fantasy is scored for soloists (SSATTB), mixed-voice choir (SATB), solo piano, two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, and then timpani, and strings. From the 1811 Breitkopf edition, all that survives are the parts for the woodwind and brass. Several attempts were evidently made to add the missing parts, as a UK edition from 1840 adds the chorus parts, although the soprano part swiftly went missing, and was shortly after followed by the alto and tenor (the basses seem to have been better at holding on to their music!). By the 1870s there was another attempt to find the missing soprano with a Novello, Ewer edition of the chorus parts.

The string parts are completely missing, as is the piano part. Presumably the piano part which also has indications of orchestral cues, was heavily used, not just by the soloist, but also by the conductor in preparation for the performance. Perhaps this was not so much a case of missing presumed lost, as missing destroyed because of extensive use. This might also be true of the string parts too. And string parts anyway are notorious for going missing, simply because there are so many of them.

So next time you think an item may have gone missing, you may find that it is actually still in the process of being prepared for publication, or if it’s a work that has had an enjoyable musical life, it may indeed by missing in action.


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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1 Response to Missing in action

  1. Pingback: I’m Pergolesi! | MusiCB3 Blog

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