Skip to Main Content

Music Collections: Manuscripts & other special collections

A guide to the finding aids available for the music collections in the Bodleian Library.

Purcell, 'Hail, bright Cecilia!'

A pages from Purcell's 'Hail, bright Cecilia!' (MS. Mus. c. 26)

Online catalogues for music manuscripts and archives

The catalogues of music manuscripts and other special music collections in the Bodleian have always been rather complex to navigate but, thanks to a recent project to convert the music catalogues and incorporate them into the Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts catalogue, that situation is now greatly improved. However, readers wishing to use Music manuscripts and archives are still advised to contact the Music Curator in the first instance for guidance.

The old hard-copy finding aids are described below and will continue to be available, but readers should bear in mind that they will become increasingly out-of-date. All newly-acquired music manuscripts and archives will be added to the online catalogue.

Records for many of the Bodleian's pre-1800 music manuscripts can also be found in the RISM-OPAC database but coverage is, as yet, far from complete. Many can also be found in DIAMM, some with images, in particular some of the library's more important sets of Tudor partbooks.


Other finding aids for music manuscripts


For accessions up to 1915 the basic catalogue was the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (available in the  Weston Library reading rooms but also now in a digitised form). The index volume leads enquirers to the short descriptions in the other volumes - most of the descriptions of the post-medieval music manuscripts will be found in either vol.4 pp.1-36 (Wight MSS) or vol.5 pp.210-73 (Music School MSS). An offprint of these sections is shelved at MUS.AC.1*.

Records for the Bodleian's pre-1800 music manuscripts are gradually being added to the RISM-OPAC database but coverage is, as yet, far from comprehensive.

Descriptions of music manuscript accessions since 1915 can be found in the green binders at MUS.AC.3, on open access in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room.

Prior to the advent of the online catalogue, the most complete index to more recently-acquired manuscripts was a card index which used to reside under the clock in Duke Humfrey's Library. This index can now be consulted in the Weston Library; ask staff for access. Music manuscripts catalogued between about 1965 and 2009 were also indexed on handwritten cards in a section of the main music card catalogue, now available for browsing online.  There are two sequences, one for names of composers or other people associated with the manuscripts and the other for titles, especially of anonymous works. In common with the other handwritten cards, their style reflects the handwriting of successive generations of cataloguing staff and their legibility varies accordingly.

Please note that most music manuscripts were not included in continuation of the Summary Catalogue, the New Summary Catalogue (covering accessions for the years 1916-1975), although letters and other papers of musicians will be found there - copies of the New Summary Catalogue can be found in the Weston Library reading rooms.

Medieval music manuscripts

The Bodleian's primary catalogue of medieval manuscripts is Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries. Many music manuscripts can also be found in DIAMM (Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music).

In addition to their entries here and in the older Bodleian catalogues, the library's medieval music manuscripts may also be found described in the following works:

Composer index, up to 1800

A Catalogue of ascribed music in pre-1800 music manuscripts deposited in British libraries is available on microfilm at MUS. FILMS 12. This consists of a reproduction of cards prepared for the RISM manuscript series in the 1960s, and therefore does not include Bodleian material acquired since then. These microfilms, however, do go some way towards providing a detailed composer index to, amongst others, Bodleian and Tenbury manuscripts up to 1800. The introductory material on the films should be read carefully, as it makes clear the limits of the catalogue.

Much of the information on these films (including many of the Oxford references) can now be found in the RISM-OPAC although the Tenbury collection records are not yet included.

Music School Collection

The first 'modern' catalogue of the Music School Collection, compiled by Robert Hake c.1850, is shelved in the Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room at MUS.AC.2. The manuscripts were then included in the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and are now incorporated into Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. The printed music can be found in SOLO.

Revised descriptions of many of the Music School manuscripts can be found in the folder at MUS.AC.4, and a detailed index of names and titles in these revised descriptions can be had on application to the staff.

Oxford B.Mus. and D.Mus. exercises have been deposited since the 18th century, and were originally part of the Music School Collection. They were included in the Summary Catalogue but a complete typescript list can be found at MUS.AC.5.

St Michael's College, Tenbury

The music manuscripts formerly at St. Michael's College, Tenbury are now in the Bodleian and, with a few exceptions, are owned by it.

The printed catalogue (E.H. Fellowes: The Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of St. Michael's College Tenbury) forms the basis of the records in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts but the annotated 2nd edition can still be found in the Mackerras Reading Room (shelved at MUS. AC. 8).

The old Tenbury manuscript numbers from the Fellowes catalogue have been retained but should now be cited in the form [GB-Ob] 'MS. Tenbury 899' (for example).

A separate Index of Copyists and Owners for this collection is shelved at MUS.AC.8*.

Printed books and music from the Tenbury collection can be found in SOLO.

M. Deneke Mendelssohn collection

The Bodleian is home to one of the two most significant collections of material relating to Felix Mendelssohn in the world. While the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin holds many major music manuscripts, the Oxford collection is rich in biographical material - letters, diaries, pocket books, elementary school reports, early harmony exercises, account books, albums and a large portion of Mendelssohn’s personal library, along with many musical drafts and sketches and a remarkable series of sketch books which demonstrate something of the composer's gifts as an artist.

The M. Deneke Mendelssohn collection has its own published catalogue (Catalogue of the Mendelssohn Papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), shelved at MUS. F. MEN. 5, but Vols. 1 & 2 have now been incorporated (with revisions) into the Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts catalogue.

The Harding Collection

This immense collection bequeathed to the Bodleian by W.N.H. Harding of Chicago was received in 1975. The musical parts of the collection may be divided into seven main categories:

  1. English secular song (including folk songs and ballads) from 1650;
  2. English opera (including libretti);
  3. French songs from 1700;
  4. French opera libretti c.1680-1800;
  5. French opera full scores c.1680-1820;
  6. French, German and Italian opera vocal scores c.1800-1950; 
  7. American songs from c.1800.

There is also a first-line analytical index to English song books (both with and without music) c.1600-1850. The material is now almost all catalogued on SOLO, with the important exception of the American songs (c. 100,000 items) – these can, however, be located with the help of the donor's own indexes, and readers should consult the staff for access.

Concert programmes

The Music Section maintains a collection of posters and programmes of concerts, operas and ballets, which incorporates some material formerly looked after by the John Johnson Collection and also a number of large donated collections. The main focus is on local events (including Holywell Music Room  concerts from the 18th century to the present day) but coverage extends much more widely.

Detailed descriptions of many of the collections can be found in the Concert Programmes Database for the UK and Ireland, the fruits of a project initially funded by the AHRC but now maintained by IAML (UK & Irl). Enquiries and requests for access or copies should be addressed to in the first instance.

Harold Rosenthal opera programmes

The opera programmes collected over several decades by the late founder and editor of Opera magazine are available for study. Many include press cuttings relating to the productions. They are arranged by opera title, so that programmes relating to different productions of a particular opera are kept together. Although British productions predominate, there are also many foreign programmes. For more information, please contact

Local music societies

The records of many local music societies, both town and gown, are deposited in the Bodleian. Details can be found spread across Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts, SOLO and the Concert Programmes Database. A brief list can be found at the end of the 'Post Summary Catalogue Music Manuscripts' folder (shelfmark MUS. AC. 3).

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Martin Holmes
Music Section,
Bodleian Special Collections,
Weston Library,
Broad Street,
01865-277064 / 276146