Letters and Papers

The Royal Philharmonic Society's archives (1813-1960) in the British Library records details of negotiations with many hundreds of artists and composers.

The Society’s archive is housed at the British Library. At its core are the 20 minute books recording preparations for each season of concerts, as well as the membership and administration of the Society.

The 47 volumes of original letters relate principally to the same matters, and include examples from most of the great European and British musical figures; a more or less random selection of names from the many hundreds of writers would include Albéniz, Bantock, Bax, Arthur Benjamin, Berlioz, Brahms, Britten, Bruch, Busoni, Clementi, Coleridge-Taylor, Debussy, Delibes, Delius, Dvorak, Elgar, Gounod, Grieg, Holst, Kodaly, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Rossini, Saint-Saens, Sibelius, Ethel Smyth, Spohr, Stainer, Stanford, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Tippett and Wagner.

The financial papers, as well as detailing payments to conductors, soloists and rank-and-file musicians, are the only source in the early years for the size of the orchestra and the names of the players.

Other papers deal with such varied matters as membership and the gift to the Society in 1871 of Schaller’s bust of Beethoven.

Arthur Searle
RPS Honorary Librarian

Related Pages


Ricardo Castro: International pianist who established a flourishing youth music programme in Bahià, Brazil. Awarded RPS Honorary Membership in 2013.


Before there were traffic lights: coachmen delivering audience members to Philharmonic Society concerts at the Harmonic Institution were asked to ‘set down and take up with their horses’ heads facing Piccadilly’.