Library of Scores

Over 270 manuscript scores which, together with letters and papers make up the Society’s archive at the British Library

The surviving Philharmonic Society library housed at the British Library includes more than 270 volumes of manuscript scores. Most of the manuscripts are of 19th-century date, from the extensive orchestral library gradually built up by the Society from the its first years. Many fewer parts have survived the wear and tear of use and the passage of time, but with the co-operation of the Royal Academy of Music, a small number of the original, partly manuscript, sets have recently been placed with the scores

The full score of Mendelssohn’s First Symphony, which the composer presented to the Society after giving the work’s premiere with them in 1829, is outstanding among the autograph manuscripts, but the collection also includes autographs by such lesser known nineteenth-century composers as Ignaz Pleyel, Cherubini, Sigismund Neukomm, Spohr, Cipriani Potter and William Sterndale Bennett.

There are also authoritative copyist’s scores received from composers in connection with commissions and first, or first British, performances.

This category is best exemplified by the score of the Ninth Symphony sent by Beethoven to the Society in 1824: it carries his autograph dedication to the society and the copyists’ work is liberally corrected in his hand throughout.

The remainder of the scores, the largest number, are contemporary copies prepared for use at the Society’s concerts. The scores in this category have great importance as a record of repertory and performance practice, giving the variant texts performed at the time and often including the markings of the conductors of these early performances.

For much of the nineteenth century the library was used more widely than for the Society’s own concerts; as a result of consultation by, and loans to, outside musicians it played a direct role in the development of the repertory generally in Britain.

Arthur Searle
RPS Honorary Librarian

Exploring the Archives

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