The following is a guest blog post from Luke Conklin, doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve University. As a summer intern in the Music Division, Luke is creating catalog records and inventory lists of rare scores from the Dayton C. Miller Collection. While exploring the collections, staff will inevitably stumble across unexpected, quirky, or unique items that deserve sharing. Here’s a story from Luke about encountering an unusual representation of the circle of fifths earlier this week!
In 1941, Dayton C. Miller, a professor of Physics at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, gave one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections of items related to the flute and flute playing to the Music Division of the Library of Congress. The Dayton C. Miller Collection contains nearly 1,700 flutes and other wind instruments, statuary, iconography, books, music, trade catalogs, tutorials, patents, and other materials.
While many of the instruments in the Miller Collection are well-known and important to the history and organology of the flute, the sheet music collection is less well documented. Miller’s music library comprises items ranging from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth and includes manuscripts as well as early prints. Though the collection features mostly music for the flute, there are also a few unusual items in the collection on other musical topics. Two nineteenth-century volumes by R.J. Stephenson, Elementary Elucidations of the Major and Minor of Music (1822) and Amateur’s Assistant (1824), set out the precepts of major and minor key signatures. Instead of arranging the key signatures into the traditional circle of fifths, however, Stephenson goes to great pains to arrange them into the visually stunning shapes of the flags of Wales, The British Union, and Ireland. In order to complete this design, Stephenson is forced to extend the sequence far beyond keys that are used in common practice, extending as far as D-double flat major and B-sharp major. Stephenson defends the eccentricity of this arrangement writing in glorious alliteration: “The titular devices and tutelary dedication are not frivolously fanciful, but are allusive assimilations to the constructions of the consequent contents.” Stephenson completes his extensive prose description of the diagrams with “the whole is respectfully and nationally submitted by, the Author.” This unusually passionate intersection of British nationalism and music theory is just one of the many treasures held at the Library of Congress.