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Manuscripts, Books, and Recordings, Oh My!: The Music Division Celebrates the National Book Festival

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As the Library prepares for its first ever Virtual National Book Festival this upcoming weekend, September 25-27, I would like to highlight the many books about music, other holdings, and activities of the Music Division that are available online year-round for our readers’ own edification and entertainment. Many of these materials are accompanied by informative articles and essays—all of which are free to read, watch, or hear with a click of your mouse.

As you peruse this content, check out the National Book Festival Blog. And be sure to stop by the Music Division’s virtual booth, accessible on the Library’s website at during the Festival weekend.

One of the Music Division’s most significant collection of print material is the Books About Music Before 1800 collection. Shortly after the Music Division was established in 1897, Music Division staff identified early writings about music published before 1801 as both historically significant and having high research value. The Division quickly sought to acquire as many of these texts in its collection development activities. Because of these persistent efforts, the Library holds well over 50% of known books about music from before 1801.

Adam Gumpeltzhaimer, Compendium musicæ latino-germanicvm. Nunc editione hac nona nonnusquam correctum & auctum, 1632. ML171 .G86 1632. Music Division

The Books About Music Before 1800 collection includes scans of over 2,000 pre-1801 publications about music. Among these treasures are incunabula such as Johannes Tinctoris’ Terminorum musicae diffinitorium of ca. 1474, one of the earliest examples of a glossary of musical terms.

The Music Division’s collections, however, are not limited strictly to musical topics. The digital collection An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920 features over 200 social dance manuals. These rare items range from a late 15th-century source, Les basses danses de Marguerite d’Autriche (c.1490) to Ella Gardner’s 1929 Public dance halls, their regulation and place in the recreation of adolescents.

Opening Night of “Voodoo Macbeth,” A Federal Theater Project production. April 14, 1936. Federal Theater Project collection. Music Division.

Highlighting one of the three newsworthy threads that thematically tie together the content across the Festival’s virtual stages, “Democracy in the 21st Century,” the Federal Theater Project Collection likewise includes scans of scripts written and/or produced during the program’s four years of existence, 1935-1939. The largest and most ambitious effort mounted by the federal government to organize and produce theater events, the program provided work for unemployed theater professionals during the Great Depression.

The Music Treasures Consortium provides online access to some of the world’s most valued and important music manuscripts and print materials held by 15 institutions in Europe and the United States, including the Library. There you can find music manuscripts by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Copland, and many other eminent composers. Similarly, the Moldenhauer Archives contain over 3,500 items that document the history of Western music, many of which have been scanned and made available online. The Guide to the Moldenhauer Archives includes a series of essays on specific items held in the archive, providing historical context, analysis, and even provenance information.

Photographer unknown. Members of the Lester Horton Dance Theater (left to right): Alvin Ailey, Misaye Kawasumi, Roland Goldwater, and Lelia Goldoni in an early Ailey work, La Creation du Monde, 1954. Lester Horton Dance Theater collection, Music Division.

Multiple past exhibits, all of which are still available on the Library’s Website, highlight the “Hearing Black Voices” thread of the Festival:

Other exhibits, such as Voices, Votes, Victory: Presidential Campaign Songs, find resonance with the “Democracy in the 21st Century” Festival thread.

Herman Paley and Alfred Bryan, “She’s good enough to be your baby’s mother and she’s good enough to vote with you,” New York : Jerome H. Remick & Co., 1916. M1665.W8 P Music Division.

The Music Division has also scanned and made freely available tens of thousands of pieces of historic sheet music. These digital collections span chronological date ranges, such as the Historic Sheet Music Collection, 1800 to 1922, or cover more topical collections, several of which highlight both the “Fearless Women” and “Democracy in the 21st Century” Festival threads:

For those readers who may prefer their books in audio format, the Music Division has plenty of offerings. The Great Conversations in Music collection consists of four episodes filmed at the Library between 2001-2003 that feature distinguished major performers, composers and conductors talking about music. Participants include the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductors Mstislav Rostropovich and Zubin Mehta, pianist Leon Fleisher, and composers Ned Rorem, Milton Babbitt, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

To find other recorded events, which can include lectures, conversations, and musical performances, readers can search the following locations:

Other research guides on the Library’s website offer help on how to conduct Jazz Research at the Library of Congress or locate Jazz Stock Arrangements.

All year round, a wealth of content is available at your fingertips. And you can always contact us through Ask-a-Librarian with any questions.

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