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Manuscript title page for John Adams's Chamber Symphony, 1992. Copyright by Hendon Music Inc, a Boosey & Hawkes Company. Used with kind permission. John Adams Music Manuscripts and Papers, Music Division.

Acquisition Highlights for the Past Year – a Top Five List!

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This is a guest post from Head of Acquisitions & Processing Vin Novara, with Senior Music Specialists Mark Eden Horowitz, Kate Rivers, and Ray White.


Nick Hornby’s book “High Fidelity” (1995) features an entertaining look at the quirks of people who intensely collect on music. Top five lists feature prominently throughout the work. As a fan of such lists, I not only enjoyed this book, but was delighted to learn upon my arrival at the Library four years ago that the Annual Report features a top five list by each division for the year’s acquisitions. Consequently, it is my pleasure to share with you the Music Division’s top five acquisitions for fiscal year 2023!

1. The Music Manuscripts and Papers of Composer John Adams

There are few acquisition possibilities that could carry more recognition, weight, and cultural significance than the papers of American composer, conductor, and writer John Adams. His collection is a foundational collection in the Music Division—on balance with our Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland collections.

The luminous career of John Coolidge Adams (b. 1947) has taken place at the forefront of contemporary music. For years, his works have consistently topped the ranks of “most played” contemporary classical music pieces. Adams is widely acknowledged as a transformational musical force, especially in the world of opera. His groundbreaking stage works “Nixon in China” (1987), “The Death of Klinghoffer” (1991), and “Doctor Atomic” (2005) introduced novel approaches to the use of contemporary history as subject matter and a startling soundscape combining elements from the past with Adams’s unique modern musical language. His multiple collaborations with famed theatrical and operatic director Peter Sellars and librettist Alice Goodman created news headlines beyond the arts pages and attracted sustained, global attention in ways that were unparalleled among music events of the last four decades.

Adams, as a figure, is immense, of course, but our great enthusiasm for this acquisition stems chiefly from the richness of the collection materials themselves. The collection includes original music manuscripts and sketches from his whole composing life, as well as personal and professional correspondence, business papers, photographs, programs, and non-commercial sound recordings. It is rare to find this much of a composer’s work maintained in one place and in such impeccable condition. Processing is currently underway and being led by Archivist Janet McKinney. We plan to publish the finding aid in early 2024.

Please see our press release about this collection to learn more.

2. Two Groups of Igor Stravinsky Correspondence

Calling card with name "Igor Stravinsky" printed in the center, with handwritten message in blue ink.
Visiting card from Igor Stravinsky to Francoise and Soulima Stravinsky, December 1964. Music Division.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was, by any reckoning, one of the most important and influential classical composers of the twentieth century. Born in Russia, Stravinsky spent the entirety of his career in the international musical scene. He became a French citizen in 1934 before coming to the United States in 1939 and becoming an American citizen in 1945. The Library is the major American repository for original scores and correspondence of Stravinsky. Our earliest of his music manuscripts is a commission by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the score for his ballet “Apollon-Musagète (which was performed for the first time in 1928, in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium). This is followed by approximately 50 other music manuscripts, including Stravinsky’s “Ode: Elegiacal Chant in Three Parts” for orchestra (a commission of the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation, 1943). In addition, we hold correspondence in approximately 20 of our special collections.

The first new group of correspondence is extraordinary because it consists of approximately 125 letters and 35 telegrams from Stravinsky to his son, pianist Soulima Stravinsky. These letters (some of them are quite lengthy) and telegrams deal with both personal and musical topics. This material was in the possession of the Stravinsky family since Soulima’s death in 1994, and consequently was never available for public research, nor was it published. Given that Soulima was one of the greatest interpreters of his father’s music, the research value of these items is quite high and adds enormously to our already-remarkable Stravinsky holdings.

The second group of correspondence is with musicologist, conductor, and music editor Arthur Mendel (1905-1979). Mendel was editor for Associated Music Publishers from 1941 until 1947—the period and context of this correspondence. The materials contain 72 items: correspondence from Stravinsky to Mendel (six autograph letters, nine typewritten letters, and one telegram), from Mendel to Stravinsky (forty-one letters and carbon copies), three music manuscripts, and eleven other documents. The materials center on pre-publication changes to several of Stravinsky’s works. Each of these acquisitions on their own prove an excellent addition to our already-very-strong holdings relating to the entirety of Stravinsky’s career, and we are thrilled to have acquired them almost concurrently. Each set of correspondence is currently being prepared for use by researchers and will be available in early 2024.

3. The Later Papers of Folk Musician Peggy Seeger

Peggy Seeger, dressed in black with a blue shawl, plays a banjo while standing at a microphone.
Peggy Seeger in 2007 at the Folksong Society of Greater Washington (Photograph by Ursy Potter). Seeger Family Collection, Music Division.

Materials relating to the extended Seeger family of musicians have long been among the Music Division’s flagship collections. The papers of composer and musicologist Charles Seeger (1886-1979) and those of his wife Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953), a ground-breaking avant-garde composer and folklorist, form the core of the Seeger Family Collection. Papers of their daughter, folk singer, composer, and activist Peggy Seeger (b. 1935), began joining the collection in the 1990s. In 2021, we were fortunate to acquire the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger Archive, a significant body of music and papers documenting the work of Peggy and her husband, the influential British singer, songwriter, actor, and activist MacColl (1915-1989), now a vital part of the Seeger Family Collection.

Peggy Seeger, who retired from performing in 2022, described this most recent acquisition of her papers, music, and photographs as documenting the last decades of her solo career. Also included here are a few items that she held relating to her mother and father, as well as those pertaining to Ewan MacColl. This material further enriches our Seeger Family Collection.

Although processing for this most recent acquisition is yet to begin, the finding aid to the entire Seeger Family Collection, including the MacColl/Seeger materials, is available.

4. The Original Manuscript for Gioachino Rossini’s Septet for Two Flutes, Clarinet, and String Quartet, Circa 1813

Two pages side by side. Left page features manuscript description of the score in the hand of Alfred Wotquenne. Right page features the first page of Rossini's manuscript for his septet, in the composer's hand.
First page from Gioachino Rossini’s Septet, ca. 1813. Music Division.

This manuscript in the hand of Rossini (1792-1868) was exceedingly appealing to us for four reasons. First, it is a chamber work by a composer who is world-renowned, but for composing in a different musical genre; Rossini is remembered today mostly for his 39 operas, including “The Barber of Seville.” Second, this is a work for an unconventional instrumental ensemble (two flutes, clarinet, and string quartet). The work begins as a sextet, and the clarinet does not enter until the third section of the piece. This matter is particularly interesting to us because we also hold another original manuscript of an early and unusually-scored chamber work by Rossini–a set of “String Sonatas,” which are string quartets, scored for two violins, cello, and double bass (instead of the customary two violins, viola, and cello). Third, although this work has been documented in the Rossini works catalog, its structure is not well understood, chiefly because the description by the late Belgian music bibliographer, Alfred Wotquenne (1867-1939) incorrectly described it as three pieces (“La Notte,” “Preghiera,” and “Caccia”); but it is in fact one piece with four sections (Wotquenne does not mention the second section, “Temporale”). This work arrived bound with pale green silk ribbons, with old stamps on otherwise blank front cover sheet, and a lengthy note of authenticity by Wotquenne from 1904. It was also housed in a custom-made silk-lined tooled and gilt-leather box, mounted with an inscribed carte-de-visite photograph of Rossini. This manuscript was long known to have existed, but until now it was in a private collection. We are thrilled to make it readily available for new research. This item, cataloged under the call number ML96.R8, is receiving special housing and will be available early in 2024.

5. The Papers of Composer, Lyricist, and Playwright Leslie Bricusse

Loose leaf page with Bricusse's notes in blue ink. Notes include lyrics for the song "Feelin' Good," as well as the melody written out in letters as opposed to musical notation (for example, "G B-flat C D"
Leslie Bricusse’s manuscript from 1962 for “Feeling Good,” from the musical Roar of the Greasepaint–The Smell of the Crowd. Leslie Bricusse Papers, Music Division.

Throughout his long career, Bricusse (1931-2021) enjoyed great success writing for both stage musical and for films. When the Library was approached by the estate about the Bricusse Collection, they forwarded to us an exciting and accurate description Bricusse himself had made describing it:

The collection contains every draft of all the musical plays and screenplays I have written since the start of my career, going back to the 1950’s and every lyric to every song in every score, and how I arrived at the final version of each one, early drafts, crossings out and all, with the outline of every melody alongside each of them, over 1000 of them, showing how I worked my way to the final version, including all the famous songs, Oscar and Grammy winning or nominated, plus all the standards like “Goldfinger,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” “My Kind of Girl,” “If I Ruled The World,” “You Only Live Twice,” “Who Can I Turn To?,” “Talk to The Animals,” “Feeling Good,” “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man” and on and on and on”.

The material has been meticulously preserved in dozens of leatherbound, gold-embossed cases that maintained all associated items with individual works, with materials highly annotated. Bricusse kept drafts of his outgoing correspondence and records of his career, which he also placed into the bound volumes. In addition to the bound volumes, the collection also includes all Bricusse’s songbooks, again heavily annotated with notes behind the songs, and many rare recordings. The collection is an uncommonly rich source of research and is a spectacular addition to our strength musical theater collections (e.g., composers, lyricists, choreographers, designers, and performers).

Very soon we will share more on the Bricusse Collection and his work on the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Stay tuned!

As top five lists, go, this one is pretty solid. Sure, it is not Top Five Breakup Songs, or Top Five Side One/Track Ones. But there is still a lot here to be excited about, which will hopefully spark all sorts of new research and creative ideas. Come visit soon!

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