William Bradbury’s Album of Autographs

Cover of Bradbury’s musical autographs album. William B. Bradbury Collection, Music Division.

In a time before selfies with celebrities, how did music lovers capture meetings with musicians and composers of repute? Well, one favorite collector’s treasure was the musical autographs album – a book intended for admired composers and virtuosos to write out a small piece of music, an excerpt from a larger work, or even a famed melody, along with the always prized signature. Once such example of interest that lives in the Music Division’s collections is an album that belonged to American composer, teacher, publisher, and piano manufacturer William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868).


Autographed portrait of William Bradbury. William B. Bradbury Collection (Box 2), Music Division.

Bradbury was born in Maine, moved as a 20-year-old to Boston where he studied music at Lowell Mason’s Academy of Music, developed a career in music education, and ultimately moved to New York in 1840 to lead the choir at the First Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Bradbury took the lessons he had gained from Lowell Mason’s Academy in Boston and brought the value of children’s music education to public schools in New York. In addition, Bradbury published many music collections over the course of his career and composed over 900 hymn tunes himself, including the well-known “Jesus Loves Me.” The Library of Congress holds Bradbury’s published collections and anthologies under various catalog class numbers (search the online catalog for specific titles or for all titles by Bradbuy), preserves manuscripts in Bradbury’s own hand under the catalog class number ML96.B676 (browse search the class number under “CALL NUMBERS (LC Class No.)”), and furthermore is home to the William B. Bradbury Collection.

The Bradbury Collection consists of only three boxes with published and manuscript scores, correspondence, photographs, Bradbury’s baton, and, notably, a special album of autograph musical sketches that Bradbury collected while visiting Leipzig from 1847-1849 to study piano with E.F. Wenzel, harmony with Moritz Hauptmann, and composition with Ignaz Moscheles. The album includes musical autographs from some of 19th-century music’s biggest names: Louis Spohr, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Joseph Joachim, Robert Schumann, Ignaz Moscheles, and more. The album also includes musical autographs from two notable women: Clara Schumann, whose bicentennial we just celebrated last year, and Marianne Spohr, pianist and wife of Louis Spohr.

Marianne Spohr’s autograph in Bradbury’s album. Bradbury Collection, Music Division.

We first encounter Marianne Spohr’s autograph on page 12, at the bottom of the page, where she writes out a Barcarolle theme by her husband, Louis Spohr (1784-1859). Louis Spohr’s own musical autograph appears just a page after his wife’s. Though Spohr is not among the best-known names of classical music history, his music and career have seen greater scholarly attention in the last half century. Beyond his robust career in performance, conducting, and composing, Spohr enjoyed a notably deep and meaningful relationship with his first wife, Dorette Schiedler, a gifted pianist and harpist who equaled Spohr artistically and challenged him intellectually. History has tended to view his second wife, Marianne Pfeiffer, as an amateur artist who did not match Spohr’s intellect and artistry but rather only adulated her husband’s talents and accomplishments. Spohr enjoyed a close friendship with Marianne’s brother, civil servant and writer Carl Pfeiffer. In fact, Spohr used two of Carl Pfeiffer’s librettos to write his operas Pietro von Abano and Der Alchymist. When Pfeiffer tragically died at 28 years old, Spohr grew closer to Pfeiffer’s grieving family, sharing more grief when Spohr’s beloved first wife died in 1834. Shortly over a year later, 52-year-old Spohr married Carl’s 29-year-old sister, Marianne Pfeiffer Spohr (1807-1891). Aside from knowing her family, Spohr knew Marianne as accompanist at Spohr’s St. Cecilia Society chorale concerts. Though Dorette is acknowledged as the more gifted wife, Spohr wrote of Marianne’s talent as well: “From her great ability for reading at sight I was enabled in a short time to play with her not only all that I had previously written for violin and piano but many new things in that style of art which I had not previously known were suggested to me by her. This inspired me with a great desire to try something for once in duets especially written for piano and violin.” Marianne also shares credit with her husband for adapting the libretto for his final opera, Die Kreuzfahrer, adapted from an early 19th-century play by August von Kotzebue. Marianne Spohr advocated for her husband’s legacy by preparing his memoirs, archiving his unpublished manuscripts, and fighting for publication.

Clara Schumann’s autograph in Bradbury’s album. Bradbury Collection, Music Division.

The second woman’s autograph to be included in Bradbury’s album is that of the famous piano virtuosa and composer Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Beyond her incredible musicality, masterful technique and brilliant compositions, Schumann is known for her demanding father, controversial courtship with and marriage to composer Robert Schumann, and the couples’ deep musical connection. After marrying in 1840, Clara and Robert would often embark on joint musical studies. In early 1845, the couple dedicated themselves to counterpoint study (interrupted only briefly by the birth of their daughter Julie). This counterpoint study resulted in Clara’s op. 16 Drei Praeludien und Fugen, the first fugue of which Clara wrote out as an excerpt in Bradbury’s album (page 14). The autograph is dated April 16, 1849, a little more than a week before Marianne Spohr’s autograph. Like the Spohrs, Robert left his own musical autograph directly after his wife’s, signed on the same day.

Musical autograph albums such as that of William Bradbury are exciting capsules of time, place, celebrity, and influence. To browse the pages of Bradbury’s album is to encounter a “who’s who” of Leipzig, German musical society in the late 1840s, and to understand Bradbury’s experience visiting abroad. See what other names, excerpts, and stories there are to find in Bradbury’s album, digitized and fully available to all!

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