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Selections from Howe Press

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As I detailed in my last blog post, much of the braille music in the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) Music Section collection comes from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA. Their (now defunct) Howe Press has provided us with many musical treasures that are unique to our collection.

Below are some highlights of this special and rare collection.

Louis Vierne, “Symphony no. 2 in E minor,” 1903
BRM 04925

Although Louis Vierne may not be a household name, he was admired by many in the fin de siècle music scene in Paris. A student of César Franck, and a tutor of Nadia Boulanger, Louis Vierne was born in France in 1870, almost completely blind with congenital cataracts. Yet, he went on to hold the prestigious post of principle organist with the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris until his death in 1937. If that were not enough, Vierne was also a prolific composer: he wrote 6 organ symphonies, 24 fantasias, 1 orchestral symphony, and numerous organ and chamber pieces. His second organ symphony was composed between 1902 and 1903, and was premiered in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame. Its debut was attended by none other than Claude Debussy, who wrote in his review for Gil Blas “The old J.-S. Bach, our kindred father, would have been very pleased with M. Vierne.”1 A braille reader himself later in life, it is fitting that we have this piece transcribed into braille for our users. It can be found at BRM 04925.

Kate Vannah, “Goodbye Sweet Day,” 1891
BRM 21151

Kate Vannah was born in Maine, and was primarily known as a writer and poet. But Ms. Vannah also had an ear for composition, and penned this work for voice and piano near the end of the nineteenth century. In an article about Ms. Vannah, published in the June 1897 issue of Catholic World, the author remarked that “Goodbye Sweet Day” had “made her so well known” that robust sales were still continuing for the piece six years after publication.

You can find a record of the sheet music in the Library of Congress’s Performing Arts Encyclopedia, as part of the Historic Sheet Music Collection, 1800-1922. A recording of it is also available in the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox. It can be found in braille in our collection at BRM 21151.

Albert Schweitzer, “Schweitzer’s Suggestions for Performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor”
BRM 04287

Albert Schweitzer is a true 20th-century Renaissance man. An organist, philosopher, physician, theologian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, his knowledge spanned numerous and varied disciplines. Here we encounter Schweitzer as an interpreter of J.S. Bach’s keyboard works for the organ. Schweitzer was dedicated to the revitalization of the pipe organ, and had studied Bach extensively, giving him much knowledge about the performance practice of and the theology behind Johann Sebastian’s music.

A photo of our braille version (originally published by Howe Press) of  "Schweitzer’s suggestions for performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C minor"
A photo of our braille version (originally published by Howe Press) of “Schweitzer’s Suggestions for Performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor”

We also have Schweitzer’s suggestions for the performance of other pieces from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier in the NLS collection. This music with performance suggestions can be found in braille in our collection at BRM 04287.

These selections are just a brief glimpse at the many unique and interesting pieces of braille music that the NLS Music Section received from Howe Press. Please contact the Music Section if you would like to order any of these items for loan!


1 “Le vieux J.-S. Bach, notre père à tous, eût été content de M. Vierne,” C. Debussy, “A la Société nationale,” Gil Blas, February 23, 1903. Translation provided by Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris,,399

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