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We have over 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and about 2 million music recordings! This blog is written by our team of music curators and features news and information about the British Library's rich collections of music and sound recordings. Read more

05 December 2016

A leaf from Mozart's grave: curiosities from British Library Music Collections

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died 225 years today on 5 December 1791.

To mark the occasion, we’re showcasing a very unusual item from our extensive music holdings.

Found within a miscellaneous collection of letters, locks of hair, and photographs of notable musicians, is a single leaf, neatly preserved in a polyester sleeve.


Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 11: leaf gathered from Mozart’s grave on 6 April 1890

This leaf is the smallest item in our collection of music manuscripts. A note preserved with it suggests it was gathered from Mozart’s grave by one Frederick George Edwards during a trip to Vienna in  April 1890. 


Description of the leaf in Egerton MS 3097 B, folio 11

Edwards was organist of the Surrey Chapel, moving to the newly-built Christ Church, Westminster Bridge, in 1876. He transferred to St John’s Wood Presbyterian Church in 1881, where he remained as organist until 1905. He was also a notable music historian. Besides books on hymn tunes and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, he wrote articles on cathedrals and the English Bach revival for the Musical Times, some 21 entries on 19th-century musical figures for the Dictionary of National Biography, and further articles for the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary. The leaf forms part of a 13-volume collection of his papers held at the British Library.

Mozart died just before 1am on 5 December 1791. The cause of his death was registered as ‘hitziges Friesel Fieber’ or severe miliary fever (‘miliary’ referring to a rash resembling millet-seeds). It was later diagnosed as ‘rheumatische Entzündungsfieber’ (rheumatic inflammatory fever).

The common belief that Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave appears to be without foundation. Instead, in accordance with Viennese custom, he is thought to have been buried in a common grave at the St Marx cemetery outside the city of Vienna two days after his death. The term referred to an individual rather than a mass grave, belonging to a non-aristocratic citizen. The precise location of the grave is unknown.

The funeral arrangements were made by Mozart’s friend and patron Baron Gottfried van Swieten. The tale of stormy and snowy weather conditions also now appears to be false. In fact, the day was thought to have been calm and mild.

29 November 2016

Gustav Mahler’s 'Urlicht' manuscript at the British Library

On the day that the autograph full score of Mahler’s second symphony was sold at auction in London, it seems appropriate to take draw attention to a related manuscript held by the British Library (Zweig MS 49) that reveals part of the work’s early genesis. The fourth movement of the symphony famously introduces a setting for alto of the poem Urlicht (‘primeval light’) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of poems by L. A. von Arnim and Clemens Brentano.  Written in the key of D flat major, rather remote from the symphony’s overall tonality of C minor, Urlicht offers a brief and otherworldly moment of repose between the turbulent scherzo that precedes it and the transcendental finale. 


Urlicht was not, however, originally intended to form part of the symphony. Mahler first composed it as a song with piano accompaniment in about 1892, before scoring it for orchestra in the version now held by the British Library.  It then formed part of a collection of songs drawn from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which Mahler published in 1899.  The manuscript of this early version is dated at the end ‘Steinbach 19 Juli 1893’, coinciding with the period in which Mahler was working on the first three movements of the symphony. 


It nevertheless differs in various significant ways from the Urlicht movement we recognise in the symphony.  The scoring, for example, is slightly thinner, with fewer horns and one harp rather than two.  The musical text also reflects Mahler’s early thoughts and includes numerous corrections, amendments, erasures, and other annotations in his hand, both in pencil and in ink. Some but not all of these revisions were later incorporated in the manuscript full score and first edition. 


It was only later, at some point between the summer of 1893 and the end of 1894, that Mahler decided to adapt the song and include it as the fourth movement of the second symphony. The Urlicht manuscript held at the British Library forms part of the collection assembled by the writer Stefan Zweig and his heirs, which was very generously donated in 1986.  It may be viewed in full via the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website.

28 November 2016

Youth's Delight on the Flagelet: Samuel Pepys and his lessons with Thomas Greeting

Nearly 350 years ago, the English diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in his entry for Thursday 28th February 1667 that he had employed a man named Thomas Greeting to teach the flageolet to his wife.  According to the entry, this was something of an impulsive arrangement: Greeting had gone with the flageolet-maker Drumbleby to deliver a new instrument to the diarist, who appears to have leaped upon the opportunity to arrange instruction for Mrs. Pepys.

Pepys’s musical enthusiasms feature prominently in the diary, particularly his passion for playing the flageolet and recorder.  He seems to have been well-connected within the world of professional musicians, so this association with Thomas Greeting, who was perhaps the most renowned flageolet tutor book author of the period, is not surprising.

Two copies of Greeting’s tutor books are held within the British Library’s collection of English 17th-century printed music: an enlarged third edition of his first tutor book, The Pleasant Companion (shelfmark K.11.e.8.) and a copy of his second tutor book, published in 1682/3 (shelfmark K.4.a.20). Both consist of 13 pages of instruction for the flageolet, followed by (different) sets of tunes, with fingerings supplied for each note.

The Pleasant Companion title pageTitle-page from the third edition of The Pleasant Companion, British Library K.11.e.8

A closer look at the copy of the second tutor book, The Second Part of Youth's Delight on the Flagelet, reveals two significant imperfections: the insertion of two manuscript pages which have been erroneously supplied from a 1675 edition of The Pleasant Companion – a title-page, and the final page of the ‘Directions for Playing on the Flagelet’.

There is also another, entirely different addition which is far more noteworthy: two monograms of Samuel Pepys in his autograph, which have been inscribed on the blank verso of the last page of music.

Samuel Pepys initials

The two monograms of Samuel Pepys, in his hand, which appear in British Library K.4.a.20

But does the fact that this volume once belonged to Samuel Pepys shed any new light on his music-making activities? It is already well-known that Pepys was a keen musician, although there is little evidence in his diary that Elisabeth Pepys shared his passion. Her flageolet studies seem to have been rather sporadic, probably indicating that the lessons arranged by her husband were his enthusiasm rather than hers. A month after her instruction had commenced, Pepys still seemed optimistic about Elisabeth’s progress:

Being returned home, I find Greeting, the flageolet-master, come, and teaching my wife; and I do think my wife will take pleasure in it, and it will be easy for her, and pleasant.

Entry for 1st March, 1667

But by 17th May he was complaining that she was not doing enough practice and feared that her lessons would seem a ‘bad bargain’ to Greeting.  ‘I did think that the man did deserved some more consideration,’ wrote Pepys, ‘and so will give him an opportunity of 20s. a month more, and he shall teach me, and this afternoon I begun, and I think it will be a few shillings well spent.’

On 9th September, he admits that she has been exceeding his expectations, and three days later he noted that her sight-reading had improved:

[…] and mightily pleased with my wife’s playing on the flageolet, she taking out any tune almost at first sight, and keeping time to it, which pleases me mightily.

Entry for 12th September, 1667

It seems that after this point the lessons may have ceased for a while, but a year later Pepys wrote that Greeting had called round to play some Matthew Locke duets with him, and that he had booked his wife in for lessons again, ‘for I have a great mind for her to be able to play a part with me’.

This entry probably holds the key to the real reason behind Elisabeth’s flageolet lessons with Thomas Greeting: namely, that her husband considered that playing duets with him was a logical and entirely reasonable extension of her wifely duties. But where does the British Library copy of The Second Part of Youth's Delight on the Flagelet fit into the picture? The date of the publication is certainly significant. Despite the lack of this copy’s original title-page, the term catalogues reveal that this publication was only printed in the years 1682 and 1683 – well after Elisabeth’s death in 1669, which indicates that Pepys continued playing the flageolet himself after this date. Although this might seem unsurprising on the face of things, it is actually the only real evidence we have to suggest this, since Pepys had also stopped writing the diary in 1669 because of his deteriorating eyesight.

Since the copy bears no annotations besides the two monograms, it is impossible to ascertain whether Pepys would have actually used this tutor book for instruction. Since he would have been far from a beginner by this point, he may have bought it simply to supply himself with a new set of tunes to play, since the songs and dances in this publication are entirely different to those contained within The Pleasant Companion. It is also worth noting that the book includes several pieces by John Banister  â€“ another musical acquaintance of Pepys.

John Banister Jigg

No. 9 from The Second Part of Youth’s Delight on the Flagelet, ‘A jigg by Mr. Io Ban:’, British Library K.4.a.20

Equally though, the book may have been merely a casual or symbolic purchase – perhaps a gesture of support to his friend, Thomas Greeting, or even a memento of his late wife’s less-than-enthusiastic studies. Nevertheless, the existence of this copy does provide a telling indication that Samuel Pepys’s interest, and presumably his enjoyment of the flageolet, continued until long after its last mention in his diaries.


Isobel Clarke

Doctoral student, Royal College of Music, and PhD placement student, British Library Music Collections