Music blog

Music news and views


We have around 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and 2 million music recordings! This blog features news and information about these rich collections. It is written by our music curators, cataloguers and reference staff, with occasional pieces from guest contributors. Read more

11 October 2023

Samuel Wesley’s Fugue for Mendelssohn

Just before the end of his life, Samuel Wesley – the elder composer, 1766–1837, the middle of the three main Samuels in the Wesley dynasty – experienced something of a revival in his spirits. Since his adolescence he had suffered long periods of depression alternating with stretches of creative activity and success. In the last two decades of his life, however, two serious breakdowns, one following the loss of an infant child in 1816 (which led to his confinement for a time to a mental asylum), and a second in 1830 (after which he seldom appeared in public), effectively brought his performing and composing career to an end. But in the summer of 1837, aged 71, the shadows lifted, his powers returned, and he enjoyed a final flourishing of activity and of relative contentment. 

One newly-catalogued music score originates with the last major public event of Wesley’s life, and possibly one of the happiest. It is a score of a Fugue in B Minor for organ ‘composed expressly’ for Wesley’s fellow composer-organist Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), whom he met during the latter’s second visit to London in September 1837. It is not known exactly how the meeting came about, but was possibly arranged in advance by Wesley’s daughter Eliza, who is known to have met Mendelssohn on 7th September.  Wesley composed the fugue on the 9th, and the two composers met on the 12th, after Mendelssohn’s organ recital at Christ Church, Greyfriars (just opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral). Although it is not known whether Wesley played his Fugue for Mendelssohn, he did improvise at the organ after the recital. The younger composer was deeply impressed, but according to Eliza her father only said, ‘Oh, Sir, you have not heard me play; you should have heard me forty years ago!’

MS Mus. 1933 - B
The opening of Samuel Wesley’s ‘Fugue composed expressly for Dr. Mendelssohn' (MS Mus. 1933, f.1)

The present manuscript (British Library shelfmark MS Mus. 1933) is most likely in a contemporary copyist’s hand, though an inscription on folio 4 is in Wesley’s own writing.  It complements his own autograph manuscript at shelfmark Add MS 35007, f. 99b

Wesley died less than a month after the meeting, on 11 October 1837, seemingly a happier man than he had been for some years. Mendelssohn, only 28 at the time of their meeting, followed him only slightly over ten years later, and at scarcely more than half Wesley’s age, on 4 November 1847.

MS Mus. 1933 - E
The opening of a ‘Desk Voluntary’ in Wesley’s own hand  (MS Mus. 1933, f. 2v.)

Reference sources:

Olleson, P., & Pelkey, S.  (2001). Wesley, Samuel. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 5 Oct. 2023, from

Olleson, P.  (2004, September 23). Wesley, Samuel (1766–1837), composer and organist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 5 Oct. 2023, from

Brown, Geoffrey Ernest, ‘The organ music of Samuel Wesley’, (Durham University thesis, 1977), pp. 168–169. Retrieved 6th July 2023 from Durham Theses,

Dominic Newman

Music Manuscript and Archival Cataloguer

06 August 2023

New Tippett acquisitions

The exciting discovery of a previously unknown letter written by Michael Tippett is the latest in a series of acquisitions relating to the composer. The letter was recently donated to the BL and featured in an article in the Guardian newspaper

Photographic portrait of the composer Michael Tippett, by J. S. Lewinsk
Sir Michael Kemp Tippett, portrait by J. S. Lewinski (June 1977) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Letter sent from Wormwood Scrubs (MS Mus. 1943)

The letter (now catalogued as MS Mus. 1943) was sent to Tippett’s close friend Evelyn Maude in August 1943. It was written while the composer was an inmate at Wormwood Scrubs, imprisoned as a conscientious objector for two months during the Second World War. Prisoners were restricted to a single correspondent and one letter a fortnight, but Tippett made up for the limitations by writing five packed letters.

Image of the first page of the letter, showing the strict regulations for prisoners and their correspondents
Part of the front of the letter, showing the strict regulations for communication with prisoners,  as well as Tippett's prisoner number (5832) added in pencil in the bottom left hand corner. British Library, MS Mus. 1943.

Intriguingly, this letter is missing the top portion of one side, so we don't know how it begins - but the rest of it covers a mix of personal reflection, descriptions of prison life, future plans and long strings of requests. Evelyn Maude had lived near to Tippett in Oxted in Surrey, her son was taught French by him at the local school and they generally connected through a shared love of music. She was the dedicatee of his early Symphony in B flat (the manuscript of which was the subject of a blog post back in 2018) and a fellow pacifist, also helping to house and care for refugee families and evacuees during the war.

Image of Evelyn Maude in the 1930s
Evelyn Maude in the 1930s. Image reproduced by permission of Alice Nissen.

The newly acquired letter completes a set of five, with the other four already at the British Library (MS Mus. 1752, ff. 26-32). Although this one is undated, we can work out that it must have been sent on 2 August. It is the penultimate one in the sequence and paints a vivid picture of someone impatient to return to their life outside of prison. The letter includes plans for a busy first day out, with ‘breakfast + bath at Ben’s’ (Benjamin Britten’s house – Britten, along with Peter Pears, had visited Wormwood Scrubs the previous month, in order to give a concert to prisoners), followed by a performance of Tippett’s second string quartet at the Wigmore Hall and then straight onto Cornwall via Paddington station (the night train left at 9.50pm). There is also a lengthy passage about plans for the choir at Morley College (where Tippett was director of music) in the coming autumn term.

We are delighted that this letter has come to light, and extremely grateful to Alice Nissen for donating it to the British Library on behalf of the estate of Stella Maude.

Manuscript of the first piano sonata (MS Mus. 1926/1)

A few months ago the British Library received another important donation, this one the earliest known manuscript of Tippett’s first piano sonata. It is dated 1 June 1938, and at this point in time titled ‘Fantasy Sonata’, ‘op. 4’ (it is now listed as Tippett’s second official work). This manuscript helps fill in another part of the somewhat convoluted story of this piece. It was first performed by Phyllis Sellick (1911-2007) at the Queen’s Hall in 1938 (a recording was also made by her in 1941), then first published in 1942. A revised version was published in 1954. As well as the two published editions, the British Library already held Tippett’s own copy of the first edition, annotated by the composer with the revisions that were to become the second version (Add MS 72017). 

Also in the BL's collection is a manuscript copy of the piece dated July 1938, with fingerings added in pencil, possibly by Phyllis Sellick herself (Add MS 72016). The new manuscript dates from a month before that copy and includes a number of differences (most notably the change in note values for the last movement), all of which are incorporated into the first edition.

Tippett sonata opening
Opening of Tippett's first piano sonata, in the newly acquired manuscript. British Library, MS Mus. 1926/1.

The new manuscript (now catalogued as MS Mus. 1926/1) was generously donated by Kit and Jean Martin, who inherited it from Cyril Allinson, brother of Francesca Allinson, the eventual dedicatee of the piece. The donation also included a draft of a book on English folk-song that Francesca Allinson was planning (MS Mus. 1926/2).

Tippett letters and papers

The largest recent Tippett acquisition arrived at the British Library last year: a collection of letters and other papers, including several important series of correspondence, mostly from Tippett to key figures in his life, such as Anna Kallin, David Ayerst, Meirion Bowen and Francesca Allinson – dedicatee of the first piano sonata mentioned above. ‘Fresca’, among other things a musician and author (her book A Childhood was published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press in 1937), was one of the people closest to Tippett in his life. Without a doubt the most affecting item here is the despairing note she left for him before her suicide in April 1945.  

Tippett's 'dream diaries' are another particularly personal element to this collection – written descriptions and possible interpretations of dreams, compiled in early 1939 around the time that he was undergoing Jungian analysis with John Layard, himself a noted anthropologist and pupil of Carl Jung (Layard's book on dream analysis, The Lady of the Hare, was published in 1944). Among other things, Tippett used these sessions to explore, and come to terms with, aspects of his sexuality. Extracts of these diaries were published in Tippett autobiography, Those Twentieth Century Blues (London, 1991) but this will be the first time that the complete set will be available for researchers.

Cataloguing of this much larger collection - which also includes material relating to the promotion, marketing and commissioning of Tippett's music in the last decades of his life, as well as a small amount of sketch material - has yet to begin, but an announcement will be made once it is available to researchers.


Research materials (MS Mus. 1942)

Both the piano sonata manuscript and the collection of letters and papers mentioned above have resurfaced thanks to research undertaken by Oliver Soden for his biography of Tippett published in 2019. A small but important collection of material collected by Oliver as part of this research is another recently catalogued Tippett collection. This includes various items relating to Tippett’s early folk-song opera Robin Hood, including a draft libretto, a contemporary account of the performance and photographs. There are also copies of letters from Tippett and others to Karl Hawker, where the originals are in private collections or, in a number of cases, untraced. This material has been catalogued as MS Mus. 1942 and descriptions can be read in our online catalogue.  

An overview of Tippett manuscripts at the British Library

Like the collections of other 20th-century composers, the Tippett manuscripts have been acquired over a number of years - the earliest in 1971 and continuing up to the present day. The list below provides collection level descriptions of all the main Tippett items in the BL, together with links to the online catalogue.

Main collections

Add MS 61748-61804. Tippett Collection Part I. 57 volumes. Music manuscripts for most major works composed before 1977. Purchased from Otto Haas, 1980. 

Add MS 63820-63840. Tippett Collection Part II. 21 volumes. Music manuscripts, including scores and sketches for The Mask of Time, the Triple Concerto, String quartet no. 4 and piano sonata no. 4. Purchased from Otto Haas, 1986. 

Add MS 71099-71103. Tippett Collection Part III. 5 volumes. Manuscripts of New Year, Byzantium and String quartet no. 5. Purchased from the Tippett Foundation, 1992. 

Add MS 72001-72065. Tippett Collection Part IV. 65 volumes. Music manuscripts plus a series of 32 notebooks, containing sketches and plans for works and written texts. Purchased Tippett Foundation, 1994. 

Add MS 72066-72071. Tippett Collection Part V. 6 volumes. Early works, purchased from John Amis, 1994. 

MS Mus. 1757. 6 volumes. Material from various sources, including letters to Paul Crossley and Evelyn Maude, autograph score of the early Symphony in B-flat major and sketches and drafts for other works. 

MS Mus. 1765. Michael Tillett collection. 40 volumes of scores, papers and correspondence mainly relating to Tillett’s work as assistant and amanuensis to Tippett. Donated by the estate of Michael Tillett, through the offices of Schott Music, 2011. 

Music Deposit 2022/07. Letters and papers of Michael Tippett from the collection of Nicholas Wright. Purchased March 2022.

Individual manuscripts

Add MS 59808. String quartet no. 1 (first version). Purchased in 1976 as part of the Macnaghten Concerts Collection .

Add MS 61891, ff. 75-76. Discarded leaf from The Ice Break. Purchased from Maggs, 1981. 

Egerton MS 3786. King Priam, autograph full score. Purchased from Karl Hawker, 1971. 

MS Mus. 1858. Four Songs of the British Isles, autograph working manuscript. Purchased from Sotheby’s, 2018. 

MS Mus. 1926. Manuscript material belonging to Michael Tippett and Francesca Allinson (including Piano Sonata no. 1, autograph manuscript). Donated, May 2023. 

MS Mus. 1942. Materials collected by Oliver Soden during research for his biography of Michael Tippett. Donated October 2019.

MS Mus. 1943. Letter from Michael Tippett to Evelyn Maude, 2 August 1943. Donated, July 2023.



Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts & Archives

03 May 2023

Music for British Coronations

Add comment Comments (0)

To mark the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla we are highlighting some of the finest examples in our collections of manuscript and printed music associated with coronations in Britain.

Music in Coronation Ceremonies

Music has formed an important part in coronation ceremonies throughout English, and later British, history. The musical selection for each coronation has varied through the centuries, with newly commissioned works and coronation anthems by prominent composers featuring alongside many other sacred and secular pieces. Not only does the music contribute to the grandeur and splendour of the ceremony as a whole, it also plays an important liturgical role in the religious service at the heart of the ceremony, with certain pieces traditionally being performed in specific parts of it.

Coronation Music

Handel’s Coronation Anthems

Arguably the most well-known piece associated with the coronation ceremony is George Frideric Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’. One of a series of four anthems Handel composed for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727, it has been performed at every coronation since then. Handel’s autograph manuscripts of all four anthems are held in the Royal Music Library at the British Library.

‘Zadok the Priest’ is scored for SATB chorus and an orchestra consisting of strings, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and basso continuo. The words are drawn from the first Book of Kings (1 Kings 1:38-40), a text that describes the anointing of Solomon as King by the Priests Zadok and Nathan, an act mirrored in the anointing of the new monarch at the solemn heart of the coronation service itself. Handel’s anthem is fittingly performed at this moment in the proceedings.

Reproduced below is a page from Handel’s manuscript showing the opening section of the anthem with the words ‘God Save the King’. The manuscript in full can be viewed on our Digitised Manuscripts website

Image of the manuscript in Handel's handwriting of 'Zadock the Priest'
British Library R.M.20.h.5, f.5r. Zadok the Priest, HWV 258.


You can also follow the opening pages of the manuscript together with the music below:

G.F. Handel: 'Zadok the Priest', HWV 258. Music licensed courtesy of Naxos Music. Catalogue no. 8.578072.

At King George II and Queen Caroline’s ceremony, Handel’s other coronation anthems were sung during the Recognition part of the service (‘The King shall rejoice’), the Inthronisation (‘Let thy hand be strengthened’) and the coronation of the Queen (‘My heart is inditing’). ‘My heart is inditing’ was also set to music by other composers for the crowning of a Queen Consort, such as Henry Purcell (1659-1695) who composed this anthem for the coronation of Queen Mary of Modena in 1685 and William Boyce (1711-1779) who composed the anthem for the coronation of Queen Charlotte in 1761.

Although it was not written for use in coronation ceremonies, Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah also featured in several coronations, from that of George IV (1821) onwards.

The opening page of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah
The opening page of G.F. Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah. British Library R.M.20.f.2, f. 100r.

Elgar’s Coronation music

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) composed a number of works for the coronations of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902, and King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, although not all of them were actually performed during the coronation ceremonies. These included the Coronation Ode op. 44 composed in 1902, the Coronation March op. 65 and the anthem ‘O hearken thou’ composed in 1911. His Military Marches op. 39 (‘Pomp and Circumstance’) were also performed at the coronations of George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 (no.1), and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (nos. 1, 2 and 4), where also the Variation no.9 (‘Nimrod’) from his famous ‘Enigma’ variations op. 36, was heard before the coronation service. Shown below is the title and opening page from the autograph manuscript of Elgar’s anthem ‘O hearken thou’, in a version for voices and organ accompaniment:

Title page from the vocal score of Edward Elgar’s anthem ‘O hearken thou’ in the composer’s hand


Opening page of Elgar's anthem 'O hearken thou'
Title and first page from the vocal score of Edward Elgar’s anthem ‘O hearken thou’ in the composer’s hand. British Library Add MS 58049, f. 5r-v.

The coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra also included a new setting for the coronation anthem ‘I was glad’ by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918). An anthem based on these words is traditionally sung during the monarch’s entrance into Westminster Abbey, and has been set to music by a number of composers, including William Boyce (1711-1779) and Thomas Attwood (1765-1838). Parry’s setting has been used in every coronation since its performance at the coronation of King Edward VII (1902).

Title page of Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I was glad’

The opening page from the 1902 Novello edition of Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I was glad’.
Title and opening page from the 1902 Novello edition of Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I was glad’. British Library: F.231.r.(28.).


Vaughan Williams’s coronation music

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed his Festival Te Deum for chorus, organ and orchestra for the coronation of King George VI on 12 May 1937. It was based on traditional themes and was performed during the procession from the throne into St. Edward’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Shown below is the opening page of the full score in Vaughan Williams’s hand.

Opening page from Ralph Vaughan William’s Festival Te Deum
Opening page from Ralph Vaughan William’s Festival Te Deum. British Library Add MS 50459. © Oxford University Press. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.

Vaughan Williams’s music also featured prominently in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. The service included the ‘Creed’ and ‘Sanctus’ from his Mass in G minor (Add MS 50443-50444) originally composed in 1920-1921, and he also composed the congregational hymn ‘All people that on earth do dwell’, and the anthem for voices only ‘O taste and see’.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation also included William Walton’s (1902-1983) Te Deum Laudamus, for double chorus, semi-chorus, organ and orchestra, which was especially composed for her coronation. It was performed in the same position in the proceedings that Vaughan Williams’s Festival Te Deum was performed for the coronation of King George VI, during the procession into St. Edward’s Chapel. Below are reproduced the title and opening page from Walton’s autograph manuscript:

Title page of William Walton's Te Deum laudamus in D
Opening page of William Walton's Te Deum Laudamus in D.
Sir William Walton: Te Deum Laudamus in D. British Library Add MS 47898, ff.1r-v. © Oxford University Press. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation additionally included the anthem 'I will not leave you comfortless’ ('Nos vos relinquam orphanos') for solo voices by William Byrd (ca. 1540-1623), whose 400th anniversary is celebrated this year. Below is a page from the soprano (cantus) part of this piece in the original Latin version ‘Non vos relinquam orphanos’:

A page from William Byrd’s ‘Non vos relinquam orphanos
William Byrd’s ‘Non vos relinquam orphanos’ from his Gradualia published in London in 1607. Cantus primus part. British Library, K.2.f.6.

‘God Save the King’

We also hold in our collection what is believed to be the earliest surviving manuscript of the words and music of what has since become Britain’s national anthem. Although the words and tune are anonymous, the anthem has been arranged and harmonised by numerous composers since it first became known in the mid-18th century. The arrangement shown below is in the hand of the composer Thomas Arne (1710-1778) and was sung at Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1745. The words are slightly different from the established version and include mention of the king at the time, George II. Historically, it was not uncommon for the national anthem to mention the name of the King or Queen.

‘God bless our noble King’ in the hand of Thomas Arne harmonized for 3-part chorus, with instrumental accompaniment.

‘God bless our noble King’ in the hand of Thomas Arne harmonized for 3-part chorus, with instrumental accompaniment
‘God bless our noble King’ in the hand of Thomas Arne harmonized for 3-part chorus, with instrumental accompaniment. British Library Add MS 29370 ff. 114r-v.


Dr Loukia Drosopoulou, Curator, Music


Matthias Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: from James I to Elizabeth II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Anselm Hughes, ‘Music of the Coronation over a Thousand Years, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 79th Session, May 1953, pp. 81-100.

Janet Leeper, ‘Coronation Music’, The Contemporary Review, volume 151, January 1937, pp. 554-562.