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

14 May 2020

Ernst Roth and the ‘Business of Music’

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Ernst Roth (1896–1971) might never have worked for Boosey & Hawkes, nor even have lived in Britain at all, had it not been for the foresight of Leslie Boosey and Ralph Hawkes amid the falling darkness of the late 1930s.  Papers in the Boosey & Hawkes archive (MS Mus. 1813) record the tale.

Roth had studied law, philosophy and music in his home city of Prague, and after earning his doctorate he moved to Vienna in 1922, joining the publishers Universal Edition.  Here, having found his vocation as a music publisher, he might have expected to spend his whole career.  But then came the Nazi Anschluss of 1938.  On March 12th that year, Austria was annexed and subjugated by Hitler’s regime.  With breathtaking speed a ‘commissar’ was appointed to ‘control’ Universal Edition: that is, to Nazify it. [1] Roth, along with his colleagues Alfred Kalmus and Erwin Stein, being Jewish, were immediate targets.  Not three weeks later, on March 31st, he was, in his own matter-of-fact words, ‘discharged on account of my non-arian origin’. [2]

Typescript extract from Dr. Ernst Roth’s Curriculum Vitae
Extract from Dr. Ernst Roth’s Curriculum Vitae, 1938. (Temporary reference MS Mus. 1813, box BA23, file 69.3.). © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

In London, Ralph Hawkes and Leslie Boosey were already swinging into action, planning a piece of shrewd businessmanship that also served as a bold rescue operation.  Boosey went to Vienna and, with the blessing of Jella Hertzka, the widow of the founder of Universal Edition, secured the services of Roth and Stein for Universal Edition's London branch (which Kalmus had already established in 1936).  Boosey also bought up all the shares in that subsidiary firm and obtained rights for most of Universal Edition’s catalogue.  Roth, Stein and Kalmus were given permission to take up residence in Britain, and in September started work in their new positions: Nazi Vienna’s loss was London’s gain.

Handwritten letter by Ernst Roth
‘It is urgent to get out from here!’ Letter of 13 August 1940 from Ernst Roth, interned in Prees Heath Camp, Shropshire, to Leslie Boosey. (MS Mus. 1813/2/1/279/1). © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

Even on British soil their troubles were not over, however.  In July 1941, in common with many other overseas nationals, the three men found themselves interned as ‘Enemy Aliens’, being separated from their families and sent to camps in Shropshire or on the Isle of Man.  Letters in the archive tell of the lengths to which the firm – Leslie Boosey in particular – had to go in order to have them released.  At one point Boosey even asked the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams for help in pleading Roth’s case with the Home Office. [3]  All three were eventually released after nearly six months’ internment.

Copy letter from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Vaughan Williams
Copy letter of 11 October 1940 from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams was heavily involved in efforts to release foreign musicians who had been interned as ‘Enemy Aliens’. (MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/6). © Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

Once settled, though, Roth committed the rest of his career to Boosey & Hawkes, remaining in continuous service until his retirement in 1964.  Rising to the position of Managing Director, he took charge of correspondence with composers and members of the public, scanned the horizon for infringements of copyright, and superintended the Music Department’s various divisions with a hawk’s eye.  Helen Wallace, in her history of Boosey & Hawkes, describes a ‘ruthlessly commercial’ man with ‘a razor sharp mind and the old-world charm to bring the grandest composers to heel’. [4] With Rufina Ampenoff (originally his assistant and later head of the Symphonic and Operatic department) he formed a formidable double-act.

Photograph of Ernst Roth
Dr. Ernst Roth in the late 1950s or early 1960s. (Mus. Dep. 2017/19). ©Fayer

Without fear or favour he defended his company’s interests in the world of music. ‘I am afraid copyright is a matter which does not admit sentimental considerations’, he wrote to the organisers of the Edinburgh Festival in May 1960, informing them that the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra’s own instrumental parts, being unauthorised, could not be used during their forthcoming appearance in Britain: ‘Even Russian visitors owe obedience to the law in this country’. [5] He was keenly aware of the commercial value of music and its fickle fluctuations: in the 1960s Benjamin Lees was told that there was ‘very little that can be done’ with string quartets, regardless of their quality.  And within the company, too, Roth ran a tight ship: ‘In the last few months the general discipline has markedly declined’, reads an internal memorandum from September 1961; ‘[…] I like to believe that discipline among adults is a matter of self-respect and need not be enforced. However, I would have no alternative but to enforce it if this request […] remains without the expected response’. [6]

Typescript circular to the Music Department of Boosey & Hawkes
Circular to the Music Department of Boosey & Hawkes, 21 September 1961 (MS Mus. 1813/2/1/164/10.). ©Boosey & Hawkes. Reproduced with permission.

Outwardly, the man himself may have appeared no more inclined to ‘admit sentimental considerations’ than the principles of copyright.  But he was no philistine, and he knew his own mind when it came to musical judgement.  He placed Britten’s War Requiem ‘among the most outstanding works ever written at any time’, [7] and his memoirs, published after his retirement in 1964, reveal that his long years in ‘The Business of Music’ had not extinguished his love of music for its own sake, nor his belief in its value to humanity:  ‘Although I am at home in serious music I have a deep respect for music as a harbinger of joy. Let no one rob it of this precious gift!’ [8]

Dominic Newman

Manuscripts Cataloguer


[1] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/215/3.

[2] Business Affairs series (currently uncatalogued). Temporary reference MS Mus. 1813, box BA23, file 69.3.

[3] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/281/6.

[4] Wallace, Helen, Boosey & Hawkes: the publishing story (London: Boosey & Hawkes, 2007), p. 20.

[5] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/121/8.

[6] MS Mus. 1813/2/1/164/10.

[7] MS Mus. 1813/2/2/6/4.

[8] Roth, Ernst. The Business of Music (London: Cassel, 1969), p. 244.

29 April 2020

Welsh hymn festivals – ‘singing from the heart’

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From the last decade of the 19th century until the 1980s, the British Library steadily acquired, through a mixture of purchase, donation and legal deposit, a collection of about a hundred programmes relating to the cymanfa ganu (plural cymanfaoedd canu) or Welsh hymn singing festival. Due to lack of cataloguing resources through the years, information about these has never been publicly available. However, they have now been catalogued and will be made available for consultation.

The programmes are essentially collections of hymns, psalms and anthems, to be sung at annual festivals. They are ephemeral publications, designed to be used on a particular occasion; the next year’s gathering would have a new booklet with a new selection of hymns. They are chiefly in tonic sol-fa notation, or in a mixture of sol-fa and staff notation. On the front is printed the date, time and place of the gathering, its sponsoring body (generally a choral union of the religious denomination concerned), and details of the musical director, organist, adjudicators and secretary. There may also be instructions regarding times of rehearsals, attendance requirements and behaviour at rehearsals, a syllabus of topics on which children are to be examined, and statements of accounts relating to the previous year’s event.

So what was, or is, a cymanfa ganu? It is a gathering for the singing of hymns, traditional in Welsh Nonconformist churches, in which the whole congregation participates, singing in four-part harmony. Beginning in the mid-19th century with a desire to improve standards in congregational singing, the tradition continues to the present day in Wales and as a marker of Welsh identity in other countries where Welsh people have settled, notably the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina. The singing is directed by a conductor and is whole-hearted; the style is described variously by hearers as ‘devotional’, ‘majestic’, ‘grand’. Participants describe the gathering as being characterised by hwyl (emotional or religious fervour within the singing). If the communal mood demands, the end of a hymn will be repeated several times, heightening the emotional and spiritual intensity of the experience.

Singers at a cymanfa ganu.
Singers at a cymanfa ganu. Photo reproduced with permission by The Van Wert Independent.

Essentially the assembly is an act of worship. However, it has also always had a social aspect. In an oral history account, described by Helen Barlow[1], Gwen Davies (born 1896) remembers the cymanfa ganu of her childhood as a significant and exciting religious and social event, for which everyone made sure they had new clothes! Pre-First World War newspapers carry detailed reports on cymanfaoedd canu as social occurrences: for example, The Welshman reports on the 28th October 1910 that at the annual cymanfa ganu of Welsh Congregationalists of Carmarthen and district, the children’s and adult choirs numbered jointly 1000 voices; there was a string band, including trumpeters, and the children, after being catechised, ‘sat down to a sumptuous tea!’[2]

Images of a cymanfa ganu associated with the National Eisteddfod of 1963. The National Library of Wales.


The cymanfa ganu also in earlier times often included lectures on musical topics and examinations in music for children and adults.  It was therefore a gathering which combined social, educational and religious purposes.

Its origin can be traced in the work of itinerant singing teachers in the 18th century, who laid the foundations for Yr Ysgol Gân (the weekly singing school). In the early 19th century, precentors were appointed by churches keen to improve the quality of congregational singing. Godfrey Wyn Williams[1] gives the example of the Baptist chapel at Penycae, which appointed Owen y Cantwr its codwr canu or precentor in 1826. He introduced week-night practices so that the congregation which had previously sung in unison could learn to sing in parts. This involved the precentor in hours of note-copying (pricio), due to the prohibitive cost of printed music at that time. Not everyone was enthusiastic, however, about such advances. Some older Calvinistic Methodist chapel members were apparently annoyed by three- and four-part singing, believing that ‘such activity encouraged the young to become too frivolous and materialistic’ (Williams, p. 59).

An important figure in the development of church music was Ieuan Gwyllt (1822-1877), who published a collection of hymn tunes strongly influenced by German chorales, Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol, in 1859. Gwyllt believed that everyone should sing, and everyone should sing in harmony. This hymnal, and the assembly which he organised to mark its publication, aided the development of the four-part congregational singing which became a feature of the Welsh musical tradition.

The Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol by Ieuan Gwyllt (1859). The National Library of Wales.


Another vital contribution was the success of the Tonic Sol-fa system of music notation (created by John Curwen in about 1842). Liverpool-based musician Eleazar Roberts promoted the system in Wales in the 1860s and it quickly became an accepted teaching method in schools and chapels. The text-based notation was cheap to print, and its availability fostered widespread sight-singing ability and enthusiasm. Cymanfaoedd canu then became occasions for the examination of candidates for the certificate of the Tonic Sol-fa College.

Not all of this musical activity was so inclusive, and the noble aim of focus on worship was often not present. Inter-denominational choral competitions were fiercely contested, and deplored by some writers. From the 1870s, however, congregational singing, ‘singing from the heart’, grew in popularity under the influence of the religious revival campaign of American evangelists Moody and Sankey and the approachable melodies they introduced.

The cymanfa ganu remained popular up until the First World War, but its story after that is not so easy to trace. These British Library holdings are evidence of the continuation of the hymn festival phenomenon, its development, context and repertoire, throughout the 20th century.

Caroline Shaw

Printed & Manuscript Music Processing & Cataloguing Team Manager


[1] Williams, Godfrey Wyn (2011). Praise and performance. Congregational and choral music in the Nonconformist chapels of North-east Wales and Liverpool during the 19th century. PhD Thesis, Bangor University.

[1] Barlow, Helen (2019). ‘Praise the Lord! We are a musical nation’: the Welsh working classes and religious singing. Nineteenth-Century Music Review (In Press).

[2] ‘Cymanfa ganu at Carmarthen’. The Welshman, 28 October 1910. [accessed 7 April 2020], <>

16 April 2020

Digitised music collections online

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Following our blog post on accessing our online printed and manuscript music collections, we have put together some further links to digitised music content that can be freely accessed online, both from other collection areas in the British Library as well as external sources.

  • The Digital Resources for Musicology (DRM) website, created by the Centre for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities, an affiliate of the Packard Humanities Institute at Stanford University, is a wonderful inventory of digitised music content freely accessible online. The website provides links to resources grouped by composer, library collection, repertory and genre, and includes a brief description of each resource.
  • RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales) is an international catalogue of printed and manuscript musical sources, up to about 1800, held in libraries and archives across the world, with links to digitised sources where these are available.
  • RIdIM (Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale) is an international database of visual sources of music, dance, theatre and opera, listing paintings, engravings, illustrations and other, that depict composers and musicians, musical instruments, musical scenes, etc. with an online gallery of digitised content.
  • The British Library Sounds website gives access to unique sound recordings, including recordings of classical, pop, world and traditional music, as well as interviews, talks, plays, and wonderful nature sounds!
  • The EThOS (Electronic Theses Online Service) website lists UK PhD theses and gives free access to those that have been digitised.
  • The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) at the British Library facilitates the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. The web-pages are full of stories relating to particular projects, a number of which are music related: from Chilean scores and recordings, Serbian choral societies, to North Indian classical music.

These links are not exhaustive but we hope they can provide a useful start to users who are looking to access digitised music collections online, especially during this time.

26 March 2020

Accessing our online Music Collections

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Following the closure of our physical sites in London and Boston Spa last week we have put together a list of our online Music collections that can still be accessed remotely on our website for research as well as enjoyment.

Digitised Music Manuscripts

Our digitised music manuscripts can be accessed via the Digitised Manuscripts website. You can search this website by a manuscript’s shelfmark or by keyword, such as a composer’s name. You can also browse this collection by downloading the spreadsheet below which lists all music manuscripts currently available on Digitised Manuscripts.

Download: list of British Library digitised music manuscripts online

The British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website


Digitised Printed Music

Our digitised printed music collections can be accessed via the Explore the British Library catalogue. These consists of scores as well as books digitised as part of collaborative projects, such as Google books, Microsoft Books and Early Music Online. In order to browse content within these collections please use the search terms ‘blgooglebooks’ or ‘blmsd’ or ‘Early Music Online’ using the advanced search option. You can also perform a more specific search within these collections by adding a particular composer or publisher’s name, or other keyword in the search options.

You can also carry out an advanced search for the material you are looking for across our digitised printed music collections by selecting 'Scores' or ‘Books’ in the 'Material Type' field and then limit the results to items that can be viewed online using the 'Online' filter under 'Access options'. Click on ‘Digitised content’ in the ‘I want this’ tab to view the content.

The Google and Microsoft digitised printed music is available for view and download via the Library’s IIIF standard enabled Universal Viewer.

Digitised printed music

Help with accessing digitised Music collections

If you need help with searching our online Music collections our Music Reference Team can be contacted via the Ask the Reference Enquiry Team page; follow the 'Ask the Music Reference Team' link to send them an email. The team is also still able to answer general Music enquiries regarding the use of our online catalogues and reference services.

Highlights from our Music blog

As well as posting new content on our Music blog in the coming weeks we will be selecting highlights of previously published blog posts. Below is a selection of articles relating to our Beethoven collection items. 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the Library is currently preparing an exhibition to mark this anniversary. More details to follow!

Beethoven’s tuning fork

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto op.61

Beethoven’s last laundry list

Last by not least, our online Music exhibition Discovering Music contains 22 articles and over 100 collection items on music topics covering the first half of the 20th century, with new content being added to it at regular intervals.

26 February 2020

Honour and understatement: a portrait of Leslie Boosey

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Leslie Boosey (1887-1979) was fortunate in possessing those great gifts of a businessman, the powers of persuasion and placation.  Letters in the Boosey & Hawkes archive (MS Mus. 1813) record the understatement and wry humour with which he answered the frequent broadsides sent zinging into 295 Regent Street by composers, conductors and the general public.  His eye is always atwinkle, even in print: 'I feel the only course to pursue for the present… is one of masterly inactivity'.  Or 'I should think we should very soon find ourselves in the land of copyright infringement if we had anything to do with it'.  Or (to Victor Bator, executor of Béla Bartók’s estate): 'I always open a letter from you rather gingerly as I am afraid that when I read it there may be some kind of an explosion, and your letter of November 7th was no exception'.

Photograph of Leslie Boosey
Leslie Boosey (1887–1979). © Boosey & Hawkes.

It is true that, in learning his trade, Boosey had been able to draw on a long tradition and deep reserves of wisdom and experience.  Boosey & Co. had passed into the hands of the fifth generation when, as ‘the heir to a rich and venerable music business that owned half of upper Regent Street’, he had inherited the chairmanship of the family firm in 1920. [1]  Ten years later he was to steer the firm into the merger with Hawkes & Son and beyond, exerting a calming and steadying influence on the new enterprise.  ‘He was the engine; I was the brakes’ was his own verdict of his partnership with Ralph Hawkes. [2]  He served as Chairman of Boosey & Hawkes almost continuously until 1964.  Helen Wallace, in her history of Boosey & Hawkes, describes him as ‘the very model of a Victorian gentleman, dignified, inscrutable, with a strong sense of family duty’. [3]

Letter from Leslie Boosey to John Ireland
‘My dear John, I refuse to be ‘Mr. Boosey’ any longer’. Copy letter of 14 May 1941 from Leslie Boosey to John Ireland. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/276/3

In his letters, the bread and butter of everyday business dealings are enlivened by memorable chattiness: witty asides, commentary on current affairs or down-to-earth anecdotes.  Leaving Southampton for New York on business in April 1936, he saw the brand-new Cunard liner Queen Mary, then still being fitted out: ‘She didn’t look so big as I expected’, he told his assistant W. Paston. One letter of the mid-1950s preserves a vignette of his life at home in Brickendon (Hertfordshire) in a fond description of his grandson ‘who is very devoted to his little Kangaroo which goes to bed with him and also which is strapped on to his bicycle when he rides around the garden'. 

Letter from Leslie Boosey to Ralph Hawkes
Letter of 15 April 1936 from Leslie Boosey, aboard the Cunard liner Berengaria, to his assistant W. Paston. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/208/7

He was profoundly dismayed by the outbreak of the Second World War.  'The picture of two civilized nations (!) engaged in a process of mutual destruction seems the most incredible madness one has ever imagined', he wrote to the conductor Adrian Boult.  His despair was surely sharpened by his experiences in the Great War: as he wrote elsewhere, ‘I lost a very large portion of my own relations in the last war and finished up as a prisoner myself’.  That last remark is another understatement.  It gives cause for reflection that, in all these letters, such a conversational man should make not a single reference to an incident during the First World War when, captured by the enemy, he refused to give away his information, and found himself up before an enemy firing-squad, looking death in the eye.  Only at the last minute had the German officer told him, ‘All right, you can go back – you’re a gentleman’. [4]

Letter from Leslie Boosey to Hugo Bryk
‘What a world we live in! After the terrible four years of 1914-18, I did so hope we had done with it, at least for my lifetime, but it was not to be’. Copy letter of 22 September 1939 from Leslie Boosey to Hugo Bryk. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/210/1

In peacetime this inner steel was seldom bared, but it was not altogether dormant: this was a man who would stand up for his family and company when necessary.  Once, during a round of golf with Ralph Hawkes, Robert Graves’ brother Charles asserted that his father had effectively been swindled by Boosey & Co. many years before.  When Leslie Boosey heard about this, his response was to write a letter informing Graves calmly but plainly that the allegation was slander, and that legal action would be taken if it was ever repeated.

Boosey’s thoughts about music make interesting reading.  E. J. Moeran, he thought, 'might be worth watching', and among British composers he seems to have thought highest of Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten.  He considered Vaughan Williams ‘our greatest Composer, probably the greatest purely English Composer we have ever produced’, though Britten ‘can rank alongside V. W. and Willy at any time’.  He knew what he disliked, too: one piece that he 'found rather difficult to take’ was Aaron Copland's ‘very extreme’ Symphonic Ode, about which he made known his feelings on at least two occasions.  ‘I cannot believe it adds very much to musical composition and it certainly makes a terrible noise’, he declared.

Letter from Leslie Boosey to Sverre Hagerup Bull
Letter of 3 November 1936 from Leslie Boosey to Sverre Hagerup Bull. MS Mus. 1813/2/1/208/1

The tone of the entry for Leslie Boosey in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography chimes entirely with the character discernible in his papers: that of a public-spirited man and music-lover dedicated to the flourishing of music and composers in their own right, and not for commercial gain alone.  Boosey served as Chairman of the Performing Right Society from 1929 to 1954, and it was also he who, in 1944, secured the lease of the Royal Opera House just in time to prevent its transformation into a dance-hall. [5] The Royal Philharmonic Society’s prize for work done ‘behind the scenes’ of the musical world, which has been awarded biennially since 1980, is named after him. [6] Yet, having chronicled this distinguished career and long life of 92 years, the author of the Oxford Dictionary biography chose to devote the final paragraph to a remarkable assessment of Leslie Boosey’s character, a eulogy which is all the more powerful for the fitting understatement that pervades it.  There is no evidence in the archive to contradict its verdict.

Dominic Newman

Manuscripts Cataloguer



[1] Wallace, Helen.  Boosey & Hawkes: The publishing story (London: Boosey & Hawkes, 2007).

[2] Ibid., p. 2.

[3] Ibid., p. 1

[4] ‘Boosey, Leslie Arthur (1887–1979), music publisher.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  January 06, 2011. Oxford University Press. [accessed 14 February 2019], <>

[5] Ibid.

[6] ‘RPS Leslie Boosey Award’. Royal Philharmonic Society. [accessed 3 October 2019], <>

09 January 2020

Two Characters in the Boosey & Hawkes Archive

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Gradually a catalogue is beginning to take shape for parts of the enormous and complex Boosey & Hawkes archive (MS Mus. 1813). The first series of the business archive, the Directors’ files (MS Mus. 1813/2/1) is now fully catalogued and available to readers. Manuscripts Cataloguers Ceri Humphries and Dominic Newman write about two of the interesting characters they have met in the collections.

Thomas Conway Brown

‘Publishers do like to have perfect editions’: Thomas Conway Brown’s reliable and meticulous approach to work led to a longstanding relationship with Hawkes & Son, and subsequently Boosey & Hawkes. Publishing under both his own name and the pseudonym Roger North, his distinctive handwriting can be spotted in military band scores throughout the Boosey & Hawkes music archive.

Music manuscripts and letters  by Thomas Conway Brown
Music manuscripts and letters by Thomas Conway Brown in the Boosey & Hawkes archive. MS Mus. 1813/1/2/72/9 and MS Mus. 1813/2.

Hawkes & Son, one of the two companies that merged in 1930 to form Boosey & Hawkes, was built on a strong tradition of military music. Founder William Henry Hawkes had served as State trumpeter to Queen Victoria and, alongside the music publishing business, an instrument manufacturing arm produced brass and reed instruments.1 Regular publications such as the Military Band Journal provided repertoire for players and ensembles of all levels, in response to the demand of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Thomas Conway Brown, or Tommy Brown to close colleagues, submitted his first arrangement to Oliver Hawkes around 1890, starting a working relationship that would continue for over 50 years. In 1946, Brown recalled to Ralph Hawkes: ‘Many years ago your father told me that a fortune awaited the man who could bring out something new in the march line – I’ve been trying ever since’.

Brown was a military musician, serving as a sergeant in the Royal Artillery Mounted Band and organist of the All Saints Garrison Church in Aldershot. The popularity of military marches in the early 20th century brought success, and his judgement and attention to detail were clearly valued by Boosey & Hawkes. Aside from the many scores – arrangements and original works – that feature Brown’s handwriting in the archive, letters from the final years of Brown’s career show that he was regularly called upon to assess, and correct, the work of other composers and arrangers.

By 1947, with popularity waning, publication of military band music began to slow. Brown, into his 80s and suffering from gradually failing eyesight, submitted his final arrangement to Ralph Hawkes in 1949.

1. While Boosey & Hawkes continued to manufacture instruments, the publishing and manufacturing arms of the business were later separated. The archive held by the British Library is that of the publishing company only.

Ceri Humphries

Manuscripts Cataloguer

Arthur Henry Behrend (1853-1935)

One cataloguing conundrum in the Boosey & Hawkes archive arose from occasional letters to Leslie Boosey signed only, enigmatically, ‘Daddy’.  Boosey’s own father had died in 1920, so the replies – all beginning ‘Dear Daddy...’ – would have been just as puzzling, had they not given away a vital clue in the postal address.  These referred to an ‘A. H. Behrend’ of Pollock Road, Walworth, London.

John Arthur Henry Behrend – who may have been born Johann Arthur Heinrich in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) – was a composer of songs and ballads, some of which had been published by Boosey & Co. and met with success in the late Victorian era.  He collaborated with such lyricists as Frederic Weatherly, the author of the words to ‘Danny Boy’, and was a grandson of the Irish composer Michael Balfe.  And a song named ‘Daddy’ – a setting of Mary Mark Lemon’s lullaby for a widowed father, sung as if by his only child – was one of his best-known.  Behrend adopted the name for his own correspondence: ‘Daddy’ was literally his signature tune.

Title page of the 1953 edition of A. H. Behrend's song ‘Daddy’.
1953 edition of the song ‘Daddy’ by A. H. Behrend. MS Mus. 1813.

But fickle fashion knows no compunction.  By the mid-1930s, there was no market for music in Behrend’s style, and Leslie Boosey, in his kindly way, had to turn down one submission after another.  Still ‘Daddy’ was undeterred, sending in letters varying in tone between breeziness and despondence.  In 1934 he announced, ‘I’ve been listening in to the Radio, and have written these two pieces.  If taken up by the “Savoy” “Metropol” & Alfredo Campoli’s band I think they would be successful’.  Elsewhere, with an edge of defiance, he lists ‘the only five pieces of my music I don’t want lost’.

He was also given to reminiscence.  'I was at Haileybury with young Hoskyns, cheeky little brat’, he recalled. ‘He is now an Archdeacon at some Cathedral’.  One wonders how the Venerable Benedict George Hoskyns MA (1856-1935), Archdeacon of Chichester, might have responded to this pithy assessment of his character.

Although Behrend’s letters often suggest a man in the evening of his life, creative power still burned in him.  ‘You know although over 80, I think I can compose still.  If I had a good libretto I’d sit down & write a grand or light opera.’ He was still submitting new compositions only months before his death, at the age of 82, in November 1935.

Dominic Newman

Manuscripts Cataloguer

19 December 2019

Celebrating the music of Prince Albert

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Earlier this month we published a blog on Prince Albert the composer to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. To celebrate his bicentenary further we have digitised a number of his music manuscripts in the Royal Music Library. The following manuscripts can now be viewed online: R.M.18.a.5; R.M.18.a.10; R.M.21.e.24; and R.M.21.e.26.

R.M.18.a.5 and R.M.18.a.10 are sources for Prince Albert’s cantata Invocazione all’armonia; R.M.21.e.24 a source for his Te Deum; and R.M.21.e.26 a source containing miscellaneous vocal compositions.

A music notebook

From the above manuscripts R.M.21.e.26 is of particular interest: the manuscript contains sketches, drafts and finished works primarily of Prince Albert’s songs written in his own hand. The volume also contains some sketches for his anthem ‘Out of the deep’, his Te Deum and his Invocazione all’armonia.

Apart from being a volume with autograph compositions, the manuscript is also interesting for revealing the private side of Prince Albert the composer: we can see how some of his musical ideas originated and how he worked on these developing them into finished works. In this respect, the volume resembles a music notebook.

The papers Prince Albert used to write the music in this volume are of different types, as evident from the slight variations in paper sizes, the colour of the paper, and the different number of staves per page; some leaves also show marks of having being folded. This suggests that the leaves were bound in a single volume at a later stage.

Autograph manuscript with music by Prince Albert
Opening page from Prince Albert’s song ‘Ein Blümchen zart’ showing some corrections. Shelfmark: R.M.21.e.26, f.10r. Autograph.
The Royal Library © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019
A page from Prince Albert’s song ‘Erlschen ist das Barden Gluth’ showing corrections and additions. Shelfmark: R.M.21.e.26, f.54v. Autograph.
The Royal Library © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

Prince Albert’s music handwriting

The manuscript R.M.21.e.26 is also an interesting source for the study of Prince Albert’s music handwriting. The appearance of his handwriting is not consistent in the volume, reflecting the different compositional stages of individual pieces as well as the different times and circumstances the music was being written.

Some works are neatly copied in ink and are in finished form, whereas others are copied in a hasty manner and often lack the accompaniment or have it only partially filled in; other leaves contain mere sketches in pencil. The differences in handwriting appearance can be seen in his notation of certain elements, such as clefs, especially the G clef as can be seen in the following snippets:


Fragment from a manuscript by Prince Albert showing his notation of treble clefs

Fragments from R.M.21.e.26, f.1r, f.10r, f.54v, f.13r and f.8r respectively showing Prince Albert’s notation of treble clefs

Music collecting

Apart from music by Prince Albert the Royal Music Library includes numerous printed and manuscript volumes with music either collected by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria or presented to them. Although it is difficult to establish the exact volumes that originally formed part of the royal couple’s music collection, the bindings of certain volumes, dedications, inscriptions, or letters kept inside volumes can serve as proof that these formed part of their music collection, as the examples shown below:

Front cover of a manuscript volume belonging to Queen Victoria
Front cover of a manuscript volume belonging to Queen Victoria. Shelfmark: R.M.18.a.18
Front cover of a manuscript volume belonging to Prince Albert
Front cover of a manuscript volume belonging to Prince Albert. Shelfmark: R.M.18.a.8.

One important volume that formed part of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s music collection is a volume that was presented to them by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy during one of his visits to London where he had also met the royal couple.

The volume includes arrangements from his Sieben Lieder ohne Worte op.62 and op.67 for piano four-hands in Mendelssohn’s autograph which he composed for the royal couple. The volume also contains a letter to Prince Albert from the composer, dated 9 June 1844, where he writes ‘[...] May Your Royal Highness occasionally play from these pieces and consider them as an earnest of sincerest gratitude for the gracious reception and the unforgettable hours in which you have allowed me to participate once again during my present visit in the past weeks.’ .[1]

Title page of Felix Mendelssohn's arrangements of his Sieben Lieder ohne Worte
Autograph title page of Felix Mendelssohn's arrangements from his Sieben Lieder ohne Worte op.62 and op.67. Shelfmark: R.M.21.f.24, f.1r

The Royal Music Library contains many more valuable sources for the study of Prince Albert’s music, as well as his and Queen Victoria’s musical tastes and collecting practices. It is hoped that the bicentenary anniversary of their births will spark further interest and research into their music collection and activities.

[1]. Quoted in O.W. Neighbour, ‘An unknown Mendelssohn autograph’, The British Library Journal, 4 (1978), pages 200-201.

Loukia Drosopoulou, Curator, Music

03 December 2019

A ‘fittingly impressive work’: Prince Albert the composer

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‘A holy blessed day, which we hail with gratitude & joy.’

Thus began Queen Victoria’s journal entry on Christmas Day, 1843. A few sentences later she continued, ‘Albert was occupied that whole evening in composing a Te Deum which is a very difficult thing & it gave him great trouble.’

Prince Albert (1819-61) is most frequently memorialised for his contribution to various aspects of British life in the mid-19th century, and, perhaps more so, for his early death in 1861 at the age of 42. This year, the joint 200th Anniversary of his and Queen Victoria’s birth, has revived interest in both him, and the lives and works of the royal couple. Amidst a diverse programme of activities celebrating the anniversary, Prince Albert has been the focus of a substantial collaborative digitisation project to make a large body of materials related to him available to the public.

Prince Albert's portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Replica by Franz Xaver Winterhalter 1867, based on a work of 1859. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Having received a broad education in his youth, Prince Albert sustained many interests, amongst which was a devotion to music, whether as a listener, an organiser, a singer, or an instrumentalist. He achieved some distinction in each of these categories, with even Mendelssohn commending his skill at the organ. It is, however, to Prince Albert the composer that this post is dedicated.

In the early years of their marriage, Queen Victoria wrote not infrequently that Albert was ‘occupied in composing’ some new piece. However, by the end of 1845, Prince Albert was writing music ever less regularly. A leaf from a sketch for one of his last pieces, the Invocazione all’Armonia, reveals the extent to which his work began to intrude into his time composing, with rubbed out notes about another matter appearing in the margins of the page. As Theodore Martin, author of Prince Albert’s somewhat hagiographic official biography, The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, noted:

‘The Prince’s life, after he came to England, was too crowded to admit of his indulging freely his love of musical composition. The Muses are exacting mistresses, and will not send their best inspiration to a merely casual worshipper. But he produced enough to entitle him to a very high rank among amateur composers.’

This assessment is in many respects a fair one: in his short and rather busy life, Prince Albert found time to write a not insubstantial number of songs, as well as a handful of instrumental and choral works. The most complete published collection of his music (The Collected Compositions of His Royal Highness The Prince Consort) contains forty pieces, written before the commitments of his public life occluded further work in this area.

Erased notes in the margins of Prince Albert’s sketch for Invocazione all’Armonia
Erased notes in the margins of Prince Albert’s sketch for 'Invocazione all’Armonia'. British Library R.M.21.e.26, f.46v. The Royal Library © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019.

The genesis and material cultures of Prince Albert’s composition can, to some extent, be explored in the Royal Music Library at the British Library, though some relevant items remain in the Royal Collection. These collections reveal much, though far from all, about the journey from sketch to completion that the Prince’s pieces followed, and are well-supported by evidence from sources, including Queen Victoria’s journals, that include reference to performances of the works, and their reception.

From its beginnings on Christmas Day, 1843, the Te Deum underwent several developmental stages, though their ordering is not entirely clear. It appears in skeletal form twice: once sketched out in pencil, occasionally underlaid, work clearly ongoing; and again, with underlay inked out in a hand quite different to Prince Albert’s own, the melody sketched-in, in pencil; both are noted with occasional indications of harmony. Another, rather more complete, draft exists in the Royal Collection, as does a manuscript fair copy in a beautifully bound collection of his compositions; later versions include an appearance of the Te Deum as part of a compilation of Prince Albert’s church music in reduction for piano. Whether the two melodic sketches encapsulate the earliest work on the piece is uncertain, though it seems likely.

Manuscript showing the last page of the melodic sketch of Prince Albert's Te Deum
The last page of the melodic sketch of the ‘Te Deum’ which includes some indications as to the desired harmony. British Library R.M.21.e.26, f. 30r. The Royal Library © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019.

Whatever the case, the piece was written quite quickly, and, on the 27th of December, Queen Victoria wrote that ‘Albert sang over his beautiful Te Deum, which is quite finished now.’ It was clearly sent to be written out in fair copy almost immediately, for on the 30th of December, Queen Victoria wrote that, ‘Just as [Michael] Costa had left the room, Albert’s Te Deum, properly written out, arrived & we called him back, & sang it with him.’ Queen Victoria was herself an accomplished singer, and a few days later the couple sang the piece again with Costa (a prominent conductor, who also arranged Prince Albert’s Invocazione for orchestral forces) and another friend. Two weeks later, the Te Deum was sung in full for the first time by the choir at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and George Elvey had worked up the elements of a morning service from the material; Queen Victoria noted that the solo parts were ‘unsatisfactorily sung’.

The piece was performed at regular intervals thereafter, becoming a feature of important services attended by the Queen. It was sometimes given orchestral treatment, and a version for chorus and orchestra appears in the Royal Music Library, orchestrated by Ernst Lampert, the Kapellmeister of Prince Albert’s brother Ernst’s court at Coburg.

Manuscript showing the first page of Prince Albert's ‘Te Deum’ transcribed for orchestra by Ernst Lampert
The first page of the ‘Te Deum’ transcribed for orchestra by Ernst Lampert, January 1845. British Library R.M.21.e.24, f.2r.

Amongst the most prominent performances of the Te Deum, for Queen Victoria at least, must have been the one given at the thanksgiving service for her Jubilee, on the 21st of June, 1887, in a version revised for chorus, organ, brass, and drums by the then organist of Westminster Abbey, John Bridge. The following day, it was described in The Times as a ‘fittingly impressive work’. Queen Victoria herself, writing at the end of a ‘never to be forgotten day,’ was more effusive.

‘The Te Deum by my darling Albert sounded beautiful’.


Dr Andrew Cusworth

Research Fellow

The Prince Albert Digitisation Project

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Royal Collection Trust; Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.


References and links

Theodore Martin, The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, Vol. I.