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Posts from the Music Division

Jacob Wrey Mould: Architect of Central Park and Lyricist

Angel of the Waters Fountain and Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York City - photograph by Ahodges7, used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia

Each week for many years, Christopher Gray has written the Streetscapes column for the Sunday edition of the New York Times, focusing on out-of-the-way stories of curiosity, beauty, 

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New Year's Waltz

New year's wishes to everyone!

Just a few words on the music pictured above.  This anonymous piano work was published around 1827 by Samuel Bromberg of New York City.  The address listed on the music is 395 Broadway, but in the New York City directory of 1829-1830, the publisher is located at 80 Broadway "upstairs."  Bromberg apparently came from Denmark: his petition for naturalization was made on June 9, 1835.  (These immigration and naturalization documents are available online through

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Happy 240th, Beethoven! And thank you, Beethoven Association!

What better way to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday than with a unique portrait of Beethoven.  The impressive oil-painting above usually hangs in The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on the 3rd floor in the Research Division.  (Due to recent reconfiguration of public space, the painting is temporarily taking a rest from public view.)  It measures 57 x 46 inches and has an impressive provenance.  You can see some of its former owners by looking at the

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Puccini's La fanciulla del West 100 years ago

The December 10, 2010 performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s production (which opens tonight) of Giacomo Puccini’s La fanciulla del West will mark the 100th anniversary of the opera, which had its premiere at the Met on the same date in 1910 featuring a stellar cast of Emmy Destinn, Enrico Caruso, and Pasquale Amato with Arturo Toscanini conducting.

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Follow An Archive Day in the Music Division

Friday November 12, 2010 was a special day for users of Twitter and users of archives.  The day was designated as “Follow An Archive Day” or, to use the Twitter hashtag, #followanarchiveday

All over the world, archives were encouraging users to visit an archive and tweet about it.  These archives could send out tweets reminding the world of its existence. (Twitter hashtags, i.e. the word preceded by a # sign, allow for posts from different users to be searched and retrieved by 

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Music manuscripts from the composer of the Star-Spangled Banner

It’s been a while since my last post, but the genesis of this post began with July 4th, 2010.  I was thinking:  What better way to observe the anniversary of the United States of America than with the national anthem. (The image above ‑ seen through mylar protection ‑ is of the first edition of the Star-Spangled Banner owned by the Music Division – one of 

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Orphans within the storm

(If you think this blog entry is about the 1922 film Orphans of the Storm by D. W. Griffith, you're not entirely wrong; wait until the end.)

With digitization of books being a hot topic, some of you may have heard of the term "orphan works." In brief, an orphan work is a work where the copyright holder cannot be found. For musical works, many assume that "the copyright holder" is simply the composer, but this is not always true. The copyright holder can be the composer's descendents, relatives, lawyers, or anyone that the creator designates as a legal successor after the 

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The scores of Beverly Sills come to the Music Division

Beverly Sills musical scores have arrived at Lincoln Center in a venue in which she never sang: The Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. We take pride in announcing that we received the collection of her scores from her estate auction at Doyle's New York on October 7, 2009. (We also obtained two costume designs by Thierry Bosquet, a frequent designer for the New York City Opera, which I'll discuss in another post.)

The auction was filled with people seeking interesting 

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For the Haydn Bicentennial

This year has seen many concerts marking the bicentennial of composer Joseph Haydn's death on May 31, 1809. As part of these events, the publisher, G. Henle Verlag of Munich has issued a facsimile of one of the Music Division's prized manuscripts, Haydn's Variations in F Minor, Hob. XVII:6. Composed in 1793, this work contains (in the words of noted musicologist James Webster): "arguably Haydn’s most original and concentrated double-variation movement, with a coda (added in revision) of Beethovenian power."

It is not known who owned this manuscript after its 

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Unexpected Wittgensteiniana in an archival collection

Sometimes you can find unusual items in unusual places. Alexander Waugh's new book "The House of Wittgenstein" brings the Wittgenstein family and their legacy to the forefront of attention. Apart from this publication, scholars can now investigate a little-known source in the Music Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

A few years ago we received a gift of the working and personal papers of the eminent music theorist and professor, Felix Salzer. Salzer (1904-1986) was a student of the noted music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935). The papers 

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Before there was Facebook: autograph albums as social networks

On Facebook, the popular social networking website, people can view each other's friends and social connections as well as their activities, such what movies one has seen and what music one has heard. One can scribble messages to each other, send virtual flowers and gifts, and generally interact with a wide variety of people, some of whom you may not even know very well. What did people do before Facebook? They had an equivalent: autograph albums. Although not as technologically complex as today's web applications, 

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James G. Speaight, the forgotten child prodigy remembered - and his brother Joseph Speaight, the composer

Many warm greetings and thanks to Sebastian Pryke who, in a reponse to one of my previous posts, revealed himself to be the great-great grandnephew of child prodigy James G. Speaight. Sebastian and his brother Jonathan Pryke are apparently the great-great grandsons of James's brother Joseph Speaight (1868-1947) who was a British pianist, composer, and taught at Trinity College. According to Baker's biographical dictionary of musicians (7th edition), Joseph composed three symphonies, a piano concerto, and 

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Oliver J. Dragon, baritone

If serendipity is a useful thing when browsing through the holdings of The New York Public Library, it's all the more true for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, whose extensive collection contain an enormous amount of ephemera (most of which does not appear in the catalog). Some years ago, in going through some of our extensive program files, a coworker found an intriguing flyer for the Town 

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What did they play at Violetta's party?

A recent reference question asked what is the instrumentation of the stage band in act 1 of Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata. In case you've forgotten, the opera opens at the house of Violetta, who's giving a party to celebrate her recovery from illness. After Violetta and Alfredo sing the duet "Libiamo ne' lieti calici," the stage band (banda) begins to play, at which point the party guests exit to the next room to dance, leaving Violetta and Alfredo alone in order to fall in love. It seemed like a simple question. I pulled the authoritative

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Rossini’s Serenata: From manuscript to publication

It’s always exciting to see citations to the holdings of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in newly published books and articles. But it’s even more exciting when a newly-published score is based on one of our manuscripts.

The latest volume of the new Works of Gioachino Rossini edition (entitled “Chamber Music Without 

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Does the African pity the white man?

One day when a former Chief of the Music Division (now enjoying retirement) was browsing through an auction catalog, she came across a listing for a piece of early 19th century sheet music. Entitled “The African’s Pity on the White Man” and published in England, the item was being sold in excess of $1,000 (this was in the early 1990s). A quick hunt in one of our under-processed collections revealed that we owned a copy of this sheet music. We had it quickly cataloged for our 

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Freak pianos

One of the more amusing books in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is a volume bluntly titled Freak Pianos (call number: Mus. Res. *MKDCC). Its author is C. Van Noorden, about whom I could find little, other than he or she flourished in England as a music and dance critic in the early decades of the 20th century.

Articles by this person appearing in the Dancing Times can be found in the Jerome Robbins Dance 

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James Speaight, forgotten child prodigy

A colleague was looking at the Music Division’s vast clipping file, and pulled out a folder with a strange name: “Americus, Young.” The picture inside, of a highly decorated young boy and published in 1874, made it clear that “Young Americus” was just a nickname - but what was his real name?

A little bit of research in Google revealed the answer: he was James G. Speaight, child prodigy on the violin, who is probably known most for his sudden death. Thanks to the England & Wales FreeBMD Birth Index database 

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Welcome to the Rare Books and Manuscripts of NYPL’s Music Division

Welcome to the blog of the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It’s my intention for this blog to serve as a way to make the Music Division (and The Library in general) a more accessible and welcoming place by featuring some of the treasures and unusual items we have. I encourage feedback and dialogue on any of the topics I present. So what better to open a blog that with the frontispiece from a famous book: Athanasius Kircher’s 

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