Music Album of the Dickens Family
What better way to honor the 198th birthday of Charles Dickens than with of one of the Music Division's more unusual items: A volume of music owned by Charles Dickens and his family.
The original cataloging for this item (done decades ago) is sketchy, so I've not been able to figure out who or when it was donated to the New York Public Library, although it was probably before World War II. The last owner did provide a handwritten page of explanation, saying it was purchased (probably from a dealer or at an auction). The original binding was in poor shape so the owner had it rebound, exactly reproducing the original look of the binding. The only element preserved from the original binding was the label:
From this label it would appear that the volume belonged to Charles Dickens's daughters (he had three of them, although I don't know which ones were musically inclined). Upon opening the volume, and passing Charles Dickens's bookplate (the leading image of this blog post), at least half of the music contains songs composed to lyrics written by Dickens. A number of the songs have handwritten inscriptions to the author, such as John Thomson's "The Ivy Green":
Some have no inscriptions, but are nevertheless based on words penned by Dickens. Here's a particularly dramatic lithograph cover for a song from "A Christmas Carol" that was used in staged versions:
I find it particularly interesting that the volume includes a song by George Hogarth—father of Catherine Hogarth Dickens (therefore Charles Dickens' father-in-law):
So even though the label says "The Misses Dickens," the content suggests it was a combination of songs received by Charles Dickens as gifts by well-intentioned composers, as well as music that might have been sung by the Dickens daughters.
Musically, I find the most interesting thing in this volume to be the aria "A te, o cara" from Bellini's opera I Puritani. The score has a number of markings in it, indicating that one of the daughters (or perhaps Mrs. Dickens) apparently took singing lessons:
In this fragment, the pencil marks indicating a verbal ellision (at "at te, o cara") and breath marks (before the two instances of "amor") gives us some sense of music instruction that went on in amateur circles in England over 150 years ago.
Even though there have been books and articles concerning the intersection of Charles Dickens and music, such as James T. Lightwood's Charles Dickens and Music (written in 1912 and republished in 1970), to my knowledge no article or book mentions this intriguing volume.