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A Century of Music at The New York Public Library


As the centennial year of The New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building comes to a close and the next 100 years begin, it's a good opportunity to journey through the history, collections, and people behind the scenes of one of the world's premiere music collections. 

This engraving by Paul Revere serves as the frontispiece of William Billings New England Psalm Singer published in 1770This engraving by Paul Revere serves as the frontispiece of William Billings New England Psalm Singer published in 1770The music holdings of The New York Public Library were brought together as part of the merger in 1895 of the library of John Jacob Astor (about 4,000 music items) and the Lenox Library (6,000+ music items), with support from the Tilden Foundation to form the research (non-circulating) collections of The New York Public Library.

Before there was an official circulating music collection, many of the branch libraries throughout the system of The New York Public Library had collections of orchestral scores, vocal scores, and opera libretti. Music titles, however; were considered "special interest" items and were procured only if remaining year-end funds were available. In 1920, all of the circulating music holdings were brought together at the library branch on East 58th Street under the direction of its first music librarian, Dorothy Lawton. This centralized location became a gathering place for musicians, and within a year, public music programs had become an important offering. The circulating music collections at the 58th Street location were supported in their growth by regular donations from a variety of New York City philanthropists and musicians, including Otto Kahn, Frank Damrosch, Frederic Juilliard, and Charles Ives (who donated many historical sets and complete works).

In 1929, a major donation to the Library from the American Orchestral Society formed the basis of a collection of orchestral parts for more than 3,000 works, marking the beginning of the circulating Orchestra Collection. The ensuing decades saw continued growth and leadership from a staff dedicated to enlarging and broadening the circulating collections, often following the seasonal concert schedules of the major New York City performance venues to meet the demands of its passionate user base. Today the total circulating Music Collection contains well over 25,000 opera and musical scores; 53,000 items of chamber music (scores and parts); works for piano; and orchestral study scores; as well as a comprehensive collection of circulating books on music and non-print audio visual materials.

Turning now to the research collections, the Music Division of the Reference Department was formally established in 1911 when the new building opened at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

The crown jewel of the Division is a collection of music, books on music, and autographs acquired by the Philadelphia financier Joseph W. Drexel (1833-1888).

Joseph W. Drexel (1833-1888)Joseph W. Drexel (1833-1888)At Drexel's death (during the blizzard of 1888), his collection of 6,000 items was bequeathed to the Lenox Library. Upon the formation of The New York Public Library in 1895, the Drexel Collection became the cornerstone of the Music Division. Drexel developed his collection through a series of major acquisitions at European auctions, including those of German musician Henry F. Albrecht, physician Dr. René LaRoche, and the English antiquarian and collector Edward Francis Rimbault. Today, "Joseph W. Drexel's Musical Library" remains one of the most celebrated and significant aggregates of music materials amassed by a single collector. Without Drexel, there would have been no Music Division in 1895. The collection's strength lies in a variety of areas, including first and early editions (particularly of Mozart and Beethoven); 18th-century German theoretical treatises; and incunabula, such as Franchinus Gaffurius's Theorica musica (1492) and his Practica musica (1496), which illustrate with marvelous wood block prints the theoretical writings by Galileo on music and the physics of music as interpreted by Pythagoras.

Important writings and works by Berlioz, Rousseau, and Rameau are also represented. Sixteenth and early 17th-century English treasures include the celebrated John Gamble's Commonplace Book of 1659, containing approximately 250 songs; and the Sambrooke Book, a massive assemblage of madrigals, motets, and anthems compiled by Francis Tregian the Younger (1574?-1619). Other strengths of Drexel's collection include early English keyboard music, part books, and a 1608 edition of Thomas Morley's Plaine and Easy InstructorA unique copy of Parthenia In-violata (1615) is another of the Drexel Collection's jewels. Early editions of English, Irish, and Scottish music in the Drexel Collection allow researchers to trace the migration of this music into the works of 18th-century English opera composers, as well as traditional vocal collections and instrumental tunebooks.

Drexel also collected a significant number of early American imprints, particularly in the area of hymn books, song collections, and opera scores. Most notable is the first tune book using shape note notation published in the United States, Little and Smith's Easy Instructor. Also of note is Urania or a Choice Collection of Psalm-tunes, Anthems, and Hymns compiled by James Lyon (1761), which was sold by subscription in and around Philadelphia.

Guided even today by Drexel's magnificent holdings, the Music Division still seeks opportunities to collect important early editions, theoretical works, hymnbooks, and tunebooks, as well as comprehensively acquire newly published manuscript facsimiles of important European works.

Il dissoluto punito osia Don Giovanni [Title page], Digital ID exh_70091, New York Public LibraryIl dissoluto punito osia Don Giovanni [Title page], Digital ID exh_70091, New York Public Library

In the Beginning

The first chief of the Music Division was Edward Silsky (a former music curator at the Lenox Library), who oversaw the installation of the music collections into the new building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in 1911. During his tenure, the music collections and budgets were assessed, alongside those of Harvard University, Boston Public Library, and the Library of Congress. These comparisons sought to bring the holdings of the Music Division into line with these other institutions and set the Division on its path to greatness. That path was broadened considerably by the work of musicologist Dr. Otto Kinkeldey (1878-1966), who became chief of the Music Division upon Silsky's retirement in 1915.

Dr. Otto Kinkeldey (1878-1966)Dr. Otto Kinkeldey (1878-1966)After World War I, Kinkeldey's research trips to France, Spain, Italy, and Germany allowed him to make considerable purchases for the Library. He left the Music Division in 1923 for Cornell University, returning to the Library in 1927. He was drawn back to Cornell in 1930 by the offer of the first American chair of musicology, created specifically for him. He was also named University Librarian.

Carleton Sprague Smith (1905-1994)Carleton Sprague Smith (1905-1994)As the country was plunged into the Great Depression, the Music Division surprisingly assumed some of its most distinguished and lasting characteristics. Under the guidance of Dr. Carleton Sprague Smith, who was chief of the Music Division from 1931-1959, the Division saw unprecedented growth toward making its under-processed collections available.

With an infusion of resources from the Works Progress Administration, projects such as the copying of scores for performance, and the cataloging, annotating, and indexing of music and musical information all came under his scholarly purview and the watchful eye of Special Collections curator, Sydney Beck.

Smith was able to bring in émigré musicologists Hans T. David and Curt Sachs to work on major editorial projects making some of the Division's formerly hidden treasures available for performance and study.

CSS, as we still affectionately refer to him, was an expert in many fields: hymnologist, flutist, music administrator, and scholar who helped to establish the American Musicological Society. He was also a founder of the Music Library Association, an organization for which Smith, Kinkeldey, and nearly all subsequent Music Division chiefs have served as president. Smith's talents in diplomatic relations created opportunities for expanding the scope and reach of the Music Division into other countries, particularly Latin America and the southern hemisphere.

As part of the "Good Neighbor Policy" under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, working for the U.S. Department of State, Smith was given a four-month leave by the Library in 1940, allowing him to tour the countries of South America as a cultural ambassador. In this capacity, Smith forged important musical ties, built relationships for the government, found opportunities for cultural exchange, and acquired unique materials for the Music Division's collections, including manuscripts of Camargo Guarnieri, José Rolón, and many others.

His ties to Brazil and Latin America remained in place long after his visit and his departure from the Library, allowing for a welcoming open door that saw, among other things, the acquisition of manuscript collections of Carlos Chavez in the 1980s and Marco Rizo in the 1990s.

These relationships continue today in the form of donations of contemporary music materials and regular visits to the Music Division by colleagues from a number of South American countries.

Upon Smith's departure from the Music Division, Philip Lieson Miller (1906-1996) took over as chief.  Smith was retained by the Library for several years as a consultant and was a regular visitor to the reading room at Lincoln Center well into the 1980s. Today, two of Smith's greatest achievements have become legendary and they should be noted here: he was the first to conceptualize an all-encompassing "Music Museum," bringing together in one building the holdings of music, theater, dance, recorded sound, and an instrument collection. Decades later (minus the instrument collection, which is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), his idea became a reality. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located at Lincoln Center, opened in November of 1965.

The American Music Collection

Smith was also responsible for the "branding" of the Music Division by bringing together for the first time a unique aggregate of materials devoted to the music of the United States. Today, the American Music Collection remains vibrant, active, and visible, and it is respected worldwide as one of the most comprehensive, and certainly one of the few, collections devoted to American Music with its own curator. 

The American Music Collection (formerly the Americana Collection) grew out of Smith's desire that holdings in American music should be brought together so as to be curated and thus recognized as a legitimate area of musicological research. By 1936, again with money and staff from the Works Progress Administration, the "Americana Section" of the Music Division under its first head (librarian and print collector) Joseph Muller (1877-1939), was able to accomplish a great deal in fulfilling Smith's historical mission.

Of note are the major collections of early American tunebooks, songsters, and broadsides, all of which are still considered world class holdings in the field.

In 1938, a bequest from the composer and conductor Henry Hadley (1871–1937) provided the foundation of a score library devoted to American music that would set the Americana Section of the Music Division on its course.

From its formation in 1936, it took Smith four years to firmly establish the Americana Section's profile within the Music Division, culminating in 1940 by the appointment of John Tasker Howard (1890-1964) as the first full-time "Americana" curator. Howard, author of Our American Music, the first comprehensive history of U.S. music, helped to bring the collection into a much broader sphere by greatly expanding the acquisition of manuscripts and other materials, including the papers and music manuscripts of theatrical producer David Belasco, manuscripts of the American composer Charles Griffes, the R. H. Burnside Collection (manager of the Hippodrome Theater), and the early American sheet music imprints acquired from collector Elliott Shapiro in 1956. descriptive / [music by] Wm. E. Slafer.,Title on cover: Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge crush march (descriptive), Digital ID g99c796_001, New York Public LibraryBrooklyn Eagle Bridge crush march : descriptive / [music by] Wm. E. Slafer.,Title on cover: Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge crush march (descriptive), Digital ID g99c796_001, New York Public LibraryMonitor grand march / composed by E. Mack., Digital ID g00c53_001, New York Public LibraryMonitor grand march / composed by E. Mack., Digital ID g00c53_001, New York Public LibraryHoward's tenure as Head of the Americana Section (1940-1956) set a distinct tone and a very high standard of collection development in the bourgeoning field of American music research.

Henry Cowell with his cat PepperIconography CollectionMusic DivisionHenry Cowell with his cat Pepper
Iconography Collection
Music Division


The Americana Collection grew steadily in the 1960s under the guidance of curators John Edmunds(1956-1961) and Karl Kroeger (1962-1964), acquiring a large number of important archival and manuscript collections, among them the papers and manuscripts of singer Eva Gauthier, and the papers of composer Henry Cowell (which also included his New Music Papers). The archive of the League of Composers was presented in 1966 by founder and musical philanthropist Claire R. Reis, who later donated her own papers. Other acquisitions included the papers of the League/ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music), and The Composers Forum, whose early activities and concerts took place at the Library.

The acquisition of sheet music continued to expand during the 1960s. Presently, the Music Division holds over 500,000 titles of American sheet music imprints, including collections of piano rags, musical comedies, war songs, and marches. The biggest cache of popular American sheet music came in 1966 from collector George Goodwin.

I've made my plans for summer / words and music by John Philip Sousa., Digital ID G00C34_001, New York Public LibraryI've made my plans for summer / words and music by John Philip Sousa., Digital ID G00C34_001, New York Public LibraryTake me out to the ball game / words by Jack Norworth ; music by Albert von Tilzer., Digital ID G98C67_001, New York Public LibraryTake me out to the ball game / words by Jack Norworth ; music by Albert von Tilzer., Digital ID G98C67_001, New York Public Library Alexander's ragtime band / words and music by Irving Berlin., Digital ID G98C108_001, New York Public LibraryAlexander's ragtime band / words and music by Irving Berlin., Digital ID G98C108_001, New York Public Library

His collection of approximately 125,000 published sheet music titles also included about 400 hand-written pop music lead sheets from New York City's famed Brill Building, featuring songs by songwriters Carole King, Leiber and Stoller, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Doc Pomus, Harvey (Phil) Spector, and many others.

In 1975, CBS presented about 200,000 pieces of manuscript and published music from its radio library (founded in 1929), which contained hundreds of commissioned compositions and arrangements for broadcasts, including music holographs of George Antheil, John Cage (The City Wears a Slouched Hat), Aaron Copland (Music for a Puppet Show, which was written for the 1939 World's Fair), the little known and presumed lost Time Cycle by Roy Harris, as well as important works by Morton Gould, Darius Milhaud, Bernard Herrmann, Deems Taylor, and Alec Wilder.

"Fugue for Tin Horns"from Guys and DollsFrank Loesser Collection"Fugue for Tin Horns"
from Guys and Dolls
Frank Loesser Collection
In 1977, Division chief Frank Campbell (1916-1993), chief from 1966-1985, was instrumental in acquiring the music manuscripts of composer Frank Loesser, opening the door for the acquisition of important collections of contemporary musical theater.

AriaJohn Cage ManuscriptsAria
John Cage Manuscripts

Since the mid 1980s, beginning with the leadership of Division chief Jean Bowen (1985-1995), the Music Division has sharpened its focus squarely on American music, acquiring some of the most noted collections of the 20th century, including the music manuscripts of composers George Antheil, Louis Gruenberg, Wallingford Riegger, and George Rochberg, as well as the collections of Otto Luening, George Perle, and Vincent Persichetti, along with the papers of William Schuman, and perhaps the most seminal acquisition to date, the music manuscripts of composer John Cage. Also significant was the decision to be one of the first institutions to collect in the area of electro-acoustic music. To that end the Division is proudly represented by the collections of Eric Siday, Charles Dodge, Emmanuel Ghent, and J. K. Randall.

Under the guidance of Americana curator Richard Jackson (1965-90), the acquisition of the manuscripts of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) has made the Library the premiere repository for this important composer/pianist's music.

Jazz is certainly well represented in the Music Division. Four hundred original Benny Goodman arrangements were acquired in the 1980s, as well as the manuscripts of Sy Oliver, the papers of CBS Records producer Teo Macero, and the music manuscripts of bandleader and composer Marco Rizo, who wrote and arranged the musical theme for the popular 1950s television show I Love Lucy.

Maco Rizo and Celia CruzMarco Rizo PapersMaco Rizo and Celia Cruz
Marco Rizo Papers

In 1991, under the curatorship of George Boziwick (the author of this blog post), the Americana Collection was renamed the American Music Collection. In July of 2001, working with Division chief Susan T. Sommer (1996-2001), the Music Division's collections were enlarged significantly by the acquisition of the American Music Center's donation of its library of 60,000 scores — mostly unpublished — of 20th-century music by United States composers.

Barstow by Harry PartchAmerican Music Center Score CollectionBarstow by Harry Partch
American Music Center Score Collection

Since 2001, the Music Division has acquired major collections from Broadway composers, including Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Fred Ebb, Jacob Druckman, Leon Kirchner, Meredith Monk, singer Louise Homer, and cabaret star Susannah McCorkle.

The Next Century

Boziwick (2005-), the current Music Division chief, has this to say about the next 100 years of the Music Division: "American Music still continues to be our main focus and 'brand,' particularly in the area of unique archival materials. New and important ground-breaking investments in our collections, such as the John Cage Video Project, will continue to be developed. However, even well into the future, not everything in the Library will undergo digitization, of course, but we shall see increased access to materials, catalogs, indexes, and collections, not heretofore available to our global online audience. We are working in new fashioned ways to bring the Music Division's collections to the public that allow the curators to provide an exceptional type of concierge service, delivered in personalized packages of information, crafted by teams of insightful and creative music specialists. Stay tuned, stay informed. Be inspired and awed by what you can do now and imagine what's in store for tomorrow when you take your next Trip to the Library."



  • "A Trip to the Library"    From the Jerry Bock Collection"A Trip to the Library"
    From the Jerry Bock Collection
    The New York Public Library published a quarterly Bulletin (1897–1977).
  • S. P. Williams: Guide to the Research Collections of the New York Public Library (Chicago, 1975)
  • S. Sommer and R. Koprowski: "The Toscanini Memorial Archives at the New York Public Library," College Music Symposium, xvii/2 (1977), 103. 
  • P. L. Miller and F. C. Campbell: "How the Music Division of the New York Public Library Grew – a Memoir," Notes: The Journal of the Music Library Association, xxxv (1978–9), 537, xxxvi (1979–80), 65, xxxviii (1981–2), 121.
  • Jean Tanner, "New Musical Americana Section Established in New York Library. Music Publishers Journal vol. 1 no. III, May-June, 1943.
  • Sydney Beck, "Carleton Sprague Smith and the Shaping of a Great Music Library," in Libraries, History, Diplomacy, and the Performing Arts: Essays in Honor of Carleton Sprague Smith, Festschrift Series, 9, ed. by Israel J. Katz, with Malena Kuss and Richard J. Wolfe, 17–41 (Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon, 1991);
  • John Shepard. "The Legacy of Carleton Sprague Smith: Pan American Holdings in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts." Notes 62.3 (2006) 621-662.
  • Susan T. Sommer. "Joseph W. Drexel and his Musical Library." Music and Civilization: Essays in Honor of Paul Henry Lang, ed. by Edmond Strainchamps and Maria Rika Maniates, in collaboration with Christopher Hatch. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1984.




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Score Cage and Cowell

Hello, I´m percussionist from Germany and interested in musicscores from John Cage (early period till1943) and Henry Cowell. Will it be possible to visit the PL next week to have a look on these music? I´m looking forward to hearing from you Olaf

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