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Music: Special Collections


The Library’s Special Collections provide a rich resource for Music at the University of Manchester.  Our collections cover areas of musical history ranging from early church music, and Methodist hymns and hymnody, to British music from the 17th- to the 20th-century, including manuscript scores, printed popular music, and archival material.

This guide identifies collection strengths to help you access the most relevant material for your studies.

Collection strengths

The Library’s music collections consist of a variety of manuscript, archival and printed resources, encompassing diverse aspects of musical history. Sacred music is a particular strength in both the manuscript and printed collections. Holdings range from medieval liturgical texts such as missals, psalters and antiphonaries, to liturgical incunabula, and the hymns of the Methodist Church.

The manuscript collection is strong in scores of 18th and 19th-century British music, while English popular songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries dominate the printed collections. However, there are some exotic music manuscripts among the Coptic, Ethiopian and Turkish manuscripts, and various other Oriental collections. Other manuscript items with musical significance include depictions of musical instruments and musical performance, and letters written by several major composers such as Mendelssohn, Rossini and Spohr.

Among our printed resources is the Arthur D. Walker Music Collection, which was assembled by the former music librarian of the University of Manchester Library. The collection contains both full, study and miniature scores, including rare items and some with significant provenance. There are also collected editions, particularly of Bach and Handel, and material relating to Walker’s research on the music of Handel, Mahler and Elgar.

Music-related material in our archive collections ranges from manuscript musical scores to source material on the English composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and Delia Derbyshire, a pioneer of British electronic music.

Early church music

Liturgical texts containing musical notation can be found in our collection of Latin manuscripts. These are mainly medieval, and include a large amount of Gregorian chant.  Of special interest is the mid-13th century Sarum Missal (Latin ms 24) donated by Henry of Chichester to Exeter Cathedral, which has notation on most pages.

Liturgical books for the Catholic Church can also be found in the Library’s rich collections of incunables (books printed before 1501) and other early printed books.  Missals, containing both the textual and musical portions of the Mass, are the most common source of musical incunabula.  Musical notation can also be found in many printed psalters and prayer books.

Music in the Methodist collections

The Library’s Methodist collections contain extensive holdings relating to the Wesley family, among whom were three musicians. There is a wealth of manuscript and printed material (including music scores) relating to the composers and organists Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) and his son Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876), plus correspondence relating to the musician Charles Wesley (1757-1834).

Multi-denominational hymn books and works on hymnody are also well represented. The Percy Hymn Book Collection is of particular significance to hymnological study. The collection includes hymn books, tune-books, psalms, metrical psalters and tunes, with copious amounts of musical scores and notation. These are mainly English-language works dating from the 19th and early-20th centuries, and have the advantage of being annotated by an early owner.

British music

The Library’s manuscript collections include scores of 18th and 19th century British music including vocal and piano music, organ books, Anglican chants and hymn tunes. An English harpsichord manuscript of c. 1754, which contains an early variant of God Save the King, is found in the Bagshawe Muniments. The Library also holds two 17th-century music manuscripts originating from Tabley House in Cheshire: a lute book with a small number of pieces for guitar, and a song book with accompaniment for bass. 

Archive sources relating to the study of music include the papers of the Manchester music critic and author Michael Kennedy. These contain manuscript and typescript copies of Kennedy’s published works, and correspondence generated during his research on Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. There is an archive of scores by Humphrey Procter-Gregg, who became the University of Manchester’s first Professor of Music in 1954. The papers of Leonard Behrens contain material on the Hallé Orchestra from 1952 to 1972. The Library also holds the papers of the composer Delia Derbyshire, a pioneer of British electronic music. Derbyshire was based at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, and famously produced the original theme music for Doctor Who in 1963.

Most of the printed music in the Library dates from after 1780, and the collection is strong in English popular songs from the 1880s through to the 1940s. 

What are Special Collections?

picture of a Chaucer manuscript and an iPad image of the same manuscript

What are Special Collections?

The University of Manchester Library holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections in the world. These collections are mainly concentrated in the magnificent building on Deansgate, The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, in the centre of Manchester. They are also housed in the Main Library on the University campus and at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre, in Manchester Central Library. This resource introduces the different types of materials found in Special Collections and explains how they can be used to support your studies. For general tips on accessing digital and physical collections and visiting our reading room please look at our other Medium resources.

Using Special Collections

You are welcome to make use of Special Collections in your learning and research.

Due to the special nature of the material, we provide access in a controlled environment and there are some restrictions on use and access, particularly for fragile material or modern archives which may contain sensitive data.

Please read our guidance pages on the web for details.


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