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Free Online Music Resources
Guide to music-related resources for both performers and scholars
A collection of digitized autograph manuscripts, sketches, engravers' proofs, and first editions of great interest to performers and scholars. There is also a downloadable comprehensive list (in .pdf format) offering detailed information about each manuscript in the collection. Among the collection's highlights are the late engraver's proof of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and the final scene of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has about forty collections of string quartets in parts dating from approximately 1770-1840, the heyday of the genre. Most, though not all, scores are complete and represent composers whose works are rarely found in modern editions. Digitization of these parts makes newly available for performance, study and recording a large and varied repertoire of works for this instrumental ensemble.
According to the website, "the Chopin collection at the University of Chicago Library includes over 400 first and early printed editions of musical compositions by Frédéric Chopin, maintained in the Special Collections Research Center. Because Chopin's works were often published concurrently in several countries with variant texts, scholars can establish a sequence of publication by comparing a range of printings." This online resource is a digitized version of U. Chicago's collection of Chopin scores available in many different editions.
The DME, currently in development, will provide world wide access to the complete works of Wolfgang Amadé(us) Mozart (1756–1791) in digital form via the internet for study and performance purposes. In addition to the presentation of all works of music online, the DME will include a critical edition of letters, documents and libretti as well. The Mozart Institute is also preparing text and image files, reference lists, a database of sources, as well as a catalog of works which will be placed online as part of the DME.
American Memory provides free and open access through the internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. The musical collections are quite varied, ranging from a decade of Woody Guthrie's letters to Leonard Bernstein works and late nineteenth to early-twentieth-century Vaudeville scripts and playbills. In addition to musical scores, this collection includes documents pertaining to noteworthy political events and/or conflicts, women's history in the U.S., Native American history, and culture and folklore, among other topics.
According to the website, "the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress holds [over 4000] song sheets. Included among these American songs are [over 90] British song sheets from Dublin and London. The collection spans the period from the turn of the nineteenth century to the 1880s, although a majority of the song sheets were published during the height of the craze, from the 1850s to the 1870s." This collection of sheet music offers a glimpse into American musical life preceding the advent of recording technology later in the nineteenth century.
According to the website's detailed "about this collection" guide, "on September 27, 1974, the Music Division of the Library of Congress re-created a typical concert of brass band and vocal music from mid-nineteenth-century America. That concert has become the starting-point for Band Music from the Civil War Era, an online collection that brings together musical scores, recordings, photographs, and essays documenting an important but insufficiently explored part of the American musical past...In addition to the musical scores and parts, Band Music from the Civil War Era includes a gallery of photographs and drawings selected from several Library of Congress collections. These illustrations capture the nature of life in the Civil War's military bands and help explain the variety of the band books in this collection, which feature music that ranges from quick marches for six instruments to epic sets of waltzes for full bands."
According to the about page for this Library of Congress and ACDA sponsored digital collection, "American Choral Music is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the Choral Directors Association (ACDA). In 2007, the ACDA and the Library of Congress began a collaborative effort to create this Web site devoted to choral music that would present music in the public domain, available for users to download." This digital collection of choral sheet music includes over 150 pieces, many by renowned American composer, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, and various members of the Second New England School of American composers also known as the "Boston Six."
The first of these collections, African-American sheet music dating from 1820 through 1920, includes both mid-century blackface minstrelsy and abolitionist-themed works. The second collection, music published during World War I, is highly varied in theme and includes works composed by Irving Berlin and performed by the Ziegfeld Follies. Finally, the Vaxer collection of Jewish/Yiddish music dating from the 1880s on includes scores with rare photographs of stage performers in costume.
Compilation of scores from the McLellan Lincoln Collection at Brown's John Hay Library, including songs composed between the 1850s and 1920s either in praise of or satirizing Lincoln and the social issues of his time (e.g., the abolition of slavery and the Civil War). Some pieces even set Lincoln’s own writings to music!
The Historic American Sheet Music collection drawn from Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library offers users access to over 3,000 pieces of mid-19th- to early 20th-century American sheet music. According to the website, "the sheet music chosen for digital reproduction represents a wide variety of music types including bel canto [opera], minstrel songs, protest songs, sentimental songs, patriotic and political songs, plantation songs, Civil War songs, spirituals, dance music, songs from vaudeville and musicals, 'Tin pan alley' songs, and songs from World War I. The collection is particularly strong in antebellum Southern music, Confederate imprints, and Civil war songs. Also included are piano music of marches, variations, opera excerpts, and dance music, including waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, etc."
The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at the Special Collections Division of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (John Hopkins University) includes over 29,000 pieces of sheet music, offering users a glimpse into three centuries of popular American musical culture. According to the website, "the collection spans the years 1780 to 1980, but its strength is its thorough documentation of nineteenth-century America through popular music. The collection is especially strong in music spawned by military conflicts from the War of 1812 through World War I, and minstrel music is also well represented. Other topics include music about the circus; dance; drinking, temperance, and smoking; fraternal orders; presidents; romantic and sentimental songs; schools and colleges; and transportation."
This small sheet music collection from MIT's special collections library includes approximately 50 pieces of music, dating primarily from the years between 1890 and 1920, addressing technological concerns and offering modern viewers a glimpse into the early American reception of various new technologies (e.g.: the telephone, the automobile, and the phonograph - "They Start Dancing the Victrola", etc.) According to the website, "This sheet music collection consists of popular songs and piano compositions that portray technologies (old and new alike) as revealed through song texts and/or cover art...[T]he initial appearance of these and other inventions created a myriad of responses in American society ranging from excitement and delight to anxiety and scorn. This collection reflects those varied reactions through the medium of popular music publications."
The Sheet Music Consortium, initiated by UCLA, provides tools and services that promote access to and use of online sheet music collections by scholars, students, and the general public. All scores date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and are highly varied, including both popular song and art song, and instrumental music (e.g.: solo piano works, and a whimsical collection of songs with ukelele accompaniment available under "virtual collections"). This is an extensive, collaborative resource, offering access to dozens of higher institutions' digitized score collections.
New York Public Library's Performing Arts in America collection offers users a glimpse into American popular culture and entertainment (dance, music, theater, and early film) from the late-19th to early-20th centuries. Offering a more detailed overview of its 16,000 holdings, the website claims that "[t]he overall richness of these collections is demonstrated by the variety of complementary original resources that, studied together, can inform and further an understanding of one artist, an entire production, or a whole era. Included are clippings from a broad range of newspapers; composite photographs, called 'keysheets' that contain large numbers of reduced-size promotional shots; music sheet samples featuring popular music, show-tunes, jazz and dance music; [concert programs]; photographs of theater, dance, and popular performance; and publicity posters and lobby cards, the latter produced in the early years of the film industry and used in theater lobbies to promote films."
The Library and Archives Canada Canadiana sheet music collection, initiated by music librarian Helmut Kallmann in the early 1950s, has grown to become the most comprehensive in the country, and includes over 20,000 patriotic and parlour songs, piano pieces, sacred music and novelty numbers, some dating back to the 1700s. Besides the expected Canadian imprints, it includes music by Canadians or about Canada published anywhere in the world. Many of the cover illustrations are of particular interest. In addition to the extensive sheet music collection, this resource includes three short articles discussing Canadian music/sheet music publication before 1867, as well as before and during the First World War.
The NYPL Digital Gallery Music Division offers over 11,000 scanned images including scores and rare music iconography (photographs, etc.), among other materials. The collections are highly varied ranging from "Programs of concerts including performances of works by Richard Wagner, 1832-1862" to the Rare Music Photograph Collection. In addition to these materials, the NYPL Digital Gallery also offers two collection guides: the "American Popular Song Sheet Covers" dated from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries and the "Joseph Muller Collection of Music and Other Portraits" (a private collection of engravings and lithographs dated from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries including images of composers, actors, musicians, printers, and nobility patrons of the arts).
According to the website, "[t]he UCLA Music Library's Archive of Popular American Music is a research collection covering the history of popular music in the United States from 1790 to the present. The collection...is one of the largest in the country, numbering almost 450,000 pieces of sheet music, anthologies, and arrangements for band and orchestra. The collection also includes 62,500 recordings on disc, tape, and cylinder. Particular strengths within UCLA Music Library's twentieth-century holdings include music for the theater, motion pictures, radio and television, as well as general popular music, country, rhythm and blues, and rock songs."
According to the website, this is "[a] virtual library of some 2,700 pieces of sheet music published in California between 1852 and 1900, together with related materials such as a San Francisco publisher's catalog of 1872, programs, songsheets, advertisements, and photographs." The 19th-century California Sheet Music collection includes materials ranging in theme from mining, to railroads, questions of gender on the frontier, and natural disasters, etc. In addition to categorizing materials by theme, this collection groups pieces together according to their cultural/ethnic origins (e.g.: Chinese, Irish, Native American, etc.). Pieces are also grouped together in performance/performer categories, including pieces for dancers, actors, and musicians (both singers and instrumentalists). This website also offers a list of related pages and sheet music digitization projects, for instance the "Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads" collection featuring ballads about the California Gold Rush.
The Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads project is a digital collection of over 33,000 ballads printed as broadsides. According to the Bodleian Library, "broadside ballads were popular songs, sold for a penny or half-penny in the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries. These songs were performed in taverns, homes, or fairs -- wherever a group of people gathered to discuss the day's events or to tell tales of heroes and villains." Note that a small sampling of the ballads are notated and this Bodleian Library digital database has included midi recordings of them when possible. The ballads are all searchable by title, first line, subject, author, performer, and publisher, among other search parameters.
The British Library Online Gallery of virtual books includes many music collections and digital exhibitions, most notably a Victorian popular music collection/exhibition curated by Steve Cork. The site offers the following information extracted from the detailed curator's introduction; "Leaf through illustrated sheet music for 188 songs and piano pieces from the heyday of Victorian Music Hall to discover an entertaining sidelight on Victorian society." The entire British Library Online Gallery includes other music resources ranging from draft scores of Handel's "Messiah" to articles about music manuscripts featuring images of manuscripts among them the 13th-century "Sumer is icumen in."
This digital project co-sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) offers insights into American vernacular music or the music-making practices of "ordinary citizens" who "bought copybooks (often pre-ruled with musical staves) or fashioned their own and then inscribed in them the songs, hymns, and tunes that mattered to them, music they had composed, performed, heard, or wanted to learn." The manuscript holdings from both of these institutions "number more than 1,500 collections and more than one million items, spanning the years 1613-1930." The website offers a detailed history of the collaborative project as well as a brief bibliography, a gallery of images taken from the digitized manuscripts, as well as a very user-friendly search mechanism for this extensive collection.
Assembled by Michael Montgomery, a jazz and ragtime pianist, sheet music collector, and U-M alum, the Montgomery Sheet Music Collection contains more than 20,000 pieces dating primarily from 1900 to 1950. The collection provides exceptional documentation of popular music in the early 20th century, with works by both well-known and unfamiliar composers.
An extensive online collection of free scores arranged by difficulty level, instrument, style and/or genre for a variety of solo and ensemble instruments and voices. This collection includes pieces composed for standard orchestral instruments as well as mandolin, ukelele, and even tin whistle! In addition to the downloadable sheet music, 8notes includes a series of introductory music theory lessons and ear training drills.
An Internet-based free sheet music website which specializes in choral music. The goal of CPDL is to host a large collection of music scores and other supporting files (such as midi or other sound files) which can be freely downloaded and used. Most of the scores on CPDL are modern editions based on older works whose copyright has lapsed (or which are otherwise in the public domain), but some scores are newly composed and offered for download by the composer.
A project for the creation of a virtual library of public domain music scores based on the wiki principle. Users can exchange musical ideas through the site, submit their own compositions, or listen to other people's compositions; this makes IMSLP an ever-growing musical community of music lovers for music lovers. IMSLP includes many historical editions of both instrumental and vocal works, as well as an expanding collection of contemporary works by American and Northern European living composers.
The Online Library is a one-stop resource for anyone in need of information about new American music, from a conductor looking for choral works on a given theme to an ensemble searching for repertoire that fits its unusual instrumentation to a scholar studying the string quartets of a particular composer. The website also encourages users to familiarize themselves with new composers by featuring an "Artist Spotlight" section which updates randomly each time the page is opened.
According to the website,"[t]he Sheet Music Consortium is a group of libraries working toward the goal of building an open collection of digitized sheet music using the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting." This collaborative, university-based resource boasts access to over 20 sheet music collections and over 220,000 digitized scores. Additionally, the SMC offers a link to a resource developed by Indiana University, "[t]he Metadata Mapping Tool [which] is part of a suite of tools that will allow museums, archives, libraries and other cultural heritage organizations to make their locally stored sheet music records available for online searching on the Sheet Music Consortium portal." These joint databases make the SMC one of the most up-to-date and comprehensive resources for digital scores and sheet music today! Disclaimer: note that some universities' contributions to this database are not available online/in digital form.
A searchable online guide to popular and obscure fake books alike. In addition, this resource includes links to common fake book sellers throughout both the U.S. and the U.K. While the website cautions readers that "books marked with an asterisk (*) are illegal", most of them nearly impossible to find anyway; the majority of the fake books included in the index are copyrighted and both easily and legally obtainable.