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MUS 228: Historical Musicology: Primary Sources in Music

Course guide for Dr. Fillerup's Historical Musicology Class, Fall 2017


A primary source is a document (in every sense of the word) that was created during the time period that is being studied.  In the case of music, a primary source could be a score, a recording, a letter, a contract, a concert review, or some other type of material.  This guide will help you locate primary sources in Parsons Music Library and beyond.


Although any score can potentially be a primary source, the term is most often used in connection with manuscripts.  Reproductions of composers' handwritten sketches, scores, and the like can be found in the UR library catalog by adding the keywords music manuscripts facsimiles to your search. DO NOT LIMIT YOUR SEARCH TO SCORES, since many of these items are shelved in our book section.  Some of our facsimiles are costly and/or rare, and thus are shelved in Music Special Collections.  Special Collections materials must be used in the library, and only with Dr. Fairtile's permission.

Countless music manuscripts have been digitized and made freely available on the web, and several libraries have consolidated their links on a single portal called the Music Treasures Consortium.  National library sites like Gallica (France), Internet Culturale (Italy), and Patrimonio Iberoaméricano (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Spain, Panama and Portugal) have millions of images of manuscripts in their collections.  Other music manuscript sites include DIAMM (the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts).

Facsimile Finder is a website for libraries and collectors interested in purchasing medieval manuscript facsimiles, but it gives very useful information about the original manuscripts as well.

It's important to remember that while more and more music manuscripts are being digitized, the majority are still available only in libraries and archives, and in many cases access is limited to scholars with research credentials.  Manuscripts that are owned by private collectors are, in most cases, inaccessible.


The published letters of composers, performers, critics, and others involved with music can be found by adding the word correspondence to your search.  You may also find letters quoted, in part or in full, in composer biographies in the ML410 section of the library.

A few collections of composers' letters are available online:


Concert reviews can be found by using indexes of newspapers and the musical press.  In some cases you will be able to limit your results to reviews.  In addition to modern journals, try these historical sources:

You can also find the reviews and music criticism of specific authors by searching the library catalog for the subject musical criticism.


The archives of theaters, concert halls, publishers, and other institutions may contain unique and informative documents related to the creation, performance, and dissemination of music.  Here are a few that have made their materials available online:


It's not unusual to find recordings of modern composers performing their own music, but Parsons Music Library also has a number of recordings made by composers of (fairly) long ago.  Try searching the library catalog for the phrase "composer as pianist" or "[composer name] plays [composer name]"  We also have recordings of composers performing in other capacities, but there's no simple way to locate them.

Almost as useful are recordings by performers who worked with the composers.  This can be especially enlightening with regard to singers and singing styles.  Such recordings aren't always easy to find, so be sure to ask for help.

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Linda Fairtile
Parsons Music Library
Sarah Brunet Hall
University of Richmond, VA 23173
804 287-6849