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Anthologies of Musical Works from the 15th-17th Centuries in the Library of Congress Music Division

Provenance Research

Music Division Chief Oscar Sonneck’s strategies for the acquisition of early music materials, combined with a pinch of perseverance and serendipity, produced results that were transformational. One example of his success is the Music Division's collection of over three hundred pre-1700 anthologies, a number that represents 10% of all published anthologies from the 16th-17th centuries.

The Music Division frequently receives questions about the provenance of its early music holdings; that is, inquiries about the where, when and from whom these treasures came. Answers are sometimes elusive, buried in the Music Division’s 125-year acquisition history. This page offers the following suggestions that have proven invaluable for both answering provenance questions and raising others that we never knew to ask.

Five recommended resources for researching provenance-related information for our early music anthologies are listed below.

Antiquarian dealer’s catalogs

Determining from whom we procured our early treasures can be a daunting task as specific information about provenance was not systematically recorded in catalog records. It is helpful to know, however, that many of our early anthologies were purchased either individually or in multiple lots from European antiquarian dealers over the first half of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, no one resource identifies all of the antiquarian dealers’ catalogs that were consulted for purchases made by our library over the years, especially those with annotations or further provenance information. Fortunately, the music division retained a majority of those catalogs thanks to the foresight of library staff who recognized that they were “… bibliographic tools which no major music library should be without ” (Richard S. Hill). For more information about the extent of our dealers’ catalogs holdings, consult the following resources:

The ML card catalog in the Performing Arts Reading Room is also helpful in locating antiquarian catalogs, albeit the entries are often incomplete as well. Search under the LC classification ML152 for publishers’ catalogs/second-hand dealers. If your catalog search comes up short, you are encouraged to send a question to our Ask-a-Librarian service.


Leo Liepmannssohn and the Music Division

The highest number of retrospective purchases in the early decades of the 20th century can be traced back to the German firm of Leo Liepmannssohn (for a brief history, consult the Otto Haus website External). Considering the Music Division’s fruitful relationship with this firm, their published catalogs [two series: priced catalogues nos. 1-238; 64 auction catalogues] are considered a historically essential resource for studying the provenance of many past purchases. Consequently, an on-site inventory/finding aid was compiled for our holdings of the two Liepmannssohn series; this spreadsheet is available upon request. The Music Division's collection of Liepmannssohn catalogs, spanning the years 1875–1935, is one of the most comprehensive worldwide.

Auction Catalogs

Auction catalogs of private collectors’ libraries that we acquired in part or en bloc also hold immeasurable research value. These publications, liberally annotated, are located under the ML138 classification. Four noteworthy examples are the catalogs from the auctions of Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1910), William Hayman Cummings (1917), Werner Wolffheim (1928-29), and Baron Horace de Landau (1949).

The Annual Reports of the Librarian of Congress

Now scanned and conveniently located online, these publications highlight the accomplishments, events, and purchases that occurred within the Music Division each year. Our early anthologies are best described in the annual reports published before 1940, which offer more robust summaries and details that speak to the historical significance of specific items as well as insights into former owners. A greater understanding of the peculiarities, interests, and strengths of significant collectors’ libraries provides a basis to better evaluate the relevance of these acquisitions within the context of our existing collections.

The Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions

Publication of this periodical began with volume 1, no. 1 in July/August/September 1943 and ceased with volume 20, no. 4 in September 1963. Online access is available via both JSTOR and HathiTrust. In addition to publishing lists of the most outstanding annual purchases and division activities (previously covered in the Annual Reports), the Quarterly Journal featured substantive articles on selective topics: e.g., Richard S. Hill’s essay summarizing our auction results from the sale of Baron Horace Landau’s collection is invaluable, categorically analyzing the quality and quantity of each part of this acquisition. (Vol. 7, no. 4, Aug., 1950, pp. 11-21). A total of 22 early anthologies were among the Landau purchase: those of note include a 1601 Vincenti edition of Archadelt’s famous Il primo libro de madrigali a quattro voci, several rare books of tablature by Borrono, Becchi, and Francesco da Milano, etc., and the eight-volume anthology series Cantionum Sacrarum, published by Pierre Phalèse.

The Library of Congress Archive/ Order Division Records

The Library of Congress Archives are the collected records of the Library of Congress. Beginning in 1897, with the establishment of a separate department for manuscript materials, letterbooks, borrowing ledgers, and other documentary material from offices throughout the Library have been transferred to and made available in the Manuscript Division's reading room. One portion of this archive contains the records of the Order Division and the Exchange and Gift Division that document acquisitions by purchase, donation, and transfer from the 1890s to the mid-20th century. An individual purchase order record can provide useful information about an item’s provenance, including the following:

  • The date of purchase
  • The seller or dealer’s name and address
  • A dealer’s catalog number that lists/advertises the item
  • Information about former owners
  • Information about copyists, when applicable
  • A list of other materials that were part of the same purchase

For more information on how to access information from the Library of Congress Archives, please contact us through Ask-A-Librarian.