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To assure a more systematic development of the newly-reorganized Music Division’s collections, a new set of collection guidelines was established in 1902: opera immediately received a considerable share of attention because, “the peculiar condition of opera in the United States seemed to demand that a center of reference and research be created for the students of opera.” [Oscar Sonneck, Dramatic Music: Catalogue of Full Scores. Washington, DC: 1908, p. 3]. Accordingly, multiple “want lists” were compiled. When it was determined, however, that hundreds of operas included on the lists of desiderata were unprocurable in either manuscript or print versions, the option of contracting copyists to generate transcripts of the rare originals was explored. Music Division chief Oscar G. T. Sonneck (1873-1928) led efforts to identify the locations of institutions that held exact versions or editions of interest, and then to negotiate copying permissions, costs, and terms. Sonneck's work was bolstered by the full support and assistance of Herbert Putnam (1861-1955), then the Librarian of Congress, as well as counsel from Prof. Dr. Hermann Kretzschmar (1848-1924), one of the most distinguished German music historians of his time. It was the goal of these visionaries to organically “build up, as it were, a museum of operatic history. . . a comprehensive, representative collection of opera scores” held only in foreign libraries that would ultimately be made available to American music scholars and performers in their own country. [Oscar Sonneck, Catalogue of Opera Librettos. Washington, DC: 1914, p. 4-5]
Also crucial in this effort were European booksellers from Germany (Leo Liepmannssohn), France (Jean Terquem), Great Britain (B. F. Stevens and Brown), and the Italian publisher G. Ricordi who assisted the Library over the course of the project. These four agents assumed responsibility for hiring the best professional copyists available, among them Vienna’s William Kupfer, primary amanuensis to Johannes Brahms in the 1880s; on occasion, they also served as collaborators in researching the locations for some of the most elusive musical scores.
Sonneck’s reliance upon the advice and expertise of opera historian and collector Albert Schatz (1839-1910) of Rostock, Germany should not be underestimated: Schatz’s encyclopedic knowledge, his so-called “colossal chronological statistics of operas” as well as his unpublished dictionary of opera containing names of composers, authors, dates, and places of first performances were, according to Sonneck, “painstaking and valuable, indeed invaluable.” In the preface to his libretto catalog, Sonneck distinguishes Schatz’s research as the most current and comprehensive:
. . . I felt methodically justified in accepting without question his data instead of those of his predecessors, because Mr. Schatz had worked his way through practically all the available standard dictionaries, catalogues, bibliographies, etc., of his time, such as those by Groppo, Allacci, Wotquenne, Wiel, Piovano, von Wielen, Parke, Baker, Grove, Partaict, Clément and Larousse, Fétis, Goedicke, Riemann, Salvioli, and possibly Eitner, besides many biographies and purely historical works. [Oscar Sonneck, Catalogue of Opera Librettos. Washington, DC: 1914, p. 11]
Multiple obstacles surfaced throughout the project resulting in long delays and procedural modifications, prompting the need for enhanced social networking and diplomatic savvy; in some instances, some obstacles proved unsolvable. World War I brought the project to a standstill for several years and added pressure to already strained working relationships. Correspondence sent from Florence, Italy documents prolonged post-war-related setbacks:
I cannot send you the copyists [sic] rates, because it is difficult to find, in the present conditions, able persons making transcripts of ancient music at the cost of a photographic reproduction. As I have already observed, nobody would be responsible for its faithfulness and correction. [G. Biagi to H. Putnam: Florence, 2nd September 1921]