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Books on music

Because the University Library has been receiving many books as part of legal deposit arrangements, and due to a long tradition of buying extensively from abroad the collection of books about music is both large and comprehensive. 

Early printed music

The Library's extensive holdings of early editions include several musical incunabula (pre-1501) and collections of 16th- and 17th-century sources of polyphonic music which have been much enhanced by generous benefactions. Two important collections are the F.T. Arnold Bequest of 18th-century instrumental music and treatises relating to the history of the thorough-bass, and the Marion Scott Bequest of early editions of Haydn. These research collections continue to grow by gift and purchase.

Printed music

The collection of printed music is one of the largest in the country. Under the provisions of the various Copyright Acts since 1709 the Library has a right to receive all music published in the British Isles. However it was not until the 1780's that music publishers first began with some consistency to enter their editions at the Stationers' Hall, the mechanism through which copyright was registered and deposit with the copyright libraries organised. During the nineteenth century more and more music was received and by 1850 a large quantity of both popular and serious music was held.

In 1853 a separate music section was established. Music regarded as of primary importance was bound and given the shelf class number `Mus', the secondary material (including popular songs, music for teaching, sets of parts for orchestra and wind band) was kept unbound in boxes numbered by year of receipt.

The music section was further expanded to include music literature in 1934 with the introduction of the present open access classification (M200-M834). At this time books on music which had been placed in other classes were transferred to the music department.

The acquisition of foreign-published music has been carried out systematically only since the 1970's, since when much has been done to fill lacunae in many areas.

Sound recordings

The Library does not have an extensive collection of sound recordings, and does not receive them under the Copyright Act. There are, however, small collections of 78, 45 and 33rpm discs and CDs acquired by bequest and donation. There is a larger collection of cassettes of music transcribed from disc of a broad range of classical repertoire, and the Booth Collection includes over 300 CDs of twentieth century music. Some music archives contain unique sound recordings.

There are also many cassettes acquired in association with published books on non-musical subjects. These are not available for loan but may be fetched and listened to in the Anderson Room.

University Library music manuscripts and archives

The library holds a number of music archives of British composers, music scholars and perfomers. They are held either at the Music or the Manuscripts department. There are three main areas of information relating to music manuscripts and archives:

Manuscript music

The collection of music manuscripts is not extensive but contains a number of significant items. Among the many medieval liturgical manuscripts are important sources for English plainsong (for example the Sarum Antiphoner). From the early 17th century there are several volumes of lute and broken consort music. There are also collections of autograph music by James Hook, Alan Gray, C.B. Rootham, Peter Warlock and other composers, many of which have a Cambridge connection. The musical manuscripts of Ely Cathedral and several colleges are held on deposit.

Cambridge theses and musical exercises

All unpublished theses and musical exercises for Cambridge degrees should be asked for in the Manuscripts Reading Room, where catalogues of this material are kept. Post-1970, these are in the online catalogue. More information is available on the Manuscripts Department page

Concert programmes

The music department holds a wide range of concert programmes. Some of these are part of our composer, performer or scholar archives, but there are also many other collections. Details can be found of the Concert Programmes database.

Ebooks, ejournals and eresources for music

Ebooks on music can be accessed through iDiscover. More information is available on the ebooks LibGuide.

Ejournals and eresources can be accessed through iDiscover, the eresources LibGuide or the Music LibGuide.


There are a large number of British musical publications in the series of microfilms Early English books 1475-1640Early English books 1641-1700 and The Eighteenth century; indexes of these series are available in the Rare Books Reading Room. Microforms of manuscripts should be ordered in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Several important bibliographies on microfiche are kept in the Anderson Room, such as the BBC Popular Song Index and the catalogue of music in the Bibliothèque nationale (Paris).


The Library acquires a very large number of music periodicals which can be found in various locations. The best way to explore what is available in print or online is through iDiscover