Tufts Libraries: Music in All Its Forms

At the Lilly Music Library, pick from scores and books, show tunes and the Velvet Underground
The entrance to the Lilly Music Library
The entrance to the Lilly Music Library.
April 17, 2019

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Ray Bradbury once said in an interview, “Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.” For a series on libraries at the university, we’ve asked the librarians at Tufts’ many libraries to tell us about their collections—their most unusual items and best-kept secrets. Read about Tisch Library, Ginn Library, the SMFA Library, the Webster Family Library, the Hirsh Health Sciences Library, and Digital Collections and Archives, too.

At the Lilly Music Library, in the Granoff Music Center, Michael J. Rogan, head of the library, did a deep dive into the collection to fill us in.

Focus of the collection. Music, including books about music, musical scores (scholarly, study, and performance), music periodicals, and sound recordings (primarily LPs and CDs these days). These materials not only support the Department of Music and other courses in the curriculum that use music, such as in anthropology or psychology, but also recreational use of the collections by students and faculty who play musical instruments or enjoy listening to music from many different cultures and eras.

Oldest item in the collection. Truly historical items get moved to Special Collections. There is a Special Collection in Music—the Frédéric Louis Ritter Collection—which you can read more about here. As a Special Collection, it is of course housed in temperature and humidity controlled environmental conditions in the Special Collections storage area on Tisch level one. The oldest items in the Ritter Collection are probably the sixteenth-century treatises by Gioseffo Zarlino da Chioggia: Le Istitutione Harmoniche (1558) and Dimostrationi Harmoniche (1571).

Most requested/checked out items in collection: Since Lilly is responsible for multiple formats, I need to give you multiple answers. Book: Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, by Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin (who incidentally were teachers of mine when I was a grad student at Columbia University). This book is popular among music majors, as well as frequently placed on reserve, so its status is no surprise. Score: Complete preludes and études-tableaux [for piano], by Serge Rachmaninoff. This score contains the immensely popular Prelude in c# minor. Compact Disc: The Velvet Underground & Nico (songs by Lou Reed, produced by Andy Warhol). Originally released March 1967, CD re-release 1996.

Most unusual/unique/strange item in collection. The “1-bit symphony” by Tristan Perich, a five-movement symphony for electronic sounds that has been programmed onto a computer chip. When a user turns on the device, a processor transforms the program into sounds that can be heard through headphones.

Best-kept secret in the collection. We keep no secrets in the music library, but perhaps what some students may not realize is that our collection of facsimiles—definition: an exact copy, a reproduction of an early print or manuscript of historical importance—may be studied in the Lilly Library. This includes such treasures as the Chansonnier Cordiforme de Jean de Montchenu (France, ca. 1460-1477), Las cantigas de Santa María: Códice rico of Alfonso X (Spain, ca. 1280-1284), or Der Codex Gisle, Gisela von Kerssenbrock (Germany, ca. 1300).

Most interesting new addition to the collection. We received a donation of LP recordings—more than 800, dating from the 1950s through the 1980s—from a collector/dealer who specialized in, among other things, show music, such as musical theater performances from Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, and elsewhere around the world, including film versions of stage musicals. The gift was made by Philip J. Rogoff and Susan L. Berger, of New York City. In addition to famous productions, the collection includes lesser-known cast revivals, foreign productions, little-known shows that had short runs, and other unique musical theater events that offers rare opportunities for research. The cataloging of such a large collection will take a couple of years, but the material will be available for use in the Lilly Library.