Music Library Collections

Introduction and Overview

The Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University is one of the largest collections of music scores, sound recordings, and music research materials in the United States. As such, the Music Library reflects the centrality of musical performance and scholarship to the University throughout its history. The library holds a wealth of printed, recorded, online, manuscript, and microform materials for the performance and study of music.  These include approximately 100,000 scores and parts; 70,000 books about music; 35,000 LP recordings and compact discs; and 425 active subscriptions to music periodicals.  Ebooks and online databases of articles (citations and full-text), books, scores, sound recordings (streaming audio), and video recordings (streaming video) allow Yale students and faculty to access materials from anywhere in the world, 24/7.  Among the strengths of the Music Library collections are complete runs of nearly every available monumental set and composer's collected editions, and an extensive reference collection of encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, composer thematic catalogs, library catalogs, and discographies, including online reference resources.  Hundreds of published facsimiles that recreate the appearance of early editions and important manuscripts, such as the Squarcialupi Codex and the Chansonnier of Jean de Montchenu, form another rich collection that enhances our understanding of the compositional process and physical forms in which music was made available during earlier periods.

Amplifying the Music Library's circulating, periodical, and reference collections are the Special Collections of rare editions, single manuscripts, and archival collections, as well as the American Musical Theatre Collectionthe Historical Sound Recordings Collection, and the Oral History of American Music.  The special collections include 11,600 microforms of manuscripts, scores, books, dissertations, library catalogs, manuscripts, periodicals, and scores; 45,000 pieces of sheet music; 95,000 photographs; 4,000 linear feet of archival materials; 560 individual music manuscripts not forming a portion of a larger collection; more than 160,000 historic sound recordings; and thousands of audio and video interviews. Music also forms an important part of other collections at Yale.

History of the Music Library

The commitment to music manifested itself in the University Library before 1850, by which time the Library had already begun acquiring important European publications of music scores and periodicals. The bequest of Lowell Mason's private library in 1873 increased the University's holdings in music by an additional 10,000 items and added to the Library numerous manuscript scores and early printed writings about music.

In 1902 a small music collection was created in the Department of Music, where it was housed in a single room. In 1917, with the construction of Sprague Memorial Hall, the Department's music collection was moved to a well-appointed room in the new building. At the same time, music materials were collected from the University Library and combined with the Department's holdings to form one large music collection. The Music Library continued to grow, and when the Yale School of Music obtained new quarters in the early 1950s, the Music Library expanded to fill the first floor, basement, and portions of the upper floors of Sprague Hall. Once again too large for its surroundings, the Music Library moved in 1998 to a new facility constructed in a courtyard of Sterling Memorial Library and named for Irving S. Gilmore (Yale '23). At the same time the Historical Sound Recordings and American Musical Theatre collections moved into the Music Library.

Music Library Special Collections

The Music Library's Special Collections provide students and researchers with a world-class collection of primary source material in music, including manuscripts, archives and personal papers, and rare editions.  The special collections are cataloged in Orbis, the card catalogs, and the Finding Aid Database.  Most of the collections are housed off-campus and require one to two business days for retrieval.  Students and researchers should make appointments in advance to study the collections. 

Rare books, scores, and periodicals

The Special Collections include an extensive collection of historical treatises on music theory and early publications of opera scores and chamber music.  A few are housed in the Beinecke Library, may be paged through Orbis, and studied in the Beinecke by appointment. Find out more here...

Single Manuscripts

Individual manuscript holdings include autograph manuscripts of J. S. Bach, Alban Berg, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Duke Ellington, Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Jean Sibelius, Igor Stravinsky, and Yale composers.  Some of the most special are housed in the Beinecke Library, may be requested through Orbis, and may be studied in the Beinecke  Library by appointment. Find out more here...

Archival collections

Archival holdings include the complete papers and archives of American composers such as Charles Ives, Horatio Parker, Carl Ruggles, Virgil Thomson, Leo Ornstein, Henry Gilbert, and Deems Taylor.  Collections pertaining to Germany between the World Wars include the papers and collections of Paul Bekker, Franz Schreker, Karl Weigl. Yale composers and faculty are represented by the collections of Horatio Parker, Quincy Porter, Richard Donovan, Marshall Bartholomew and Fenno Heath. Other collections include those of E. Robert Schmitz, Vladimir Horowitz, Robert Shaw, and Benny Goodman. A special collection focuses on Paul Hindemith's American years, and thousands of photographs of classical and jazz musicians are contained in the archives of Fred and Rose Plaut and Stanley and Helen Oakley Dance. For brief descriptions of the archival collections please see the Archival Papers Checklist.  

American Musical Theatre Collection

The American Musical Theatre Collection (AMTC) contains scores, sheet music, manuscripts, books, memorabilia, and recordings.  Founded by Robert Barlow in the 1950s, the AMTC was placed under the purview of the Historical Sound Recordings (HSR) Curator in the mid-1960s.  By then it included archival collections for Cole Porter, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, and The South Before the War Company. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of archival collections and manuscripts pertaining to musical theatre figures were given to the Music Library.  These included the papers of Lehman Engel, Goddard Lieberson, Harold Rome, Kay Swift, and Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya. Since 2013 the AMTC collections have been integrated:  paper-based materials may be requested through the Music Library Special Collections staff and recordings by appointment with the HSR Curator.  

Historical Sound Recordings Collection

The purpose of the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings (HSR) is to collect, preserve, and make available for study historical recordings of performers important in the fields of Western classical music, jazz, American musical theater, drama, literature, and history (including oratory).  The collection, founded by Mr. and Mrs. Laurence C. Witten II with their collection of early vocal recordings devoted to styles and practices of nineteenth-century singing, considered among the finest of such collections, has been extended into other subjects areas mentioned.  The recordings in HSR now number over 160,000, in a variety of formats.   They document performance practice from the beginning of the recording era (ca. 1890) to the present day.  The Collection holds a large library of printed materials and microforms which provide information about composers, performers, and the recording industry and include discographical data useful for locating and dating recordings.  The books have been cataloged in Orbis.  Staff-accessible finding aids have been prepared for many of the recordings. Beginning in 2006 with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, HSR and sound archives at New York Public Library and Stanford University undertook to provide full-level cataloging of 78-rpm (pre-LP) recordings. For more information on the project, along with links labels cataloged and selected recordings, see Unlocking Historical Sound Recordings.  Researchers should arrange appointments with the curator for interviews concerning their needs for service. 

Oral History of American Music

Oral History of American Music (OHAM) collects and preserves audio and video memoirs directly in the voices of major musical figures of our time.  Since its founding in the 1960s, OHAM has been dedicated to preserving the sound of artists’ voices and making this primary source material available to the public.   Staff conduct and record in-depth interviews that are catalogued, transcribed, and kept at the archive.  At OHAM, thousands of recordings and transcripts are accessible to a wide range of users including scholars, musicians, students, arts organizations, and the media.  Primary series focus on Major Figures in American Music, Charles Ives, Paul Hindemith, Duke Ellington, the Steinway Piano Company, and Yale Student Composers.  OHAM has also acquired collections of interviews gathered by others.

Other Music Collections at Yale

The holdings of the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library are complemented by other collections in the Yale Library and museums.

Collections in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, include medieval and Renaissance music manuscripts, such as the spectacular Mellon Chansonnier, important examples of early American music such as the ninth edition of the Bay Psalm Book (1698), and notable theoretical treatises.  Collections with significant music manuscripts include the Frederick R. Koch Collection (see, for example, the William Walton Online Archive), the Speck Collection of Goethiana, the Yale Collection of American Literature, and the Osborn Collection. 

The Divinity Library holds a large collection of hymnals as well as archival collections that relate to the use of music in Christian missionary activities throughout the world.

The Manuscripts and Archives Department (MSSA) holds collections of sheet music pertaining to Yale or other historical events, such as World War I.  Music forms a important component in the personal papers of individuals, for example, Luther Noss and Joel Sumner Smith. The archival records of Yale departments, schools, clubs, and organizations, including the School of Music, Department of Music, the Glee Club, and the Whiffenpoofs, also form part of MSSA’s collections.

Student songs and popular or folk music collections, often in the vernacular languages and parts of the world covered by the International Collections, are housed in Sterling Memorial Library.  Periodical literature, CDs, and DVDs, also form part of the collections.

The Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments contains nearly 1,000 instruments of which the majority document the history of Western art music.