Score of Handel's Giulio Cesare. Printed in London in 1724.

Rare Music Collection on display at University

23 May 2016

First editions of works by Handel and Mozart and recordings of traditional Indigenous music-making are among a varied and intriguing exhibition of 18th and 19th century European music printing and Australian materials at the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library.

Image of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's vocal score of Clemenza di Tito. 1795

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's vocal score of Clemenza di Tito, 1795. Image: Fisher Rare Books & Special Collections.

Drawn from the University’s Rare Music Collection, formerly held at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Library, Striking Chords showcases over 40 historic musical gems and demonstrates the scholarship the works inspire.

London was a major centre of music publishing in the 18th century, and English editions strongly feature in the Western classical printed music section of the exhibition.

First and early editions of works by G. F. Handel dating from the 1720s to 1760s are on display, as well as a first edition vocal score of Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito (c. 1795) and an almost complete series of early Mozart piano concerto editions still in the publisher’s decorative wrappers (c. 1800-1806). 

“While interesting in their own right, the materials also reveal how musical works were disseminated, performed and enjoyed by audiences around the time and place of their production,” says exhibition curator Fiona Berry, Digitisation Projects Assistant in the University of Sydney’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

Cover of bound album of vocal music, Stephen Glover's The Australian Emigrant; or England, I call thee Mother. 1855.

Bound album of Stephen Glover's The Australian Emigrant or England, I call thee Mother. 1855. Image: Fisher Rare Books & Special Collections.

Meanwhile, the Australian section highlights the development of musical culture in Australia during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Works from two acclaimed Australian composers who feature prominently in the Conservatorium’s history are presented: Raymond Hanson and Alfred Hill.

Materials include the only manuscript in the southern hemisphere of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, recently discovered in the collection by a musicology student. Visitors will be able to virtually ‘turn the pages’ of the manuscript and watch and listen to a film of the score’s premiere performance by the Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra and Choir in 2014.

Album cover of vinyl recording 'Songs from the Kimberleys', recorded and edited by Alice M. Moyle. 1977

Album cover of vinyl recording 'Songs from the Kimberleys', recorded and edited by Alice M. Moyle, 1977. Image: Fisher Rare Books & Special Collections.

Significant vinyl recordings of traditional music-making in Indigenous communities across Australia throughout the 20th century also feature in the collection. 

“Important for their content, these recordings also demonstrate approaches to documenting Indigenous musical traditions during a period of considerable social and political change around Indigenous rights and policy,” said Ms Berry, an alumnus of the Conservatorium. 

Albums of sheet music likely brought to Australia by European emigrants in the 19th century are also on display.

“Many were used for home music making and owners continued to add to their private collections with Australian music, often bound alongside older European examples,” Ms Berry said.

The materials remain the subject of current research by undergraduate Musicology students, and are particularly precious given their lucky escape from a fire at the Conservatorium in 2014.

Event Details

What: Striking Chords: Sounds and stories from the Rare Music collection exhibition

When: The exhibition will run until 30 November 2016.

Where: Rare Books & Special Collections Reading Room, Level 1, Fisher Library, University of Sydney

Hours: 9.30am – 4.30pm, Monday – Friday (closed weekends and public holidays)

Cost: Free

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