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About the Music Library & Collections: History

"The Berkeley Music Library at 50"

John H. Roberts, from Bene Legere, No. 51 (Fall 1998)

To say that in 1997 the Berkeley Music Library reached fifty years of age may seem to claim at once too little and too much. Too little because when the Music Library was officially inaugurated on July 1, 1947, the University had already been collecting musical publications for many years, most of the books and printed music being housed in the main campus library, while a smaller collection, including sound recordings, was kept in the cramped quarters inhabited by the Department of Music. Too much because it would be another ten years before the collections and staff of the Music Library could finally be brought together in Morrison Hall. The year 1947 is of great significance nonetheless, for it was then that the Berkeley library system for the first time appointed a specialist to oversee the development of collections and services in music, and the person chosen for that role happened to be an extraordinary individual who over the next two decades transformed a patchy provincial library into one of the foremost collections of its kind in the United States. His name was Vincent H. Duckles.

A musicologist by training—he was still working on his Ph.D. dissertation at Berkeley at the time of his appointment—Duckles was also a learned bookman, versatile musician, and dedicated teacher. As an adjunct to his famous course "Introduction to Music Scholarship" he developed a general bibliography of reference sources in music that, as revised by Michael Keller and later by Ida Reed, has remained one of the cornerstones of the literature. His greatest accomplishment, however, lay in building the collection of the Music Library. This was, to begin with, a matter of painstakingly assembling the resources needed to support a graduate program in music scholarship, a process requiring encyclopedic knowledge as well as a lot of hard work. But in the end Duckles went far beyond purchasing the standard tools of the scholarly trade and created an extraordinary storehouse of rare books and manuscripts that has enriched the lives of generations of students and faculty and drawn scholars from around the world.

Critical early acquisitions were the personal libraries of two eminent German musicologists, Manfred Bukofzer (who taught at Berkeley from 1941 to 1955) and Alfred Einstein. The Einstein collection in particular brought to the library many classic texts of music theory and musicology, along with Einstein's voluminous working papers and hundreds of letters from such eminent figures as Bela Bartok, Thomas Mann, and his cousin Albert Einstein. In order to address a perceived weakness in the field of opera, the Music Library purchased two major collections of vocal scores, one put together by an Italian count in the late nineteenth century and known by the name of its later owner, Harris DeHaven Connick, the other the pride and joy of Sigmund Romberg, composer of The Desert Song and The Student Prince. Together these collections made Berkeley's holdings in dramatic music among the largest in the country, establishing a strength on which Duckles and his successors would continue to build in the years that followed.

Once the Music Library had been stocked with the basic repertory of performance and research materials Duckles turned his attention toward building a collection of primary sources. From his teacher Bukofzer he had inherited a belief in the importance of giving graduate students in music history an opportunity to work directly with original documents rather than making do with photographic copies and modern editions. In the mid-1950s the Music Library already had some extraordinary treasures, including the autograph score of Stravinsky's ballet Orpheus and an eleventh-century chant manuscript from the fabled Wolffheim Collection. Now Duckles began systematically to buy rare books and manuscripts covering a wide spectrum of faculty interests. The limited allocations available from state funds would not have permitted such an effort, but fortunately around this time the University received a bequest that allowed it (prompted, one suspects, by Bukofzer or Duckles) to establish an endowment for purchasing rare library materials in music. It is interesting to note that the money came indirectly from Elizabeth Patterson Mitchell, who had also endowed the Music Department's premier composition fellowship, the Ladd Prix de Paris in 1915.

In 1955, the university entered into negotiations to buy the precious music collection of the Florentine publisher Aldo Olschski. If in the end Olschski withheld his greatest prize, the so-called Medici Codex (which eventually ended up, fittingly enough, in the library that Michaelangelo designed for Lorenzo the Magnificent), the Music Library did acquire the rest of the collection, including a rich array of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions and more than two hundred manuscripts. Even more noteworthy was the purchase in 1958 of more than a thousand manuscripts of eighteenth-century string music by Giuseppe Tartini and his school of composers centered in Padua. This was one of Duckles's greatest collecting coups. On leave in Germany he learned that this collection had just come to light in Florence, hurried south, and secured the manuscripts for Berkeley at a very advantageous price before other potential buyers were even aware of their existence.

By this time the Music Library had moved into its new home in Morrison Hall. Compared to what the library had endured in years past there was an abundance of space, with stacks no more than half full, twelve study carrels (now gone), and a beautiful reading room looking out onto Faculty Glade (no overflow shelving blocking the view as in recent years). Above all it was a relief to all concerned to have the whole collection in one place at last, together with its staff. At that moment no American university music library was more comfortably or attractively housed.

In addition to Duckles, the Music Library was fortunate in having a number of other talented librarians on its staff during these early years. Harriet Nicewonger, who began work as a music reference librarian in 1947, brightened the scene for all who knew her until her retirement in 1970. Minne Elmer and John Emerson published book catalogues of the library's manuscript collections, and Ann Basart founded and edited the newsletter Cum Notis Variorum, that became a leading voice in the field of music librarianship with subscribers around the world. Others, like catalogers Addie Smith, Naomi Held, and Margaret Herman, worked behind the scenes performing tasks no less essential for delivering good library service.

The decade or so after the move to Morrison was the heyday of Duckles's antiquarian collecting. Extraordinary treasures could still be had for comparatively modest sums, and he was adept at finding desirable things to buy and laying hands on the money to pay for them. The already impressive holdings in opera were enriched by two large collections of Italian librettos, many dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by the dramatic music section of Alfred Cortot's library, one of the great private collections of the century. Other outstanding additions included autograph manuscripts of the astronomer William Herschel, who was also an accomplished composer, a leaf from one of Beethoven's sketchbooks, a fourteenth-century theory treatise, an unknown piano piece by Brahms, and the Parville manuscript, a central source of the music of Louis Couperin. One manuscript that attracted little attention when it came to the library in 1959 later turned out to be one of its most valuable possessions. Lacking any indication of title or composer, it was identified only in 1989 as the sole surviving score of Alessandro Scarlatti's opera L'Aldimiro of 1683. A staged performance in the 1994 Berkeley Festival revealed it as an early masterpiece of this important composer and gave many Berkeley students a chance to participate in a major historical re-creation.

Gradually too the Music Library was becoming a major repository of archives relating to the history of music in the Bay Area. Today it holds autograph scores of Sir Arthur Bliss, Ernest Bloch, Charles Cushing, Luigi Dallapiccola, William Denny, Albert Elkus, Arnold Elston, Darius Milhaud, Roger Nixon, Roger Sessions, and Randall Thompson, among others. There are countless Bloch letters, the files of the WPA's California Folk Music Project, and a silver laurel wreath presented to Madame Inez Fabbri, prima donna of San Francisco opera in the 1870s. Often these collections have ramifications extending well beyond the boundaries of California. Along with the papers of Catherine Urner, a gifted composer who won the first Ladd Prize in 1921, the library received many autograph manuscripts of the French composer Charles Koechlin, her mentor and close friend.

In 1981 Duckles was succeeded by Michael Keller, who led the Music Library through a period of needed change. The space in Morrison was extensively remodelled, new security systems were installed, and the library began the long process (since completed) of converting the card catalogue to digital form. After Keller's departure in 1986 on a career path that would lead several years later to his appointment as University Librarian at Stanford, I took over as head.

More than a decade before my arrival it had become apparent that the collections of the Music Library had outgrown the available space. The stacks were completely full, and more and more of the collection was being shipped to remote storage. Although a detailed program for a major expansion of Morrison Hall was drawn up as early as 1979, it was not until the 1990s that fundraising began in earnest as part of Cal's Campaign for the New Century. Plans now call for an entirely new Music Library located on the south side of Morrison, opposite Wurster Hall. It will bear the name of Jean Gray Hargrove, Music '35, whose overwhelmingly generous support has been indispensable to making this long-held dream a reality. More than half again as large as the present Music Library, the new building will be equipped with improved climate and security controls to protect the rich special collections from damage and theft and outfitted with the full panoply of technology required to access digital information of all kinds in any part of the world.

While looking forward to this new facility the Music Library has continued to expand and enhance its collection and services. This has been possible in a time of stringent budgets only because of the generosity of numerous donors. Evelyn Chambers established a splendid endowment for the purchase of rare music materials in honor of her mother Laura Macdonald. A gift from Robert Haas financed the development of an innovative system for music course reserves, in which the assigned selections are stored in digital form on a central server, and students can listen to them simply by clicking on the title displayed on a computer screen. Emmy Altmann created a fund in memory of her husband Ludwig Altmann, as well as giving us his huge collection of organ music. Professor Daniel Heartz, Dean Anthony Newcomb, and Jane Galante have also made extraordinary contributions in aid of our collections, and many friends of the library helped us buy portions of an extraordinary French opera collection in 1994. With the continuing support of such generous benefactors there is every reason to believe that as it heads in the twenty-first century the Music Library will be able to maintain and build upon the distinguished tradition of the last fifty years.

About the Author

John H. Roberts returned to Berkeley, after receiving his doctorate here, as Professor of Music and Head of the Music Library—a joint position expressing the essential role of the Library in the UCB teaching program. Following the footsteps of his teacher Vincent Duckles, though operating with much smaller budgets, John has added remarkably to the Library's collection of rare materials. He is a leading authority on the music of Handel.


For a more detailed discussion see John H. Roberts, "The Music Library, University of California, Berkeley," The Library Quarterly 64, 1 (January 1994): 73-84. UC Berkeley Access Only