University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Sibley Music Library

Volume I  ·  February 1946  ·  Number 2
The Sibley Music Library

When Elbert Newton suggested to Hiram W. Sibley more than forty years ago that a well-chosen collection of music and books would be of great value to the young musicians of Rochester, he little dreamed that he was laying the foundation for what has become one of the most important music libraries in the country; nor was his thought an entirely altruistic one. If the idea appealed to Mr. Sibley, someone would have to be given the task of assembling such a collection - and what more natural than that he should choose Mr. Newton for it? So to New York went Mr. Newton with a generous sum of money, and what a great deal of fun he must have had buying the material which formed the nucleus of the new library! Himself a musician, for a number of years an organist in Rochester, Mr. Newton had a keen interest in "modern" music, literature, and art. So he bought widely of what at the turn of the century was the strange and new creation of composers known only to the few: Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Wolf, Reger, Malipiero, and Respighi.

The collection was housed in Sibley Hall on the Arts College campus and used by a relatively small group of people. When Mr. Eastman established the Music School, it seemed that the logical place for the collection was in the building which was being erected to house the school. The building was nearing completion and no provision had been made for the library. It was expected that the students would run to the Arts College campus when they needed to use the library, as they were to do for their classes in the academic subjects. Donald Gilchrist, University Librarian, with vision and understanding insisted that such an arrangement was not practical. What was to be done? President Rhees was in Europe and Mr. Gilchrist had no authority to make a decision. Finally the architects solved the problem. They made some tentative sketches, invited Mr. Sibley (whose office was nearby in what was then the Sibley Building on Main Street) to come across the hall one morning at the hour when Mr. Eastman was accustomed to make his daily visit to the architects' offices, and the whole matter was settled in ten minutes. There had been doubts in some minds that Mr. Sibley would wish to have the library bearing his name engulfed by the Eastman School, and on the other hand that Mr. Eastman would care to have the collection bearing another benefactor's name placed in the new school. Fortunately those doubts were completely dispelled. So, in the southeast corner of the first floor, book stacks, a reading room, librarian's office, and work room were arranged.

In January, 1922, the collection was moved from the Arts College campus and a new era began for the Sibley Music Library. From the moment it was moved into the Eastman School building, it was administered with funds from the Eastman School endowment which included a generous appropriation for music, books, and binding. I was lured from my home in Boston by President Rhees and Mr. Gilchrist in June, 1922, to become the librarian of the collection, with promises of a free hand, plenty of money to spend, and plenty of assistance. I shall never cease to be grateful to both of them for keeping their promises.

Mr. Sibley made his final contribution to the library, the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in 1925. My idea was to keep the amount as a fund and spend only the income, which in those affluent days could be counted upon to amount to about twenty-five hundred dollars a year. Mr. Sibley, however, kept urging me to spend the whole sum, saying, "There is more where that came from." So with urgent prodding I began to spend. Mr. Sibley sent me to Europe in 1929-1930 and in 1931 and there I bought widely and advantageously. In retrospect I realize how fortunate it was that the money was spent at that time, for the rates of exchange were tremendously in our favor and, because of the post-war conditions, material was coming into the market that would not ordinarily be available. Rare music and books have been offered to us the last few years at from six to eight times what we paid for the same items ten or fifteen years ago.

In June, 1929, I attended the sale of the second portion of the library of Dr. Werner Wolffheim in Berlin. As I started out on my trip, Mr. Sibley said, "Buy something that we can talk about!" So as Item No. 1 in the catalogue seemed to answer that description, we bought it. "It" was a codex written in the eleventh century in southern Germany, probably at the convent of Reichenau, consisting of treatises on the arts of the Middle Ages, which, of course, included music. Johannes Wolf was bidding for the Prussian State Library and I shall never forget the expression on his face as the precious volume was knocked down to us and he leaned out and looked down the table at me reproachfully. I felt a little ashamed to think that just because we had more money than he had at his disposal the codex was going to leave its native land. Subsequent happenings in Germany, however, have made me realize that it was probably very fortunate that we did buy it. Who knows, Hitler might have discovered that Hermannus Contractus, the author of one of the musical treatises in the codex, was a Jew! - after all, the name of Pietro Aaron, the Florentine monk of the sixteenth century, is included in a list of Jewish musicians published recently in Germany.

It had been expected that Dr. Wolffheim would leave his entire collection to the Prussian State Library, but the inflation period made it necessary for him to sell it. It had actually been deposited in the library for a time, and it must have been hard for Professor Wolf to see the precious collection taken away from his domain and put under the hammer. An attempt was made to sell the collection in its entirety to various libraries in this country for the sum of two hundred thousand dollars, without success. When it was finally auctioned in 1928-1929, it brought more than a million dollars. While we were attending the Wolffheim sale, we were able to acquire several other important items from other sources in Berlin, notably a collection of sixty manuscript leaves from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries collected by Oskar Fleischer, author of several works on musical notation, and thirty-five volumes of manuscript transcriptions of material in European libraries which he made in connection with his studies. Holographs of Brahms' Regenlied and of the first draft of the orchestral score of Debussy's La Mer, Masses by Josquin des Pres printed in 1516 by the famous Italian printer, Ottaviano dei Petrucci, were secured.

In the relatively short space of twenty-three years the Sibley Music Library has grown more rapidly than any other music collection in the country, until it probably ranks second only to the Music Division of the Library of Congress in importance in the country. It has been developed along the lines of the particular needs of the Eastman School of Music: here are the complete and authoritative editions of the works of the great composers, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Palestrina, Purcell, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, and others; and the various historical anthologies, such as the Denkmaler Deutscher Tonkunst, the Denkmaler der Tonkunst in Oesterreich, the Musical Antiquarian Society publications, and the Editions de l'Oiseau Lyre. Extensive collections of material on theory, history, biography, criticism, folk song, orchestral music, chamber music, opera, oratorio, music for individual instruments and voice are here. The collection of works on musical theory, covering the period from about 1060 to the present day, is unequalled in any other library in the country.

Important additions to the library have come from several musicians' and musicologists' collections, the most important one being some three thousand volumes of literature on French music and musicians from the library of Arthur Pougin, author of many books and editor for a long period of the musical journal Le Menestrel. Many of them are bound in beautiful French calf bindings and many are autographed presentation copies to Pougin from his colleagues. Valuable historical material came from Oscar G. T. Sonneck's collection, autograph letters and scores from Arthur Hartmann's collection, scores from Carl Busch's library, books from Ferruccio Busoni's library, rare editions of Wagner's operas from Ethelbert Nevin's collection.

When the collection was moved from the Arts College to the Eastman School of Music, a bronze tablet was placed just inside the door to the library, on which was inscribed: "This musical library, given by Hiram W. Sibley, is for the use of all music lovers in Rochester." Mr. Sibley made no stipulation concerning the use of the library by the public when he established it, but the University allowed all who applied to borrow books. After the library was moved to the Eastman School, the practice was continued, although at the present time it can be said that fully three-fourths of the collection has been bought with Eastman funds, and the very important part of Mr. Sibley's original gift that remains has become much too valuable to circulate freely. On January 21, 1942, the Board of Managers of the School, with the approval of the President of the University and the President of the Board of Trustees, voted to withdraw from the public the privilege of borrowing books and music. Non-members of the University might use anything within the building, but only the faculty and students of the University might take the material from the library. This change of administration was made necessary by the growth of the Graduate Department and its demands on the library, and the fact that, because of war conditions, foreign editions were impossible to replace when they were lost or worn out.

Building on what is now available, the Sibley Music Library can become one of the great world centers of music scores and music literature, just as it is now one of the best in this country. Now located in the building erected for it in 1937, it is an integral part of the University's library system, and one in which all Rochesterians can take pride.