University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Historical Introduction to the Sibley Music Library

Volume XVII · Spring 1962 · Number 3
Historical Introduction to the Sibley Music Library

As part of the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Eastman School of Music, this issue of the University of Rochester Library Bulletin is devoted to the music library. Founded in 1904 by Hiram W. Sibley whose name it bears, the Sibley Music Library has had a history somewhat longer than that of the school. Although several fine accounts of its activities have appeared in print,1 a short historical sketch may be in order here.

At the time he gave his first gift to start the collection, Mr. Sibley asked Elbert Newton, a Rochester musician, to purchase the items which formed the nucleus of the library. This music, carefully chosen from among the best published scores, included not only the works of the Classical and Romantic writers but also those of such composers as Debussy, Fauré, Sibelius, and Strauss, who were then considered the "new" creators of modern music. There being no city library at the time, these compositions were deposited in the University Library in Sibley Hall on the Prince Street campus. Since Sibley Hall had been a gift of Mr. Sibley's father, the housing of the music collection there was doubly appropriate. Dr. John R. Slater, writing in 1946 about the early days of the library, recalled:

This Sibley Music Library. . . was in the first decade of the century the most distinctive unit in Sibley Hall. Its importance was less recognized at the time by undergraduates or even by most faculty members than by the music-loving public. Occupying several alcoves in the southwestern corner of Sibley Hall, those costly scores of symphonies, chamber music, operas, musical biographies, and technical treatises made for eccentric dilettantes an oasis of art in a desert of science. The writer still recalls how forty years ago, sitting in that quiet window corner overlooking the elms, he used to read the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner with the secret delight of cerebral audition. He blessed Mr. Sibley for those blissful hours, stolen from correcting freshman themes to which he reluctantly returned. President Rhees, also a musical amateur, never blamed anybody for wasting time on music, or on any other beautiful, useless, and immortal thing.2

Upon the founding of the Eastman School of Music, the Sibley Music Library, which had been steadily growing in size and importance, was moved into what is now the Student and Faculty Lounge in the main building of the school. Its duties were expanded to serve the curriculum of the school in addition to providing a music library for the citizens of Rochester. At that time the collection numbered about seven thousand volumes.

The appointment in 1922 of Miss Barbara Duncan as the first librarian of the Sibley Music Library began a new phase of the library's development, which was marked by the acquisition of many valuable rare books and significant historical collections. In order to accommodate the expanding collection, a new building, designed with the assistance of the University Librarian, Donald Gilchrist, was erected in 1937 and the library was moved into this building the following year.

In 1923 the library acquired the Pougin Collection, containing a large portion of the best writing in France on the subject of the theater and opera during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.3 From the private library of Dr. Werner Wolffheim in Berlin, it purchased (1929) the eleventh-century Reichenau Codex, one of the earliest complete manuscript books now to be found in America on the subject of music.4 Seven years later it added the twelfth-century Admont-Rochester Codex. These two codices contain theoretical treatises by Aribo, Guido, Hermannus Contractus, William of Bernon, William of Hirsau, and Frutolf of Michelsberg, and constitute the basis for the library's holdings in the musical scholarship of the Middle Ages.

Incunabula containing works by Finck, Gaffurio, Keinspeck, Niger, and others, were added to the library during the 1930's and early 1940's, together with a unique manuscript collection of examples of early musical notation from the library of Oskar Fleischer. Among autograph scores acquired were those by Purcell, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Rubinstein, Brahms, Debussy, Fauré, and Krenek, and the Americans Chadwick, Foote, Hill, MacDowell, Mason, Porter, Rogers, Thompson, Hanson, White, Harris, Copland, Bacon, Antheil, and Diamond. Many of these are holograph scores. The library also purchased a fine collection of autograph letters, including those by Gluck and Handel, and a large selection by Franz and Berlioz.

The greater portion of the library's holdings in music published during the Renaissance and Baroque eras was acquired during the tenure of Miss Duncan. Included are the notable Olschki Collection of sacred music,5 some unique copies of sixteenth-century Italian madrigal books,6 the Petrucci printing of the Masses of Josquin des Pres, the 1546-51 part books of the Masses of Cristóbal Morales, and the complete Magnum Opus Musicum of Orlando di Lasso. Many important books by the theorists of the same periods were added.7 At the time of Miss Duncan's retirement in 1947 the Sibley Music Library contained almost 55,000 volumes and had become one of the nation's outstanding music collections.

By 1950 the rare book market had changed due to post-war conditions, and the acquisitions program of the library had to be altered. The curriculum of the Eastman School of Music had expanded to meet new situations in the music profession. The library had grown to such proportions and the demands made upon the books had become so great that the collection was divided into two separately functioning units: (1) a circulating library of current books and scores to implement the school's curriculum, and (2) a research library of books, music, historical sets, complete editions, periodicals, microfilms, microcards, and manuscripts to serve the scholar. A large vault was constructed to house the rare books and the music of greatest historical and association value. Simultaneously, the stacks were opened to all students and faculty of the University, and the parallel operation of the two units within one building served to increase the availability of the library's resources to all patrons while at the same time insuring the preservation of research materials for the use of scholars.

The circulating collection reflects the growing curriculum of the Eastman School of Music, for it has developed according to the demands of the faculty and student body. With the addition in recent years of the minor in humanities for undergraduates and the curricula leading to the new Master of Music in Applied Music and the Doctor of Musical Arts degrees, the library has amassed an impressive collection of books in such related fields as education, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, the fine arts, and the dance. In the field of music proper, the library has continued the fine tradition of acquiring material of historical and bibliographical value by purchasing extensively in music theory, music history, and "performance practice," and by subscribing to all of the important series of collected  editions, historical sets, and musical archives. More recently it has become outstanding for its collection of chamber music, woodwind and brass ensemble music, opera and ballet music, and orchestral music, with emphasis placed upon contemporary works, particularly those of American composers. The Festivals of American Music at the Eastman School of Music, begun by Dr. Howard Hanson in 1925 and continued without break to the present time, have stimulated not only the active performance of recent American pieces but also a good amount of scholarly research in this field as well. In the realm of historical research, while significant additions are being made to the holdings in Renaissance and Baroque publications, more purchases are being negotiated in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century materials to implement Classical and Romantic musical studies.

In addition to the books and music which have been acquired by the library as a natural process of development, the following collections have been obtained by special purchase during the past fifteen years:

  • The library of viola music of the late Samuel Belov (April 1949)
  • The chamber music and string library of over 2,000 compositions from the estate of the late Jacques Gordon (1949)8
  • 1,124 pieces of European chamber music printed between 1750 and 1850 (1951)
  • 300 additional pieces of similar chamber music (1952)
  • A library of 70 Italian operatic songs, 40 ballets, and 48 opéras-comiques from the late eighteenth-century London and Paris stages (1952-53), supplemented by a smaller collection of similar material (1955)
  • 100 operas from the period 1880-1930 (1952-53)
  • 774 operas, mostly French, from 1880-1930 (1954-55), supplemented by a collection of 90 full scores of similar operas (1958)
  • A collection of published music of George Chadwick and Arthur Foote (1955)
  • A large selection of Composers Facsimile Edition issues of contemporary American music, published by the American Composers Alliance (1957-61)
  • The complete published works to date of John Cage (1960-62)
  • The complete works to date of Walter Hartley (1960-61)
  • The complete works to date of Leon Stein (1961-62)
  • The complete works to date of John LaMontaine (January 1962)
  • The complete catalogue of American compositions published by the Tritone Press (March 1962)
  • A collection of some 400 published compositions by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Scandinavian composers and 231 titles from the Danish historical series, Samfundet til Udgivelse af Dansk Musik(Autumn 1961-Spring 1962)

Among the collections added by gift within the past fifteen years were the following:

  • 23 manuscript scores of compositions by Howard Hanson, presented on the occasion of the celebration of the composer's first quarter century as Director of the Eastman School of Music (November 19, 1949), supplemented by a gift of three additional full scores (1950)9
  • Books and music from the library of Dr. John R. Slater (1953-54)
  • A collection of 100 piano pieces, presented on the occasion of the Eastman School of Music's first Summer Piano Institute (1954) by Walter Hinrichsen, President of the C. F. Peters Corporation
  • A collection of 200 organ compositions, presented on the occasion of the Sibley Music Library's participation in the Pipe Organ Panorama at the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences (March 13-April 3, 1955)
  • A collection of the published works of Charles Villiers Stanford, given by Harry Wilkinson (1957)
  • Some 400 miscellaneous songs, piano pieces, and violin compositions from the estate of Phyllis Oster (1958)
  • The violin library of the late Ben Dennof (1960)
  • The complete manuscript scores and orchestral parts of the works of the late Weldon Hart, given by Mildred Hart Harder (February 1961)
  • The sketchbooks and manuscript works of Parks Grant, given by the composer (Spring and Summer 1961)
  • A selection of facsimile editions of American music, presented by the American Composers Alliance (1961)
  • 2,000 recordings given by Record Hunter (1959)

The Sibley Music Library has supplied many of the originals from which the University of Rochester Press has published reproductions in Microcard form. Among the theoretical and historical works thus issued are treatises by Pietro Aaron, Martin Agricola, J. C. Albrechtsberger, G. M. Artusi, Adriano Banchieri, Anton Bemetzrieder, Angelo Berardi, François Couperin, Girolamo Diruta, Antonio Eximeno y Pujades, Hermann Finck, J. N. Forkel, J. J. Fux, Franchino Gaffurio, Vincenzo Galilei, Francesco Geminiani, Henricus Glareanus, Adam Gumpelzhaimer, Jacques Hotteterre, J. P. Kirnberger, Nicolaus  Listenius, F. W. Marpurg, Johann Mattheson, Marin Mersenne, A. Ornithoparcus, Michael Praetorius, W. C. Printz, Jean Philippe Rameau, J. F. Reichardt, Georg Rhaw, J. J. Rousseau, P. J. Roussier, J. A.  Scheibe, Christopher Simpson, G. A. Sorge, G. J. Vogler, J. G. Walther, Andreas Werckmeister, and Gioseffo Zarlino.

At present the Sibley Music Library contains almost 120,000 volumes of books and music, some 25,000 uncatalogued songs, sheet music, and pamphlets, and a significant collection of recordings, microfilms, microcards, and manuscripts. Its periodical holdings rank high among music research libraries in the United States. In addition to the four floors of stacks, the physical facilities of the library include an undergraduate reading room, graduate reading room, seminars with audiovisual equipment, listening rooms, a language laboratory, sixty study cubicles, and offices, cataloguing room, processing room, shipping room, and staff room. It is one of the largest collections of music in the country and is among the best-equipped music research libraries on the continent.



  1. The earliest development of the library to 1937 was recounted by Donald Gilchrist in "The University of Rochester Libraries," The Rochester Historical Society Publications XVI (1937), 122-124. Barbara Duncan described its activities to 1945 in her article in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin I (February 1946), 26-29. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Eastman School of Music, Charles Riker gave an excellent summary of both the historical development and the many special collections within the library, covering the period to 1947, in The Eastman School of Music, Its First Quarter Century(Rochester, 1948), pp. 23-28. Its more recent acquisitions and activities are given in his 1962 supplement to this work. Special collections are itemized in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin IV (Spring 1949), 66.
  2. John R. Slater, "President Rhees and the Library," The University of Rochester Library Bulletin I (June 1946), 42.
  3. Ruth Watanabe, "The Pougin Collection," University of Rochester Library Bulletin III (Spring 1948), 54-57.
  4. Barbara Duncan, "The Sibley Music Library," University of Rochester Library Bulletin I (February 1946), 26-29.
  5. Ruth Watanabe, "Some Part Books Printed by Italian Printers of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," University of Rochester Library Bulletin XIII (Winter 1958), 13-30.
  6. .  Ruth Watanabe, Five Italian Madrigal Books of the Late 16th Century (Rochester, 1951).
  7. Ruth Watanabe, "Some Theoretical Works of Franchino Gaffurio," University of Rochester Library BulletinIX (Winter 1954), 29-36; "Michael Praetorius and his Syntagma Musicum," Ibid. X (Spring 1955), 46-52.]
  8. Ruth Watanabe, "The Gordon Collection," University of Rochester Library Bulletin VII (Winter 1952), 25-27.]
  9. Ruth Watanabe, "Howard Hanson's Manuscript Scores," University of Rochester Library Bulletin V (Winter 1950), 21-24; "Howard Hanson's Autographs in the Sibley Music Library," Music Library Association NotesVII (March 1950), 240-42.]