The extensive music holdings at the Newberry Library constitute a core collection for the library. This collection includes sheet music;* instructional texts; musical treatises; libretti; periodicals; manuscript collections related to musical figures and organizations; and secondary and reference sources about musicians, composers, movements and genres, and instruments concerning music from the Medieval period through the 20th century in, primarily, Western Europe and America.
*The sheet music in the collection can be found bound or loose in folders and boxes. There are examples in both print and manuscript from the Medieval and Early Modern periods through the 20th century. The collection also contains sheet music in both scores and parts. The collection has a mix of religious and secular music, orchestral and chamber, and voice.
For more information about large acquisitions and important highlights, please see the Performing Arts Core Collection page.
To get into the music collections, you can search by Title, Author, or Subject in our catalog.
For sheet music by a specific composer or to search for a known item:
- Search by title or composer (author)
For material about a particular composer:
- Search for their name as a subject
Other examples of useful subject headings to use when looking for a format or genre follow. These can be sorted by date and will include both primary sources and secondary material about the subject. You can search using these terms in our online catalog and narrow results using the facets that appear on the left side of the results page.
These subject searches will pull both sheet music and book material in many cases.
To limit your search to sheet music, use the facets that appear on the left side of the results page to select “Scores” in the "Format Type" field. You can then do a keyword or Boolean search by instrument (including “voice” and “vocal”), composer, type of piece (e.g. sonata, concerto, duet, trio, or quartet), or key (putting the key in quotation marks, e.g. “E minor”). These results can be sorted by date as well.
N.B. For those items listed as on the 3rd floor Reference shelves, you might also consider looking at the call numbers around those books, since there should be materials dealing with similar topics nearby. All items with a “Ref” call number can be viewed on the open shelves on the 3rd floor. General and Special Collections items must be retrieved by staff and viewed in one of the reading rooms.
Examples of terms for searching by format or genre types:
- Music Manuscript
- Music Instruction and study
- Music Periodicals
- Opera (or Concerto, Sonata, Duet, Quintet)
- Songs (or Folk Songs, Sacred Songs...)
- Sacred Vocal Music
Examples of terms for searching by musical style or instrument:
- Orchestral music (or Chamber, Symphonies…)
- Piano (or Violin, Cello, Clarinet, Vocal…)
Examples of terms for searching by date and geography:
- Music 500-1400
- Music 15th Century (or 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th)
- Music France (or England, Ireland, Germany, Wales, United States)
There are several music related collections in the Modern Manuscript Collections. You may want to consult the Manuscript Inventory and use the Browse by Topic feature to browse music collections. These collections include correspondence, box office records, concert programs, photographs, member lists, artifacts, ephemera, sound records, scrapbooks, compositions, newspaper clippings, manuscript music, reviews, diaries, research notes, and other ephemera and artifacts related to musicians, composers, and conductors, as well as musicologists, music organizations, and venues.
Bell, Nicolas. Music in Medieval Manuscripts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001. Call Number: Ref ML 174 .B42 2001.
The Grove Dictionary of American Music. New York, NY: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 2013. Second Edition. Call Number: Ref ML 101 .U6 N48 2013.
The Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003. Call Number: Ref ML 100 .H37 2003.
International Dictionary of Black Composers. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999. Call Number: Ref ML 105 .I5 1999.
Pendle, Karin and Melinda Boyd. Women in Music: A Research and Information Guide. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010. Second Edition. Call Number: Ref ML 128 .W7 P46 2010.
Publications about the Newberry Library Collections
These works are available on-site at the Newberry in our Reference Check-List area in the 2nd floor General Reading Room; others can be pulled from the stacks.
Bauman, Thomas. “Music Collections at the Newberry.” A Newberry Newsletter 54 (1993): 4-5. Call number: folio Z881 .C525 N52 and photocopy in checklist area.
Krummel, Donald W. “[The Music Collections at] The Newberry Library, Chicago.” Fontes Artis Musicae 16.3 (1969): 119-134. Call number: V 208 .442 and photocopy in checklist area.
Marco, Guy. “Beginnings of the Newberry Library Music Collections: Background and Personal Influences.” Approaches to Library History, Proceedings of the Second Library History seminar, Florida State University Library School, Tallahassee, March 4, 5, and 6, 1965. Tallahassee: Journal of Library History, 1966: 165-181. Call number: 5A 25.
Most recent and most broad citations were selected from the list of music publications about the Newberry Library Collections.
Most of the databases at the Newberry are subscription databases; therefore access is available to registered readers only within the library building. Those listed below are subscription databases.
JSTOR: Provides full-text access to an archive of major scholarly journals. Contains complete runs from their first volumes up through approximately five years ago.
ProjectMuse: Provides full-text access to recent volumes of scholarly journals in the arts and humanities published by Johns Hopkins University Press and journals of other university presses.
A-R Online Music Anthology: More than 600 complete pieces of sheet music from antiquity through the romantic era, and articles designed for music history and theory courses.
For a comprehensive list of all our databases, visit our Databases webpage.
These digital collections specifically related to the Newberry’s music holdings are available from anywhere.
Capirola Lute Manuscript: The Capirola manuscript is a beautiful example of Renaissance lute tablature that has recently been made available online by the Programme Ricercar through the Center for Renaissance Studies at the University of Tours, France. This resource is in French with no English translation.
Voices of Reform: This resource allows users to listen to a range of compositions reflecting the diverse vocal manifestations of early modern music.
Modern Manuscript Digital Collection: This digital collection features selections from the Newberry’s Modern Manuscripts, which date from the mid-18th through the 20th centuries.
Mozart and Chopin Manuscripts
Chopin, Frédéric. 2 nocturnes pour le piano dediées à Mademoiselle R. de Könnewitz par F. Chopin Op 62 Nro 1 Paris Brandus Leipsic Haertel, Londres, Wessel. [ca. 1846] Call Number: VAULT Case MS 7Q 104.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Aria Conservati fedele soprano 2 violini viola e basso.  Call Number: Vault Case MS 6A 48.
This collection of approximated 80,000 pieces of sheet music from ca. 1770s-1959 was collected by engineer and organist J. Francis Driscoll (1875-1959).
These large-format manuscripts created between 1600 and 1799 for the use of the nuns at the Convento de la Encarnación in Mexico City include liturgical music by Spanish and Mexican composers. The physical volumes feature capitals in red, brass clasps, and watercolor drawings.
For more details see this post by Ellen Hargis, the co-director of the Newberry Consort. Call Number: VAULT oversize Case MS 5148.
Janet Fairbank Collection
This collection of sheet music and music anthologies was assembled by the opera singer Janet Fairbank (1903-1947). The collection emphasizes the work of women composers, an interest of Fairbank. The collection is currently uncataloged, but an inventory is available as a PDF file. For additional information on Fairbank’s musical career, see her scrapbook, which is also available at the Newberry.
Howard Mayer Brown Collection
Medieval and Renaissance musicologist of the University of Chicago Howard Mayer Brown (1930-1993) collected librettos published in Italy and France from the mid-17th to late 18th century, texts of oratorios, cantatas, festival books, and ballets, some of which are published in other European countries, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The collection also includes plays, playbills, collections of poetry, and other literary material of the early modern era that in some way inhabited the realm of musical performance. Brown also donated his papers to the Newberry.
A bibliography of Brown’s librettos was created in 1992 by John Winemiller. This guide is available in the checklist area on the third floor and online in two PDF files: Part 1 and Part 2. The Newberry does not own all of the librettos listed in Winemiller’s bibliography. The Newberry received the collection as it existed at the time of Brown’s death in 1993, with some gaps due to the late professor’s generosity in loaning books.
Brown also directed considerable resources to the microfilming of music. This collection of manuscripts and printed works in more than 1,000 microfilms covers the 13th through 19th centuries, with the bulk treating the Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque period (before 1700). It includes medieval chants, Renaissance lute tablature, Venetian madrigals, medieval French chansons, French Renaissance songs, 16th- and 17th-century Italian madrigals, 18th-century opera librettos, copies of opera manuscripts, 15th-century missals, books of hours, graduals, and selected theatrical works.
The collection of Brown’s microfilm held at the Newberry is organized according to the microfilm listing Brown compiled and is not formally cataloged. Brown’s microfilm guide is available as a PDF file.
The Newberry holds the papers of Theodore Thomas, the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The collection includes correspondence, a scrapbook and guestbook kept by Thomas’s wife Rose including representation of figures such as Edward Elgar, Camille Saint-Saens, actors George Arliss and William Gillette, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Robert Frost, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.