The arts of dance, music, and theater have been closely connected since antiquity. The Newberry collection reflects this relationship. While music has been the focus of systematic collecting since the library’s founding, early dance and theater resources have been primarily acquired for their importance in early modern literature and history. All three arts come together in the Newberry’s collection of festival books, English masques, and early opera librettos, which are important for the study of music and theater. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries this balance shifted, with dance and theater becoming strong collecting areas in their own right, especially relating to Chicago and the Midwest.
Early works on dance at the Newberry include French poetry with references to court dance (bassa dance), treatises on dance notation, handbooks and manuals, and dance music associated with country dance and other forms.
The Midwest Dance Collection encompasses over 3,200 books and periodicals on dance history, as well as over 80 manuscript collections from dancers, dance companies, dance schools and studios, and other dance affiliates. The focus is on Chicago and the Midwest dance history, but its reach is international. The keystone in the Midwest Dance Collection is the personal papers and research collection of Ann Barzel (1905-2007), a former dancer and teacher who became a dance critic. Her own donation includes the majority of the books and periodicals, as well as subject files, photographs, scrapbooks, artifacts, prints, posters, and amateur films of dancers and companies from the 1930s-1980s.
The Newberry collects manuscript and printed source materials for western European music from the late Middle Ages into the early twentieth century and for American music from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century. There are also strong holdings for musical life in Chicago, from the mid-nineteenth through the twentieth century. Strengths include Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music manuscripts and imprints, librettos, examples of music printing techniques and specimens of musical type, theory and instructional books, American sheet music, classical music scores and anthologies, music periodicals, concert programs, and manuscript collections of musicians, composers, and musical societies.
Since 1969, the largest single acquisition in music has been the donation of the library and papers of Howard Mayer Brown (1930–1993), a leading medieval and Renaissance musicologist of the University of Chicago. In addition to collecting numerous liturgical books and opera librettos, Brown directed considerable resources to the microfilming of music from the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries.
The American Sheet Music collections shed light on the history of popular music in America and the history of American music printing. The acquisition of the Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music in 1968 added dramatically to the library’s preexisting holdings of U.S. sheet music.
The Newberry’s collection is very strong in the texts of early modern English, French, Italian, and Spanish drama. Particular strengths are sixteenth-century Italian plays and the work of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English dramatists including Shakespeare, English and American broadsides, programs, and playbills. Popular American plays of the nineteenth-century are well represented, and the history of theater in Chicago and the vibrant world of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Chicago theater are documented in several modern manuscripts collections.
Please call the reference desk at (312) 255-3506 with questions on our holdings, or Contact a Librarian with research questions.