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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Treasures to have and to hold at the Loeb Music Library

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  • Photo
    A holograph arrangement by trombonist J.J. Johnson of Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" from the 1959 album "Kind of Blue."
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    French and Italian secular pieces are collected in a heart-shaped 15th century songbook from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
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    Students explore manuscripts and recordings from Loeb Music Library's special collections during a hands-on Wintersession event.
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    The original "Porgy and Bess" score used and annotated by hand by conductor Alexander Steinert.

By Beth Giudicessi, HCL Communications

January 21, 2014 –Students who attended "Treasures of the Loeb Music Library," a Wintersession event hosted by Library Assistant Peter Laurence, Reference and Digital Program Librarian Kerry Masteller and Music Reference and Research Librarian Liza Vick, arrived at the Merritt Room to a cross-section of the library's rare recordings, medieval manuscripts, annotated scores and early edition songbooks.

"The best part of a special collections open house is telling students they can turn the pages," said Masteller.

At her encouragement, a participant flipped through the heart-shaped Chansonnier De Jean De Montchenu, a facsimile of a 15th century collection of French and Italian secular music bound in red velvet.

Another paused at a set of three 1930s albums from the Timely Recording Company. The rare albums feature labor songs and artwork connected to the Communist Party, including compositions by Hanns Eisler and words by Berthold Brecht. Not long after the records were produced, growing concerns about the label's leftist ties led its founder to deny he created the materials.

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"They're really unique," Laurence described. "These were the first three ever published on the label."

Other items on display hinted at the scope of the library's collection. A 1609 score written for qin, a Chinese musical instrument, is one of 19 in existence, and underwent conservation during the Qing Dynasty.

Also showcased was a more recent transcript of Bulgarian music as collected by Martha Forsyth in the early 1980s.

"It’s interesting to look at even if you don’t understand all the words," said Vick.

Oliver Peña, a GSAS special studies student visiting from Mexico City, was especially drawn to a manuscript of Jean Baptiste Lully’s 1722 opera, Isis.

"I actually sang an aria from this opera," he said, describing how the piece accommodated his baritone voice.

"I often share my favorites," Masteller added. "I always gain new insight into our collections by watching students make connections between the items I've chosen and their own knowledge of musical works."