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Early Music Collection

Early Music Collection

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Title:Early Music Collection
Quantity:3 Linear feet (6 boxes)
Abstract:This is an artificial collection containing musical manuscripts collected by the Phillips Library. It comprises mostly note books, in which people wrote out popular songs, dance tunes, hymns, and chamber music in staff notation. Also included are new arrangements, original compositions, and musical exercises.
Collection Number:MSS 475

Series List

SERIES I. Vocal Music
A. Accompanied
B. Unaccompanied
SERIES II Instrumental Music
SERIES IV. Catalogs

Scope and Content Note

This is an artificial collection containing musical manuscripts collected by the Phillips Library. It comprises mostly note books, in which people wrote out popular songs, dance tunes, hymns, and chamber music in staff notation. Also included are new arrangements, original compositions, and musical exercises. The note books themselves are in different formats, showing the evolution in music stationery from hand-bound sheets on which musical staves were hand-drawn, to commercially bound books with pre-printed staves. Several of the note books were apparently re-used by flipping and turning, beginning notations anew at the back pages. Some of the manuscripts in the collection are inscribed with names and dates, others are undated. These details are included in Appendix 1. The inclusive dates are 1786 to 1872. Also included are catalogs from the Essex Institute Musical Library.

The contents of this collection are primary sources evidencing musical culture north of Boston in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Place names referenced in the manuscripts include Salem, Massachusetts; Essex, Massachusetts; Marblehead, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Moultonborough, New Hampshire.

The earliest manuscripts in this collection document the leisure-time musical pursuits of people who had other occupations. The later items document the growth of a class of musicians and music teachers, for whom music was their principle occupation. This collection includes music note books into which favorite instrumental pieces, songs, and hymns were notated; some original compositions; choir singers' part books; and vocal trios and quartets collected by the Essex Institute.

The manuscripts reflect changing popular tastes in music over this period, and the development of local musical repertories. They are especially rich in hymns, dance tunes, and songs. The popularity of dancing is evidenced not only by the many tunes notated but also by a notebook of dance figures, giving caller's instructions for sets, contra dances, quadrilles, and cotillions danced to the tunes. The instruments specified in the manuscripts are typical of the time period, ranging from solo fife, flute, clarinet, and violin in the earliest to piano, organ, and vocal ensembles in the latest.

The repertories notated in these manuscripts derive from musical life in the Salem area: music lessons, church choirs, chamber music, dances, and concerts. Some are personal collections of popular pieces and instructional materials. Some of the manuscripts contain unique arrangements of popular pieces and some original compositions by local musicians David Jewett, Benjamin Lynde Oliver, and Henry Kemble Oliver.

Many of the items are associated with families and individuals whose other papers are held in the Phillips Library. The items contain inscriptions connecting them to individuals and to successive generations of one family. Notable are the musicians Henry Kemble Oliver and Benjamin Lynde Oliver; Stephen Goodhue Wheatland, Mayor of Salem; Stephen Cleveland Blyth; and Francis Henry Lee. Items inscribed with female names from prominent local families show that music-making was an important part of women's private and professional lives. These include Ellen Orne Clark, Harriet Orne Clark, Harriet Elkins, Rebecca Taylor Pickman, Sally Pickman, Harriet Rose, and Lydia Very.

Series I. Vocal Music includes all the manuscripts containing parts for voice.

Subseries A. Accompanied comprises all manuscripts for voice with accompaniment whether organ, piano or unknown keyboard; and manuscripts containing a mix of songs and instrumental tunes.

Subseries B. Unaccompanied contains all the manuscripts notated for one or more voices without instrumental accompaniment. Manuscripts containing a mix of accompanied and unaccompanied works have been classed as accompanied. This distinction reflects the historical shift from sacred choral music without accompaniment, preferred by the area's first European settlers, to choral music with organ.

Series II. Instrumental Music includes all the manuscripts containing a preponderance of music for one or more instruments. These are mainly melody parts, duets, and trios in various genres; there are a few bass lines notated separately, which may reflect the practice of improvising over a "ground bass." Some of the note books classed here include one or a few songs, which may have been played rather than sung.

Items without unique titles have been listed in the finding aid with the predominant genre contained in the item first. Many of the manuscripts contain more than one genre, frequently including both keyboard music and songs with keyboard accompaniment. Most likely, the keyboard was a piano of some type. This combination reflects the expectation that people of the middle class would be accomplished at both playing piano and singing, and the practice of teaching both arts in the same lesson.

Series III. Dances includes manuscripts of caller's instructions for the figures danced to sets of reels, jigs, marches, hornpipes, and other tunes represented in Series II. These figures are named either as specific dances (such as the Virginia Reel) or by genres such as Cotillion.

Series IV. Catalogs includes hand written catalogs of the Essex Institute Musical Library and the Salem Musical Library. These lists are primarily inventories of published works and music periodicals.

Historical Sketch

Public musical life, as documented in the area of Salem in the eighteenth century, centered around choral singing in the local churches. Singing teachers gave private lessons at least as early as 1772, and offered instruction in the choral singing of sacred music in "singing schools." The books in the collection containing treble and bass parts to hymns are evidence of these practices.

Public concerts of instrumental and choral music became popular entertainment in Europe during the 18th century; this idea was transplanted across the Atlantic. A number of musical societies were organized in Salem to perform public concerts of choral music, both old (such as Handel oratorios) and new European and American works. The Essex South Musical Society began in 1814, the Handel Society in 1817, the Haydn Society in 1821, the Mozart Society in 1825; however many were short lived. If an organ was required for accompaniment, concerts were held in churches. St. Peter's Church in Salem had an organ as early as 1743.

As a prominent trading port, Salem hosted European commercial agents, some of whom participated in chamber music with their American counterparts. This was a normal part of social life in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most likely they played works by prominent European composers, which all would have known, perhaps in arrangements such as those found in the collection. Chamber music is by definition played in private houses, but public concerts are documented locally as well.

Dance music was a principal private entertainment in Europe during the period that Europeans were settling in the Salem area. "Sets," "Country Dances," contra dances, quadrilles, and cotillions were danced to reels, jigs, marches, hornpipes, and other tunes. Many of the dances and tunes popular in England, Scotland, and Ireland were played for dancing in the Salem area, and local repertories were developed. Itinerant "dancing masters" taught the latest styles, and historical sources reveal that dances held in private homes in the Boston area were open to the public.

Theatrical music was public entertainment and another thriving area of exchange between Europe and America. Musicians and singers came to Massachusetts directly from performing in London, Dublin, and other coastal cities. Boston had one of the earliest licensed commercial theatres in the Northeast: the Boston Theatre, designed by Charles Bullfinch, opened in 1794. Theatrical musicians might extend their stay with subscription concerts in private homes and private lessons. It was a fashion to copy out the ornamented version of a popular song as sung by a particular performer, whose name could be more prominently associated with it than the composer's. These practices are found in the note books of vocal music in this collection.

The activities of Salem's own musical organizations are represented in these manuscripts. A group of young men organized the Salem Glee Club in 1832 to perform this popular style of choral music, which used lighter texts set for fewer voices. Contemporary composers such as Stephen Foster and Thomas Moore were writing in this style. According to reminiscences by one of the participants, the Salem club received assistance in the form of musical scores from similar clubs in Boston.

The Salem Academy of Music, founded in 1846, performed established works as well as premiering compositions by one of its teachers, Manuel Emilio. Composer Manuel Fenollosa also taught under its auspices and continued to lead various musical organizations in Salem in the 1850s and 1860s.

In 1868 the Salem Oratorio Society was founded, reflecting an upsurge in popular interest in this genre in the United States and Europe. This group participated in the National Peace Jubilee held in Boston in June 1869. General Henry Kemble Oliver, a Civil War veteran, local educator, and a published composer, was an active member.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Billings, William, 1746-1800
Brown, William A.
Cabot, Joseph, 1745-1774
Clarke, Harriet Orne
Cleveland, William
Driver, Stephen Pierson, b. 1829
Jewett, David, 1773-1841
Lee, Nathaniel, 1772-1806
Oliver, Benjamin Lynde, 1760-1835
Pickman, Rebecca Taylor
Pickman, Sally
Richardson, Anna
Rose, Harriet
Very, Lydia L. A. (Lydia Louisa Anna), 1823-1901
Wheatland, Stephen
Essex Institute Music Library
Folk dance music--New England
Folk dancing
Folk music--Massachusetts
Folk music--New England
Hymns, English
Instrumental music
Keyboard instrument music
Sacred vocal music
Songs (High voice) with piano
Vocal trios, Unaccompanied


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Early Music Collection, MSS 475, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


Some of the material was donated by Mrs. Francis H. Lee on April 24, 1916. One volume was the gift of Henry K. Oliver. Another volume came from the estate of William Mack. Other materials came from the Salem Musical Library or from the Essex Institute Musical Library. The provenance of the rest of the material is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Ann Spinney, April 2014.

Related Material

Chase, Gilbert. America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955.

Crawford, Richard. America's Musical Life: A History. New York: Norton, 2001.

Lambert, Barbara, ed. Music in Colonial Massachusetts, 1630-1820: A Conference Held by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, May 17 and 18, 1973. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, v. 53-54. Boston: The Society, 1980.

Oliver, Henry Kemble. "Music in Salem." Salem Gazette, 15 Dec 1868.

Whipple, George. "A Sketch of the Musical Societies of Salem." Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, Vol. XIII.

Henry Kemble Oliver Papers, MSS 277

Lee Family Papers, MSS 129

Lynde Family Papers, Fam. Mss. 580

Very Family Papers, MSS 83

Appendix I

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