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Primary Sources: Finding Primary Sources in Music

This guide will discuss the difference between primary and secondary resources for use in research.

Primary Resources in Music


Primary sources of a musical work can include the following:

  • Autograph/Holograph ( the composer's original manuscript)
  • Copies (handwritten by another person: student, professional copyist, monastic scribes)
  • First edition
  • Early editions ( could be edited by someone close the the composer)
  • Scholarly editions ( edits made by scholar or a musician known for knowledge of composer)
  • Collected editions ( complete works of composer published in scholarly edition - could show variations found in the above sources)

For printed facsimiles of manuscripts you can search in WorldCat by composer and/or title of a work and use the following subject headings:

  • (Composer's name) - Manuscripts - Facsimiles
  • For medieval collections:
    • Manuscripts, Latin - Facsimiles
    • Sacred vocal music - Manuscripts - Facsimiles
    • Chants (Plain, Gregorian, etc.) - manuscripts = Facsimiles
    • Polyphonic chansons - Manuscripts - Facsimiles

These may be available through Interlibrary loan.

Listed below are locations for finding primary resources in music found on the Jerry Falwell Library website as well as online.

Primary Resources on the Jerry Falwell Library Website

Other Online Locations for Primary Resources in Music

Some libraries have produced photographic reprints of early printed editions. These are usually available through Interlibrary Loan.

 Aaron Copland Collection

  • 5,000 images found in the Library of Congress dating from 1899 to 1981 selected from Copland's music sketches, correspondence, writings, and photographs

Chopin Early Editions

  • 400 first and early printed editions of musical compositions by Chopin found in the Chopin collection at the University of Chicago Library.

Digital Scores and Libretti

  • The Harvard Library makes available historical editions including first and early editions and manuscript copies of music from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Composers include J.S. Bach, Schubert, versions of 19th century opera scores and music of the Second Viennese School.

Europeana - Music

  • Explore recordings, sheet music, instruments and music-related collections from European audio-visual archives, libraries, and museums.

John Philip Sousa

  • Selected manuscripts, photographs, printed music, and historical recordings of the Sousa Band as well as programs and press clippings

Library of Congress (US) - Performing Arts

  • Contains a variety of collections including sheet music, ethnographic sound recordings, and videos from the performing arts. One special collection is the Chasanoff/Elozua "Amazing Grace" Collection Database with more than 3000 recorded performances by different musicians and ensemble.