On the Importance of the Aylward and Mackworth Printed Music Collections

By Professor Rudolf Rasch

Why are the Aylward and Mackworth printed music collections important for musicians and musicologists? Although I have not gone through the entire collections, rather the opposite, I have only seen a very small portion of them, still some remarks can be made.

First of all, we should be happy with every copy of an early edition of music that has been preserved. We may think that once we know a piece of music from one source, all the other sources are no longer relevant. But it is just the opposite: copies of early music may be similar, but they may be different as well. Composers and publishers may have inserted changes and additions, and users may have left indications on them such as fingerings and articulations. The more copies we have of the same composition, the better we can tell the story and the history that are present in every piece of music. The number of preserved copies is a rough estimate of its popularity, and the variation between the copies shows us to what extent music was merely left as it was or instead arranged, corrected, changed, improved, etc.

Another feature of many items in the Aylward and Mackworth collections is that they are still as they were when they were last used. This means that they show their way of being used, they have signatures of former owners, and copies bound together also tell us about the taste of certain owners, and so on. Other music collections in libraries often have rebound all the early music and have thereby destroyed a lot of information about the history of the book.

Also, the Aylward and Mackworth collections are typical collections where “surprises” are possible. The collections were brought together over a considerable stretch of time, probably by more than one person, and they reflect a variety of tastes and preferences. By this they may have somewhat unpredictable contents, and among these unpredicted items may be rare or even unique items.

I have studied in detail only the Geminiani editions in the two collections, which, although not very large in number, have brought me to new ideas about the history of these editions. It was for instance the first time I saw Whatman watermarks in Geminiani’s music. (So far in music scholarship, these watermarks had only been found in music by Handel.) Also, a copy of the composer’s Concerti grossi Op.2 (AYL 480-486 (3)) looked in one way like a Walsh edition, and in other ways like Geminiani’s private edition. A comparison with other similar copies of this edition brought me to the conclusion that at a certain point of time Geminiani did not have sheets of all the pages of the edition left. Then John Walsh printed anew the missing pages so that at the end there is some kind of a composite edition. Such conclusions are only possible by studying a number of copies of an edition.

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The RISM Series A/I CD-ROM

The CD-ROM of the RISM Series A/I: Individual prints before 1800 that we have acquired for the project is proving an invaluable resource for the cataloguing of our collections. The CD-ROM was released in 2011 and includes all entries listed in the printed volumes of the RISM Series A/I, but its electronic format makes it easy to search the database by terms such as the title of a work, publishers’ plate numbers, names of engravers, place of publication and other.

Apart from making it easier to find the RISM A/I numbers, included in all bibliographic records created for pre-1800 printed items, the CD-ROM is proving particularly useful for identifying editions in the collections that are lacking a title page, either due to imperfect copies held or due to the collection holding certain instrumental parts only of a publication which were issued without a title page.

Once such example in the Aylward collection was an item misbound with Thomas Arne’s Lyric Harmony, published by Harrison & Co with plate numbers 20-21 (AYL 4). Only pages 25-33 were held of this item, bearing the plate number 27. The edition concerned a set of concertos as evident from the headings of the 5th and 6th works, and from the similar engraving with Thomas Arne’s Lyric Harmony it was possible to see that the publisher was the same.

Just by doing a search on the RISM CD-ROM for Harrison & Co and plate number 27 it was instantly possible to find out that the pages were from Harrison & Co’s edition of Handel’s 6 organ concertos op. 7 (HWV 306-311), now catalogued as (AYL 4a).

Miss Beckford’s collection of vocal duets

One of the strengths of the Aylward collection is that several original covers of collection items have been preserved, containing ownership annotations and bookplates that reveal important information about their provenance. In certain cases, the information goes all the way back to their first owner.

One such example that turned up quite early in the cataloguing of the collection is a volume with vocal duets and other pieces by the brothers Bonifacio and Luigi Asioli, published by Robert Birchall (AYL 7 (1-8)). The volume bears the cover label: ‘Asioli’s Duets &c / Miss Beckford’, and several title pages the name ‘Harriet Beckford’ in manuscript. The volume also bears the bookplate of Henry Seymer of Hanford, Dorset.

AYL 7 cover label

It appears that its first owner, Harriet Beckford (1779-1853), was the daughter of Sir Peter Beckford (1740–1811), notable patron of Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). According to Grove, Peter Beckford brought Clementi to England around 1766 to his own private estate and supported his musical training there for the next seven years. Although this took place before she was born, it illustrates the important musical environment she would have been brought up in, and the high standard of musical training she would have received at home.

AYL 7 (1): Title page with Harriet Beckford’s name marked at the top

Her uncle too, William Beckford (1760-1844), was a notable music patron and author amongst other writings of Italy; with sketches of Spain and Portugal where he describes a private musical evening in Madrid in 1787 in the presence of the composer Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805).

In 1807, Harriet Beckford married Henry Seymer (later Ker-Seymer) and the Aylward collection contains several additional volumes with his bookplate. Her portrait (Mrs Henry Ker-Seymer) was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1840).

The notable family history of the owner of this volume in the Aylward collection greatly increases its value, and offers significant potential for research in the family’s musical activities and relations to notable composers and musicians of their time.

I am hoping by the end of the project to have formed a small collection within the Aylward collection of the Seymer family’s music volumes, and it would also be interesting to find out more about Harriet Beckford’s own musical training and skills as a performer.

                         AYL 7 (1-8)