Copies of Opera Scores at the Library of Congress and an Identified Copyist

Oscar Sonneck, 1914

Benjamin Franklin Stevens

Research on musicians of the Central Rhine region in Germany sometimes leads to the Library of Congress. Hugo Willemsen (1844-1918), who was born in Elberfeld and whose career took him to Bingen, Speyer, and Saarbrücken, settled in London around 1895. Beginning around 1907, he received orders through Oscar Sonneck to create handwritten copies of numerous opera scores for the Music Division of the Library of Congress. Sonneck had copies made from all over Europe for the library, with the intention of building a solid base for opera research in the United States.

The Library of Congress did not hire the copyists directly but rather negotiated through antiquarian dealers. For Great Britain, the firm of B. F. Stevens and Brown hired people like Willemsen to produce the copies. (We would like to thank Paul Sommerfeld from the Library of Congress for this information.)

One can usually determine exactly what score was used to copy from. For the 1915 copy of Diana schernita by Giacinto Cornacchioli (RISM ID no. 900010978), a letter is even available that has a very precise description of the score that was used. In this case, it is a 1629 printed edition in the British Library (RISM A/I: C 3938, RISM ID no. 990011314) which, as a side note, hasn't changed its shelfmark since then.

Susan J. Clermont has compiled a list of the scores that were part of this initiative ("Transcripts of Dramatic Musical Works in Full Score at the Library of Congress Music Division," 2013; RISM abbreviation: ClermontT 2013). Willemsen copied predominantly operas from the 18th century found in British libraries. Italian composers are particularly prominent.

If you are curious about what Willemsen did and also composed before his time in London, you can read about it in the online encyclopedia Musik und Musiker am Mittelrhein.


Category: Library collections

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