Manchester City Council

Libraries Henry Watson Music library

Brief history

Dr. Henry Watson (1846-1911) was a prominent local musician and teacher born in Accrington. He began his career in relatively humble circumstances as an errand boy in a Blackburn music shop, worked for a time in the music business of Messrs. Henry and Co. and established a reputation as a fine pianist. He went on to obtain a doctorate from Cambridge University and ended his career as a professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music (RNCM).

Watson was first and foremost a self-taught musician and he never forgot his early struggle to acquire musical knowledge. With this in mind he made sure that his sizable collection of music and instruments would one day become available to the public.

The Henry Watson Music Library was founded in 1902 and was initially based at 28/30 Chapel Street, Salford. Watson continued to look after the collection during his lifetime but ensured that after his death it would fall into our control.

The library existed in a number of temporary locations before moving to the second floor of Central Library in 1947 when the opening ceremony was performed by Sir John Barbirolli.

Watson's collection of musical instruments is now at RNCM. His original library (some 16,700 volumes) has grown into what is now one of the largest collections of music in any public library.

In 1999, Vikram Seth, the internationally renowned writer, featured the library and some of its manuscripts in his novel, An Equal Music (1999).

The Manchester Sonatas

In 1965 the library acquired an important collection of manuscripts from the estate of Sir Newman Flower. These had formed the bulk of the Aylesford Collection, once owned by Charles Jennens, a close friend of Handel. The collection is best known for its music by Handel but it also contains an assortment of Italian music from the early 18th century, including manuscripts to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and a number of violin sonatas also by Vivaldi. These had lain undiscovered until the manuscripts came to our city and several of them were found to be unknown in other sources. They have since become known as the Manchester Sonatas.

See Manuscripts and Rarities for further details.

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