Manchester City Council

Libraries Henry Watson Music library

Manuscripts and rarities

Henry Watson's original collection of manuscripts and early printed music numbered around 16,700 volumes in 1902 but has been supplemented by many important donations and acquisitions since. 

The most important collection of manuscripts is undoubtedly the Newman Flower Collection.

This comprises two important bodies of work:

1. Handel Manuscripts

The major part of the collection comprises 368 volumes of Handel manuscripts. These originally formed the bulk of the Aylesford Collection, so called because the manuscripts were bequeathed to the Third Earl of Aylesford (1715-77), by Charles Jennens, Handel librettist. They remained with the family, until auction at Sotheby's in 1918, when most of the collection was purchased by Sir Newman Flower, who subsequently added to it. We acquired this collection from the estate of Newman Flower in 1965.

Perhaps the most significant part of the collection is the large number of parts made specially for Jennens' library by a group of copyists working for John Christopher Smith the elder, Handel's secretary and amanuensis. Collected by Jennens, these parts of the collection provide key information on the development of Handel's ideas.

2. Italian Music from the Early Eighteenth Century including Vivaldi's Manchester Violin Sonatas

Among a collection of music purchased for Jennens by Edward Holdsworth on a trip to the continent were what have now become known as the Manchester Sonatas, twelve violin sonatas, autographed by Vivaldi, which only came to light after the manuscripts came to the city. Four of these sonatas are unknown in other sources; two appear, in part only, in a separate work (a concerto); while two others exist elsewhere only in incomplete form. As a result of research on these pieces, a total of eight new items were added to the Vivaldi catalogue. The collection also features a set of partbooks to The Four Seasons and other instrumental music. These once belonged to Corelli's patron, Cardinal Ottoboni. They may predate the Le Cene version published during Vivaldi's lifetime (1725) and contain minor but significant differences to it. A  number of commercial recordings have been based on them. Recordings of the violin sonatas are also available.

As well as some 20 concertos and 12 violin sonatas by Vivaldi, the collection also contains material by composers such as Bencini, Albinoni, Corelli, Pollarolo, and Sammartini, among others.

There are about 500 other manuscript volumes in the library, including a 17th century volume of music for the viol; a volume of organ parts to Purcell anthems, possibly in the hand of John Blow; and the autograph full score of The doom-kiss by Bishop.

Early printed music and other rarities

Among some 2000 items of early printed music are first and second editions of Purcell's Orpheus Britannicus; an important collection of metrical psalters from the 16th to 18th centuries; and many sets of printed orchestral parts for the 18th and 19th centuries. Works of theory include Morley's, Plaine and easie introduction (1597 and 1608) and Glarean's, Dodecachordon (1597). A more recent acquisition is a signed limited edition copy of George Harrison's autobiography, I me mine (1980).

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