Summer students encounter rare music

June 28, 2017
Ray Heigemeir
Rare music materials on display

It was my distinct pleasure to offer a window into Stanford Libraries’ rare music collections to students in the “Why Music Matters” course from the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institute, and performers in the St. Lawrence String Quartet’s Chamber Music Course.  We gathered in Special Collections for an up-close examination of manuscripts and early print materials, dating from 1942 (Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) all the way back to the 12th century (a sacred chant fragment).

In between were manuscript scores by such famous names as Ravel, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, Mozart, and Bach, and unique items including an 1838 letter by Constanze Mozart, the choir book used by Junipero Serra at the Mission San Carlos at Carmel (1770-1784), and engraved art plates from the 15th century set, Encomium Musices.

The students enjoyed viewing and snapping photos of the items, and found inspiration in them for their own composition projects. Instructor Heidi Lee (Stanford Ph.D, musicology, ‘11) led a name-that-tune quiz, featuring the works that were in the room with us.

Instructor Heidi Lee examines an antiphonary leaf

Instructor Heidi Lee has a closer look at an antiphonary leaf.


Students look at the Mission choir book

Students examine the Carmel Mission choir book, which dates from the 1770s.


Comments shared:

“I really enjoyed this experience! Looking at the progression of music, from the blocks representing notes in church choir music, to the musical notes we know today from some of the greats, was very enjoyable. My favorite item was the Danses Concertantes by Stravinsky. I learned that our modern music notes were not always in this form from the early church choir music. It was amazing to see the original sketches and see how music progressed through time. Thank you for this time; I greatly enjoyed it!”  -- Xavier Woodley, Bassoon; Chapel Hill, NC (Originally from Oakland)


"A big Impressionism fan! A really amazing opportunity to see the Ravel handwriting. Seeing the collection inspires me and it will have the same effect for so many other musicians." -- Aiyuan Li, Piano and Guitar; Shanghai, China


"I have to say that I really appreciate the opportunity to see these old manuscripts. This past year I composed a piece for the top concert band at my school with a group, and I love seeing how “the masters” wrote their famous pieces. I’m also more motivated than ever because seeing how even these masters made mistakes, crossed things out, and had messy handwriting makes me feel less self-conscious about my own pieces. I particularly like the Beethoven manuscript and how it’s barely readable yet it still is greatly appreciated and treasured. I also liked seeing the timeline of all the pieces and seeing how notation evolved. It’s a wonder that music has been appreciated for thousands of years and many more to come. I hope that one day my compositions will be played throughout generations." -- Quin Steinmetz; piano, cello, and percussion; Wisconsin


"My favorite item was Danses Concertantes by Igor Stravinsky, and I learned that even some of the greatest musicians are constantly making changes to their compositions. It was truly astonishing that we got to see original manuscripts from a long time ago. This was a wonderful experience, thank you!" -- Rosie Ding, Piano; Beijing, China


"My favorite piece was the Chopin piece because Chopin is my favorite composer as I really enjoy playing the Nocturne in C# Minor and the Waltz in B Minor. I think it was amazing to see the original manuscripts and understand the influence and development of the different music notations." -- Jacinda Eng, Seattle, WA


"I really enjoyed seeing the Bach piece, as I feel like I connect most with Bach pieces. His pieces are some of my favorites, and it was so neat to see a manuscript!" -- Kate Benzian, Santa Barbara

This leaf from Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata no. 174, "Ich liebe den Höchsten," was a crowd favorite.