Researching 18th Century Music



We are frequently asked where we find our musical material, so I have compiled a list of sources I use when researching the tunes and songs that the Itinerant Band performs and records.
My research is done primarily to verify the date and origins of the music, and to look for interesting information to include in liner notes and talk about during the "informances" that the band presents at historic sites. As such this list is limited to sources for music that would have been present in 17th and 18th century America.

If you were to do an Internet search on "18th century music," you would find thousands of web sites, many with very interesting, though not necessarily accurate information. In this list, I have only included sources that are relatively reliable and relatively stable (meaning that they are not likely to disappear all of a sudden because some starving musician forgot to pay the ISP bill). Some of these sources are cooperative projects with contributions from hundreds of musicians and music scholars which welcome participation from those interested in the field.

If you are looking for specific information about some tune or song that the Itinerant Band performs, please see the bibliographies attached to our CDs' liner notes: Jefferson and Liberty, The Road Out of Town, Apples in Winter and Lynnhaven Bay.

ONLINE RESOURCES (in no particular order)

(1) Traditional Tune Archive. The Semantic Index of North American, British and Irish traditional instrumental music with annotations. Developed by Andrew Kuntz and originally called The Fiddler's Companion, this site migrated to a wiki format in 2010. There is an older version still hosted by the Ceolas Celtic Music archives which has a keyword searching capability http://www.ceolas.org/tunes/fc/. For footnoting purposes, be sure to check the bibliography and look for a copy of the primary source if you can.

(2) The Traditional Ballad Index. This is an ongoing project of the Folklore Department at California State University in Fresno. Their goal is to create a searchable online index of all written sources of English language ballads. As it has developed, the index is encompassing far more than the traditional ballad sources and includes work-songs, sea shanties, and non-English folk songs.

(3) International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) - The ultimate goal of the IMSLP is to gather all public domain music scores, in addition to the music scores of all contemporary composers (or their estates) who wish to release them to the public free of charge. The over ninety thousand (and growing) works include original sources for much of the British, Irish, and Scottish repertoire of the 16th through 19th centuries.

(4) TuneIndex. July 1996. Compiled by James Stewart and also hosted by Ceolas. This is a searchable index of tune titles, based on a bibliography of at least 600 printed sources. This can give you a lead as to where to find a printed version of a tune, and also a hint as to the first time it appeared in print.

(5) The Kitchen Musician. This features gif and midi files of several tunes, and extensive histories on a select few of them, and also includes copies of the "In Tune with the Times" articles from "Smoke and Fire News."

(6) The Contemplator's Folk Music web site. You will find Folk and Traditional Music and Popular Songs, with Lyrics, Midi, Tune Information and History behind the folksongs and ballads. This site has Irish, British and American Folk Music, including Francis J. Child Ballads and Sea Shanties. Each tune in this archive has complete lyrics, a midi file and thorough history. The site includes links to other research sources.

(6) The Digital Tradition folk song database has lyrics to over 8000 songs. The discussion groups are also a good place to glean tidbits of historical and bibliographical information.

(7) The Bodleian Library at Oxford has digitized copies of over 30,000 broadsides and songs from the 16th through the 20th centuries. Broadside Ballads Collection The information is searchable by title, keyword, publisher, subject, and more.

(8) English Broadside Ballad Archive at the University of California, Santa Barbara. EBBA's goal is to archive all surviving black-letter broadside ballads from England's heyday of the printed ballad in the seventeenth century. To date over 4,000 ballads from several collections have been digitized and made available.

(9) The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music collection at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University has digitized copies of over 29,000 pieces of American sheet music published from 1780 through 1960. It is searchable by title, date, composer, subject, publisher, etc. The library will provide good photocopies of anything within public domain for a very nominal fee.

(10) The Keffer Collection of Sheet Music, is part of Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. It is a collection of over 2,500 pieces, mostly U.S. imprints, ranging in date from 1790 to 1895. The collection can be searched through the library's online catalog.

(11) American Memory collections at the Library of Congress. Click on "Performing Arts, Music" for several sheet music collections. Of particular note are the African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920; American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885; Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920; and the Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets collections.

(12) Historic American Sheet Music collection at Duke University is a digitized collection of over 3,000 pieces of American sheet music from 1850 to 1920.

(13) David and Ginger Hildebrand's Colonial Music Institute site has several good bibliographies, interesting essays, and other sources specifically on 18th century music. In particular, Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources, 1589-1839. This is a collection of indexes of primary sources of music from the mid-16th through the 19th centuries. This includes many sources found nowhere else, but it will take a bit of study to use the indexes. Read the help screens.

(14) The Village Music Project is a study of English Social Musicians from the 17th century onwards from their manuscripts and is an ongoing project of the University of Salford (UK). Their goal is to locate manuscripts of traditional social dance music of England, and to index and transcribe the tunes. Approximately 100 manuscripts have been located thus far and several have indexes and ABC files available.

(15) Bruce Olson's Website provides indexes of 16th through 18th century broadsides and ballads, and links to several other song and tune sources. Olson, a retired physical chemist and longtime song and ballad scholar, died on October 31, 2003. His family retained his work and his website is now being hosted by Folklore Department at California State University in Fresno.

(16) The National Library of Australia has an ongoing digitization project for its 19th and early 20th century music collections. Click here for an overview of the collections. The collections may be searched through the library's main catalogue.

(17) The Word on the Street collection at the National Library of Scotland has nearly 1,800 broadsides, both ballads and news-sheets from 17th & 18th century Scotland. Each broadside comes with a detailed commentary and most also have a full transcription of the text, plus a downloadable PDF facsimile.

(18) Research Centers for American Music - This list is maintained by The Society for American Music, a non-profit organization whose mission is "to stimulate the appreciation, performance, creation and study of American music in all its diversity, and the full range of activities and institutions associated with that music. 'America' is understood to embrace North America, including Central America and the Caribbean, and aspects of its cultures everywhere in the world." They also publish a quarterly journal, American Music, which features well-researched, scholarly articles on American music from the 17th through 20th centuries.

(19) The Country Dance and Song Society has a mail order catalog of hundreds of otherwise unavailable books and recordings of English and American dance tunes, folksongs and ballad collections. Much of our repertoire comes from sources acquired from CDSS. Their archives have been incorporated into the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Music & Dance.

(20) The Dancing Master, 1651-1728: An Illustrated Compendium by Robert M. Keller. Originally published as The English Dancing Master, and also known as The Playford Collection, this was and remains the primary source for English dances of the period.

List updated & Links checked: June 23, 2015 - Susan Lawlor



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