The Club’s collection of piano, choral/vocal, and chamber music is held at Wendover and Cookham Dene by Gordon Cumming and Robert and Deborah Behrman who purchased the collection under an agreement approved at the 1999 AGM. Gordon Cumming gave the following report on their work as custodians of the library and the stage currently reached in making this available to OCMC members.
Gordon reminded members that in 1999, when he and Robert and Deborah Behrman acquired for a nominal sum (£100) what was left of the Club’s sheet music, their purpose was simply to secure its future and to do this in a way which would make its contents available to Club members. Had they not done so there was every likelihood that for all practical purposes the opportunity for preserving it would have been lost. At that stage most if not all of the more valuable items, first editions etc, had been sold off (mainly to Club members) under a policy (approved at the 1993 AGM) which recognised the vulnerability of the collection and the inability of the Club to safeguard and manage it.
What remained in 1999 was a collection of less saleable items consisting mainly of individual items of sheet music, much of it in a scrappy state and falling apart. A necessary first stage, which required the entire floor area of the Behrmans’ barn at Cookham Dene, was an attempted matching of loose pages with missing sheets. There still remains a considerable pile of loose pages which were unmatched at the end of this process.
Piano and vocal/choral music is held by Gordon at Wendover while the chamber music collection is held by Robert and Deborah Behrman at Lea Barn (Cookham Dene). Shelving had been specially built to house the collection.. An initial database was compiled fairly quickly at the outset of the work but classification and labelling although largely complete is still ongoing. Some of the piano works were in such a poor state that they had required complete re-binding and Gordon demonstrated some examples which he had re-bound himself (having taken a course in book-binding for this purpose).
On the important question of making a catalogue available for the use of Club members, attempts at providing ‘hard copies’ appear to have failed. Deborah said that two such copies had been provided successively but seem to have disappeared without trace. A more convenient and reliable way of making the catalogue accessible to members would be via the Club website. As a result of the recent meeting with Lyn Parkyns and Andrew Westlake (April 2006) the means by which this will be implemented have been agreed. There will be a need for a password system to enable OCMC members to identify themselves when making requests for loans. Much of the material is in such a fragile state that Gordon doubts whether it would survive much further handling. It may therefore be necessary to acquire a photocopier and to send out photocopies rather than the original music.
Describing the contents of the collection, Gordon said that this could have considerable historical interest to musicologists as well as to Club musicians. In the early years of the Club’s history most if not all recognised British composers would have been members of the Club. It appeared to have been common practice for composer-members to supply the Club with complimentary copies of new works at the time of first publication - resulting in an unusually rich collection of early 20th-century music. There are many little-known works of considerable interest and there may even be examples of works which have not otherwise been publicly recorded. An example of this is a previously-unknown song by E J Moeran with piano accompaniment, dated 1915 (when the composer would have been aged 19). Another important item, which Gordon has re-bound himself, is a full set of Brahms’ settings of folk-songs, which is now out of print.
Gordon therefore suggested that as and when the catalogue goes on the Club website, links might also be provided to major music libraries and institutions such as the Bodleian.
Gordon Cumming, May 2006
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Page last updated: 20 February 2008