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Identifying and Locating Musical Sources

Using RISM and other resources.


  1. Consult the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (accessible online, now through Oxford Music Online).
  2. Search for the composer, making sure that you select the New Grove entry and not something else.
  3. Find their "Works" list, which is usually towards the end of the article.
  4. Look for a thematic catalogue or guide to research, a large collection of the composer's manuscripts, or scholarly editions or facsimiles at the beginning of this list (you might need one in the next step).
  5. Look for the individual work in the list. Ideally, you will find a column or two that directs you to a resource, like one of the ones from step #4.
    1. In the case of a scholarly edition, it might have a facsimile (at least of a page or two), but often not.
  6. Look up the thematic catalogue or guide to research in the UMD catalog and retrieve it (these types of resources will tell you where in the world the manuscript is located, if known).
  7. Find the entry for the piece, which should have a list of sources (including the autographed manuscript, if available), and make note of the library, and the shelf number if present, of the earliest source.
    1. An abbreviation for the library may be used that you do not recognize (library sigla). Oxford Music Online has a page that lists these and other abbreviations.
  8. Check the owning library's website. You may find that they have digitized it and made it available to view online.
  9. If not, look for a way to request a scan/photocopy (there is usually a fee associated with this).
  10. If that is not available, or if you want to avoid the fee, try searching the UMD catalog for some combination of the composer, title, or manuscript number plus the subject keywords "manuscripts" and "facsimiles" (note that they are plural). 
  11. If that does not work, look for microfilm sets from the owning library. Search the UMD catalog for the name of the owning library plus keywords "microfilm" or "microfiche." If you get too many results you can also add keyword "music" and/or subject term "manuscripts." If you find a set, you will need to look at its notes and determine how individual reels/fiche are described. You may need to use an index, either online or in print in the library (which would be listed along with the reels/fiche), to figure out what is on each one


This is an exercise to find an autographed manuscript. I chose Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz because it is one of my favorite pieces of music.

Homepage of Oxford Music Online.

I started by going to Oxford Music Online (contains New Grove Dictionary of Music).

I searched for "berlioz" and selected the second result because it was his New Grove Dictionary entry (which is what you want). I realize that on this screen there is no way to obviously tell that. That is a fault of this search result page. In the next screenshot, notice how in the top left under "Oxford Music Online" "Grove Music Online" appeared; this indicated that I was looking at the New Grove Dictionary entry.

I was looking for the "Works" section, which is usually towards the end, so I scrolled down.

I found a catalogue of his works (Catalogue of the works of Hentor Berlioz) and noted the abbreviation in brackets ([H]), which I will need in the next steps (this abbreviation is not always present, though).

I scrolled down to the category of work I was looking for (symphony) and clicked on the "View large" button.

I found the particular piece I was looking for (Symphonie fantastique) and noted the numbers to the right, which are where I will find the piece in the books that correspond to the letters (this is why I needed the H from earlier).

I searched the UMD catalog for the Berlioz catalogue and found it. I retrieved it from Reference in MSPAL and turned to entry 48.

Under "Sources," I found the autograph score. The abbreviation "F-Pc" is shorthand for its location in the world. I had to go back to Oxford Music Online to find a listing of these abbreviations.

I clicked "Tools and Resources" along the top of the screen, then "General Abbreviations." "Library Sigla" is the category for this abbreviation.

The F was for France, the P for Paris, and C for Conservatoire (in this case). Now I needed to find their website and catalog to see if it was really there or not.

I Googled "paris conservatoire archives" and clicked on the first result because it looked like a good place to start. Note: from here on out, I sometimes had to use Google Translate on these webpages.

This is the website for the National Library of France, in particular their Music Department (they apparently have the "heritage collections" of the Conservatoire). They appear to have autograph manuscripts by Berlioz, but do they have the piece I am looking for?

To find out, in the search bar I entered "symphonie fantastique autograph manuscripts berlioz." Alternatively, I could/should have searched for the title of the piece plus the shelf number (ms 1188) and found it that way.

The first result looked like what I was after, but clicking it just took me back to this page, so I instead clicked the link that looked like it would take me to all of the results.

I was right; this appeared to be the catalog. I scrolled down until I found what looked like the score (searching for the title and shelf number would have made this the first result).

I finally found the autographed manuscript.