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Music collections

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Oxford is one of the world's great centres of musical scholarship. In addition to the teaching work and research within the Faculty of Music it also has some of the finest primary source material within its collections and archives. These include historical instruments, original scores, portraits and some of the most notable venues in the world. This page seeks to bring these strands together for the benefit of visitors and the happily inquisitive.

The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments

Bate Collection2The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments is a collection of historic musical instruments, mainly from Western classical music tradition, from the medieval period onwards. It is housed in Oxford University's Faculty of Music near Christ Church on St. Aldate's. The Bate has over 2000 instruments, of which more than a thousand instruments are on display.

The Collection is named after Philip Bate who gave his collection of musical instruments to the University of Oxford in 1968. It also houses the Reginald Morley-Pegge Memorial Collection of Horns and other brass and woodwind instruments; the Anthony Baines Collection; the Edgar Hunt Collection of recorders and other instruments; the Jean Henry Collection, the Taphouse keyboard instruments; the Roger Warner keyboard collection; the Michael Thomas keyboard collection; a number of instruments from the Jeremy Montagu Collection; a complete workshop of the English bow-maker William C Retford, as well as a small collection of bows formed in his memory.

The Bodleian Library

Bodleian music collectionThe Bodleian Library has substantial holdings of musical material.  However, that was not always the case.  From its opening in 1602 until towards the end of the 18th century the Bodleian Library possessed relatively little music. Although books concerning music were received under the terms of Sir Thomas Bodley's agreement with the Stationer's Company in 1610, almost no printed music was received. The library's copy of Parthenia (1613), already recorded in the 1620-printed catalogue, is a rare exception.

There were, however, amongst the collections, which accumulated rapidly in the 17th and 18th centuries, many medieval liturgical books and manuscript treatises on music, and it is these that attracted scholars like Charles Burney and Sir John Hawkins to use the library for work on their histories of music.

For actual music of the 16th to 18th centuries the university had another resource, the Music School Collection. In addition to the mid-16th century 'Forrest-Heather partbooks', it was rich in madrigal books, 17th-century English consort music, 17th-century Italian printed instrumental music, and the complete court odes of William Boyce. The collection was transferred to the Bodleian in 1885.

The Hill Collection of musical instruments in the Ashmolean Museum

The Hill Collection is one of the acknowledged highlights of the museum and contains the internationally renowned Messiah-Salabue Stradivarius of 1716, a violin made by Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari of Cremona (shown above). It is considered to be the only Stradivarius in existence in as new state.  The collection was bequeathed by the Hill family to the Ashmolean Museum for preservation for future violin makers to learn from. As a condition in the will of the former owner, the Museum can never allow the instruments to be played.

The Jacqueline du Pré Music Building

Jacqueline du Pré Music BuildingThe Jacqueline du Pré Music Building was the first purpose-built concert hall to be built in Oxford since the Holywell Music Room in the time of Handel. Owned and run by St. Hilda’s College, this unique hall was inspired by the wish to create a living memorial to the great artist. It was designed by architects van Heyningen and Haward and boasts excellent acoustics by the internationally-acclaimed firm, Arup. The result is an elegant and modern auditorium whose intimate environment is the perfect place to enjoy chamber music. The building has five practice rooms, an electro-acoustic studio and Edward Boyle Auditorium seating two hundred people. St. Hilda’s is committed to sustaining and developing the JdP as a centre for the learning, teaching, performance and experience of music at all levels, at all ages, and from all backgrounds.

•    The JdP runs its own Concert Series, welcoming world-class performers such as Steven Isserlis and Joanna MacGregor.
•    The Director of College Music runs St. Hilda’s College Lunchtime Recital Series giving students from across the university an opportunity to perform at the JdP on Thursday lunchtimes during term.
•    The JdP also has its own education project and runs monthly cushion concerts and regular schools concerts in the Edward Boyle Auditorium.
•    M@SH is the Research Centre for Experimental Music at St. Hilda’s College. Throughout the year, it presents concerts of contemporary classical music, experimental music, electric-acoustic music as well as interdisciplinary projects (eg., music and dance, art installations), including work created by the M@SH Ensemble.

In addition to being used for JdP events, the Building is used by external hirers for concerts, workshops, festivals, recordings and conferences. During term-time the building is also used by students for rehearsals and concerts.

Address: St Hilda’s College, Cowley Place, Oxford, OX4 1DY

The Holywell Music Room

Holywell Music RoomThe Holywell Music Room is the city of Oxford's chamber music hall, situated in Holywell Street in the city centre, attached to Wadham College. It is said to be the oldest, purpose built music room in Europe, and hence England's first concert hall.

It was built in 1748, designed by Dr Thomas Camplin, the vice-principal of St Edmund Hall. Many musicians, including Haydn, have performed classical music here. The auditorium includes an organ and U-shaped raked seating.

The building was Grade II* listed in 1954. 

The Sheldonian Theatre

Sheldonian TheatreThe Sheldonian Theatre, located in Oxford, England, was built from 1664 to 1668 after a design by Christopher Wren for the University of Oxford. The building is named after Gilbert Sheldon, chancellor of the university at the time and the project's main financial backer. It is used for music concerts, lectures and university ceremonies, but not for drama.

What came to be known as the Sheldonian Theatre was Wren's second work, and was commissioned by Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury. With the triumph of the Restoration and with it the Church of England, Dean Fell sought to revive a project proposed in the 1630s by the late William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury: a separate building whose sole use would be graduation and degree ceremonies.

Pitt Rivers Museum

PItt Rivers interiorThe collections of musical instruments at the Museum were formed to illustrate the wide variety of technologies and design methods used to produce sound by many different cultures throughout the world, ranging from the Arctic to Africa, and from Indonesia to the UK. The result is a collection that represents musicians’ everyday instruments, rather than just those obtained for their decorative or curiosity value.

In addition to the instruments themselves, the Museum also has a sound collection of unique field recordings, including music from the Central African Republic, Vanuatu and Latin America, most of which are directly related to collections of objects and photographs held at the Museum.

There are over 1000 musical instruments on display. They include small bells and pigeon whistles, voice disguisers and rattles as well as mbiras, bagpipes, mouth bows, drums, lutes, flutes and zithers. At present the Museum is working to digitize and catalogue the sound collections so they can be made available to both specialists and the general public for the first time.

SJE Arts (The Church of St John the Evangelist)

St John the Evangelist ChurchSJE Arts, The Church of St John the Evangelist, 109A Iffley Road is part of St Stephen’s House, Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University. It is situated opposite the University Sports Grounds. It comfortably holds 400-500 (depending on performance space size).

This grade 1 listed building designed and built by G.F. Bodley for the Society of St John the Evangelist (the ‘Cowley Fathers’) at the end of C19th has been refurbished to enable it to be used as a concert venue.

It has wonderful acoustic, efficient underfloor heating, comfortable seating, adjacent green room, excellent cloakroom facilities, plus some parking for performers and for those with blue card permits. A Steinway D concert grand piano and organ are also available for hire.

There is a bus stop immediately outside the church for buses to the city centre and there are two local public car parks nearby plus limited on-street parking in the area.

Email enquiries: events@ssho.ox.ac.uk