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Senate House Library

Littleton Collection

The Collection 

Subject: Music 

Thirty-three rare printed items on music--monographs, scores and part-books--published between 1480 and about 1728. Examples of early compositions, mostly English, are present alongside important theoretical works from England and Italy from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The compositions are a mixture of secular and religious, madrigals and psalms. Between them they demonstrate the origin and progress of typography as applied to music. Editions of Sternhold and Hopkins printed by John Day are a powerful testimony to the English Reformation. Other noteworthy items include the 1480 and 1492 editions of Franchinus Gaffurius’s Theoricum opus musice, the earliest printed treatise on music; Pescennio Francesco Negro’s Grammatica (1480), the earliest known specimen of printed secular music; and the second edition of Thomas Morley’s scholarly Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1608), as well as works by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.  

There are some notable examples of provenance: seventeenth-century Lisbon choirmaster Joano Alvares Frouvo; nineteenth-century French musicologist Charles-Edmond-Henri de Coussemaker and English composer Joseph Warren. 

The books are a sub-set of a much larger collection amazed by the music publisher Alfred Henry Littleton (1845-1914), (see Musical Times 55:862 (Dec. 1914), 685–686). The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (CUKT) purchased them from the auction of Littleton’s books by Sotheby’s in 1918 and gave them to the University of London in 1932 on the advice of Sir Percy Buck.


For an overview of the library in classified order, do a mixed classmark search on [Littleton] or an author search on “Littleton, Alfred Henry” as former owner.

Related materials 

Report of the Library Committee for 1932 (description of the collection; UL/1/1/4) 

Further reading 

  • Attar, K.E., ‘Incunabula at Senate House Library: Growth of a Collection’, Library & Information History, 25 (2009), 97-116 (pp. 103-4) 
  • Catalogue of Valuable Books & Manuscripts . . . Mainly Relating to Music, Comprising the Property of the late A. Littleton . . . on Monday, the 13th of May 1918, and Three Following Days ([London]: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, [1918]) 
  • Littleton, A. H., Catalogue of One Hundred Works Illustrating the History of Music Printing from the Fifteenth to the End of the Seventeenth Century in the Library of Alfred Henry Littleton (London: Novello, 1911) 
  • Pulver, Jeffrey, ‘Illustrations of the History of Music Printing in the Library of Mr Alfred H. Littleton’, Musical Times, 55:861 (Nov. 1914), 650–651 
  • Entry 11 in Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012)