The British Music Collection

BMC archive
BMC archive

Susanna Eastburn, Chief Executive of Sound and Music, on the British Music Collection and its place in contemporary culture.

Where would you go to find an eclectic and fascinating collection of 20th and 21st century British art, including rare works by well known figures alongside fascinating pieces to discover? Tate? Manchester Galleries perhaps?

How about the British Music Collection, a unique and unrivalled collection of over 40,000 scores, recordings, books and ephemera such as concert programmes and posters? Both in its state-of-the-art physical home at the University of Huddersfield, and in its increasingly rich online incarnation (thecollection.soundandmusic.org), the British Music Collection brings together a remarkable collection and resource for discovering the music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The question ‘why doesn’t contemporary music attract the same attention and money as contemporary visual art?’ is not a new one, of course. There is a slight feeling of the poor relation in such debates, with contemporary music pressing its wistful nose against against the shiny window pane of its successful, popular and wealthy cousin and wishing it was inside.

But a piece of music in its essence cannot be bought, owned and sold as a piece of art can, nor treated as an ‘investment’ in the monetary sense. And whilst this means that new music may never attract the international hubbub of the visual arts, it can offer something else: a never-ending personal voyage of discovery for the culturally curious, whether they be artistic programmers, performers, researchers or just plain interested in beautiful and unusual music, however you define that for yourself. Which brings us back to the British Music Collection.

This incredible living archive came to Sound and Music via one of our founder organisations, the British Music Information Centre. In the BMIC’s old offices in Stratford Place, the shelves upon shelves of scores and green boxes were a dusty treasure trove to explore. With the merger (and with the cost of property in central London being what it is) this became unviable. In the University of Huddersfield we found an enthusiastic, experienced home for the physical materials.

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