Handel, and more, at the British Library

March 17, 2010

A few years ago, when I was in London for the first time, I passed a few idyllic hours looking through a manuscript exhibit at the British Library.  I went expecting to see a few medieval manuscripts and some English marginalia — perhaps Queen Victoria’s grocery lists, or something of comparable interest.  Consequently I was woefully unprepared for the feast that was laid before me: ancient Bibles, medieval maps, literary relics (Jane Austen’s writing table, for instance, and James Joyce’s notebooks), autograph scores by composers like Handel, Bach, and Beethoven, the papal Bull forbidding Henry VIII’s divorce, the travel journals of Captain Cook, and many other amazing documents.  Those hours were among the most enjoyable of my entire English sojourn.

Today I have discovered that the British Library has put some of these documents online.  They are in high resolution, and instead of simply looking at a single open page, one can digitally flip through them.  Only a dozen or so books are currently available, but they are more than enough to keep one occupied.  Here is the full list.

A recent addition is the autograph score of Handel’s Messiah, perfect for the Lenten season.

(You might need to install some software in order to view the books, depending on how your computer is configured.  The BL’s site will coax you in the right direction.)

2 Responses to “Handel, and more, at the British Library”

  1. M. Carlson Says:

    Online exhibts of treasures like these have to be one of the grandest uses anyone ever invented for the internet. Thanks for the post–I spent a mighty happy time turning the pages of nothing less than the Lindisfarne Gospels, jeweled cover and all. It may not have been seeing the real thing, but it was nice to be able to drink it all in at my leisure, which one can rarely do in a crowd-besieged situation with an original– never mind turn the pages!

  2. cburrell Says:

    I didn’t look at the Lindisfarne gospels myself yet, but now I am going to be sure to do so!


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