Enhancing Visibility of American Music Manuscripts at the Library of Congress

Paul Allen Sommerfeld and Jasper Forster

Thursday, February 8, 2024

We have received the following from Dr. Paul Allen Sommerfeld (Library of Congress) and his Summer 2023 intern, Jasper Forster (University of Michigan):

Working as a Junior Fellow for the Library of Congress Music Division during Summer 2023, Jasper Forster created RISM records for music manuscripts by Black American composers active during the 1920s to 50s. The project’s goal centered on increasing the discoverability of underrepresented voices within the Library of Congress’s collections as well as work towards increasing access to America’s music legacy.

Jasper combed the Library of Congress’s catalogs and archival finding aids to locate unreported composers within the Music Division’s collections. He first took into consideration the volume of manuscripts held for each composer. Because the project spanned only ten weeks, Jasper wanted to ensure they reported the Library’s complete holdings for any chosen composer. They likewise considered the diversity of musical genres represented in the manuscripts and the gender of each composer, to be inclusive of both men and women composers.

Over the course of ten weeks, Jasper created 193 records and 252 music incipits in the RISM database spanning 24 subject headings (RISM library siglum: US-Wc; RISM Catalog | RISM Online). Ten composers are represented in these records:

A special accomplishment of Jasper’s includes ascertaining the title of an unidentified manuscript of Ulysses Kay in the Music Division’s Oliver Daniel Collection (RISM ID no. 1001257886; RISM Catalog | RISM Online). The manuscript is for the first and second movements for Kay’s “Six Dances for String Orchestra.” In addition, of the 45 music manuscripts classified under Bessie Smith’s name, Jasper discovered two of them were not written by her, but instead written by another individual whose name appears as “Bessie A. Smith” in the copyright registration records for both works.

Jasper examined the manuscripts, gathered the necessary metadata, encoded the music incipits, and compiled the data in an Excel workbook. Once finished, Jasper reported this metadata to Muscat. His project supervisor, Paul Sommerfeld, reviewed all records before officially publishing them. Sommerfeld intends the project to be a model for future reporting projects to RISM of the Music Division’s extensive unreported holdings.

Image: Florence Price, Fantasie Negre, holograph manuscript, ML96 .P8328 No. 8 Case, Library of Congress Music Division (RISM ID no. 1001253039; RISM Catalog | RISM Online).

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