British Music Collection BMC
Extent: c835 boxes
In addition to the 255 boxes of administrative records, the music library contains 40,000 scores and over 21,000 sound recordings of 20th and 21st Century British composition (defined by the BMIC as music that has been composed by an individual born or living in the UK). The majority of the collection relates to post-1960 and contemporary music, but also encompasses works from the late 19th century onwards. The collection of scores and recordings contains both published and unpublished works, and includes high-profile composers, such as Britten, Tippett, Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies, Cardew, Harvey, Weir, MacMillan, Turnage, Tate and Adès, as well as emerging composers and less well-known musicians.
The scores in the collection were catalogued and arranged by BMIC staff into the following self-designed categories with the aim of best assisting users' (particularly would-be performers) access the collection: A - Symphony; B - Orchestra; C - Solo & Orchestra; D - Solo & Strings; E - String Orchestra; F - Music Theatre & Opera; G - Accompanied Choral; H - Classical Chamber (3-6 players); Ha - Chamber Miscellaneous; Hb - Chamber Brass; Hv - Chamber Vocal; Hw - Chamber Woodwind; I - Solo; Id - Duo; J - Piano & Soloist; Ko - Organ; Kp - Piano; L - Piano Duo; M - Song; N - Unaccompanied Choral; O - Band; P - Collections/Anthologies; T - Experimental. This arrangement has been maintained in the catalogue and the physical collection.
The scores within the collection have a Reference Number that begins BMC/SC/... The recordings within the collection have a Reference Number that begins BMC/RE/...
To search the online catalogue for a particular score category, type the category name into the 'Term' field. To search for a specific composer's works then type all or part of the composer's name into the 'Person's name' field. To search for the title of a piece then type all or part of the title into the 'Title or description contains' field.
The sound recordings in the collection include both commercial and private recordings donated by publishers and composers, recordings of concerts and events that took place at the BMIC and other related music organisations (e.g. the Society for the Promotion of New Music), and recordings of BBC Radio 3 broadcasts. The recordings are stored on a variety of formats, including VHS tapes, Betamax tapes, vinyl records, audio cassettes, CDs and DVDs. There is also a very small number of reel to reel audio tapes and DAT tapes.
The collection also contains administrative records of the British Music Information Centre. These records concern the management and administration of the BMIC, including its premises, corporate development and finances, as well as records that document the activities, events and projects that the BMIC was involved in. These records also include additional library resources that were available to the Centre's users, including music journals, magazines, newsletters, concert and festival programmes and composer information files. The composer files were compiled by the BMIC and contain varying amounts of information concerning the biographies and works of British composers.
Founded at a time when national Music Information Centres were rising in popularity (following the formation of the first Centre in the USA in 1939), the BMIC was established as a drop-in centre where users could go to see and hear 20th century British classical music, and to research contemporary composers and their works. The primary function of the Centre was to act as a voluntary library of deposit where composers and publishers of 20th century British classical music could deposit scores and recordings of their work, which allowed would-be performers access to these works to study and play. All works were acquired by donation, and the collection was initially just restricted to the work of members of the Composers' Guild, and later BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) concert music members; this restriction was later removed. The Centre defined 'British' music as being composed by an individual born or living in the UK. The initial core of collection was founded on the deposit of The British Council's sheet music collection in 1967, which included material dating back to 1900. By 1969 the Centre already held 8000 scores of both published and unpublished works, as well as tapes and reference material for consultation and study. Although initially some publishers were opposed to the Centre because of the threat of competition that it posed, over the years the BMIC gradually became accepted by publishers and the Centre began to accumulate increasing amounts of published material. This made the library the only permanent collection of both published and unpublished contemporary British Music and it significantly contributed to the growth of the collection in both size and diversity throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
By the 1990s the acquisition policy of the BMIC stipulated that eligible works included: work that is published by a major publisher (e.g. Boosey & Hawkes, Faber Music, Chester Music); unpublished work by professional composers of significant standing (e.g. frequently commissioned or performed by leading orchestras); work by full members of a leading professional body (e.g. BASCA, including shortlisted works for British Composer Awards); work commissioned by the BMIC as part of its projects and professional development programmes (e.g. Adopt a Composer, Embedded...); work commissioned or funded by leading commissioners or funders (e.g. BBC, Arts Council England, PRS for Music Foundation). The Centre was aware that subjectivity influenced these criteria but in practice any disputes over inclusion/exclusion were resolved by the Director of the BMIC or by reference to the composers on the BMIC Board.
Recordings started to enter the collection during the 1970s, firstly on reel to reel tapes and vinyl records, and later on audio cassettes and CDs. The recordings in the collection included both commercial and private recordings donated by publishers and composers, recordings of concerts and events that took place at the BMIC and the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM), and recordings of BBC Radio 3 broadcasts. A joint project with EMAS (Electro-Acoustic Music Association) in the early 1980s resulted in the Centre starting to acquire recordings of British electro-acoustic music, while during the mid-1980s the BMIC's reel to reel tape recordings were transferred to Betamax tapes during a migration project funded by the British Library.
By 1985 over 6000 people a year visited the BMIC, with even more users contacting the Centre remotely by letter and telephone.
In addition to the Centre's primary role as a contemporary music library, the BMIC also ran numerous projects, events and performances in order to promote contemporary British music. By 1985 over 80 events were being held annually, with performers including Michael Finnissy, Jane Manning and John McCabe, and premieres of work including music by Peter Maxwell Davies, Judith Weir, Michael Finnissy and Chris Dench. Some performances were also preceded by talks. The BMIC's Salon series of concerts ran for 30 years until 2003 with an emphasis on programming first performances, experimental music and neglected early-mid 20th century repertoire. From the 1980s onwards, the BMIC's rising profile and increasing number of projects resulted in the Centre working more collaboratively with other organisations to promote contemporary British music, particularly SPNM, EMAS and The Place Dance Services (TPDS).
In 1999 the BMIC established The Cutting Edge, which was an annual thirteen-week concert series held in the autumn. The Cutting Edge series, based mostly at The Warehouse, Waterloo, aimed to put contemporary music from the UK in an international context, and from 2001, each series was followed by The Cutting Edge Tour that took place through the May-December of the following year. The Cutting Edge Tour showcased up to 20 concerts taken from the previous year's London series at locations across the UK, along with workshops and learning events. Also in 1999 the BMIC established the New Voices and Contemporary Voices composer support schemes. These schemes provided print, distribution and promotion services for composers at both the beginning and middle of their careers, and intended to fill the gap for composers who were looking to publish independently. The New Voices scheme aimed to raise the profile of young and emerging British composers that did not have the support of commercial publishers or record companies, while Contemporary Voices scheme aimed to represent more established composers. In 2001 the BMIC was awarded funding by Arts Council England to create 10 hours of recordings of music by 30 composers that were part of the New Voices programme. The published recordings were branded under the name 'Critical Notice'. The project made all of the recordings available through website downloads and the creation of a CD-book that contained 70 minutes of music and six essays about contemporary music. In 2002 the BMIC applied to the New Opportunities Fund to digitise sections of the BMIC's score and audio recording collection, this resulted in 2710 scores and 975 recordings being digitised and added to the Centre's online catalogue.
From the late 1990s onwards, with increasing pressure on finances and the rising costs of housing the collection in central London, the staff and Board began looking at alternate locations and organisational structures to manage the Centre.
In 2004 Arts Council England (ACE) instigated a proposal to create a new higher profile body for the new music sector from the merger of a number of music organisations that received funding from ACE, that included the BMIC. The original idea to merge a number of music organisations into one larger body had been discussed within the sector since the 1980s but ACE initiated the 2004 project for two main reasons; firstly ACE identified the opportunity to have shared facilities within in a new building in central London (King's Place, near King's Cross), and secondly ACE was looking to redress the role of the Contemporary Music Network within ACE. Initially ten organisations were approached about the merger, including the African and Caribbean Music Circuit, British Music Information Centre, Contemporary Music Making for Amateurs (CoMA), Contemporary Music Network, Jazz Services, the Society for the Promotion of New Music and The Sonic Arts Network. This project, initially called The Kings Place Initiative and later The New Organisation (TNO) Project, resulted in the creation of Sound and Music from the merger of the British Music Information Centre, Contemporary Music Network, the Society for the Promotion of New Music and The Sonic Arts Network in 2008. Upon creation, Sound and Music was temporarily located in British Music House, 26 Berners Street, London, before it moved to its current location of Somerset House, The Strand.
Throughout the course of the reorganisation project both the BMIC's collection and the financial burden of accommodating it continued to increase. The limited space and financial constraints meant that in 2002 sections of the collection had to be moved to alternate premises. Works by composers who had died before 1960 were moved to the Royal College of Music (RCM) Library, and works written before 1960 by composers who had died between 1960 and 2002 were moved to a storage facility belonging to the Performing Right Society (PRS). The material sent to the Royal College of Music Library could be accessed by researchers on site, whereas there was no public access to the PRS's storage facility and this material could only be consulted through prior arrangement with the BMIC. In 2004 the financial pressures meant that the BMIC moved premises from 10 Stratford Place to Lincoln House, 75 Westminster Bridge Road, London. In 2007 the BMIC could no longer afford to house the collection in central London and so it was sent to a storage facility in Southend. This is where the collection remained until it was transferred, along with the RCM and PRS material, to the University of Huddersfield Archive and Special Collections in 2010.
The history of the BMIC between 1967 and 1987 is well documented in the journal 'Composer', the Journal of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain, which regularly includes BMIC news and articles.
The British Music Information Centre; 1967-2008
Original available for consultation by appointment
The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Archive is held at the University of Huddersfield Archives (Ref: HCMF)
Scores, recordings and information concerning Phyllis Tate's work can be found at http://www.phyllis-tate.com/. This website includes references to works held within the British Music Collection.