Our music collections include extensive British holdings, especially Scottish music. There is a wide selection of foreign music editions, special collections of early editions of Handel, Berlioz and Verdi, special collections of Scottish music collectors, and music sound recordings.
A wide range of genres from all time periods are represented in the music collections including traditional and folk music, ‘classical’ and art music, popular music, and educational music.
Music manuscripts from the early 16th-century Carver choir book to contemporary composers such as Robin Orr and Ronald Stevenson are held in the Archives and Manuscript Collections.
History of the music collection
The Advocates Library was the predecessor to the National Library of Scotland. There was little interest in collecting music when it was founded in the late 17th century. The Advocates only obtained a small amount of music during this time. But this collection does include important manuscripts such as the Skene Manuscript [Adv.MS.5.2.15], the Leyden Song Book [Adv.MS.5.2.14], and Agnes Hume's music book [Adv.MS.5.2.17].
Legal deposit did not become the main source of printed music for the Advocates until the early 20th century.
Finding music material
- You can search for material using our manuscript guides page, manuscript catalogue, and Library Search.
- View digitised items from the music collections in the Library's Digital Gallery, such as 'Messa di Requiem', 1874. [HV.Req.2].
- We provide a first introduction to Gaelic music in our bilingual web resource 'Ceòl nan Gàidheal'.
- Part of our Scottish Song Index is available online in our pilot database.
- We subscribe to several online music resources. You can consult these both onsite and offsite if you are a registered user living in Scotland.
- In 2020 the Library undertook a project to convert our physical card catalogues into our online catalogue. This process is called retroconversion. Information about this can be found in three blogs that were written about it:
Accessing the collections
You can consult the music collections in the Special Collections Reading Room in our George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh. You will need to join the Library to visit the Special Collections Reading Room.
This reading room has listening facilities for CDs, LPs, and cassette tapes. There are sound recordings in fragile historical formats that cannot be consulted in their original form, but digital surrogates will be made available where possible. We also have a keyboard on which readers can play music.
For general enquiries about our music collections you can ask a question online.
For more specific enquiries about our music collections or if you find any errors within our catalogue for music material you can contact us at:
National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EW
Telephone: +44 (0) 131 623 3700 (switchboard), ask for extension 3880 (Music Curator)