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A Catalogue of the Shaw-Hellier Collection in the Music Library, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham (review)
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Notes 57.3 (2001) 610-611

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Book Review

A Catalogue of the Shaw-Hellier Collection in the Music Library,
Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham

A Catalogue of the Shaw-Hellier Collection in the Music Library, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham. Compiled by Ian Ledsham. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate, 1999. [xxx, 385 p. ISBN 1-85928-386-1. £52.50.]

In this era of gargantuan bibliographical databases and instant information provision, how comforting it is to be reminded of Shiyali Ramamvita Ranganathan's law that books are for use. The uses that readers make of books is widely acknowledged as a cornerstone of liberty and personal fulfillment, though the specifics of use are little understood. Far from being a vanity publication for the present owner of the collection (now, typically, a public institution), the catalog of an individual's collection allows us a glimpse into the thoughts and activities of our predecessors, while accomplishing the more prosaic goal of bibliographic control.

Sir Samuel Hellier (1738-1784) was the last of his family to reside at the estate of Wombourne Wodehouse, Worcestershire, some four miles from Wolverhampton, then in the county of Stafford. Educated at Exeter College, Oxford, Hellier devoted his life to the management of his estate, the enjoyment of music, and the encouragement of music performance and appreciation among his estate employees, local villagers, and those living elsewhere in the midlands. John Rogers, the agent in charge of his estate, was responsible for ensuring that the workers received the instruments, music, and training necessary for them to bring off performances of festival Te Deums (by Henry Purcell or George Frideric Handel) and even Messiah. Doubtless, Rogers hired staff on the basis of "gardener wanted, tenor preferred." Perhaps it is he who prepared the serpent fingering manuscript (item 623). The 165 letters between Hellier and Rogers dating from 1763 to 1784 provide vivid details concerning the supply of music and instruments, the musical suitability of employees, and Hellier's enthusiasm. (Passages are transcribed in Percy Young, "The Shaw-Hellier Collection," in Handel Collections and Their History, ed. Terence Best [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993], 158-70).

Ian Ledsham has provided a thorough list of the collection's 860 items (as he numbers them), both printed and manuscript, now housed at the music library in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham. Not all the items derive directly from Hellier's collecting. Number 272 is a manuscript book of exercises and basic music theory that belonged to his father and is dated 1719. There are nineteenth- and even early-twentieth-century items, thanks to additions made by Colonel Thomas Shaw-Hellier, who was Commandant of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall from 1887 to 1892. Among these are manuscripts of military-band arrangements made around 1840 by Hermann Eckersberg, the bandmaster of the Fourth Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, and what may be a unique copy of The Young Drummers Assistant (London: Longman and Broderip, [178-?]), item 610.

Each entry provides a transcription of title-page information (unnecessarily, in a catalog such as this, marking line endings and distinguishing between upper- and lowercase letters) and a list of contents. Ledsham also gives a uniform title, information on provenance, and selected bibliographic references. Surprisingly, he does not include any references to Nicholas Temperley's list of church-music publications in The Music of the English Parish Church (2 vols. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979]), now updated by Temperley's The Hymn Tune Index: A Census of English-Language Hymn Tunes in Printed Sources from 1535 to 1820 (4 vols. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998]), even though Hellier subscribed to or purchased half a dozen such publications. For works that Ledsham has not identified, and for some that are apparently uniquely represented in the collection, he provides music incipits. The extensive array of indexes includes one for the incipits, with the notes translated into letters.

Hellier was a Handel devotee, going...