Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

The Edward Heron-Allen Collection in the Royal College of Music Library

Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

The Edward Heron-Allen Collection in the Royal College of Music Library

Article excerpt

Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943) is now mainly remembered for his book on the violin, Violin Making, As It Was and Is (2), despite the fact that this volume represents but one of his extraordinary achievements in the field of the literature of stringed instruments. While some may know of the Edward Heron-Allen collection in the Royal College of Music (RCM) Library, where it has resided for over 50 years, it is probable that few researchers have studied the collection's contents in any detail. Some libraries may have his bibliography of writings on stringed instruments, De Fidiculis Bibliographia: Being an Attempt Towards a Bibliography of the Violin (3), a work remarkable in scope for its time and still well-respected for its comprehensiveness, but relatively few may know the sheer scale of his musical addictions. Heron-Allen was a collector, a bibliographer, and a violin-maker. He was much more besides, as will be related.

Writing in November 1890 an introductory note to the first volume of his great bibliography of the violin, De Fidiculis Bibliographia, Heron-Allen describes how the process of researching and checking the entries in that work led to the development of his collection. Whether the process of collecting had always been as important to him as the information which the collection provided is a debatable point, but the results were indisputably important, as he acknowledges:

   The result of these labours has been that I find myself the
   possessor of a library relating to the violin, larger, I believe,
   than any in the whole world--the British Museum Library, the
   Conserva--toire Library of Brussels, the Bibliotheque Nationale of
   Paris not excepted--and I am consequently today in possession of
   the sources of more varied and exact information relating to the
   instrument than are to be found in any private or public institution
   at the present time (4).

This was--and may well still be--the significance of the Heron-Allen Collection.

The collection came to the Royal College of Music in 1943, although we have been unable to find the precise date of its arrival, an omission which is perhaps understandable if one considers the disruptions to normal life in wartime London. One can guess that the collection would not have come to us before probate had been obtained in October 1943. Edward Heron-Allen had died on March 28, and had already stipulated that his works on the violin should come to the RCM in the tenth (of eleven) codicils to his will, made in 1940 (5). It instructed, with the sort of detail on locations that only a born cataloguer might include:

   ... I give and bequeath the two violins made by me and described in
   my book "Violin Making as it was and is" to the Royal College of
   Music in London for preservation in their museum, and I give and
   bequeath the whole of the works relating to the violin and all other
   books and other documents in print or in manuscript relating to the
   history and practice of music in general which are contained in the
   bookcases numbers thirty and thirty one and also in bookcase number
   sixteen, in my library at Selsey, and also the autographs and other
   documents relating to the violins and Viotti in bookcase number nine
   (lower part) to the Library of the Royal College of Music....

We must assume that the collection came to us complete, although Heron-Allen's original will had appointed Sydney Hewitt-Pitt and Vyvyan Beresford Holland 'to examine all my private letters, papers and books ... and at their absolute independent discretion destroy or otherwise dispose of them ... as they shall think fit'. We can be fairly certain that they did not exercise their discretion so far as the collection on the violin is concerned, as we have Heron-Allen's catalogue, which lists everything in full, and little is missing--losses which could be due to later events.

While the collection was certainly accepted by the College, we can only speculate as to why, barely two years later, the Heron-Allen Collection, together with the C. …

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