About the Music Division

Third Floor

Phone: (212) 870-1625

Fully accessible to wheelchairs

The Music & Recorded Sound Division is one of the world's preeminent music collections—documenting the art of music in all its diversity—classical and opera as well as the whole spectrum of popular music including spirituals, ragtime, jazz, musical theater, film, rock and world music.  While the division contains many scores and manuscripts from centuries past, its curatorial mandate is an activist one, placing major emphasis on capturing the creative output of contemporary composers.  Recent collections of note include the papers of Jerry Bock, John Cage, Meredith Monk and Lou Reed. 

Particularly noteworthy is the American Music Collection. From the first edition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to Native American songs to extensive manuscript collections of American composers such as Henry Cowell, John Cage, Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Lou Reed, the division has made the documentation of American classical and popular music a major priority. Through special arrangements with leading American music publishers, the division also acquires numerous rental scores – documents that would otherwise be inaccessible for study.

The Music & Recorded Sound Division traces its origins to 1888, when the Lenox Library (which combined with the Astor Library and the Tilden Trust in 1895 to form The New York Public Library) acquired the extraordinary music library of financier Joseph Drexel – a collection of over 6,000 volumes, containing rare 15th- through 19th-century music. Throughout the 20th century the Division has built on this core material, at the same time developing a comprehensive collection of basic bibliographies, historical editions, and complete works that supports general research in the field.

A vital center for music scholars and students, the Music Division also serves the needs of a broad professional constituency: singers and instrumentalists in search of unusual music, writers preparing program notes for concerts and recordings, lawyers searching copyrights, television producers and book publishers in need of illustrative material, and sociologists studying popular culture. Resources – available for study free of charge – include:

Printed Books, Scores, and Periodicals

Extensive biographical, historical, and interpretive material is provided through theoretical treatises, contemporary reference works, and subscriptions to over 800 English and foreign-language periodicals. The division houses numerous rare editions of books and scores, as well as modern editions of music from countries throughout the world.

Please note that over 100,000 of our scores do not appear in the online Catalog.  Please contact the division for further information.

Clippings and Programs

Articles culled from American and foreign newspapers and arranged under easily accessible personal names and subject headings create clipping files that substantially simplify the process of research. Extensive program files provide details about repertory, performers, and producing organizations.


Visual materials, including over 100,000 photographs, 5,000 set and costume designs for opera, and the Joseph Muller Collection of 6,000 fine prints of musicians' portraits from the 15th through the mid-20th centuries, provide rich documentation for all aspects of music, past and present.

Archival Collections

Individual and corporate archival collections document all aspects of the art, from the compositional process to the dynamics of the music business. Among the musicians and organizations represented are Marcella Sembrich, Arturo Toscanini, Town Hall, the New Music Society, and Composers Forum.

Autograph Music Manuscripts

Autograph music manuscripts help illuminate artistic intent and the creative process. The Music Division holds thousands of composers’ autographs from the 18th through the 20th centuries. This collection is supplemented by the Toscanini Memorial Archives, which contains microfilm copies of autograph music manuscripts housed in libraries throughout the world. Prominently represented in both collections are works of J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Haydn, Liszt, Mahler, Mozart, Rossini, Wagner, and Britten.

Sheet Music

Close to 500,000 pieces of sheet music, including an extensive collection of American popular songs, demonstrate trends in popular taste as well as the social, political, cultural, and historical issues of the time.

Electronic Resources

The Library provides access to many music-specific online databases, including Grove Music OnlineRILM Abstracts of Music Literature, and the Index to Printed Music. The Library also subscribes to a growing number of electronic journals. Some of these databases and ejournals may be accessed from outside the Library by NYPL cardholders, while others are available onsite only.


Class Visits

The Music Division encourages and welcomes class visits to our facilities. Members of our staff will be happy to meet with you to plan your group visit, customizing the content to suit your particular class needs and educational goals. Our experienced staff can provide any number of formats ranging from giving introductions to using the Music Division and Research Library to hands-on workshops involving the examination of primary and archival resources while discussing and illustrating a wide variety of complex issues. Having your class meet at the library can provide an experience that students will remember as informative, memorable and fun. Among the benefits of a visit are:

  • Learn how to use Music & Recorded Sound Division and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
  • Learn about our wide variety of electronic databases
  • Becoming aware of unique library services that aid research
  • Discovering many of the uncataloged resources within the Music & Recorded Sound Division (not listed in the online catalog)
  • Providing specialized discussions and demonstrations on various topics
  • Teaching and providing hands-on experience in dealing with the importance and significance of primary sources
  • Introducing students to the field of archival research

We are eager to cooperate with you in any of the many areas where our specialists' knowledge and training can be of assistance. Our goal is to create a relationship between students and the Music & Recorded Sound Division that will enrich their lives and enable them to become independent scholars, fostering a desire for lifelong learning and discovery.  Please contact us to plan your session.