Illustrations from the Qing dynasty, equipment from Arthur Holly Compton's Nobel Prize-winning experiments, a strange musical score from the 1960s featuring faux fur—these are just a few of the countless gems to be found among the rich resources accessible at Washington University's 12 libraries. Another is the Gaylord Music Library's collection of early editions of works by the great composers Mozart and Beethoven.
While scholars frequently consult these cherished 18th- and 19th-century scores for many different reasons, it’s not every day that those explorations within the library take the form of live musical performance. So it was quite a moment when librarian Brad Short pulled the parts of an arrangement of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte for string quartet printed in 1796 out of an exhibit case last month and placed them directly on music stands for four Washington University students to use during an unusual string quartet performance right there in the Gaylord Music Library reading room on the evening of Friday, February 21.
"The quartet, coached by Washington University music professor Beth Macdonald, played marvelously," says Short. "Everyone sensed that it was a privilege to hear this arrangement that is rarely performed and for which I know of no commercial recording."
In Mozart's time, music circulated in manuscript copies and in prints in a wide range of formats, including the edition that the quartet presented. Professor Emeritus Hugh Macdonald offered remarks during the event, giving insight into the way operatic music was shared and enjoyed in a domestic setting, when the music was new. An opera, if it enjoyed any success, would be published in a variety of playable arrangements, such as one for piano, flute, and harp, and another reduced for piano.
Macdonald topped off the event by making a gift of several rare 19th-century Mozart and Beethoven editions, including his personal 1810 copy of the Cosi fan tutte vocal score to the music library.
"It doesn't appear that even the British Library has both volumes of this score in their collection," Short notes. "All of the items are tremendously rare and are prized additions to the growing collection of first and early editions of Mozart and Beethoven here in our library."
A video of the memorable evening has been made available on YouTube.