Scores & Sheet Music
Sheet music is the written form of a piece of music. Handwritten or printed, it uses musical symbols to record the parts of a piece for instruments. It allows musicians to play a piece by sight, rather than having to remember it all. As such, sheet music serves as an aid to composition, a record and a guide for performance.
Sheet music is often referred to as a score.
The earliest surviving examples of sheet music come from mediaeval manuscripts, many of which were produced by monastic orders.
Music notation took a step forward in the 15th century with the arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press. The first machine-printed scores appeared in around 1473.
Composers had always been required to draw their own staff lines onto blank paper by hand, as well as notating by hand. The printing press made ready-staffed paper available.
However, even after the advent of music printing, much music continued to exist solely in manuscript (handwritten) form well into the 18th century.
As mass-printing techniques improved, sheet music grew in abundance and hit a peak in the late 19th century, as the increasing number of piano-owning families sought to find more songs to play, and the popular works of famous composers were mass printed for public consumption.
Today, musical scores can be written on graphics computer software. The art of handwriting musical manuscripts is dying out.
Notable past sale
In May, 2003, a working manuscript for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was sold for £2.133 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London. This particular manuscript, which was used by the printer for the first edition, contains previously unpublished music and is the only full score of the symphony to have ever been on the market.
Guide to Collecting
While people do collect antique & vintage sheet music which was mass printed for public consumption, most of the value in this collecting hobby lies in handwritten originals, musical manuscripts.
Many collectors will focus on one famous composer, such as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart etc. The more famous the composer and the piece of music, often the more sought after and valuable. However if an unknown piece by a famous composer was unearthed, this would also be extremely valuable.
Some people will have a wider focus on the type of music, such as classical, jazz, or ragtime etc.
The early drafts of compositions can reveal how a piece developed while it was being composed, which is of great interest to music historians and scholars.
Many composers hired copyists to hand-copy individual parts for each musician or instrument from a composter’s musical score. These copies, while handwritten, are less desirable to collectors than the original musician’s copy but perhaps more desirable than a mass printed example.
Scores can be found at auction, through specialist dealers, and on eBay.
If looking for mass printed antique or vintage sheet music, these are widely available on eBay, second hand and charity stores, flea markets, car boot sales etc.