The Fitzwilliam Museum’s music holdings are among the most important in this country. They include the celebrated Virginal Book, the richest anthology of English keyboard music in existence, and one of the largest collections of Hendeliana, second in this country only to the Royal collection in the British Library. Handel was the greatest hero of the Museum’s Founder, Viscount Fitzwilliam, who collected his autographs and organised together with fellow-enthusiasts the 1784 festival of Handel’s music in Westminster Abbey. The importance of the Museum’s Handeliana is not limited to the autographs and to Fitzwilliam’s bequest. The most valuable addition is Francis Barrett Lennard’s 1902 gift of 67 manuscript volumes made by Smith the younger and his fellow-copyists, and shelved in the fine cabinet known as ‘Handel’s bookcase’. After the dispersal at auction of the Charles Jennens collection, once the largest and most important in this country, and with the addition of Bernard Granville’s 37 volumes now in the British Library, the Lennard manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum remain the most important integral collection of Handel’s music publicly available in England.
The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
London, early 17th century
The Fitzwilliam Museum preserves the richest collection of music to be found in a museum of fine art and the Virginal is one of its greatest treasures. The most important anthology of sixteenth and early seventeenth century English keyboard music, it contains nearly 300 works by 30 of the greatest composers of the time.
Founder’s Bequest, 1816
MU MS 168
George Friedrich Handel (1685-1759)
While traveling through Europe in search for expert tuition and original scores, Viscount Fitzwilliam had a particular passion for Handeliana. Handel left all his ‘Musick Books’ to his copyist, Johann Christoph Schmidt, and many of them passed, through Schmidt’s son, to King George III and subsequently to the British Library. Those that did not were acquired by Fitzwilliam and bequeathed, together with his paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and rare books, to the University of Cambridge in 1816.They are particularly revealing about Handel’s methods of composing directly into full score and often handing the score over for the performance while the ink was still wet on the pages. The premiere of Rinaldo was on 24 February 1711 at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, London.
Founder’s Bequest, 1816
MU MS 254