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Primary Sources in Music

Locating Primary documents, including facsimiles, composer's correspondence, art works, contemporary articles and more

"What are Primary Sources in Music?"

In addition to the source types listed elsewhere in this guide, consider

  • Concert and record reviews, especially those that were written when the music was first played.
  • Newspaper and magazine articles. They often contain interviews and other clues to contemporary life.
  • Scores, recordings and films are all primary sources.
  • Ticket stubs, programs, promotional posters and original concert notes
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Letters, diaries and essays written by the musician

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide firsthand evidence of historical events.  These include letters, diaries, photographs, speeches, and other documents. Many of these are unpublished, one-of-a-kind items. 

A growing number of Primary Sources are available on the web, thanks to digitization projects by libraries, universities, and other agencies.

The term Primary Sources is occasionally used to mean "empirical research" or "original case studies."  If you're unsure about the Primary Sources you need for class, please consult with your instructor.

Locating primary documents in the Library Catalog 
To locate primary resources, perform an All Fields (Keyword) search on the person, place, event, etc., in combination with one of the following terms:

  • diaries     
  • personal narratives
  • correspondence
  • sources
  • pictorial works
  • maps
  • speeches
  • addresses
  • facsimiles
  • atlases
  • ephemera
  • music