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English and American art song: Home

Tips on finding vocal music by American and English composers.

Songs by composer

The MSU Fine Arts--Music Library holds many scores of British and American art songs. Most are in the circulating collections of scores and recordings. 

For songs by one composer:

Scores of songs in collections by one composer are entered in roughly alphabetic order under the score number M1620.

The third line of the call number represents the composer’s name. Additional lines may be added to distinguish between different titles.


M1620.B32  Barber, Samuel

M1620.B849  Bridge, Frank

M1620.H52 Head, Michael

M1620 .F268  Farwell, Arthur [American, taught at MSU in the 1920s-30s]

M1620.F753 Foster, Stephen

It is generally most helpful to go directly to the shelf and look through the contents of these collections. The songs are often not individually listed in the online catalog. Also, looking at the score initially will help determine the style, range and suitability of a song for the individual singer.

Song collections are generally not divided according to voice type (soprano, tenor, bass, etc.) but by range: high, medium, low. Usually a collection is available in more than one range, but it is always necessary to look at the song to which tessitura may be the most comfortable. 

Identifying nationality

If a composer's nationality is unknown or uncertain, turn to reference sources for identification.

Some examples:

New Grove dictionary of music and musicians. ML100.G885 1991 (Music Reference); ...2001 (Fine Arts reference desk)

Grove music online (see library catalog; click "E resources", select "Texts and links", select "Oxford music online")

Baker's biographical dictionary of musicians ML105.B16 2001 (Music reference)



Texts:There are not many collections of texts for English-language art songs, although there are numerous collections of texts for individuals or groups. They are more common for English-language popular songs than for art songs. A few examples are:

ML54.6.B464 (oversize)  Berlin, Irving

ML54.6.R39 Reading lyrics.

Poets and authors:

If you wish to research the musical settings of a poet’s or author’s works, several reference works can help. There are also biographies and research guides for many [but not all] composers and performers.

Composer guides:

ML134____   (alphabetic by name of composer, e.g. ML134.B175, Barber; ML134.I9 Ives)

ML134.5___ (alphabetic by name of performer, poet, etc., e.g. ML134.5 .A5 Marian Anderson; ML134.5.B6, texts of William Blake set to music)

Art song references

Other reference works about art songs are in ML128.S3 and ML128.V7.  Again, there are not as many about English-language songs as there are about foreign-language repertoire. A few that might be useful:

ML128.S3 S33 1987  Seaton, Donald.  The art song: a research and information guide. (Music Ref)

ML128.S3 P54  Pilkington, Michael.  Campion, Dowland and the lutenist songwriters. (Music Ref)

ML128.S3 V5 1993 Villamil, Victoria. A singer’s guide to the American art song, 1870-1980. (Music Ref)

Articles on “song” headings in New Grove/Grove online and similar dictionaries and encyclopedias should also be consulted. See also “art music” entries under relevant countries in these resources.

Collections of several composers' songs

For songs by more than one composer per volume: see M1619 index (at desk) to find a specific song, or browse the shelves under M1619.

Call numbers are not delineated by composer in these ranges but by title or editor of the collection.

Song cycles

For song cycles (a collection of songs intended by the composer to be performed as one unit, rather than as individual songs): see M1621.4.

M1621.4.H32 O8 Head, Michael. Over the moon (high voice)

M1621.4.H32 O82 Head, Michael. Over the moon (low voice)

Often, but not always, the cycle will be available in more than one key.

Songs on recordings

For songs on recording: a search for a song title is more likely to be successful in finding a recording than a score. Otherwise, search composers or performers (Sperry, Paul; Robeson, Paul; Baker, Janet; Hunt Lieberson, Lorraine; Upshaw, Dawn, Barber, Samuel, etc.)

Sets and monuments

Songs in sets and monuments: (most of these are library use only)  Examples include:

Musica Britannica (M2.M638 – many volumes include vocal works)

English lute songs (M 2.F42 and M2.F42 1965)

Also, biographical references such as Grove or Baker may refer to the presence of individuals' songs in one or more of these sets. These are usually scholarly works that require use of indexes to find relevant materials. Sets and monuments typically begin with call number M 2.

Composers' complete works

Composers’ complete editions– Many composers have English-language songs among their compositions, including non-English speakers. Works of a specific composer can be searched for songs. Use indexes and sources such as New Grove or Baker’s to find the contents, especially if a composer was known to have written numerous songs that cannot be found in other editions. All complete works editions have call number beginning M 3. These are generally noncirculating.

M3.B99  William Byrd

M3.P93, M3.P94 Henry Purcell

Non-English composers

Songs in English-based languages by non-English speaking composers: The best known English-language songs by non-native-English-speaking composers are Beethoven’s extensive sets of folk song arrangements and Haydn’s English, Welsh and Scottish songs. Most of these can be found in volumes of collected songs (see M1619 index) or in the composer’s complete works (see indexes to M3 for a particular composer).

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