Music was not actively collected by Mrs Rylands, and only in recent years has it begun to figure prominently among the Special Collections. Most of the printed music dates from after 1780.
Unusually for an academic library, the printed music collection is strong in English popular songs from the 1880s through to the 1940s.
There are numerous musical manuscripts scattered among the Library's Special Collections.
These fall into three main groups.
- Firstly, the mainly medieval Latin Manuscripts include liturgical texts containing musical notation, with a great deal of Gregorian chant.
- Secondly, there are over 30 musical manuscripts among the formerly uncatalogued University MSS, largely comprising scores of 18th- and 19th-century British music.
- Thirdly, the Methodist Archives contain a wealth of correspondence and other material relating to the Wesley family, among whom were three musicians, Samuel (1766-1837), his brother Charles (1757-1834), and Samuel's son Samuel Sebastian (1810-1876). Other items include an English harpsichord manuscript of c.1754 among the Bagshawe Muniments; and a lute book and song book, both of the 17th century, from Tabley House.
There are also some exotic music manuscripts among the Coptic, Ethiopic and Turkish Manuscripts and various other oriental collections.
The Arthur D. Walker Music Collection, presented in 1994 by the former Music Librarian of the JRUL, contains full, study and rare miniature scores; collected editions, especially of Bach and Handel; miscellaneous printed works; and facsimiles and photocopies of manuscripts, archives and early printed editions, together with research notes compiled by Mr Walker in the course of his studies of the music of Handel and Mahler.
Michael Kennedy (b 1926), the Manchester music critic and author, presented a collection of papers to the Library in the late 1970s.
This collection consists primarily of manuscript and typescript copies of his published works, including authorized biographies of Ralph Vaughan Williams and John Barbirolli, books on Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Edward Elgar, and books on Manchester and its musical tradition - notably histories of the Hallé‚ and the Royal Manchester (later Northern) College of Music.
In addition there are a number of letters from Elgar's daughter, Carice Elgar Blake, and a large bundle of correspondence generated during Kennedy's research for his book on Vaughan Williams. The latter includes notes and letters from various well-known composers, conductors, musicians and writers who were acquainted with the composer, such as Adrian Boult, John Barbirolli, Benjamin Britten and Bertrand Russell.
There is also a large quantity of correspondence with the composer's widow, Ursula Vaughan Williams.
The Leonard Behrens Papers contain material on the Hallé Orchestra, 1952-72.
- Published catalogue of music manuscripts, Barry Cooper, 'Catalogue of Pre-1900 Music Manuscripts in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 79, no. 2 (1997), pp. 27-101.
- Card catalogue of the Walker Collection.
- Catalogue of the Michael Kennedy Papers available online via ELGAR.
- All the Special Collections printed music (except for the Walker Collection) is recorded in the Printed Music card catalogue in the Main Library.
- All the main entries are duplicated in the Printed Music card catalogue in the Music Department.
(Arthur D. Walker Music Collection held at the )