The library has launched a new iPad application called Forte, which can access more than 13,000 individual musical items, dating from the early 1800s through to the 1950s.
Downloading the digitised musical scores is popular among musicians and historians, but also art lovers wanting to study the elaborate illustrated covers. The app was written by Canberra techy Jake MacMullin using an open data set from the Government’s data website.
Some of the online favourites include the Advance Australia Fair sheet music of the 1900s and the iconic Aeroplane Jelly song. The music collection contains over 300,000 musical scores and the largest collection of music research resources in Australia. ::::
Senior curator Robyn Holmes says the application name is a play on words.
“Forte is a musical term meaning loud and of course this is a good way of shouting to the world about our wonderful sheet music collections at the Library,” she said. “It is a fantastic record of Australian culture from the first days of importing music, then publishing music in Australia, right through to when rock music and recording took over in the 1950s as the mainstay of communicating songs. Sheet music was really the way in which people accessed music, played it in their homes, distributed it and shared it. Just like we do with MP3’s today, that was the role of sheet music.”
The music includes:
- Australian published and unpublished sheet music covering a range of musical styles, some digitised
- Historical and contemporary music, in notated form
- Archives of composers, performers and music organisations, sound recordings of folk music and dance
- Memorabilia and photographs capturing musical performance and music trade
- Music information to support research and study
The Library primarily collects music in notated form, though not generally multiple vocal or instrumental parts. Commercially recorded music is held at Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive.
The application was written by Canberra developer Jake MacMullin using an open data set from the Government’s data website.
“The collection is available at the library and online, but it’s the new user interface that makes the difference,” Mr MacMullin said. “Having an iPad app allows you to do some clever caching so the pages can load a little bit more quickly, and you can flip from one to the next. You can also do things like allow people to save copies of scores offline for use when they don’t have an internet connection. I don’t think it will ever replace paper, but I think what this allows is that you don’t actually have to physically visit the National Library to access some of this material.”
Ms Holmes says it is like having a personal, browsable, portable music book.
“You can sit it [the iPad] on your piano, you can sing from it and it is actually easier to turn the pages than it is using paper on the piano,” Ms Holmes said. “Which means that you can use it as a browsing function. Instead of having to go, find something, print it out then take that to an instrument, you can explore it at your leisure in front of an instrument.”
Highlights of the collection include:
- Australian Sheet Music – highly decorative covers of sheet music documenting performing arts history. Includes advertisements for stage and cinema productions, the latest musical instruments and recordings. This collection can be accessed for iPad via our Forte app.
- State Theatre Collection – over 13,000 published orchestrations, band arrangements and instrumental music composed or arranged for small orchestra to accompany silent movies. Primarily used in Australian film theatres from 1900 to the 1930s. Many record film screening dates and distribution stamps.
- Symphony Australia collection – a collection of chamber, choral, operatic, orchestral, piano and vocal works by Australian composers and arrangers from colonial music to the 1970s. Includes scores and parts used by the ABC for performance and original manuscripts.
- Helm collection – c.7000 scores of 18th and 19th century European and English vocal music.
Downloading the digitised musical scores is popular among musicians and historians, but also art lovers wanting to study the elaborate illustrated covers.
“Part of its marketing strategy, in a funny kind of way, was to make it as decorative as possible,” Ms Holmes said “If you go to your Grandma’s old piano stool you will see sheet music that almost looks like posters, or programs or advertising material. “It’s full of colour, life and information.”
The composers also captured the wartime and patriotic spirit of different eras.
“There’s a song for nearly every location of Australia,” Ms Holmes said. “Manly by the beach for example, with beautiful depictions of Manly in its heyday as a tourist venue, and it was published through the daily newspapers as a kind of advertising. In fact Waltzing Matilda was a way of advertising Billy Tea when it was produced as sheet music in its second iteration, after the original was written.”
Some of the online favourites include the Advance Australia Fair sheet music of the 1900s and the Aeroplane Jelly song. For more info, check: www.nla.gov.au/what-we-collect/