Historical Sheet Music Collections: a glimpse of paradise

Stepping briefly outside the Ward Collection, I have been working recently with Dana Gee on our “Historical Sheet Music Collections of Houghton Library and the Harvard Theatre Collection.” As Dana has reported, she has begun our survey and already we have found amazing treasures of music and printing. On a gloomy, rainy day such as today, it might have been easy to pass over a work with a cover like this one.

Sheet Music 133 Cover

Sheet Music 133 Cover


American sheet music, early automobiles and women drivers

I’m pleased to introduce a few images from the Theatre Collection’s current Sheet Music project, beginning a series of posts with intriguing, entertaining and informative images. I’m working on a survey of a hidden collection, part of Harvard’s popular American sheet music holdings, and these early 20th century pieces are from a collection at Houghton Library organized by title. The graphics in this series illustrate every aspect of popular American culture from the mid 19th – mid 20th centuries: music trends, stereotypes, performers, popular dances, fashion, gender roles, and the development of mass production and marketing of music for performance in the home.

Sheet Music 88 cover

Sheet Music 88 cover


“The Surrealist Miracle”

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


“Everywhere the hands, heads, eyes, arms and legs of millions are manipulated through abominable choreographics of obligations, restrictions, responsibilities, laws; life itself becomes inside out, upside down, flattened to the pastel walls of bureaucratic insensitivity—what is there left, in all this, of human freedom?”

So begins the preface of Surrealism & Revolution, a brief anthology of meticulously typed-out texts from surrealist and Dada writers, artists, and revolutionaries such as Max Ernst and Leon Trotsky, interspersed with line drawings inspired by surrealist art (and one image replicating a painting of Hieronymus Bosch, often credited as the original surrealist).


The goal of this collection was to introduce surrealism and its revolutionary capabilities (claimed by Franklin Rosemont in the preface) to the United States, where Rosemont states that surrealism has been “systemically lied about by academicians and journalists,” but the youth of America have discovered it nonetheless and will “soon leave the schools, churches & government buildings of this country smouldering in ashes.”  Franklin and his wife, surrealist artist Penelope Rosemont, founded the Chicago Surrealist Group in 1965 after a meeting with the movement’s founder, André Breton, in Paris.  The Rosemonts have gone on to create art and publish extensively about surrealism and other radical political movements, becoming directors of the subversive literature Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company in the 1980s.  Read an interview with Penelope Rosemont here.


This ZTANGI & Solidarity Bookshop copy from Chicago of Surrealism & Revolution joins its counterpart from the Wooden Shoe in London at Harvard.

To learn more, both issues of Surrealism & Revolution can be found in Widener’s collection: the Santo Domingo Collection copy, [Chicago], Ztangi, [1966], along with the previously held copy, London, Wooden Shoe; Coptic P., [1967].

Thanks to Irina Rogova, Santo Domingo Library Assistant, for contributing this post.

Baking Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake


cut_cakeThe Emily Dickinson manuscripts are a cherished part of Houghton Library’s collections and while it is her poems and letters that are most often celebrated, we’ve lately been dwelling on the poet’s lesser known lines: “2 Butter. / 19 eggs. / 5 pounds Raisins.”

Dickinson’s manuscript recipe for black cake, from which these lines come, was sent along with a bouquet of flowers to Nellie Sweetser in the summer of 1883. Black cake, a traditional Christmas specialty closely related to the English fruitcake, but “blackened” with the addition of burnt sugar syrup or molasses, was generously spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, and clove before being wrapped in brandy or rum-soaked cloth and often aged at least a month. The recipe Dickinson left, though somewhat shocking to a modern viewer (19 eggs!), turns out to be remarkably orthodox in its ratios–if not its scale. Fully assembled, the recipe produces batter weighing in excess of 20 pounds.


A Yogi’s thoughts


This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

This colorful volume is the work of Peter Max, a German artist, who dedicated this book to the brothers and sisters of the Integral Yoga Institute.  The founder of the Integral Yoga Institute was Satchidananda Saraswati, an Indian man who was a religious teacher, spiritual master, and master yogi.  Peter Max apparently asked him to come visit New York City in 1966 and soon thereafter Swami Satchidananda moved to America and started the Integral Yoga Institute, which still exists today.

Swami Satchidananda first gained public attention as the opening speaker in Woodstock in 1969.  He was a spiritual guru to numerous celebrities and musicians as he sought to bring understanding among all religions of the world.  Woodstock-710x380

The text that accompanies Max’s artwork is credited as coming from Swami Sivananda, another Hindu spiritual teacher and proponent of yoga.


Img0047Max’s illustrations are very visually striking with extremely saturated colors that are paired with Swami Sivananda’s words…

“You may wrongly think that you have kept your thoughts in secret.  The thoughts of anger, lust, greed, jealousy, revenge and hatred produce impressions on your face.”

Thought. [With the words of Swami Sivananda, Himalayas].  Editorial assistance by Arjuna (Victor Zurbel). New York, Morrow, 1970 can be found in Widener’s collection. 

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post.