The gorgas house bound sheet music collection: a case study of nineteenth century music in the antebellum South

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University of Alabama Libraries

The University of Alabama’s Gorgas Family Collection includes two bound volumes of sheet music containing a total of 123 compositions, scored primarily for piano or for voice with piano accompaniment, and published in the years 1832-40. The volumes are housed on the Tuscaloosa campus in the Museum of Natural History (H2009.0004.0746 and H2009.0004.0752). My findings from an examination of the volumes in situ, recorded in this DMA document and accompanying EXCEL spreadsheet, constitute the first scholarly study of the collection. The scores were acquired by the family of John Gayle (Governor of Alabama, 1831-35). Signatures and other markings in the scores indicate that they were used primarily by his daughter Amelia, both in piano lessons at the Columbia Female Institute and for pleasure at home. Amelia brought the collection to the University of Alabama in 1878 when her husband, General Josiah Gorgas, was appointed president of the University. After failing health forced his resignation in 1879, he was named University librarian, a position Amelia assumed after his death in 1883. She is credited with increasing the University’s collection from 6,000 to 20,000 volumes; the main library bears her name and was the first University of Alabama academic building named for a woman. The importance of the positions held by both her father and husband, as well as Amelia’s role in the improvement and expansion of the University of Alabama library, have stimulated research and provided information about Amelia’s family and about her married life. Details of her childhood and adolescence are rare, perhaps in part because her mother died when Amelia was only nine. This study of the collection’s contents, physical condition, annotations in Amelia’s hand, and her likely role in the organization of the works for binding offers insight into the role of music in her social life, in piano study at the Columbia Female Institute, and perhaps in her later contributions to the University library. The findings also add to our knowledge of the genres, publication and distribution, and cost of scores found in such collections acquired and used by the young women of wealthy Southern families in the Antebellum South.

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Performing arts