Recorded Sound and Music Special Collections Research Center

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audio cylinders in various sizes and colors

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In the 20th century, the terms "music" and "sound media" began to intersect in a fundamental way, encompassing a spectrum of materials, from manuscript and printed scores for classical music through popular sheet music and film scores, to commercial and non-commercial sound recordings of popular, serious, and traditional musics; in addition, recordings were made of the spoken word. Our music and sound media collections span this spectrum of manuscript, printed, and recorded materials, relating to composers who were responsible for creating the works or to performers who brought them to public consciousness, either through re-creation or through media presentation.

Our extensive sound recording collections are held in the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, one of the largest archives of recorded sound in the USA, holding formats from the earliest experimental recordings on tinfoil to modern digital media. Music recordings at the Belfer include classical, jazz, popular, film, patriotic, novelty, folk, country, ethnic and experimental genres. Spoken word recordings encompass political lead­ers, poets, philosophers, and famous actors, as well as early radio broadcasts and unreleased discs from major recordings companies. Famous voices on the non-musical recordings include Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, Margaret Bourke-White, Richard Neutra, Albert Schweitzer, and Benjamin Spock.

Archival Materials

A great variety of notable participants in 20th-century music and sound media are represented in our archives, including, among small collections of materials:

Large collections of materials include:

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Digitized Materials

  • Belfer Cylinders Digital Connection provides online access to digital audio files of over 1700 cylinders that are held in the Special Collections Research Center. The digital recordings, provided as high-resolution MP3 files, can be searched or browsed by genre/subject. The full collection of Belfer cylinders (c12,000 unique titles) may be searched in the Classic Catalog.
  • Some Belfer 78rpm discs have already been digitized, as indicated in the Classic Catalog records for the recordings and may be listened to in the SCRC Reading Room. To request a listening session, email

Rare Books and Printed Materials

Our collection holds over a thousand printed resources relating to music and sound media. Useful search terms to locate these items include "music," "musicians," "composers," "women composers," "pianists," "violinists," "conductors," "sheet music," "church music," "operas," "songs," "sound," "recordings," "radio," and "musical scores."