Historical mandolin sources at Yale University library (1/4): Introduction


As most readers will know, I pursue primary source research into mandolin history and have done so with a focus on mandolin related prints prior to 1850. During my research I occasionally stumble upon either new finds in libraries already researched by other mandolin scholars. Sometimes, I also have the privilege of being the first mandolin scholar to get a view on mandolin related sources from a library previously not visited by mandolin scholars. Yale University library is one such location which so far went under the radar, and that is totally undeserved as there are many astonishing sources I discovered at this beautiful institution.

Yale University Library

The library has a historical pedigree not to be sniffed at. It’s one of the few North-American university libraries with a rich history going back to the 17th century. However, it is not the distinguished history of the library which caused it its current pile of mandolin sources. In fact, it appears that most of the astonishing mandolin-related historical sources were only recently purchased (last 20-30 years), funded by donations. This does not diminish in any way the achievement of Yale University library to collect and preserve historical sources. Rather, it shows that there are still some interesting manuscripts and prints coming on the market and that it’s important for public institutions to attract enough funds to collect these.


List of mandolin related items in Yaler University library prior to 1850 (in chronological order):

AuthorTitlePlaceDateShelf markAcquisition
Santo LapisMiss Mayer, a new guittar book in 4 partsLondon1759M1621.3 L313 op.16++ FolioPurchased from J & J Lubrano with income from the Rose Jackson Fund.
Pietro DenisSix duos pour deux mandolinesParis1764M293 D395 D9++ FolioPurchased from Otto Haas with income from the Rose Jackson fund.
Gabriele LeoneMéthode raisonée pour passer du violon à la mandolineParis1768MT602 L583 M5 1773+ OversizePurchased from Lisa Cox with income from the Kirkpatrick Fund.
Pietro DenisSeconde partie de la methodeParis1769MT608 D395+ OversizeGift of the Friends of Music at Yale University, 1967.
Constantino PalesiDivertimenti di cammera per due mandoliniAix1775Misc. Ms. 491Purchased from Colin Coleman with income from the Friedman fund.
Cesare MussoliniSix new songs and six minuetsLondonca. 1790M1613.3 M989 N5+ Oversize[No acquisition history.]
Matteo Fiorilo (Fiorito?)Musica di Giulia Boccaccio – Divertimenti a mandolinoMorsarsco?1796Misc. Ms. 601Purchased from J & J Lubrano in 2009 with income from the Margaret Deakers Waith Fund.

Well-known items

The methods of Pietro Denis and Gabriele Leone are among the most well-known mandolin sources from the 18th century. Both are available through facsimile editions and are preserved in several other libraries (and Leone is even available on IMSLP). These two prints are hence not a new find, though they of course have merit. Everyone not familiar with them should certainly pursue to study them – these two are by far the most well-spread mandolin methods of the 18th century.

Lesser known but already known items

The volume by Mussolini is probably not very well known, but was already known by many mandolin scholars for a few decades. (It’s at the very least mentioned in a few mandolin history textbooks, for example, The Early Mandolin by James Tyler and Paul Sparks.)

The volume by Santo Lapis is a print I had already spotted in other libraries – and I already published a blog article on this item. (Most likely an update will follow when I have the time to issue an edition.)

New finds

The item by Fiorito is a manuscript with solo mandolin music, likely written for didactic purposes. I’ve published a blog article about it, listing its contents and some remarks. Likely I will later on update with urtext and modern editions (but at the moment these were not yet finished as I had many others with higher priority to finish – such as the editions of the sources listed below).

A second interesting item was already on the list of mandolin scholars: through advertisements we already knew Pietro Denis published a volume of duets in Paris in 1764. No preserved copy had been found until now. I have published a blog article on this item. It includes my urtext and modern editions of the music in question. It’s an interesting volume, and one of the early witnesses of the golden decades of the mandolin in Paris in the 1760s and 1770s.

The Divertimenti by Palesi are a find of a bigger magnitude than the volume by Denis. Both in quantity and quality this volume surpasses the duets of Denis. It also increases our knowledge about the mandolin in the South of France and adds some new composer to the ever increasing list of mandolin composers. This item also has its own blog post, and also includes urtext and modern editions.


Yale University library is a so far ignored treasure trove for mandolin scholars. Though some of the mandolin sources are known items, there are also some yet unknown sources which add to our knowledge of mandolin history as well as the historical repertory of the mandolin.