Updated: Erismena Appeal

The Bodleian Library has succeeded in its campaign to save Erismena, the earliest surviving score of an opera in the English language.

During recent research, Dr Harry Johnstone, retired Reader in the Music Faculty and Emeritus Fellow of St Anne’s, discovered that Erismena was sold in 1797 at the auction of the library of William and Philip Hayes, who had been successive Heather Professors of Music at the University of Oxford. The acquisition makes it possible for the music manuscript to return home to Oxford.

Written by Pietro Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676), the leading Italian opera composer of the mid-17th century, Erismena dates from the 1670s, 30 years before any other Italian operas were known to have been performed in Britain. The manuscript now enriches the Bodleian Library’s outstanding music collection and is an important addition to the Library’s existing holdings of English 17th- and 18th-century opera and theatre music.

The score has been part of a private collection and has been studied by only a small number of scholars in the past 50 years. It is one of the most significant British 17th-century music manuscripts to have appeared in recent decades.

A public appeal to raise £85,000 needed to acquire this unique manuscript was launched last November. The acquisition has been made possible thanks to the generous donations offered by the members of the general public and grants given by the V & A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the Bodleian, the Friends of the National Libraries, New Chamber Opera and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director, Bodleian Library, said: ‘The Bodleian Library thanks all the members of the general public and the organizations whose donations made it possible for Erismena to be saved for the nation. The acquisition makes it possible for us to conserve this unique and significant manuscript for the benefit of generations to come.’