The BnF

Music Department

Created in 1942, the Music department gathers one of the most important music collections worldwide; it is the only Library-museum housing the heritage collections of a theatre while being connected with a national library. Located on two different places, it gathers, in the Richelieu-Louvois premises, the music collections collected since the early 18th century and the heritage collection of the Music Conservatory. At the Palais Garnier, it houses at the Opera Library the artistic heritage (music, iconography, archives, architectural drawings...) of Paris Opera and the Opéra-Comique. The oldest manuscripts date back to the Middle-Ages; as for printed documents, the oldest ones date back to the beginnings of music printing, at the end of the 15th century.
The reading rooms (Richelieu-Louvois and Opera libraries) are open to the readers of the Research Library; prior authorization is necessary to consult certain documents. A museum is available to the public at the Opéra-Garnier. 

Collections of the Music Department

Collections on the following topics are available for consultation at the Music Department :

Richelieu-Louvois Library

The Golden Cockerel. Nikolai Andreevitch Rimski-Korsakov. 1908

The Golden Cockerel. Nikolai Andreevitch Rimski-Korsakov. 1908

The collections of the Music Department concern all types of music from the origins to the present day; yet, most of them are dedicated to western music. They do not include sound recordings and multimedia documents housed at the Audiovisual Department.

The Richelieu-Louvois Library houses about 2 million documents almost totally made up of handwritten and printed scores dating back to the beginning of music printing. Various documents about musical activity and musical life in France and abroad are also available.

All major music areas are covered: singing and melody, instrumental music, chamber music, symphonic music, church music, songs, opera, opéra comique, operetta, modern music...

The most remarkable pieces and collections include the following:

  • the manuscript of Mozart’s Don Giovanni
  • autograph manuscripts by Hector Berlioz
  • autograph manuscripts by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Gabriel Fauré

To be noted

Since 1991, the department has been receiving the files and musical works of deceased composers by way of deposits by the Contemporary Music Resource Center (Centre de documentation de la musique contemporaine).

Opera Library

Costume by Alfred Albert for Le Corsaire (1855)

Costume by Alfred Albert for Le Corsaire (1855)

Consisting of archives, a library, and a museum, the department preserves the heritage of the Opéra de Paris and all materials on lyrical theater and dance.

The Opera Library holds musical documents (music scores, handwritten manuscripts, etc.), graphic materials (mock-ups and drawings of sets and costumes), and archive materials arising from the activities of the Opéra (including in particular performances by the Académie de Musique et de Danse over the past three centuries) and the Opéra-Comique.

The Library also holds literary, musical, graphic, and museum materials on lyrical theater and dance.

The Opera Library also has under its charge a museum, originally consisting of “pious souvenirs” belonging to singers, dancers, composers, and musicians. Housed within the Opéra Garnier, it displays a selection from among 2,500 mock-ups of sets, 3,000 objects (including 500 paintings), and 3,000 items of stage jewelry.

Many 18th and 19th century iconographic and archive documents, such as the Journal de l'Opéra describing the Opera's everyday life, are available in Gallica digital library.

See also

Opera Library  

History of the department

From the 18th century onwards, musical collections began to be added to the Royal Library: Sébastien de Brossard’s collection, manuscripts by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, etc. Legal deposit arrangements covering printed music, governed by the 1793 laws, came into effect at the National Library in 1812.

The Library of the National Conservatory of Music (Bibliothèque du Conservatoire national de musique), created in 1795, benefited from revolutionary confiscations and received part of the royal collections, including the Philidor collection, which can be accessed by way of a file within Gallica. It was expanded in the 19th century by the legal deposit scheme (effective from 1834 onwards), a policy of holding copies in European libraries, acquisitions, and donations.

In 1942, the musical collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Library of the National Conservatory of Music in Paris, and the Opera Library, still based at the Palais Garnier, were brought together within a single entity, forming the Music Department. The old collection of the Conservatory Library (Bibliothèque du Conservatoire) has been available for consultation at the Music Department since 1964.

For more info

History of the BnF

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Mathias Auclair

Richelieu-Louvois Library :
Phone : 33 (0)1 53 79 88 50
Fax : 33 (0)1 53 79 88 28
Email :

Opera Library :
Phone : 33 (0)
Fax : 33 (0)
Email :

For a bibliographic search, use our "Ask a librarian" service, SINDBAD :
Ask a librarian (SINDBAD)