Content, Part 6: Free Sheet Music Sites – Classical Resources

by airturn

Free?  Did someone say, “free”? Yes siree, thar’s gold up in them cyber clouds!  Free for the taking – if you don’t mind wading through buckets of shale to find yer treasure, that is.  Old gold’s the best, Sonny boy – stuff that’s been waylaid in musty warehouses and library catacombs suddenly find themselves pristinely preserved and free for the takin’, thanks to the wonders of public domain and a faithful army of anonymously scurvy scanners scattered as far as the virtual eye can see.  Then, there’s the digital underbelly, “full of scum and villany” as ol’ Obi-Wan Kenobi might say – “we must be cautious,” particularly when it comes to dubious copyright issues.  But that doesn’t seem to stop the explosion of sites that shower the virtual silicon streets with lyrics, chord charts, and guitar tabs for the latest and greatest popular hits to make even the most moribund emo-lescent riff shredder smirk with glee.

Generally speaking, free sheet music sites offer their wares in one of two file flavors:  PDFs, the universal picture-book darling format, and Text files, for musicians who like their music served up with consonants and vowels rather than black dots and beams with racing stripes.  To give you a comprehensive overview of the free sites available would be another Moby Dick tome in itself – I’ll let Google be your guide down the branching rabbit holes.  At the very least, here’s a broad sampling of some of the best known sites to satiate the most ravenous tablet/computer hard drives:

Classical/Public Domain

IMSLP.org - the International Music Score Library Project

File format: PDF

Five sweet letters of the alphabet that sing to the classical musician’s WiFi antenna like few others.  IMSLP is the motherlode of all digital sheet music sites, the portal to an incredible repository of (at the time of this writing) nearly 60,000 works and 215,000 scores, representing almost 8,000 composers.  And to think, this incredible cyber-monument to the world’s greatest musical compositions was starting by a bored 19 year old conservatory student one winter month in 2006 (see The New York Times article “Free Trove of Music Scores on Web Hits Sensitive Copyright Note” by Daniel J. Wakin, Feb. 22, 2011).  If you’re looking for a piece of classical music in the public domain, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll find a version of it on IMSLP.  Availability will vary depending on the copyright laws of each country (the site tries to flag works restricted by copyright accordingly – some works will be available in the U.S.A. but not the E.U., and vice versa).  Gorge yourself accordingly.

CPDL.orgChoral Public Domain Library

File formats: PDF, Finale, Sibelius, among others

In an age where smartphones are obsolete minutes after they become available, having a site that’s been around since 1998 is akin to being prehistoric.  The brainchild of Rafael Ornes, CPDL is the largest online resource of choral music in the public domain, making (at the time of this writing) over 14,600 scores by over 2,060 composers available for free in a variety of file formats.  If you like to sing with friends, this site is sure to make you get along even more harmoniously.

Free-Scores.com – the name says it all

File Formats: PDF, MP3, MIDI

Free-Scores.com is originally a French-language site, but you can select an English option from a drop down menu or by going directly to http://www.free-scores.com/index_uk.php3.  As of this writing, there are approximately 40,000 pieces of music offered for a wildly wide variety of instruments, including recorder, saxophone, banjo, accordion, lute, flugelhorn, vielle a roue, bouzouki, as well as instruments more commonly represented in symphonic orchestras.

Sheet Music Consortium – http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/sheetmusic/index.html

File format: PDF

This is like the music inter-library loan system on steroids.  Sheet Music Consortium is an incredible collaboration between several major universities (Johns Hopkins U., Duke U., Indiana U., and the National Library of Australia, to name a few) and the Library of Congress to make their digital sheet music collections available for online viewing and study, and in many cases, even as PDF downloads.  Of particular note are the vast collections of early American Songs, giving a vivid look into the evolution of popular music as a cultural phenomenon.

Scholarly Editions

Yes, it’s true – the best things in life really are free!  Here are some examples of online scholarly editions that no serious classical musician should overlook:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Neue Mozart-Ausgabe – http://dme.mozarteum.at/DME/nma/start.php?l=

File format: Image (JPEG)

The Neue Mozart-Ausgabe is by far the best online resource for all of Mozart’s works in a scholarly edition. The site states that usage is restricted to “personal study, educational and classroom use”.  The entire collection can be searched by category of work, a variety of KV. catalogue numbers (KV, KV6, KV6 Anh. A B or C…who in the world knew that so many librarians had so much time on their hands?), and even by key signature and preferred editor.  Pages can be viewed a portion at a time by scrolling down the sidebar, or by clicking the page number hyperlinks along the top. Beautiful typography makes viewing easy on the eyes and friendly for study. Kudos to the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum and The Packard Humanities Institute for making this treasure of musical art freely available to the world!

The only drawback to this site is that the music is only available one page at a time.  You can right-click and save each page individually (add a .jpg to the file name to have your computer recognize the image file in JPEG format), and then use a PDF converter to combine the images into a multi-page PDF file (I like iCombiner for Mac and doPDF for Windows).

Felix Mendelssohn: Digital Library Department of the Bavarian State Library – http://www.digital-collections.de/index.html?c=autoren_index&l=en&ab=Rietz,%20Julius

File format: PDF

The Digital Library Department of the Bavarian State Library has an incredibly generous online offering for the classical music community: the complete works of Felix Mendelssohn as digital scores, scanned in high quality for clear viewing. Scores are available as PDF downloads, but you need to navigate a bit of Bavarian German to assent to their download policies (I presume – my German-reading skills are pathetic). This is an invaluable resource for serious musicians who can use these scores, readily available online, for the study and research of one of classical music’s greatest musical masters.

For more wondrously free classical sheet music links, visit http://airturn.com/sheet-music-sites/sheet-music-sites/free-sheet-music/classical-music