History San Jose Music Collection

History San Jose’s collection of music-related documents and objects uniquely represents the rich cultural and social history of the developing Santa Clara Valley from 1860-1930. San Jose was the center of musical activity on the entire West Coast in the last half of the 19th century, and in the Bay Area until the First World War. Music written, published and sold in local stores celebrated the Garden City and the “Valley of Hearts’ Delight.” Four music conservatories, several publishers, and more than a dozen music stores flourished continuously in the downtown area from the 1880s until the 1920s.

Downtown San Jose 1881
View of San Jose in 1881 from the electric light tower. The Music Hall building is visible in the center. (History San Jose)

Reflecting this heyday of musical culture, HSJ’s Library & Archives’ holdings include over 3000 printed items, including a large and varied array of popular sheet music, both vocal and instrumental, covering the period 1840-1950. Personal collections from local donors and music figures like the de Saisset family, Mc Neely family, Leo Sullivan, Harriett Huntley Dean, LeRoy Brant, Edna McCormic-Johnson, and Emma Buck comprise a record of educational and performance trends over the last century.

This large sheet music collection is supplemented by hymnals and community/school song books, memorabilia documenting local music conservatories, journals from local music businesses and the national music community, and interviews of local citizens. Ancillary materials include photographs of musical groups and performances, and documentary accounts in historic and manuscript files, and scrapbooks.

sheet music
“Everybody Loves Carmelita” sheet music, by Phine Jose, 1931 (History San Jose)

San Jose continued to be a major stop on the national music recital circuit through the 1920s and 1930s. The collection contains recital programs of many artists well-known at the time, and some who became even more famous. They include Percy Grainger, composer of “Country Gardens,” a very young Artur Rubenstein, and the equally young Myra Hess, an English pianist who later endeared herself to Londoners by staunchly playing lunchtime concerts in a local church during the Blitz. Mischa Elman was a violinist favorite, as was Ephrem Zimbalist, Sr., who was born and raised in San Jose. A modern counterpart to Zimbalist might be Yehudi Menuhin, who spent childhood summers in Alma and occasionally returned to concertize in the South Bay.

Some examples of locally-published sheet music in the collection:

  • “When Honey Sings an Old-Time Song,” a barbershop favorite by Joseph B. Carey, published in San Francisco by Sherman Clay (1919)
  • “Will You See That My Grave’s Kept Green?,” by G. S. Williams, published in San Francisco for the California Music Co. (1853)
  • “The Lick Observatory Schottische,” by T. M. Lee, arranged by R. L. Yanke, published in San Jose by H. L. Schemmel (1888) with a cover photo of the observatory site
  • “Vendome Schottische,” by Lena Sullivan, published by A. A. Gosbee of San Jose (1889)
  • “Sutro Heights Waltz,” by A. W. Kauffman, “respectfully dedicated to Mr. Adolph Sutro and played with great success by the 2nd Regiment Band, California National Guard, at the Golden Gate Park and Sutro Heights,” published in San Jose by the composer (1888)
  • “Dear Old San Jose,” by Hal. D. Heides, published by Ferguson’s Music House in downtown San Jose (1925)
  • “The Stricken City,” written for the Hearst San Francisco Relief Fund by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, music by Professor F. Fanciulli, published in the Examiner on Sunday, May 27, 1906, as a special insert as part of its sheet music series
  • “Nineteen Fifteen,” march and two-step written for the San Francisco Pan Pacific Exposition by R. O. Hall (1914)

Read more about the contents of the collection.

Index to the sheet music collection at History San Jose (Google docs)