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La Musicale – The Musical Collection of the Geneva Library: They Know The Score
Mise à jour: 27.11.2018

La Musicale – The Musical Collection of the Geneva Library: They Know The Score

There is so much music happening in Geneva: from highbrow classical professional symphonists to teenagers getting a metal band started in a basement, from amateur productions of vintage Broadway musicals to people who woke up in the morning and decided to learn how to play the didgeridoo. And there’s something for all of them at “La Musicale”.
La Musicale
© La Musicale

Geneva’s Musical Brain

There’s no doubt that Geneva’s musical heart beats around Place de Neuve: the opera house, the symphony hall and both the conservatoires, popular and academic, would almost be within hearing distance from each other, if it weren’t for the traffic. And at the intersection of all the roads between these institutions, in the Maison des arts du Grütli, we find Geneva’s musical brain. "La Musicale", the Musical Collection of the Geneva Library, has its digs in a high-ceilinged space that takes up almost half the surface of the Grütli’s first floor.

This is a musicians’ library. If you want to listen to music, borrow rare editions of vintage recordings that you can’t find online or enjoy the meaty biography of a famous composer, Geneva’s other municipal libraries will happily provide you with what you need. “La Musicale” deals almost exclusively in printed scores and sheet music, as well as bound editions of songbooks, methods, film music, musical theatre and opera, pop, rock, jazz … The acquisitions policy at “La Musicale” is very user-determined: the librarians welcome suggestions from all walks of musical life.

Spend a while sitting at the reading tables in the well-appointed reference area (the only books that “La Musicale” actually keeps), and you’ll witness the great variety of users that approach the service desk with their requests. Students from the nearby music schools, with their instrument cases slung over their shoulders. A conductor, waiting for an orchestra score, chats with a busker who needs to tweak his repertoire and is taking out the Great American Song Book. A lady sits at a computer terminal, taking advantage of the library’s many online subscriptions to watch the Live From the Met opera casts (it’s Act 2 of Tosca and Scarpia is harassing Tosca, thank heaven the lady’s got noise-cancelling headphones on). Beside her, also safely sound-proofed with audio cans, is another woman, sitting at a state-of-the-art electronic keyboard, it looks like she’s improvising, but then again she might just be there doing her fingering exercises.

Where to Score the Good Stuff

The reference section also displays current editions of approximately 40 music magazines, most of them in French (although they do have "Mojo and The Wire"). But in the end, it makes no real difference here what language you speak; so long as you can read music, you’re good. Also in the reference section, are some glass display cases, presenting the library’s latest acquisitions (goodness, an edition of Enya songs, with guitar chords and piano accompaniment: be afraid…). Between the library’s main door and the reference section is the free-access section of the stacks. Even if you’re not a practising musician, it’s a real treat to browse here. Musical scores and sheet music are often flimsy things and they get leafed through so much that “La Musicale” invests in high-quality bindings, colour-coded according to musical genres: yellow for jazz, red for classical, green for rock and pop, blue for variety and so on. And you come across some pretty crazy stuff: the Doris Day Songbook? (OK, "Sentimental Journey’s" a great song), "34 Scores for Piano, Organ, Harpsichord and Celeste"… by Björk???

“La Musicale” began as an orchestra library in the 1960’s, with an obvious bent towards classical music. In 1989, it opened to the public and moved to its current location in the then newly-renovated Grütli Arts Building, joining the public libraries system in 1998. At that point in time, “La Musicale” began a new policy of acquiring and storing musical materials of all types, not just classical. Free access to a significant part of the collection was introduced in 2006. “La Musicale” has approximately 70’000 documents on catalogue, but the greatest part of this collection occupies almost the entire length of the main room and is off-limits to users (unbound scores, rare editions, brittle material, etc.). But like all the heritage libraries of Geneva, all you need is a RERO library card and the librarians will fetch whatever document you request from storage.

Despite its slightly awkward location and its vocation as a specialists’ library, “La Musicale” is doing a great deal to make people aware of its resources and, even if they aren’t musicians, know that there is a really great centre of musical knowledge and competence, right in the middle of town. The “La Musicale” librarians are occasionally solicited online through the InterroGE platform, a free joint service of the City of Geneva libraries. Just ask any question, even in English, and you will get a personalized answer in three days, guaranteed! If you want to know the names of the composers whose busts are set in the frieze of the Grand Théâtre on Place de Neuve or if the order of the strings is inverted on guitars for left-handers, the answer will be coming from the “La Musicale” librarians. When it’s the "Fête de la musique", “La Musicale” pulls all the stops, welcoming visitors with concerts and small exhibitions (notably of their impressive collection of Geneva musical event and concert posters and rare materials from the collection). Now how about asking them for a score of ABBA’s “Thank You For the Music”?

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