Skip to Main Content

Doing Historical Research in Music: Recordings

Historical recordings

Early recordings can be valuable primary sources for historical research.

See the entry "Recording" in Oxford Music Online (available on our “Databases” page).


Identifying early recordings

There are many discographies that list early recordings of specific composers, performers, and musical genres. Search them in the Library's catalog or Worldcat using subject headings like these:

  • [Composer's name] -- Discography.
  • [Performer's name] -- Discography.
  • Piano music -- Discography.
  • Jazz -- Discography.
  • Opera -- Discography.
  • Musical revues, comedies, etc. -- Discography.

To distinguish retrospective discographies from current ones, look for titles that indicate an earlier period:

Jazz records, 1897-1942.

Broadway on record: a directory of New York cast recordings ... 1931-1986.

The sound of the fortepiano: discography of recordings on early pianos.


Accessing early recordings

Many early recordings have been re-issued on CD. Search for CD re-issues in the Library's catalog, WorldCat, or reveiwing publications (see below).

Early recordings are also available online. Check the music databases on our "Databases" page; music research guides on the our homepage; and other libraries' catalogs:

Modern recordings: the "Early Music Movement"

One area of scholarly interest is the performance of music of earlier periods (from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century) in a way that reconstructs the instruments and performance practice that the composer would have known in his/her own day.

See the entry "Early Music" in Oxford Music Online (available on our “Databases” page).



Some recording labels that specialize in this kind of historical performance:

Archiv Produktion (Deutsche Grammophon)

Das Alte Werk (Teldec)

L'Oiseau Lyre (Decca)

Florilegium (Decca)

Early and Baroque Music (Decca)

Antiqua (Hungaroton)

Music Antiqua



Opus 111 (Naive)



Soli Deo Gloria

Chaconne (Chandos)


Caution should be used with older recordings of early music, because their interpretations have often been superceded by new evidence and scholarship. You may want to consult your instructor or reviews (see below).


Reviews are important aids in evaluating recordings.

Early reviews are also important primary sources for the study of a work's reception history.

Some publications that include reviews of recordings:


Journals (online):

Available on our "Journals" page:

American Record Guide

Early Music

Early Music History


Journals (print):



Early Music America



Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Leslie McCall
Office: 251 ZSR Library
Phone: 336-758-5474