fonds WMEL - Wilfrid Mellers Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Wilfrid Mellers Archive


  • [1940s]-2008 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.94 cubic metres

45 boxes, 1 roll and loose material

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Wilfrid Howard Mellers was born at Leamington Spa on 26 April 1914, the son of Percy Mellers, a school teacher, and his wife Hilda Lawrence. Educated first at Leamington College, he then won a scholarship to study English at Downing College, Cambridge, followed by a further degree in music. Whilst at Cambridge he contributed a number of articles to the critical journal, ‘Scrutiny,’ eventually joining the editorial board in 1942.

In 1945 he was appointed to teach English and music at Downing College. He moved to Birmingham University as extra-mural tutor in music in 1949, earning his doctorate there for his work on François Couperin. He subsequently published his thesis in 1951 as ‘François Couperin and the French Classical Tradition.’ In 1960-1962 he was the Andrew Mellon Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA. His time in America inspired his 1964 book, ‘Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music,’ a study of American composition from colonial times to the twentieth century.

It was in that same year that he took up a post at the newly founded University of York, initially to teach English and music but soon becoming the university’s first Professor of Music. At York he had the freedom to create his own innovative music school made up of likeminded composers and musicians. Notably he included popular music in his curriculum, giving seminars on the work of The Beatles and Bob Dylan alongside more traditional subjects like Bach, Beethoven and Vaughan Williams. In 1973 he published ‘Twilight of the Gods: The Beatles in Retrospect,’ and in 1984 he produced a similar study of Dylan, ‘A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan.’

He was also a prolific composer, writing more than 60 pieces of music. Beginning with the composition of incidental music for Midlands theatres in the 1940s, he went on to write two operas in the 1950s: ‘The Tragicall Historie of Christopher Marlowe’ in 1950-1952, and ‘The Borderline’ in 1958, followed by ‘Rose of May’ in 1964 for the Cheltenham Festival and ‘Yeibichai’ in 1969 for the Proms, a fusion of folk music, jazz, traditional orchestral music and Native American texts.

He retired from the University of York in 1981 but continued to write, producing a further eleven published works on the history of music. These included ‘Beethoven and the Voice of God’ in 1983; ‘Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion’ in 1989; ‘Francis Poulenc’ in 1993; ‘Singing in the Wilderness: Music and Ecology in the Twentieth Century’ in 2001; and ‘Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music’ in 2002.

He was widely recognised for his work during his lifetime. He was an honorary fellow of Downing College, Cambridge, and was made Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of York in 1984. He was also awarded an OBE in 1982. In 2004 York Late Music Festival held a weekend tribute to Mellers to mark his 90th birthday year, followed by a further tribute concert at Downing College later that year which featured Mellers’ own music and new compositions written for the occasion by David Matthews, Stephen Dodgson and Howard Skempton.

Professor Mellers died on 17 May 2008.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute in 2008. Further additions were made to the archive in 2011 and 2014.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Records of Wilfrid Mellers, including correspondence, printed programmes, critical reviews, music scores, photographs and other personal and professional papers, 1940s-2008.


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Includes audio cassette tapes and compact discs. Access to audiovisual equipment may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for more information.

Finding aids

The archive is unsorted and has not yet been catalogued.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Music scores, CD recordings and published works by Wilfrid Mellers are also available at the University of York library:

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 23.02.17.




Accession area