Oldman, Cecil Bernard
Oldman, Cecil Bernard (1894–1969), bibliographer, was born on 2 April 1894 in London, the only child of Frederick James Oldman, a builder and contractor with a business in New Cross Road, south-east London, and his wife, Agnes Barnes Nightingale. From City of London School he won a scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1917 with second-class honours in literae humaniores.
After some war service in the Honourable Artillery Company, in 1920 Oldman entered the department of printed books in the British Museum as an assistant (he later became assistant keeper). Having mastered all aspects of the department's work, Oldman rose rapidly through its senior ranks during and just after the Second World War. Promoted a deputy keeper in 1943, he became a keeper in 1946, under Sir Henry Thomas as principal keeper. When the latter retired in 1948, Oldman succeeded him and held office with great distinction until his own retirement in 1959.
Oldman continued to tackle the difficulties of post-war reconstruction. He also faced the increasingly urgent problem posed by the slow progress of the scholarly revision of the general catalogue of printed books, which, seriously disrupted by the war, had only reached a point early in the letter D. When reporting the matter to the trustees in 1953, Oldman had to recommend one of two courses: either, having attempted to secure more staff, to press on with revision, or (as was vigorously advocated by F. C. Francis, the senior of the two keepers serving under Oldman), to terminate the work and then reprint volumes photolithographically together with the unrevised remainder, but with accessions from 1905 to 1955 intercalated. It was a bitter blow when the trustees preferred the reprint.
Oldman was totally dedicated to the department and was highly regarded by his colleagues. Throughout his career he was noted for the calm, far-sighted judgement which, combined with appreciation of scholarship, made him such an outstanding administrator. Of medium stature and with strong, sensitive features, he was reserved by nature and a man of few words, but had a delightful, dry sense of humour. In 1933 he married Sigrid, daughter of Vice-Admiral Adolf Sobieczky, formerly of the Austrian navy, and his wife, Adele, Baroness Potier des Echelles. They had no children.
Oldman specialized in the bibliography of the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. His study Musical First Editions (1934) is a classic for its lucid exposition of new ideas. He was also by far the finest English Mozart scholar of his generation. Though he published little under his sole name, the best testimony to his erudition is to be found in the prefaces of numerous books on Mozart by both British and foreign authors who readily acknowledged his guidance. His pioneering work, with O. E. Deutsch, Mozart Drucke: eine bibliographische Ergänzung zu Köchels Werkverzeichnis (1931–2), became invaluable. Oldman's own Mozart collection included the unique letters written by Constanze Mozart to the publisher J. A. André which first appeared in his English translation within volume 3 of Emily Anderson's The Letters of Mozart and his Family (1938). Oldman also owned the so-called Attwood manuscript, which contains the musical exercises written by Thomas Attwood under Mozart's supervision in 1785 and 1786. In collaboration with others Oldman published this source (originally published in 1925) as part of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe in 1965. He was awarded the silver medal of the Mozarteum in 1950.
Oldman was appointed CB in 1952 and CVO in 1958 (the latter in recognition of his services as honorary curator of the queen's music library). He served as president of the Library Association in 1954. In 1956 he received an honorary DMus from the University of Edinburgh and was elected an honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. Oldman died at his home, Flat 3, 37 Gower Street, London, on 7 October 1969.
Wealth at Death
£28,026: probate, 13 Aug 1970, CGPLA Eng. & Wales