Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

Early Music Prints and New Technology: Variants and Variant Editions

Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

Early Music Prints and New Technology: Variants and Variant Editions

Article excerpt

Even if digital technology is no longer considered a new medium, it increasingly pervades our daily and scholarly lives. Nevertheless, technology continues to have important new ramifacations, not least of which is in the realm of early printed books, and in particular in the first century of music publications. In recent years, these sources have been the focus of extensive digitalisation projects, such as VD16 Digital or the project Polyphonic Music Prints of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century, both hosted by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. These projects provide Internet users worldwide with freely available scans of all printed books and music from the period held by the library (1). Other national libraries also offer digital collections of early music editions for research purposes. Royal Holloway, University of London, for example, sponsors the Early Music Online project for holdings at the British Library (2); the Bibliotheque nationale de France hosts the digital library Gallica, and the Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek maintains a digital reading room with a section on rare books--to name a few of the most important European collections.

Parallel to this, many significant local library catalogues have been put online, allowing them to be searched from any home office. Formerly printed bibliographies of specific repertoires were transferred into online databases and now provide an enormous amount of information with one click. This is the case with the Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachraum erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts (VD 16), as well as with the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW), a catalogue of all incunabula (3). In addition, RISM, the international inventory of musical sources, is now searchable online, although it remains a work in progress: not all of its references to printed volumes are yet available (4). Other databases that record early printed books and music are native to the Internet, without any printed antecedent. Examples include the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) by Andrew Pettegree and his team (5), the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) of the British Library (6), and the database Renaissance Liturgical Imprints: A Census (RELICS), developed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (7).

The vdm Database

The rich supply of digitised sources, online library catalogues, and bibliographical databases that developed in the last decades made it possible to start a new project focused on early music printing in German-speaking lands (8). This ongoing project is primarily interested in the technical challenge of printing notes and staff lines together on the page. In contrast to studies focused on specific musical genres, we are examining all types of printed sources with any kind of music notation and recording them in our database, Verzeichnis deutscher Musikfruhdrucke (vdm) / Catalogue of Early German Printed Music (9).

The central tool of the database is a catalogue of sources that can be searched using specific parameters. In designing this tool, we took into consideration the complex relationship between books and their individual copies. Following Joseph A. Dane, we consider the term 'book' to refer to an abstract idea realised in one or more related book copies, whereas we consider the term 'copy' to refer to a material object that exists in time and space, carrying with it its own unique history (10).

While most library catalogues describe the individual copy held in their stacks, numerous bibliographies that are focused on a specific repertoire give a more general description of the book, including at a minimum its title, place, printer, and year. Surviving book copies are listed by library provenance at the end of such descriptions. In vdm we present books and book copies in a more balanced way using two levels of organisation, facilitated by multiple related databases in the background. This complex construction is made possible by recent developments in computer technology. …

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