Dating Music Manuscripts and Prints: An Overview of Past and Present Research

By Jaenecke, Joachim | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2009 | Go to article overview

Dating Music Manuscripts and Prints: An Overview of Past and Present Research


Jaenecke, Joachim, Fontes Artis Musicae


It is a great pleasure for me to give a paper on dating music. During my professional time as research librarian in the music department of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (formerly the Prussian State Library) I became very involved in this complicated topic both concerning music manuscripts and printed music.

Music Manuscripts

In my experience, the dating of music manuscripts is a very different question of the problems found in printed music.

My 1973 dissertation on an unknown private music manuscript collection from the eighteenth century contains many details about water marks, paper mills, and copyists concerning music manuscripts and the literature and reference works. (2) In my published catalogues on music manuscripts holdings of Haydn and Telemann in the music department in 1990 and 1993 (3) I learned much more.

A basic resource were the reference works on watermarks and paper mills, such as the well-known publications of Briquet (1905) Heawood (1950), Labarre (1956), and Eineder (1959) in the series "Monumenta chartae papyrae historiam illustrata" published in Hilversum. (4) But there are also special publications for regions in Germany, especially from Gerhard Piccard and Wisso Weiss. (5)

The most music manuscripts have no date. If you have enough experience with the quality of paper, knowledge of paper mills and their watermarks, and type of copyist it is partly possible to estimate, in which region and in which time (with a margin of +/- 20 years) the manuscript copy has been created. It seems to me easier in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than in the eighteenth century, because in the eighteenth century, the trade of paper in Europe increased more and more. Paper from the famous Dutch, Swiss and French paper mills can be found in many parts of Germany.

In some cases, the use of reference works concerning watermarks for dating music manuscripts can be risky. Most watermark reference works are based on watermarks of printed and dated books, and others use dated manuscript material in archives. My observation is that papers for printed books have different life than paper for manuscripts. I do not exclude the possibility that paper mills (in the eighteenth century) produced paper for manuscripts with watermarks that are not mentioned in reference works. Concerning copyists: with experience you can guess from which area a copyist comes from (Vienna, specific parts of Germany, Italy, or France) in connection with the paper.

Most reference works on paper mills and watermarks do not refer to music manuscripts. As far as I know the editors of the Collected Works of J. S. Bach began with extensive research on watermarks for their critical reports. A Supplement volume of the Collected Works contains important watermarks from Bach manuscripts. (6) Also a Supplement volume of the Collected Works of W. A. Mozart has a similar documentation of watermarks. (7) Other editions and publications followed these examples. (8)

During the last 15 years, more and more special publications includes remarks on watermarks and pictures of watermarks in music manuscripts. A compilation of such literature could be very useful. A search on the internet for the keywords "watermarks," "filigranes" or "Wasserzeichen" is very helpful.

Music Prints

While dating music prints should be made easier because of the use of plate numbers, in actuality, the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century still remains a difficult era for dating. Many music publishers in Europe used plate numbers for engravings and lithographies as identification of each print but rarely included the year of publication. Fortunately the publisher Hofmeister from Leipzig edited his famous bibliography for new publications in music (music prints, books and periodicals and other materials) in Germany and other European countries from 1817 until 1944.

Hofmeister edited the Monatsberichte (monthly reports) 1829-1945 and 1947, the Jahresberichte (annual reports) 1852-1943, 1945-1990 and the Handbuch. …

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