RISM Update: Reporting the Music Division’s Mozart Holograph Manuscripts

Halftone reproduction of drawing of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Photomechanical print: half-tone, by Eugene A. Perry [1913]. Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.

To followers of classical music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart typically needs no introduction. One of the most well-known and often-performed composers, Mozart and his memory extend throughout the western musical canon.

Even so, my colleague and I recently discovered that only four out of the Music Division’s eleven Mozart holograph manuscripts had been reported to RISM. RISM, or the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales, is an open-access database that lets you search for which libraries have a specific version of a published score or unique manuscript. The project originally focused on items from before 1800, but more recent efforts have expanded to include published scores from before 1900 and manuscripts from any era. And yet most of our Mozart manuscripts, all from before 1800, had never been reported to RISM.

To mark Mozart’s 265th birthday on January 27, 2021, my colleague and I decided to report the seven unreported holographs in our collections. Although digitized copies for all but one of them have been scanned and made available to view and download on the Library’s website, lack of inclusion in the RISM database hinders researchers from locating them more easily. A key aspect of RISM’s functionality is that it allows anyone to search by musical incipit. Users can search for manuscripts in the database that share the same melody, which has led to the identification of previously anonymous works. Recent copyright infringement lawsuits have even used this ability to demonstrate melodic originality or lack thereof.

In reporting these manuscripts to RISM, we have increased accessibility to the Library’s website; we’ve also included links to our digital copies. By the end of January, we will have reported all eleven Mozart holographs in the Music Division’s collections.

Here are the ten digitized Mozart holograph manuscripts in the Music Division’s collections, now all reported to RISM:

The final unreported Mozart manuscript is the Rondo for Soprano in F Major, K. 577, “Ai desio, di chi t’adora.” It is the sketch of the vocal line and connecting wind passages for the Larghetto of a replacement aria for Susanna’s “Deh vieni non tardar,” in Le nozze di Figaro. Because the manuscript has not yet been scanned and staff continue to mostly work from home, we have not been able to pull and view the item. We hope to report the item to RISM within the next week.

Page from Mozart's manuscript for the K.379 violin sonata

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer. Violin Sonata No. 23 in D Major, K. 379. Holograph manuscript. [1781]. Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

One of the most significant manuscripts in our collections previously unreported to RISM was the Violin Sonata No. 23 in D major, K. 379. The manuscript varies significantly from Mozart’s tidy scores. The decidedly messy manuscript includes multiple colored inks, different paper types, superimpositions and reordering of movements. In a letter from Mozart to his father, dated April 8, 1781, Mozart confessed that this sonata was composed “last night between eleven and twelve; but in order to be able to finish it, I wrote out the violin accompaniment for Brunetti and retained my own part in my head.” After a performance from memory the next evening, Mozart used a darker ink and an additional leaf to put the notes to paper.

Future projects will include reporting to RISM over 200 published scores from the late 18th and early 19th centuries of Mozart’s music. Even the most well-known composers have materials just waiting to be unearthed in our collections.

One Comment

  1. Ann Franke
    February 1, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for introducing me to RISM and the Music Division’s contributions to it.

    Such a worthwhile project. Musicologists and performers worldwide will be appreciative. Happy Birthday Mozart!

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