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Engraving of two individuals playing stringed instruments.
"Ain schone kunstliche Vnderweisung in disem Büechlein” by Hans Judenkünig (1523)

Exploring the Music Division’s Collection of 15th-17th Century Anthologies with Susan Clermont

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Nicholas A. Brown-Cáceres, Stacey Jocoy, and Susan Clermont of the Music Division contributed to this blog.

Senior Music Reference Specialist Susan Clermont recently published an authoritative annotated bibliography and accompanying research guide focused on the Music Division’s 306 anthologies of music dating from 1463 – 1701. These anthologies comprise over 12,000 individual works by over 1,000 composers – with both significant as well as rare and unique musical works included. Altogether, these 306 imprints represent 10% of all anthologies produced during this 200+ year period. The extent and diversity found within this remarkable collection of anthologies demonstrates, in part, the breadth and rarity of the Music Division’s pre-1700 holdings.

Photo of Senior Music Reference Specialist Susan Clermont (individual with brown hair and glasses)
Senior Music Reference Specialist Susan Clermont (Courtesy of Susan Clermont)

While the Library of Congress Music Division is commonly known as a major repository for the history of American music, dance, and theater, many researchers and visitors may not realize that the history of Western music’s evolution since the Middle Ages is extensively documented in the form of anthologies, music manuscripts, archival collections, and general collections. Susan was kind enough to answer a few questions that serve as an introductory tour to a portion of the Music Division’s early music collections that is ripe for researchers to explore.

Five Questions for Susan Clermont
[NB – Nicholas A. Brown-Cáceres; SC – Susan Clermont]

[NB] What inspired your work on this resource guide and bibliography? 

[SC] My inspiration came from the breadth of the Music Division’s early music collections themselves and recognizing the need to improve their visibility and access. The more I studied our early music holdings, I realized that the most difficult to locate were the anthologies: a high percentage were not yet in the online catalog or reported to RISM (International Inventory of Musical Sources) and they were obviously not represented in our old card catalog under a single composer’s name. Searching by title was not a problem-free option either!

My goal for this project was to identify as many anthologies as I could, assist our rare music cataloger who created or updated the online records, report what I found to RISM and finally to create this bibliographic tool for researchers and staff.

Engraving of two individuals playing stringed instruments.
“Ain schone kunstliche Vnderweisung in disem Büechlein” by Hans Judenkünig (published/created 1523). Judenkünig, a German lutenist, composer and probably lute maker, was one of the first in the German-speaking regions to publish a self-instruction manual for the lute. One of the most outstanding and rare items purchased at the 1928-29 auction of the library of Dr. Werner Wolffheim. Call Number: MT640 .J9 Case.

[NB] Did you have any particularly memorable discoveries while working with the 306 anthologies?

[SC] I have three examples:

One discovery first came to light in an Music Division Annual Report from 1931 that claimed we acquired a late 17th century manuscript of works by some of the top English composers of the day, containing holographs by Purcell and Blow. I scoured the cards under every composer’s name listed in the Annual Report with no success; since the content of the manuscript was derived from multiple sources (as opposed to a transcription of a single work with a given title), our manuscript had no official title. Without a name or a title, it was completely hidden! By searching through our rare book stacks under the Library of Congress (LC) classification number M1619 (a class that contained several anthologies with similar contents) and guessing that the cuttering of that shelf mark could be “C” for Collection, or “M” for Miscellaneous, or “S” for Songs, the manuscript was rediscovered after 90 years! The given title was “Songs and Duets,” M1619.S72 Case.

I discovered a 1692 anthology with a printer’s error that claimed the volume was actually published in 1712. Oddly, the preface was clearly dated “Milano li 10. agosto 1692.” After researching the publisher and his recent output it became obvious that a mistake was made in the order of the roman numerals on the title page which read MDCCXII instead of MDCXCII. Because of this error, the anthology was temporarily ‘lost’ – not reported either in Robert Eitner’s 1877 anthology bibliography or in the RISM B/I anthology series. A 2014 article cited in my bibliography confirms the details surrounding this printer’s error. Our copy is currently the only one reported to exist!

Singing through one of the most familiar rounds from my childhood – “Three Blind Mice” -was an unexpected thrill. It appeared over 400 years ago in the anthology “Ane buik of roundels,” a manuscript “collected and notted by Dauid Meluill” in 1612. Melvill transcribed the popular ditty from Thomas Ravenscroft’s “Deutermelia,” a 1609 imprint that is also held in our collections.

Tune of "Three Blind Mice" notated on two lines of music
“Ane buik off roundels: whairin thair is conteined songs and roundells that may be sung with thrie, four, fyve, or mo voices haifing prettie and plesantt letters sum in Latin and sum in Inglish quhilks ar an hundreth in number” / collected and notted by Dauid Meluill, 1612. Transcription of “Three Blind Mice” made from the first published edition found in Thomas Ravenscroft’s “Deuteromelia” (1609). Call number: M1490.M535 A5 Case.

[NB] How did the Music Division come to acquire such significant early music holdings?

[SC] One of the top collection development priorities established in the early twentieth century by Music Division Chief Oscar Sonneck was early music, a category he deemed essential if we wanted to attain the status of a world-class music library. For over half a century the division built on Sonneck’s original acquisition plan, compiling want-lists and then scouring auction and dealers’ catalogs in an attempt to locate hundreds of historically significant imprints, and in some cases manuscripts.  We were always aware that retrospective collecting carried a serendipitous element, but Sonneck’ solid long-term plan proved to be the most successful option.

[NB] What types of insights can researchers gain from exploring these treasures?

[SC] With such a wide variety of anthologies to examine, there are insights to be gained into a number of subject areas:

  • The history of early music publishing and printing methods.
  • Studying the dynamics and decisions involved in compiling an anthology – the selection of the repertoire; the relationships between composers, compilers, editors, publishers, patrons and dedicatees; the evolution in format; who financed them; what stories their provenance revealed; which ones were pirated; which were reprinted; which included addenda; marketing strategies, how and where the imprints were published and disseminated and how they influenced composers and performers outside the country of origin -– all significant historical data of which these anthologies are rich and valuable sources.
  • Researching how the musical relevance and influence of certain composers was prolonged or rejuvenated through their anthology contributions rather than via single-composer publications.
  • Statistics! The success of a specific imprint (and, by default, the music it contained) can be measured by the number of editions, reprints, publishers, and transcriptions it underwent; this quantifiable data gives scholars an objective means to assess whose works were most valued hundreds of years ago – what trends were deemed most important and how they impacted the history of music.

[NB] How might these anthologies be of interest to art historians, rare book aficionados, and folks in other disciplines?

[SC] Having tables of contents for each anthology can assist rare book dealers in their assessment of the completeness of additional copies. Those studying papermaking, watermarks, and bookbinding will have more candidates for study here in the U.S. Annotations in our copies can also provide information on former owners, critical to scholars reconstructing the great libraries/collections of famous collectors.

Frontispiece for La Philomèle séraphique, depitcs two men looking up to sky with arms outstretched touching a heart containing dedication text. Cherub-like angel figures are above.
“La Philomèle séraphique, divisée en deux parties” (published/created 1632). Comprising several hundred anonymous spiritual parodies, based on popular songs that borrow from the secular works of contemporary French composers. Call Number: M2137.A2 P5 Case. (Scan from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München)

Visit the Performing Arts Reading Room webpage to explore the Anthologies of Musical Works from the 15th-17th Centuries in the Library of Congress Music Division Research Guide. Several of the treasures are digitized and available for viewing online. If you have any questions about the items, contact the Music Division through Ask a Librarian.

Comments (6)

  1. This was a great article to read and rich with so much important information for a person cataloging. I hope to view aome of these anthologies to explore the data used to catalog these resources. Thank you for providing an interesting piece to read.

    • Thanks so much for reading! We appreciate your interest in the collections.

  2. Thanks for this. Susan is WONDERFUL!

    • We agree, 100%!

  3. I’ve lately become very enamored of Renaissance lute music, and recently borrowed from Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque a number of CDs featuring the lute music of English Renaissance composer John Dowland (c. 1563-1626) which has filled my life with very welcome calm and unhurried musical moments.

    • Wonderful, thanks for sharing!

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