Music Printing and Publishing


To print music from moveable type comes with a specific challenge, as notes have to appear on top of the staff lines. Early printers found different ways of  addressing this problem, first by a double (or triple) impression technique, in which the paper ran through the press multiple times so that note heads could be super-imposed on the staff lines. Later, a font was developed which had a piece of staff line with a note on each piece of type, allowing for music to be printed in one run through the press. From the seventeenth century onwards engraving became the dominant technology used. These technical challenges and  developments will form the first part of this introduction to music printing; students will learn to identify different printing techniques by working on surviving copies of early printed music. The second major aspect of this course is to understand the social and historical contexts of early music printing and publishing. Who bought printed music books and which musical genres did they acquire? How was printed music disseminated in Europe? What were the implications of specific historical events (such as the Reformation, for example) for the business of publishing music? And how does music printing reflect (or initiate) the changes in musical performance, particularly in the 17th century? By looking at different European centres (and peripheries) of music printing these questions will be addressed in focussed examples. Finally, through extensive workshops with the actual printed material in different libraries across London students will learn to address (and, at times, solve) questions researchers of early printed music frequently face. These include, for example, how to distinguish between different editions or how to identify corrections and changes in printed material.

This course may be particularly useful for professionals and students working on rare books to both contextualise music printing as well as learn about its specifics. Music does not only appear in dedicated publications, but is frequently part of editions of various kinds, including pedagogical or theological works. It is thus one aim of this course to develop the skills to describe music in this wider context of early printed material. At the same time a number of aspects are indeed unique to music printing. This includes, for example, the technical challenges described above as well as questions relating to an often specialised and at times closed market circulation.

The course convenors Prof. Iain Fenlon (IAF) and Dr. Elisabeth Giselbrecht (EG) are both musicologists with a specialisation in the early modern period. Their focus on southern and northern European sources complement each other and thus they can provide a comprehensive picture of European music printing and publishing. 

Course outline

Monday: (Senate House)
Session 1: Introduction I: Music printing – technical challenges (EG and IAF)
Session 2: Introduction II: Music printing – different types of sources (IAF and EG)

Tuesday: (British Library/ afternoon at Senate House)
Session 3: Working with the objects: identifying editions, issues and states (EG)
Session 4: Working with the objects: Venice and the origins of music printing (IAF)
Session 5: Venice: later developments and challenges (IAF)

Wednesday: (British Library/ afternoon at Senate House)
Session 6: Working with the objects: Music and the German reformation (EG)
Session 7: Lyon as an early centre (IAF)
Session 8: Music publishing in Paris (IAF)

Session 9: Printing and performing the solo-song repertory
Session 10: Printing and performing the solo-song repertory II
Session 11: Working with the objects: Examples of London publication (IAF)

Friday (Senate House)
Session 12: Music printing and the Spanish book trade (IAF)
Session 13: Conclusion/ Discussion

Tutor bio

After completing her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Vienna (including a year at New York University), Elisabeth Giselbrecht worked on a PhD at the University of Cambridge (completed in 2012). She then held a post-doc position at the University of Salzburg as part of a larger research project, on music printing in German-speaking lands. On 1 January 2015 Elisabeth started a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at King’s, with a project entitled Owners and Users of Early Music Books. Elisabeth has also worked as an external lecturer at the University of Cambridge, University of Salzburg, and Royal Holloway University.