Many of the British Library’s rare or unique 16th-century music editions are now freely available online, thanks to a partnership between Royal Holloway, University of London, the British Library and JISC.
The Early Music Online project has digitised from microfilm more than 320 anthologies of printed music from the 16th century. The earliest, a collection printed by Ottaviano Petrucci, dates from 1503. Highlights of the collection include sacred music by Josquin des Prez, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd; secular songs from Nuremberg, Paris and Lyon; lute music from Venice and organ music from Leipzig. Over 9000 individual compositions have been digitised.
You can access these digitised editions free of charge via http://www.earlymusiconline.org
Links to the digitised music have also been embedded in the catalogue records in the British Library catalogue (http://explore.bl.uk), COPAC (www.copac.ac.uk) and the RISM UK database (www.rism.org.uk). The project team has greatly expanded the existing catalogue records for these items, creating inventories of the contents of each anthology and adding bibliographical information such as transcribed title-pages and details of provenance. You can now search the digitised content by composer name, title of composition, name of printer/publisher, name of dedicatee, and place of printing/publication. We hope this will open up these important early music collections for further research, study and performance.
For university teachers, Early Music Online should be particularly useful in teaching such topics as: the history of 16th-century music; the history of music notation; the history of music printing; and performance practice. The digitised content includes examples of all the different notational systems used in 16th-century music (including mensural notation and also different types of lute tablature and keyboard tablature). Students can also learn much about performance styles by studying the original notation. Early Music Online contains hundreds of pieces unavailable in modern editions, and hence provides ample material for students interested in editing or performing previously inaccessible music.
The project was funded by the 2011 Rapid Digitisation Programme of JISC, the UK’s technology consortium for higher and further education.
If you have any comments on using Early Music Online, please contact Dr Stephen Rose, the Project Director (stephen.rose[at]rhul.ac.uk).