Early Music Printing

Early Music Printing

In the 1470's, the recently invented art of printing was applied to monophonic music, coinciding with a new blossoming of native composition in Italy. Early in the 16th century it was also applied, on a large scale, to polyphony. Since much of the polyphonic music that was printed then dated from the later decades of the fifteenth century, our sources for the art forms of that period include early prints as well as manuscripts.

Among the most important of these sources are the prints of secular music published by Ottaviano de' Petrucci, especially those devoted to Italian music. Michel de Toulouze had, in fact, printed at Paris, some time between 1488 and 1496, and without attribution to an author, L’Art et instruction de bien dancer, the text and musical content of which are largely the same as the famous Brussels MS 9085 that supposedly belonged to Margaret of Austria; the work includes two pages of normal mensural notation, although most of the music is in the kind of breves that appeared in the manuscript. Petrucci, however, is the man whose position as a printer of music is analogous to that of Gutenberg as a printer of books. Even though Petrucci was not the first to print music or even the first to do so from movable type, he was the earliest to accomplish printing in an important way with respect to music other than plainsong. Printed music naturally gained wider circulation than manuscripts. The appeal to a larger audience is reflected in Petrucci's departing from custom by providing solutions to verbal canons.

Three tasks faced the early music printers. They had to represent (1) monophonic Gregorian Chant, (2) polyphonic music, and (3) short musical examples in theoretical or other works. This they did by means of wood blocks, metal blocks, or movable type. Printing music by the last-named method apparently originated in Italy, though experiments in the other processes occurred earlier in other countries.

The first known printed book meant to include music is the Psalterium, printed by Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer, Gutenberg's associates, at Mainz, in 1457. Only the text and three black lines of the staff were printed; the fourth line was drawn by hand in red, and the notes were also written in manually. Hand-written insertions continued to be made in many liturgical works, even after the general adoption of music printing, since individual copies from large editions could thus be made to conform with local traditions.

The earliest attempt to depict actual music in print appeared in the Collectorium super Magnificat of Charlier de Gerson, produced at Esslingen in 1473 by Conrad Fyner. Here, sol, la, mi, re, ut, mentioned in the text, are represented, without staff lines, by five black squares placed in a diagonally descending row and preceded by the letter f as an F clef.

To return to Italy: a Roman Missale completed at Milan by Michael Zarotus of Parma on April 26, 1476, is the earliest known instance of the printing of music from movable type. Gothic-style (lozenge-shaped) notes are used; however, the printing of the music is not continued throughout. Six months later another Missale, also employing movable type but using Roman-style (square) notes, was produced by Ulrich Han (or Hahn) at Rome. In both books, double-impression printing was employed: the staves were printed in red in one impression, the plainsong notes in black in another.

Mensural note-shapes seem to have been printed for the first time in Franciscus Niger's Grammatica brevis, produced at Venice in 1480, by Theodor von Würzburg. It is not clear whether these were printed from type or from a metal block. Three note-shapes are drawn upon to illustrate five poetic meters. There are no staves, but the ascending and descending spacing of the note-heads probably indicates that melodies were intended. In 1487 there appeared, in Nicolo Burzio's Musices Opusculum, produced at Bologna by Ugo de Rugeriis, the first known, complete, printed part-composition. This was made from a wood block. It is noteworthy that printing from movable type, a more advanced technique, preceded printing from blocks.

Among the liturgical incunabula printed in Italy are several examples by Ottaviano Scotto. The presses yielded also various books on theory.

A petition, addressed by Petrucci to the Signory of Venice and dated May 25, 1498, requested the exclusive privilege for twenty years of printing music for voices, lute, and organ. Not until May 14, 1501, however, did Petrucci's first publication appear. This was the famous Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A, which is the earliest printed collection of part-music. It includes compositions by Ockeghem and Busnois, as well as by several later Franco-Flemish composers. It was followed by Canti B and Canti C, published in 1502 and 1504, respectively. Together with the Odhecaton, these form a series particularly rich in Franco-Flemish chansons. All three are in choirbook form, like most of Petrucci's later prints of secular part-music. His aim was evidently to offer "raw material," from which copies for specific performance requirements could be derived. He printed sacred music in partbook form, however, for direct practical use.

Ten out of a series of eleven Petrucci books (1504-1514) preserve a treasury of frottole (Book X is lost). The earliest piece of the type to find its way into print, however, is the Viva el gran Re Don Fernando, a barzelletta (= frottola) celebrating the Spanish conquest of Granada and rejoicing that the powerful city "de la falsa fè pagana è disciolta e liberata." Probably first sung at Naples, it was included in a Roman publication of 1493 that was devoted primarily to a play commemorating the event. A few of Petrucci’s pieces are by Andrea Antico, who not only composed, but also worked as a type cutter, printer and publisher. In association with Giovanni Battista Columba, an engraver, and Marcello Silber (alias Franck), a printer, he produced in 1510, at Rome, his first published collection of frottole, the Canzoni nove con alcune scelte de varii libri di canto. Venice had temporarily become an unfavorable scene for artistic enterprise, owing to the serious defeat inflicted upon the republic by the League of Cambrai in 1509. However, shortly before 1520 Antico apparently returned to Venice, where he later brought out some prints in partnership with Ottaviano Scotto. In connection with works produced by partners, it is often hard to determine the exact role of each. Some printers not only did their own work, but also commissioned the printing of certain editions from other shops and printed for others as well. In 1513, Antico secured papal privileges for the printing of music and soon thereafter emerged as a serious competitor of Petrucci.

Attaingnant and Other Printers

In 1525, an important advance in printing was made by Pierre Haultin of Paris (d. 1580). Whereas Petrucci had printed the staff and the notes separately, Haultin achieved one-impression type-printing: he made type-pieces in which small fragments of the staff were combined with the notes, and with these pieces the whole composite of staves and notes was built up. His method fathered, in principle, the kind of music type-printing still occasionally employed. However, it was not at once universally adopted: doubleprinting re-emerged sporadically for more than 250 years.

Haultin's type was used by the Parisian publisher Attaingnant, among whose important publications (1528-1549)—sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental—there are about seventy collections that contain nearly 2000 chansons (including, however, some duplications). It is significant, particularly in relation to chansons and madrigals, that Attaingnant was probably the first printer to insist on the careful placing of words under their appropriate notes. Haultin's system was applied also in the type made by Guillaume Le Bé for the famous house of Ballard. Robert Ballard together with his half-brother Adrian Le Roy established in Paris, in 1551, a firm that was to print Lully in the 17th century and Couperin in the 18th and was to retain its privileges until the revolution of 1789. Another innovation is attributable to the type-founder Etienne Briard (working at Avignon, ca. 1530). Instead of the square and lozenge-shaped noteheads generally used for mensural music at that time, he employed oval ones. The first printer known to have adopted this reform was Jean de Channey of Avignon, who employed Briard's type when printing Carpentras's four publications of Lamentations and other sacred music between 1532 and 1537. Important, in addition, was Jacques Moderne—known, because of his obesity, as "Grand Jacques"—who founded a music house at Lyons and among whose famous publications is the Parangon des chansons (eleven books, 1538-1543). He was probably the first to print choir-books in which two voice-parts face in opposite directions on each page, to enable people sitting on either side of a table to sing from the same volume. Noteworthy, too, is Nicolas Du Chemin (ca. 1510-1576), whose issues appeared in Paris from 1540 to 1576 and included a seventeen-volume chanson collection.

Music publishing flourished also in the Low Countries, notably in Antwerp and Louvain. Tielman Susato, one of the best-known Belgian printers, established himself in Antwerp, ca. 1529, as music copyist, flutist, and trumpeter, and later as publisher. In 1543, he produced the Premier Livre des chansons à quatre parties . . . . including eight chansons by himself. Hubert Waelrant, an important composer, and the printer Jean Laet in 1554 established a publishing house, which continued to operate until Laet's death in 1597.

The collections issued by Pierre Phalèse of Louvain include both French and Flemish chansons, as well as lute music. At first a publisher employing independent printers, he undertook his own printing in 1552. After his death, his son moved the firm to Antwerp.

The reign (1515-1547) of that typically Renaissance monarch, François I, corresponds closely to the first period of the 16th-century chanson. Then and later the chanson drew on Italian and Netherlandish elements, spicing them with native French grace and wit. Its textual charm-of varying shades of respectability-was calculated to delight the courtiers of Fontainebleau and Paris. Despite the extremely broad humor evinced," many of the chanson composers wrote serious motets and Masses and even held positions in the Church.

The two earliest collections published by Attaingnant, apparently the first prints of polyphonic chansons of the sort discussed in the introduction to Period IVI—in deed, the first prints of polyphonic music in France—appeared in 1528. The older one is actually dated April 4, 1527, but under a calendar in which the year began on Easter eve. Of this collection, only two parts remain. Nevertheless, its contents can be largely reconstructed from later sources in which some of the same pieces recur. The second collection survives complete but bears no date; this, however, can be approximated through circumstantial evidence.

One of the first Attaingnant collections that are not only dated but also extant in complete form is the Trente et une chansons musicales (1529). The two main composers included in it are Claudin de Sermisy, whom the music books usually name just Claudin, and Clement Janequin, to whom the entire second collection had been devoted. Despite the latter's greater fame today, and probably in his own time, we may well consider Claudin at least his equal among chanson composers of the type which, with certain differences, they both represent. These composers have been said to comprise a Paris school.


See also: Music Printing in Britain Through 1695