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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Locating Primary Sources of Music in Libraries and Archives

A guide for identifying and locating primary manuscript (and early edition) sources by using RISM and other tools.

Identifying Sources

There are several tools that can be helpful in determining whether primary sources survive for a specific work.


Eitner, Robert. Biographische-bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker und Musikgelehrten der christlichen Zeitrechnung bis zur Mitte des 19.Jahrhunderts (Biographical and bibliographic source lexikon of musicians and music scholars to 1850)
Reference ML105 E471959

Although now badly out of date, Eitner still remains useful for identifying pre-1850s sources lost during the two world wars.

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (via Grove Music Online in Oxford Music Online)
Ready Reference ML100 G76N38 2001

Composer's works lists in Grove can offer some information about manuscripts and early printed editions. (In general, you will find that pre-1800 composer works lists indicate manuscript sources, whereas post-1800 composers list early printed editions. For "major" composers post-1800 you might find both types of sources listed.)

Thematic catalogues and scholarly editions

Good thematic catalogues will list manuscript sources. Composers' collected works and/or scholarly editions also often list extant manuscript sources.


American music or collections

New Grove Dictionary of American Music
Reference ML101.U6 N38
As of mid-2015, being added to Grove Music Online in Oxford Music Online (see above).

Attempts to identify major repositories of composers' manuscripts, although detail is rarely given for individual works.

D.W. Krummel, et. al. Resources of American Music History: A Directory of Source Materials from Colonial Times to World War II
Reference ML120.U5 R37

Essential for research on music collections in American libraries.


Early music (Chant, Polyphony, etc)

Cantus Database

"The CANTUS database assembles indices of the Latin ecclesiastical chants found in early manuscript and printed sources for the liturgical Office."

Census-catalogue of manuscript sources of polyphonic music, 1400-1550.
Reference ML169.8 R36 (5 vols)

This catalog provides descriptions and analyses of sources of Renaissance polyphony. Comprehensive; virtually all known sources are included in the catalog. Organized by location of the institution holding the original source. Includes an extended bibliography of secondary sources, and index of persons, places, RISM numbers, and watermarks.

DIAMM Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music

"This website is a portal to information about and images of worldwide collections of medieval polyphonic music manuscripts (the resource does not include plainchant). The music and the manuscripts date from approx 800 to 1550 but we do have images from a few prominent later sources. This website includes detailed information for all the known sources of European polyphonic music (which is almost entirely vocal) and high-quality colour images of some manuscripts."

RISM (Repertoire International des Sources Musicales) [see this separate section of this guide dealing with RISM]
Reference ML113 I67

RISM is an ongoing scholarly project to document the existence of printed and manuscript music before 1800. It gives detailed descriptions of music manuscripts, early printed editions of music, and early treatises on music.

"Sources, MS," (vol. 23) in The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians, 2nd ed. New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 2001.

Ready Reference ML100 G76N38 2001 or in the online version available to UIUC patrons and patrons in the Library)

I. Introduction
II. Western plainchant
III. Secular monophony
IV. Organum and discant
V. Early motet
VI. English polyphony 1270-1400
VII. French polyphony 1300-1420
VIII. Italian polyphony c1325-c1420
IX. Renaissance polyphony

Instrumental Music

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (via Grove Music Online in Oxford Music Online)
Ready Reference ML100 G76N38 2001

"Sources of instrumental ensemble music to 1630", (vol. 24)

"Sources of keyboard music to 1660," (vol. 24)

"Sources of lute music," (vol. 24)

Brown, Howard. Instrumental music printed before 1600: a bibliography.
Reference ML128.I66 B76

A bibliography of early printed instrumental music.