Skip to Main Content

Anthologies of Musical Works from the 15th-17th Centuries in the Library of Congress Music Division

16th-Century Anthologies

This page provides an overview of the Music Division's published anthologies of music from the 16th century.

All discussions about 16th-century music publishing must begin with the esteemed Venetian printer Ottaviano Petrucci, whose achievements paved the way for Italian dominance in music publishing throughout the century. Reportedly, the number of titles produced in all of 16th-century Europe was dwarfed by the quantity of Italian imprints issued by Petrucci and his many successors (Boorman, 2001). Noteworthy are two publishing giants who emerged in Venice in the 1530s:

  • Antonio Gardano’s press, which issued close to 100 anthologies alone between 1538 and 1568, in addition to hundreds of single composer works
  • Girolamo Scotto, who is credited with 409 editions – the majority being single composer works.

Noteworthy examples include two anthologies that represent the first and final publications of Antonio Gardano’s firm.


The three examples listed below expose a common marketing strategy used by Italian music publishers at that time, which was to prominently display a famous composer’s name on the title page of an anthology in the hopes that it would bolster sales. This deceptive practice resulted in less transparency between single-composer volumes and anthology collections.

In all three of these examples only a fraction of the contents are actually attributed to the "brand name" composer featured in the title.


Besides producing the first known example of printed polyphonic music, Petrucci also pioneered print instrumental music in tablature – a genre that thrived in both Gardano and Scotto’s firms as the century progressed. The Music Division’s outstanding and extremely rare examples of these Italian tablatures are listed below. The scarceness of original copies of these publications is striking: for many of the titles listed, the Music Division is the only U.S. holding library, with five or fewer extant copies reported worldwide. Links to the Library of Congress Online Catalog are provided when possible.

Gardano, Antonio

Scotto, Girolamo

Pages 132-133 from Fronimo dialogo di Vincentio Galilei (1584) are pictured below. The first edition of this work was issued in two parts in 1569 by publisher Girolamo Scotto. Scotto heavily revised the second edition in 1584, including 48 pieces in tablature within the body of the text and a collection of 60 pieces at the end of this volume.

“La notte che segue,” by Orlando di Lassus, in the second edition of Fronimo dialogo di Vincentio Galilei, 1584. Library of Congress Music Division.

Italian Influence in the North

As Italy’s publishing domination showed signs of decline, there was already a significant increase in the popularity of musical works by Italian composers in German-speaking lands as well as in England. The anthology format was the ideal vehicle to introduce audiences north of the Alps to Italy’s most successful export – the repertoire of their finest composers.

Between 1555 and 1620 more than eighty-five volumes containing Italian madrigals were printed in Antwerp and other cities of the Low Countries (Hoekstra, 1994) External. Contributing to that output was publisher Pierre Phalèse, who over an eight-year period from 1583-1591, published four madrigal anthologies (referred to as the ‘Antwerp anthologies’). Altogether they comprise 268 Italian songs by at least 65 different composers and are among the earliest collections of Italian madrigals to appear north of the Alps (Hammond, 2008) External. Two examples from the ‘Antwerp Anthologies’ in the Music Division's collections are Musica Divina (1583) and Harmonia celeste (1583).

Luca Marenzio’s madrigal "Liquide perle" was a “favoured works among connoisseurs and w[as] included on many occasions in anthologies, transcribed for lute, or parodied in different ways, including in spiritual contrafacta.” (Marco Bizzarini, La Compagnia del Madrigale) The piece was first published in the highly admired Primo Libro de madrigali a cinqve voci (1580) by Marenzio; according to Bizzarini, there were at least nine reprintings of this work in Venice and many republications – complete or partial – outside of Italy. Phalèse selected the madrigal for his Musica Divina and Thomas East /William Byrd in London included the popular work in his 1588 ‘englished’ edition. This latter example, however, demonstrated a deeper commitment to and assimilation of the Italian style into England’s musical scene compared with the Antwerp edition.

“Liquide perle” from Musica Divina. Antwerp: Phalèse & Bellère, 1583. Canto, fol. 21r. Library of Congress Music Division.
“Liquid and watery pearles” from Musica Transalpina. London: Thomas East, 1588. Canto, fol. 18 [Diiii]. Library of Congress Music Division.

Second to Italy, music publishing in German-speaking lands and the Low Countries increased over the 16th century, with leading publishers such as Pierre Phalése (Leuven/Antwerp) as well as Ulrich Neuber and Johann vom Berg, and Johannes Petreius (Nuremberg), et al. All were committed to developing more sophisticated and innovative editorial practices and marketing strategies to increase their sales. Multiple examples of their anthology output are represented in the Music Division’s collections. A few exceptional examples are listed below.

German lute tablatures

There were three standouts in the early history of German lute music: Hans Judenkünig, Hans Gerle and Hans Neusidler, all exceptional lutenists, teachers, lute makers and compilers of lute books. The Music Division holds examples for two of these outstanding figures.

Pierre Phalèse

16th–century anthologies from the presses of Antwerp publisher Pierre Phalèse figure prominently among the Music Division’s holdings. Several important publications are listed below. Links to the Library of Congress Online Catalog are provided when possible.

Phalèse, Pierre

Phalèse, Pierre & Bellère, Johann

The Cantionum Sacrarum is a multi-volume series consisting of eight anthologies published between 1553-1556. The title page incorporates a distinctive engraving of Melopmene, the Greek muse of singing, which Phalèse used in all of his editions of vocal music; the engraving is surrounded by the text: "Comme L’escarboncle estant / en Or enclin Ainsi Musicque / est en conuiue de Vin Eccle. xxxij." Henry Vanhulst points out one added detail of the Melpomene engraving found only in the 1553 editions, the presence of Phalèse's initials (and Leuven publisher and printer Martin Rotaire's initials before 1554) in the shields located in the upper corners.

Bassus, Liber quartus Cantionvm sacrarvm, vvlgo moteta vocant, quinque [et sex] vocum ex optimis quibusq[ue] musicis selectarum. 1553-1556. Library of Congress Music Division.