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

Anthologies in Manuscript

Out of the twenty-six (or 9%) of the Library’s early anthologies in manuscript, about half are transcriptions copied directly from original sources (e.g., the Philidor ballet transcripts or the Amoenitatum Musicalium Hortulus of 1622); the remaining items comprise collections of musical works selected from multiple sources based on the specific criteria set by the compiler/creator (e.g., the collection of Songs and Duets by Purcell et al., or the Laborde Chansonnier). Much like the Music Division's printed anthologies, these manuscript sources comprise a wide spectrum of genres including chansons, motets, madrigals, cantatas, ballets and operas, instrumental works, tablatures, etc. Most of these manuscripts were reproduced from extremely rare original sources; undoubtedly, this factor alone likely prompted the decision to create a facsimile.

Several of the anthologies in manuscript include musical works that are unica, meaning there are no other known copies in the world (e.g., motets from Eramus Hofer’s Tabülatur Büech or the songs in French guitar tablature in the Lautentabulatur of 1660).

Notable Examples

Three outstanding examples of anthologies in manuscript include the Laborde Chansonnier, the only complete copy of the 1622 Amoenitatum Musicae, and a collection of songs and duets from late 17th-century England.

The Laborde Chansonnier

The Music Division's earliest example of an anthology in manuscript is the famous Laborde Chansonnier (1463-1470), an exquisitely decorated and musically significant volume from the late 15th century containing over one hundred popular chansons. This source is ideal for a comparative study with the earliest print anthology, the Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A, first published in 1501 by Ottaviano Petrucci.

The basic philosophy behind the creation of the Laborde and the Odhecaton are quite similar: to compile a body of music that features as many of the finest songs of the day composed by the most famous artists into a single volume. The differences between the two formats, however, outweigh the similarities: a single manuscript, typically commissioned by a wealthy patron, was not shared freely among fellow musicians whereas printed copies were less expensive, greater in number, more accessible, and could easily be distributed over a wider geographic area. The Odhecaton’s success was confirmed by an immediate demand for more copies; subsequent anthologies of Franco-Flemish songs followed in 1503 and 1504. Moreover, the choice of repertoire was a far more critical decision for the publisher since successfully judging the popularity, importance, and overall quality of the musical selections directly impacted their reputations, finances, and future undertakings.

Noteworthy is one chanson, "Helas que pourra devenir," by Firminus Caron, that survives in no fewer than eighteen early sources - including an early version for three voices in the Laborde (with full text) and a later version in the Odhecaton (with a text incipit only) that adds a si-placet altus part.

Left: "Helas que pourra devenir" by Firminus Caron, in Chansonnier de M. le marquis de Laborde, 1470. Library of Congress Music Division.

Right: "Helas que pourra devenir" by Firminus Caron, in Harmonice musices odhecaton, 1504. Library of Congress Music Division.

For more information, see the following source:


Amoenitatum Musicalium Hortulus, 1622 

This anthology serves as a good example of a transcript faithfully copied from an original imprint. Only one incomplete exemplar of this rare 1622 imprint has been identified to date; hence the need for either a facsimile reproduction or modern edition.

  • The anthology contains ca. 100 Polish dances in four parts for four unspecified instruments. Eitner B 1877 (1622b) lists the contributing composers.
  • The name and location of the printer was not stated on the source, but Eitner B 1877 identifies "Caspar Klosmann in Leipzig" as the likely publisher.
  • Information about this source is included in Kürzel: ChybińskiT 1913: O nieznanym zbiorze tańców polskich z r. 1622 External (about an unknown collection of Polish dances published in 1622).
  • The Cantus and Tenor partbooks have survived and are currently located in Warsaw at the Biblioteka Narodowa (PL-Wn); the Altus partbook has recently been identified at the Biblioteka Uniwersytecka Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego Jana Pawła II in Lublin (PL-Lk). The Bassus partbook is lost. The Library of Congress holds the only known complete copy of this work.

The Library of Congress’s transcript of the Amoenitatum Musicalium Hortulus was acquired in 1943, and according to the purchase order records, was copied by and purchased from musicologist Karl Geiringer. The date of transcription does not appear on the score; the paper used, however, is likely of mid-to-late 1920s vintage. We can only speculate that Geiringer made this copy between the time he completed his doctorate (1923) and when he accepted a curator’s position at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 1930.

On the bottom right of the title page Geiringer states that this copy was transcribed from an exemplar held at the Bibliotheca Rudolfina in Liegnitz. Since all four parts are present (in score format), one can assume that all four partbooks were still intact prior to 1943.

Before World War II, the Bibliotheca Rudolfina of the Ritter-Akademie in Liegnitz contained an extremely valuable collection of 16th and 17th-century music. A catalogue of the printed books from this library was published in the official programme of the academy (1876–8) by Dr. Ernst Pfudel. After World War II, the contents of the Biblioteka Rudolfina had been relocated to several locations; a new catalog that offers a partial list of locations for the dispersed volumes from the Liegnitz library is: Katalog zbiorów muzycznych legnickiej biblioteki księcia Jerzego Rudolfa "Bibliotheca Rudolphina," 1992. For an historical overview on the Bibliotheca Rudolfina of the Ritter-Akademie, visit their website External.


Songs and Duets

Once part of the famous Vollbehr collection, this recently re-discovered anthology of songs and duets comprises 27 musical works gathered from a wide range of contemporary 17th-century English sources. A six-page letter from Oliver Strunk to music division chief Carl Engel outlining matters of provenance, handwriting, paper, watermarks, and a list of the composers and their contributions with relevant concordances is attached to the front cover.

The 1931 Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress External summarizes data about former owners of this anthology, as well as contributing composers to it, including Henry Purcell, John Blow, Daniel Purcell, Matthew Locke, Nicolas Lanier, Giacomo Carissimi, James Hart, Pietro Reggio, Bonifazio Graziani, and Natale Monferrato. It is noteworthy that Strunk’s 1931 account led us to the rediscovery of this manuscript: for decades the volume was neither represented in RISM nor with an entry in the Library of Congress's online catalog. Without a single composer’s name or given title to search under, the old catalog cards were also ineffectual. By investigating the M1619 classification (assigned to over twenty rare anthologies of English secular songs by two or more composers) and formulating a generic title (e.g. Miscellaneous, A Collection of…, Songs, etc.) for the cutter, we were able to re-discover this book shelved under M1619.S (for "Songs") 72 Case.

The most interesting and research-rich feature of this volume of songs and duets are the multiple claims written into the manuscript suggesting that some of the songs by Henry Purcell and by John Blow are actually holographs, assertions that will require further scholarship in order to confirm or refute their validity.

Complete List of Anthologies in Manuscript

Listed below are twenty-six pre-1700 anthologies in manuscript. When multiple dates are cited, the first refers to the creation or original date of publication; the information following the "/" refers to the year of transcription and the copyist’s name, when available. Links to the Library of Congress Online Catalog are provided when possible.




Songs sacred and secular



  • M2.P45 vol. 4 no. 3 Case: Les Nopces de Pelée et de Thètis (1652/ca. 1690/ca.1920 L. Mathieu)
  • M2.P54 vol. 6 no. 1 Case: Balet du Temps. Dansé, Par sa Majesté (1654 /ca.1690/ca.1920 L. Mathieu)
  • M2.P45 vol. 6 no. 3 Case: Xerxes (Francesco Cavalli: 6 entrées by J. B. Lully) (1660/ca.1690/ca.1920 L. Mathieu)
  • M2.P45 vol. 44 Case: Ballet des Fâcheux (Pierre Beauchamps and J. B. Lully) (1661/ca. 1690/ca.1920 L. Mathieu)
  • M1500.B725 D3 Case: Dafne (Bontempi, Giovanni Andrea & Peranda, Martin Giuseppe) (1672)

Instrumental works


Books on Music