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

This guide provides an overview of the Music Division's more than 300 print and manuscript holdings of music anthologies approximately created between the years 1463-1701.


“The value of printed anthologies for the musical scholar and performer goes beyond the individual musical items contained, for the entire make-up of each one reflects the judgment of a knowledgeable contemporary, its compiler, of the interests, tastes and needs of the musical public of that time and place.”
                                                                                                                                                         Sydney Robinson Charles (Grove Online)

Among the notable assortment of early music imprints and manuscripts held among the Music Division’s rare general collections are 306 music anthologies dating from the late 15th through 17th centuries. These materials represent about 10% of the total number of musical anthologies produced at that time and are sources for some of the greatest musical works of the period. This research guide provides discussions about and highlights from this unique body of materials, emphasizing matters of provenance, cataloging, music publishers, online resources and bibliography, and how the Music Division's collection historically parallels the total output of anthology sources. Accompanying this research guide is a bibliography titled Anthologies of Musical Works in Print and Manuscript from the 15th-17th Centuries in the Library of Congress Music Division, which presents an inventory of the Music Division’s holdings with tables of contents and annotations for most entries.

The compilation of this bibliography was in large part based on a reconciliation of the data from the printed RISM B/1 volume (Recueils imprimés, XVIe-XVIIe siècles, ed. Lesure, 1960) with the Music Division’s paper card catalogs located in the Performing Arts Reading Room. RISM’s original intention was to publish a supplement to Lesure’s B/1 volume that would list each anthology’s contents; this project was never completed, however, leaving critical pieces of information unavailable to the researcher.

The primary goal of this research guide and accompanying bibliography have been to foster a greater awareness of the Music Division’s early anthology holdings as well as their contents via improved bibliographic access. These goals have been achieved by adding the Music Division's holdings records to the online RISM database and, in many cases, providing online digital scans.

Anthologies by their very nature have always been more of a challenge to identify and locate due to multiple factors:

  • the lack of a single composer’s name to use in a search
  • the common practice of ascribing alternate titles or multiple spellings of a title, and - in the case of manuscript copies - the dilemma of having no given title at all to use in a search
  • searching for materials cataloged among over 40 different classification numbers
  • irregularities in bibliographic controls and external reporting

Resolving these obstacles as well as including full tables of contents will hopefully expedite a wider range of scholarship related to these anthologies’ creation and legacy – i.e., the evolution in format, the selection processes and criteria used to gather content; the relationships between composers, compilers, editors, publishers, patrons and dedicatees; how and by whom they were printed and where the imprints were disseminated; who financed them; what stories their provenance revealed; which ones were pirated; which were reprinted; which included addenda, etc. – all significant historical data of which these anthologies are rich and valuable sources.

Analyzing the Music Division’s early anthologies has helped to expose certain strengths and weaknesses within the Division's collections, a testament to the inevitable fickleness of retrospective collection development and signal to future pursuits. In summary, the Music Division’s collection of pre-1700 anthologies comprises:

  • 306 individual imprints or manuscripts
  • an estimated 1,000 individual composers
  • an estimated 90 publishers
  • an estimated total of at least 12,000 masses, motets, sacred songs, hymns, anthems, cantatas, psalms, madrigals, secular songs, villanelle, canzonettes, dances, ricercare, sonatas, etc.
  • one anthology in manuscript dating from the 15th century; 80 items created/ published in the 16th century; and, 225 items dating from the 17th century
  • 9% of the sources are in manuscript; 91% are published imprints
  • a small percentage of published anthologies are unique to the Library of Congress Music Division

About the Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.