The Conservatory Library's special collections include a number of rare printed items from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Drawn primarily from the Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History, the materials highlighted here represent some of the most influential writings in the history of Western musical thought.

They include foundational texts relating to organology and music theory, along with important works on the philosophy and iconography of music.
16th Century Treatises
In 1511, Sebastian Virdung published his Musica getutscht [ML171 .V5 1931: facsimile], which was the first printed work in the west dealing exclusively with musical instruments.  The work sought to provide basic instruction for playing instruments used for art music in German-speaking lands at the turn of the sixteenth century.  It proved to be highly influential, inspiring several translations and adaptations, including the following two items:

1529    Agricola, Martin, 1486-1556. Musica instrumentalis deudsch. [ML171 .A2613 1529]
  • Musica instrumentalis deudsch, published in 1529 (with reprints in 1530, 1532 and 1542, and a full revision in 1545) is a German adaptation and expansion of Virdung's Musica getutscht.
1536    Luscinius, Ottmar, 1487-1537. Musurgia seu praxis musicae. [ML171 .L94 1536]
  • Musurgia seu praxis musicae was originally commissioned as a Latin translation of Virdung's Musica getutscht, but it evolved into more of an adaptation than a strict translation.  It was completed around 1517 but not published until 1536, with a reprint in 1542.

1547    Glareanus, Henricus, 1488-1563. Dodekachordon. [MT5.5 .G53 1547]
  • The most notable contribution of Dodekachordon is its addition of four new modes - including Ionian and Aeolian - to the eight medieval modes.  It is also valuable as a musical anthology, containing over 120 compositions.
1558    Zarlino, Gioseffo, 1517-1590. Institutioni harmoniche. [MT5.5 .Z37 1558]
  • Le institutioni harmoniche is one of the most important works of music theory. It unites speculative theory with the practice of composition and outlines a modern theory of consonance and tuning that accounts for the use of thirds and sixths.  The work draws upon Glarean's modal system without naming him as its author.
1562    Aaron, Pietro. Toscanello. [MT5.5 .A37 1562]
  • First published in 1523 (with reprints in 1529, 1539, 1557, and 1562), this work contributes to Aaron's broader project of applying the standard teachings on mode, counterpoint and musica ficta to contemporary music.  Toscanello also presents the earliest known description of meantone temperament.

1587    Marinati, Aurelio, d. 1650. La prima parte della somma di tutte le scienze. [LT125.M3 P7 1587]
  • This work, by a little-known Italian Renaissance philosopher and lawyer, discusses music's traditional place among the seven basic liberal arts.
1590    Galle, Philippe, 1537-1612. Encomium musices. [ML467 .S7 1590]
  • Containing eighteen engravings that depict musical events from the Bible, Encomium musices is one of the high points of musical iconography.
17th Century Treatises
1601    Cerreto, Scipione, 1551-ca. 1633. Della prattica musica vocale et strumentale. [MT6.C38 D4 1601]
  • Della prattica musica represents the conservative theoretical approach associated with Cerreto, which included a rejection of Glarean's twelve-mode system and an adherence to a strict osservato counterpoint.
1608    Morley, Thomas, 1557-1603. Plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke. [MT6 .M86 1608]
  • This work was the first significant treatise on music in the English language.  First published in 1597, new editions appeared in 1608 and 1771.
1615    Praetorius, Michael, 1571-1621. Syntagma musicum. [ML100 .P82 1615]
  • Syntagma musicum, written in Latin and German, is widely regarded as the single most important music treatise of the pre-Classical period.

1634    Mersenne, Marin, 1588-1648. Questions harmoniques. [ML3800 .M52 1634]
  • Questions harmoniques represents an early sketch of Mersenne's work on music theory that would achieve a more complete expression two years later in Harmonie universelle.
1636    Mersenne, Marin, 1588-1648. Harmonie universelle. Latin. [ML100 .M313 1636]
  • Latin version of Mersenne's monumental encyclopedia, which contains his most developed thoughts on music.
1636    Mersenne, Marin, 1588-1648. Harmonie universelle. French. [ML100 .M31 1636b]
  • French version of Mersenne's monumental encyclopedia, which contains his most developed thoughts on music.

1650    Kircher, Athanasius, 1602-1680. Musurgia universalis. [ML100 .K56 1650]
  • Musurgia universalis is among the most influential of all music treatises. It presents a summation of 16th and 17th century Italian and German compositional practices.
1656    Descartes, René, 1596-1650. Musicae compendium. [ML3805 .D273 1656]
  • Musicae compendium was written in 1618 and first published in 1650. Translations and revised editions appeared in 1653, 1656, 1661, 1668, and 1695. It is noteworthy as an early experiment in the application of an empirical, deductive, scientific approach to the study of sensory perception. It is also among the earliest attempts to study the relationship between the physical and psychological phenomena in music.
1660    Playford, John, 1623-1686. Brief introduction to the skill of musick. [MT7 .P72 1660]
  • First printed in 1654, the work went through twenty editions, the last being in 1730.  Oberlin's copy is the third edition from 1660. Brief introduction is broadly regarded as the most significant English theoretical treatise of the late 17th century.
1664    Alsted, Johann Heinrich, 1588-1638. Templum musicum [Elementale mathematicum, part VI]. [MT6.A47 E54 1664]
  • Templum musicum comprises the musical portion (part VI) of Alsted's Elementale mathematicum from 1611.
1676    Mace, Thomas, d. 1709. Musick's monument. [MT640.2 .M23 1676]
  • Musick's monument is among the most quoted English language music treatises of the 17th century.  It is a conservative defense of the English style that, Mace believed, had reached its zenith in the early 17th century.
Subject Specialist
Picture: Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith
Special Collections Librarian
Tel: (440)775- 5181

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