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“Improving RISM’s Resources for Early Music Research” by Grzegorz Joachimiak (University of Wrocław)

COST Action. A new ecosystem of early music studies (EarlyMuse)

Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) of the COST Action. A new ecosystem of early music studies (EarlyMuse).

RISM Digital Center, 22–26 April 2024. Participants: Ailin Arjmand (University of Tours and Poitiers), Andrew Hankinson (RISM Digital Center), Grzegorz Joachimiak (University of Wrocław), Vicente Parrilla (KU Leuven), Laurent Pugin (RISM Digital Center), Rodolfo Zitellini (RISM Digital Center)

Our working sessions were held at both The Institute of Musicology at the University of Bern and the National Library, the official location of the RISM Digital Center. Participants included three grantees and three members of the RISM Digital Center team. The grantees were Vicente Parrilla (University of Leuven), Grzegorz Joachimiak (University of Wrocław), who leads WG2 (Sources), and Ailin Arjmand (Universities of Tours and Poitiers). The hosting team consisted of Laurent Pugin (RISM Digital Center), Rodolfo Zitellini (RISM Digital Center), and Andrew Hankinson (RISM Digital Center), software developers and data specialists.

From right to left : Laurent Pugin, Andrew Hankinson, Ailin Arjmand, Grzegorz Joachimiak, Rodolfo Zitellini, and Vicente Parrilla

Ailin Arjmand’s focus lies primarily on instrumental music, particularly in sixteenth-century Italy with a particular attention to the lute repertoire. Grzegorz Joachimiak presented preparations for a research project (Lute tablature transcription in manuscripts from the 17th and 18th centuries using machine learning methods), in which the presence of the RISM Digital Center would be necessary. Moreover, he presented the possibilities of supplementing and correcting W. Boetticher’s publications (RISM B/VII) along with supplements and catalogues edited by Ch. Meyer and the Steur/Lutz database in an international collaboration, with close RISM cooperation. Vicente Parrilla’s research is concerned with the practical realisation of Renaissance improvised counterpoint, from an artistic perspective, with the objective of establishing a bridge between theory and practice. Vicente raised the need to include the theoretical sources collected in the B/VI series in the digital catalogue. This proposal was discussed, with the challenges involved being identified. This resulted in the formulation of a preliminary roadmap for implementing the inclusion of theoretical works in RISM.


Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) has the mission to provide a free global inventory of the musical sources preserved in libraries and archives. The inventory (i.e., the RISM database) is made available through its online platforms, the RISM Catalog and RISM Online. The RISM Digital Center, based in Bern, Switzerland, continually maintains the digital infrastructure used by the RISM community. The recent introduction of RISM Online in 2022 offers access to each resource in RISM through a unique identifier (URI). It also offers refined search interfaces, country-specific filters, and integration with related databases like DIAMM. Andrew Hankinson provided an extensive tour of RISM Online. In addition to examining the user interface, which offers search and browse functions, we were afforded the opportunity to gain insight into the technology utilized and how the whole data is made accessible. Powered by Muscat, the cataloguing application developed under the supervision of Rodolfo Zitellini, RISM ensures meticulous data management and verification. With Muscat’s robust functionality and user-friendly interface, catalogers can efficiently contribute to RISM’s database.


The main goal of the event was to identify areas that should be targeted with priority for improving RISM’s resources for early music research and to envision strategies for achieving these goals. The participants looked RISM in the early music field with focus on after 1500, since this was the area of expertise of the STSM grantees. This was done from different points of view, namely printed instrumental music, lute and guitar tablature (prints and manuscripts), and theoretical sources and writings about music (B/VI series). The discussions during the event allowed for strategies for identifying and eventually filling some of these gaps. The gaps for instrumental music are isolated sources that are missing in a field that is currently expected to be in the RISM database. For example, most of the sources listed in Howard Mayer Brown’s catalogue, Instrumental Music Printed Before 1600: A Bibliography (1965) are in the RISM database. For lute and guitar music, the situation is different since the repertoire is barely available in the RISM database. Only a few sources listed in the Wolfgang Boetticher’s Handschriftlich überlieferte Lauten- und Gitarrentabulaturen des 15. bis 18. Jahrhunderts, 1978 (together with published supplements and later catalogues and some databases) have been made available in the RISM database. Overall, only a very small part of the lute music has been included in the RISM database. For theoretical sources and writings about music, the situation is similar to the one of lute music. The gaps are larger ones and the RISM database cannot be considered as the main reference catalogue for these domains. However, many sources have been inventoried in respective RISM B series, and a few sources have been included in the RISM database.


In this context, the top priority and first step must be documenting the gaps, especially for the printed instrumental music since there is no overview of the isolated gaps. The strategy discussed will be to start from the inventories and catalogues that have been already done (e.g. Howard Mayer Brown and Wolfgang Boetticher) together with other catalogues and databases with lute and guitar music since these remain widely used by scholars. The participants started to document the gaps by extracting directly from Muscat mapping lists comparing the aforementioned inventories and RISM IDs. This will serve two purposes: First, making it easily identifiable which prints are missing and should be added to the RISM database. Second, provide access to RISM Online records, cross-referenced with  the original IDs used in Howard Mayer Brown’s 1965 publication. We expect this to remain useful since the printed inventories are widely used by scholars.

A segment of the table comparing entries from the Instrumental Music Printed Before 1600 with their corresponding IDs from the RISM database.

An overview of the printed sources missing in the RISM database will enable cataloguing workflows to be put in place for filling the gaps. This is particularly true for prints, where creating new bibliographic records in the RISM database requires particular care and is currently restricted to trained cataloguers. It is important to think about more flexible workflows for adding bibliographic records of the missing prints. During the event, the participants went through the complete steps for adding a print to Muscat that was identified as missing in RISM. The print is the de Macque’s Ricercate et canzoni francese published in Rome in 1586 of which one copy is preserved at the National Library in Florence. Adding this missing print gave the participants a better understanding of the cataloguing workflow and the data publishing process from Muscat to RISM Online (

A screenshot of the newly added record of Macque’s print

The event was an excellent opportunity to gather ideas for identifying the most important gaps that need to be filled in RISM in the field of early music, focusing on music after 1500. It emerged that the starting point must be documenting the gaps as much as possible and the existing inventories can serve as a starting point. Collective efforts initiated during the event of the EarlyMuse project will eventually allow for the gaps in early music source studies in the RISM database to be filled in the long term. One of the basic issues is collecting data in a place that will be available for many years to come. RISM provides storage for this type of data for free, and the event was also the opportunity to discuss the role RISM can play in future research project proposals.


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