Sunday, October 04, 2009

Howard Mayer Brown

Instrumental Music Printed Before 1600: A Bibliography

An dry title for an astonishing book, first published in 1965 by the Harvard University Press. Howard Mayer Brown's aim was to catalogue and describe all of the instrumental music published before 1600. It has entries in chronological order for some 400 books, giving a brief description of each book and a full listing of the pieces of music in it. Equally valuable are a set of indexes (indices?) by library, type of notation, performing medium, composer, and titles of works, allowing easy access to the contents through different routes.

Now that these music books are widely available in facsimile, printed and online, Brown's book takes on a new life as a guide to these publications. The sparse examples he gives of the modern reprints available in 1965 show just how much things have moved on since then.

Index III is gratifying. It shows 206 volumes containing music for solo lute and only 76 for keyboard solo. Plus further volumes for similar instruments such as cittern, guitar, or vihuela. Music for other instruments is almost all generic ensemble music: there is very little that specifies named instruments, and very little solo music.

Brown's book is still available in a good-quality reprint from

p.s. I've just discovered a review from 1966, when the book first came out, which starts: "This is a volume that I would not hesitate to call magnificent". Quite.

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