Polyphonic sources, ca. 1450-1500

Thomas Schmidt-Beste

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The great paradigm shift in the written transmission of polyphonic music in the early modern era remains, in the eyes of many, the "revolution of the printing press": the invention of printing from movable type pioneered by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1501. But this view has rightly come under some scrutiny in recent years, with scholars pointing out that the "age of print" did not by any means imply a decline in manuscript production and use; manuscripts remained the medium of choice in many contexts on account of their size and flexibility of repertory selection, as well as physical appearance and beauty. Indeed, purely in terms of numbers and dissemination, the sixteenth century is the heyday of manuscript culture - alongside or in some contexts instead of print culture. This development was set in motion in the second half of the fifteenth century, when conditions became prevalent that made the enormous proliferation of polyphonic music after 1500 possible. As Margaret Bent notes in her contribution to this volume (Ch. 33), polyphonic music manuscripts before the middle of the fifteenth century tended (with exceptions) to be private collections rather than - as was thought for a long time - sources documenting the repertory and practice of musical institutions. This does not mean that these sources could not have been used in an institutional context - but they were almost certainly not created for this purpose.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Fifteenth-Century Music
EditorsAnna Maria Busse Berger, Jesse Rodin
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139057813
ISBN (Print)9781107015241
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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