Documenting printed and manuscript musical sources in Britain

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About RISM in the UK

The first large-scale survey of printed music in UK libraries was The British Union-Catalogue of Early Music Printed Before the Year 1801. A Record of the Holdings of over One Hundred Libraries Throughout the British Isles, edited by Edith B. Schnapper (1957). Much of the data from this catalogue was later included in the printed RISM catalogues, and is now available in the international RISM Catalog of Musical Sources and RISM UK Catalogue.

An initial project to document 17th- and 18th-century music manuscripts in UK libraries took place in the 1960s. Information was recorded in a card catalogue and supplemented with further data, on paper slips, in the 1980s.

In 1984, the RISM (UK) Trust was founded to oversee identification of printed and manuscript musical sources in UK libraries and archives.

Between 2001 and 2007 the RISM (UK) Trust was a project partner in the UK Music Manuscripts (1600-1800) Project, with the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London. This project, funded via the AHRC’s Resource Enhancement Scheme, involved the keying of the data from the existing catalogue cards and slips, the enhancement of these records with musical incipits, and the cataloguing of anonymous works, which had not been included in the earlier projects. All of the data from this project is now searchable in the international RISM Catalog of Musical Sources and RISM UK Catalogue. Documentation of all pre-1850 music manuscripts in the UK is by no means complete, and in 2020 Royal Holloway supplied funding for a scoping study exploring possible areas of focus for future projects.

In 2011, Royal Holloway and the British Library undertook Early Music Online, a project to digitise and create detailed catalogue records for 326 anthologies printed in the 16th century. The catalogue records, between them listing over 12,000 works, are not currently available via the RISM platforms, but can be found in the British Library catalogue and the Royal Holloway Digital Repository. The digitised scores are also available in both locations.

In 2013, with the assistance of the RISM groups in Switzerland and the UK, the RISM Ireland group launched a dedicated Irish-focused free-to-access database of musical materials held in repositories throughout the island of Ireland.