Music and its media
Music and its media

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Music and its media

2 Music manuscripts of the sixteenth-century Low Countries

Before the invention of the printing press, the only tangible means by which musical works could be preserved and transmitted was through manuscripts produced for a very limited audience. Very few people owned books before 1700; these largely belonged to affluent patrons or collectors, institutions or scholars. Unlike the mass-produced prints of later years, aimed at the broader public, manuscripts often reflect a unique situation – one owner or function – that influenced their form of production, format and repertory. Yet there is also evidence of the creation of multiple manuscript copies of a piece, some being sold in the same way as music prints (Boorman et al., 2014a). Even after music printing had been firmly established, repertory continued to circulate in manuscript. This was perhaps due to there being a lack of music printer-publishers in certain locations, the wish to deliberately restrict or retain control over the dissemination of repertory, or to assert the status of a specially prepared copy (Wyn Jones, 2005, p. 140). Despite this parallel existence of manuscript and print, in general, as the new technology took over, the use of manuscripts as a form of musical media declined – in later years the manuscript became more closely associated with composers’ workings or repertories for a limited market.

The manuscripts that have been passed down to us today can generally be categorised as: presentation copies, often heavily decorated; autographs showing composers’ workings; copies for use by performers; or copies compiled for reference or study (Boorman et al., 2014a). In this case study, we will look at a workshop in the Low Countries in the early sixteenth century, when manuscript transmission was still very common, to see what the format and content of the manuscripts produced there can reveal about the intended users of the texts.

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