Case 5. The Evolution of Music Printing

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Aurelio Marinati (d. 1650).

Somma di Tutte le Scienze.

Rome, 1587.
Contemporary vellum.

Woodblock music printing is illustrated on the left page and moveable type music printing on the right page. Woodcut music printing is practical only for short examples and for plainchant. Moveable type printing (letterpress printing: composing a line of type note by note, just like a line of text would be composed letter by letter) was in common use by the publication of this book. Sections of type were vertical: they included the staff and a single note in a specific time value. Moveable type was only practical for single lines of music. It required careful "registration" or lining up of the type. The telltale indication of moveable type printing is a faint white (unprinted) vertical line between type, and staff lines that don't line up precisely. Just as with printing text, narrow sections of only staff lines are used to space notes horizontally to line up with lines of notes in additional parts and song text below.
In this rare treatise, little-known Italian Renaissance lawyer and philosopher Marinati discusses music as one of the Seven Liberal Arts. The symbolism of musical instruments, their musical tones, notes and performance are discussed in relation to mathematics and cosmology. Music was thought to influence and reflect world order: harmony was equated with social accord, and dissonance with arousing unhealthy passions.

Thomas Morley (b. Norwich, 1557 or 1558; d. London, 1602).
A Plain and Easie Introdvction to Practicall Mvsicke.
London: Humfrey Lownes, 1608.
Later half-leather and marbled boards.

The music for this, the first important English treatise on music theory (as well as the rudiments of notation used between ca. 1450 and 1600, counterpoint, and extemporization) is printed with moveable music type in "table-book" format: parts are laid out on two facing pages, some sideways, some upside down. Singers perform from a single book by standing on the side facing their part and each other.
The distinctive G clef and tight eighth-note-flag curls identify this book's musical typeface as Peter Short's work. Humphrey Lownes, the publisher, acquired it as part of his marriage contract to Peter Short's widow.

Pietro Reggio (d. 1685).
[Songs]. 2 vol. in 1. First edition.
London, 1680.
Modern blind-stamped, ink-sprinkled calf.

An exceptionally beautiful example of seventeenth-century music engraving in large format, this is Reggio's only published music. Note the slight variation in the shapes of the musical heads. The music is set to poems mainly by Abraham Cowley (b. 1618; d.1667) and several others.


John Weldon (b. Chichester 1676; d. London 1736).
Divine Harmony. Engraved throughout.
London: I Walsh and I. Hare. no. 206, [1716].
Bound by Frederick R. and Patricia Bakwin Selch in half calf with marbled boards.

An organist and composer of the Chapel Royal, Weldon's work was published in an elegant yet affordable print by John Walsh and his partner John Hare (b. 1665 or 66; d. 1736). Sophisticated and difficult, these works were for professional musicians like Richard Elford, 1677-1714, named on the title page, a foremost church tenor-countertenor patronized by Queen Anne. The amateur music market was much bigger than the professional one, and Walsh capitalized on it. Amateurs were hungry for the latest, fashionable music (theater, opera, and dance) in transcriptions for treble instruments and keyboard accompaniment—in essence, salon music.
Walsh reduced music printing costs significantly by working from less-expensive, easier-to-work, pewter plates that readily received engraving punches creating uniform note heads, signs and clefs. Working quickly and tirelessly Walsh was as clever a promoter, advertiser and merchant as he was a skillful a printer. Engraving, usually in combination with punches, became the dominant technique for printing music in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The poster illustration is this work's frontispiece and depicts the Chapel Royal's 'music' in facing galleries. Note in the middle gallery on the left side: 2 trumpets, 2 violins, an oboe, bassoon, and 2 recorders. On the right in the middle gallery are: 2 lutes, a cello, a violin or tenor violin, trumpet, and recorder.

Ernst Friederich Richter (b. 1808; d. 1879).

Lehrbuch der Harmonie: Praktische Anleitung zu den Studien in derselben, zunächst für das Conservatorium der Musik zu Leipzig.
Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1866.

Contemporary edition binding of quarter gray binder's cloth, black sand-textured pressed paper.

Johann Gottlieb Immanuel Breitkopf is generally credited with reviving printing from moveable type and creating the modern system of typesetting music in the mid-18th century. Instead of printing from single, vertical units of type with a note-head, stem and staff combined, he broke down the vertical units into separate pieces of "mosaic" type. They consisted of a note head and stem on fewer than five staff lines of varying lengths that could be used right side up or down; other pieces had one, two, or three flags that could be attached to stem ends to alter time value, as well as various signs and symbols.
Breitkopf's type is detectible by thin white lines around small sections in a staff, rather than strictly vertical white lines joining together the music sections. The type compositor fit the various pieces together in the same manner as a mosaic and could print more complicated music. Although the Richter example dates from 100 years after Breitkopf perfected moveable music type, his firm continued using its inventor's mode of type.


Stephen Collins Foster (Lawrenceville, Pa., b. 1828; d. 1864).
The Social Orchestra for Flute or Violin. A Collection of Popular Melodies Arranged as Solos, Duets, Trios, and Quartets. First edition, variant issue.
New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1854.
Quarter brown cloth, original publisher's printed boards.

Lithographically printed (an offset process, the cover is chromolithographically printed—in two colors), The Social Orchestra, is a collection of parlor music songs arranged for treble instruments and piano. It included some of Foster's own music, as well as operatic songs, popular airs and dance music by other popular composers. Though its 73 works were well known and desirable, this publication made little money for Foster. It is possibly the reason he made no other instrumental arrangements.
The New York music publisher and musical instrument dealer, Firth, Pond & Co., issued most of Foster's music after they entered into a contract together in 1849, which many consider to have officially inaugurated Foster's professional songwriting career.

Flute, 8-keys, by Firth & Pond, New York, between 1847 and 1863.

In order to have a financially viable business, a music dealer / publisher would often sell the instruments on which to play their music, and fittings and supplies: strings, rosin, music paper, etc. Even if the publisher didn't actually make the instruments he sold, his name went on them.
But in this instance, John Firth (1789-1864) and Sylvanus Pond (1792-1874) were first instrument makers (they were trained by and made flutes for fine New York makers before going into flute-making business together) and they supplemented their income by dealing in music. Foster included flute and violin accompaniments for the vocal music he arranged in The Social Orchestra.


Last updated:
June 18, 2016