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Ancient music books accessible to all

Posted on 30/09/2011
Ancient music

An image from an ancient music book

Fragile treasures of 16th Century music are now freely available online, thanks to a partnership between Royal Holloway, University of London, the British Library and JISC.

The Early Music Online project has digitised more than 300 books of the world’s earliest printed music from holdings at the British Library. Some of the books date back as far as the 1500s and, due to their fragile nature, would not be freely available to researchers, but thanks to this digitization project, musicians from around the world can now source the original music free of charge using the Early Music Online website|.

Highlights of the collection include church music by the Flemish composer Josquin des Prez and the English musicians Thomas Tallis and William Byrd; drinking-songs from Nuremberg and love-songs from Lyon; lute music from Venice and organ music from Leipzig.

Dr Stephen Rose, from the Department of Music at Royal Holloway, said: “This is an invaluable resource for any musician as it offers many insights into how these early works were originally sung and played. For the first time, musicians now have immediate access to more than 9,000 individual compositions.”

Dr Sandra Tuppen, from the British Library|, added: “It's wonderful to be able to share such fantastic musical treasures at the click of a button and make the works available to anyone in the world.”

Dr Rose explained that the British Library had worked with the College’s music department on previous database projects and they were keen to make use of the College’s expertise again.

The project was funded by JISC|, the UK’s technology consortium for higher and further education. 

Paola Marchionni, programme manager at JISC, said: “The value of this new resource isn’t just in putting the music online – it’s allowing researchers to find the music at their convenience from different access points, such as the project’s website, library catalogues and music databases. The project has also put great effort in opening up the background information, or metadata, behind the individual pieces of music, thus ensuring that researchers can more easily discover these internationally significant compositions.


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