New Access for Music Manuscripts in America

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Sarah Adams, Director of the U.S. RISM Office, and Christoff Wolff, Adams University Professor and Curator of the Isham Memorial Library, have played an integral role in the international RISM effort to catalog music manuscripts.

Staff members of the RISM project at Harvard coined the term "RISMatic" for any music manuscript eligible for inclusion in the international RISM database, a project led in the U.S. by Dr. Sarah Adams. Under her leadership, this premier resource for music scholars, the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM), is about to be significantly enhanced through the addition of nearly 700 RISMatic manuscripts. This long awaited project comes about through the beneficence of the Mellon Foundation, the cooperation of Yale University and the Juilliard School, and the efforts and talents of Adams, Director of the U.S. RISM Office, housed in Harvard's Loeb Music Library.

The upcoming two-year project will complete a portion of the ambitious RISM database known as Series A/II: Music Manuscripts after 1600, which includes nearly 600,000 records of manuscripts by more than 19,500 composers and represents 740 archives in 31 countries. Missing from this series were more than 550 music manuscripts from Yale—it was the only major music manuscript collection in the U.S. not cataloged in RISM—and some 138 important and rare manuscripts from the Juilliard collection, ranging from the late 17th to the 20th century. Past efforts to include the Yale materials had resulted in long delays, and ultimately it was Adams—involved with RISM since 1995—who managed to gently coax the project forward, navigating longstanding issues, and securing both the availability of the Yale materials for cataloging and the funding from Mellon to complete the project.

"For RISM, the largest cooperative program in musicology worldwide, it is very important to include the Yale materials because they constitute one of the oldest and most distinguished collections of music manuscripts and early prints in the country," says Christoff Wolff, Adams University Professor and Curator of the Isham Memorial Library. Since 2004, Wolff has also served as the president of RISM's Commission Mixte, the group that oversees the RISM Central Editorial Office in Germany and much of the organization's international activities.

In contrast, adds Wolff, the very recent 2006 gift of the Juilliard collection makes it brand new to scholars, to whom it had never before been available. "So it's a wonderful opportunity to round off, for the time being, the American RISM project by adding the oldest and newest to its database researched by musician and scholars alike."

The addition of these two collections brings the database effectively to completion. "It has become a critical and essential tool in the preparation of musical editions for which it is important to locate all the surviving sources of a work in order to determine the authoritative text that best represents a composer's intentions," says Adams.

Ultimately, the RISM database will need occasional updating because institutions will continue to acquire manuscripts. However, RISM plans to surmount this issue by implementing a new software program that will enable librarians to electronically submit data on newly acquired items directly to the RISM database. Adams, who will travel to Germany shortly for software training, will serve as the lead person in the U.S. for using this software.

Founded in 1949, RISM is co-sponsored by the International Musicological Society and the International Association of Music Libraries. It encompasses both printed and manuscript music, writings about music and theoretical works, and includes monodic music, liturgical sources, song books, treatises and methods, books and periodicals on music.

Harvard's historic role in the organization began in 1984 when the U.S. RISM Office moved from the Library of Congress to Loeb Music, where it serves as the principal information center for queries about RISM data from the United States. In addition to Adams, Wolff, has played a key role in the enterprise, working along with Loeb Music's former director John Howard to bring RISM's tools into the digital age and to secure considerable NEH funding for the cataloging of manuscripts in the Series A/II: Music Manuscripts after 1600 database.