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UMKC University Libraries

Antiquity, Medieval Era, and the Renaissance (Music)

What is RISM (International Inventory of Musical Sources)?:

  • international, multi-lingual, ongoing project to document music primary sources. It began post-WWII and the acronym “RISM” comes from the French title “Répertoire International des Sources Musicales.”
  • determine the existence, location, and bibliographic details regarding actual music primary source, especially manuscripts and early printed music, plus writings about music
  • does not contain the actual sources, though the online portions sometimes link to digitized versions
  • available partially online, partially in print. The online, where available, is more current.
  • is divided into three series, with each series containing multiple volumes. There series are:
    • Series A: inventories alphabetically by composer
    • Series B: bibliographies of materials organized by topic
    • Series C: directories of music research libraries

The RISM website contains most comprehensive and current list of all RISM volumes and online vs. print availability. The information below is current as of March 2017:

A/I: Printed music issued individually, 1600-1800 [online via RISM website]
A/II: Music manuscripts after 1600 [online via RISM website]
B/I: Printed collections of the 16th-17th centuries [partly online via RISM website – only 1500-1550]
B/II: Printed collections of the 18th century
B/III: The theory of music from the Carolingian era up to c.1500
B/IV: Manuscripts of polyphonic music, 11th-16th centuries [online in DIAMM (Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music)]
B/V-B/XVI: Additional bibliographies of material organized by topic
C: Directory of Music Research Libraries

How to use RISM

How to search RISM online:

  • RISM provides many specific fields for searching, including:
    • composer
    • title
    • catalog of works number
    • key
    • year
    • library siglum
    • shelfmark
    • musical incipt, entered via on-screen keyboard
    • and more!
  • RISM can be picky about how the searches must be entered, so read the RISM help section if your searches are unfruitful.
  • Once you find a source in RISM, examine the record to learn:
    • composer and title
    • work number
    • scoring, instrumentation, parts contained - sometimes all that remains is a portion of an original manuscript, or half a set of parts
    • incipits
    • references to literature written about the source
    • provenance information, including former owners
    • the library/archive where the material is currently, and the shelfmark
  • Sometimes, RISM online links to a digitized version, but often it does not. To find a digitized version, try:
    • Search WorldCat (use the exact title from RISM!) for a digitized, microfilm, or facsimile version, then use interlibrary loan. These are rare, valuable items, so it is extremely unlikely the library will loan the original.
    • Search the website of the library/archive (use the exact title from RISM, and/or the shelfmark)
    • Google (again, the exact title from RISM and/or the shelfmark)
    • It might not be digitized. You might have to travel to the library to examine it, or request a copy from them.

How to search RISM in print

  • Not all of RISM is available online
  • Use the information from the RISM website to help you identify the volume you need, then get it at UMKC in Music Ref ML113.I6
  • Read each RISM volume's preface for specifics on how that volume of RISM is organized
  • Music Research: A Handbook by Laurie J. Sampsel gives guidance on using RISM in Appendix D.

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