The earliest engraved music

Posted on 7th August 2012 by simonbeattie

The music of Cornelis Verdonck (1563–1625) was the first to be printed from engraved plates.  Engraving had been used for lute tablature in 1536, and for a few musical examples in Vincenzo Galilei’s Dialogo della musica antica of 1581, but its first use for proper mensural notation was in Antwerp in 1584, when the Flemish engraver Jean Sadeler (1550–1610) produced Verdonck’s four-part Ave gratia plena, followed by this five-part Magnificat in 1585 (it may look like only four parts, but the Tenor is to be sung in canon).  ‘The engravings are superb as pictorial compositions, and the notation of the music, though small, is clear and accurately reproduced’ (New Grove).

The engraving here is in its first state.  A later version has the Virgin’s head facing the other way.

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2 responses to “The earliest engraved music”

  1. Pamela Coren says:

    Lovely, but I’m a bit unnerved by your phrase ‘proper mensural notation’. Lute tablature is ‘proper’ music. The tablature systems of the sixteenth century developed to register the complex polyphonic music of the solo lute with its subtle rhythms at a time when ‘mensuration’ couldn’t cope. So those early printed lutebooks are the earliest engraved music books.

    • simonbeattie says:

      Sorry. The “proper” was intended in comparison to the mensural notation used in the Galilei. I certainly didn’t mean that tablature isn’t proper music!

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