The 500th anniversary of the first music printing: a history of patronage and taste in the early years

  • Stanley Boorman
Keywords: Ottaviano Petrucci, music printing, music patronage, Ferrara


Ottaviano Petrucci published his first book of music, the Odhecaton A, sometime in the summer of 1501, 500 years ago. Since it was the first, Petrucci faced a number of special problems. Some were financial, for he could not know how many people would buy printed music, or how many books they would want. Consequently, there was a danger that he might not sell as many books as he needed to cover his costs. A related set of problems concerned the choice of music to print: would his books be bought by professional musicians and their institutions, or by dilettantes, courtiers and amateurs? Could chansons be expected to sell better than church music? Petrucci's answers to these problems would depend on whether he had to finance his editions himself, or whether some patron or musician would offer to underwrite an edition for him. Using bibliographical and biographical data, this paper argues that some of Petrucci's earliest editions were speculative ventures on the part of his partners and himself, while others were probably commissioned from Petrucci by an outside patron. Petrucci seems to have had to balance speculative with commissioned editions throughout his career: the market may not have been big enough to support only speculative editions. It was certainly not big enough to support more than one publisher of music. This situation seems to have continued well into the 1530s arguing that the big expansion in amateur musicians did not occur until then.


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How to Cite
BoormanS. (2001). The 500th anniversary of the first music printing: a history of patronage and taste in the early years. Musicological Annual, 37(1), 33-49.