Répertoire International des Sources Musicales

Répertoire International des Sources Musicales
Focus Musical sources to ca. 1800
  • Frankfurt, Germany and worldwide
Origins Robert Eitner
Product Books, database
Method Working groups around the world
Key people
Klaus Keil, Director; Dr. Harald Heckmann, Honorary President; Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, President
8 at the Central Editorial Office
Slogan Knowing what exists and where it is kept
Mission To locate and document extant musical sources worldwide
Website www.rism.info

The Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM, English International Inventory of Musical Sources, German Internationales Quellenlexikon der Musik) is an international non-profit organization, founded in Paris in 1952, with the aim of comprehensively documenting extant sources of music all over the world.[1] It is the largest organization of its kind and the only entity operating globally to document written musical sources. Shortly after its founding, A.H. King called RISM, "one of the boldest pieces of long-term planning ever undertaken for the source material of any subject in the humanistic field."[2]

The musical sources recorded are manuscripts or printed music, writings about music and libretti. They are stored in libraries, archives, monasteries, schools, and private collections. RISM establishes what exists and where it is kept. RISM is recognized among experts as the key place for documenting music sources all over the world.

The work of RISM in compiling a comprehensive index fulfills a twofold purpose: for one, music documents are protected from loss, and for another, they are made available to scholars and performing musicians.


Example of a music manuscript: Johann Sebastian Bach, Sonata for Violin Solo, BWV 1001

One or several RISM working groups in more than 35 countries take part in the project. Around 100 individuals from those working groups catalogue the musical sources preserved in their countries. They pass their results on to the RISM Zentralredaktion (Central Editorial Office) in Frankfurt am Main, where the entries are edited and published.[3]

RISM working groups are currently active in the following countries and cities:

The RISM Zentralredaktion and the working groups in Germany are projects of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz.[4] The other working groups receive independent funding in their own countries.


RISM publications are divided into the following series:[5]

In addition to these, working groups conduct projects to document libretti surviving in their respective countries.

RISM Series A/I – Printed Music

RISM Series A/I Individual Prints before 1800 documents printed music of works by a single composer published between 1500 and 1800. Collected prints (anthologies of works by various composers) are published in RISM series B.

Each individual entry contains the following information:

Series A/I is available through the RISM online catalog, after having appeared in print and as a CD-ROM.[6] Apart from the stated intention of opening the way to the primary source for researchers and performers, this sort of catalogue provides attractive possibilities for other areas of interest and inquiry as well. For example, one can gain insight into many different topics while researching the reception of a piece. One way could be to find out how the music of a composer was regarded after his death; to find this out, it would be important to know how many and which of his works were reissued.

Over 78,000 printed editions by 7,616 composers (arranged alphabetically) from 2,178 libraries were documented in the nine volumes of the series (published 1971–1981). Four supplementary volumes appeared between 1986 and 1999, and in 2003, an index volume followed listing publishers, printers, engravers and places of publication. All volumes of RISM series A/I were published by Bärenreiter in Kassel. The CD-ROM was published by Bärenreiter-Verlag at the end of 2012, and the CD-ROM data were incorporated into the online catalog in 2015.

RISM Series A/II – Music Manuscripts

RISM series A/II Music Manuscripts after 1600 lists only handwritten music. They are described in detail according to a uniform scheme containing more than 100 fields. There are currently more than 917,000 entries on pieces by around 27,000 composers available (as of November 2015, and the number is constantly increasing). The total number of music manuscripts extant worldwide is many times that large.

The entries are currently from more than 900 libraries in 37 countries: Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Uruguay, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. This makes RISM’s database by far the most extensive accessible set of records in the field.

The RISM database has been available free of charge online since June 2010. Access to this online catalog is through the Internet via the RISM online catalog or the RISM website. The catalogue was made possible through cooperation between RISM, the Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), and the Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin). The CD-ROM version of the accumulated database produced and published by K. G. Saur in Munich was discontinued in 2008. The subscription database hosted by EBSCO (formerly by NISC) is still available.

The catalogue entries describe each piece in detail. Included are, among other things, information about the composer (including dates of birth and death), title, performing forces, as well as references to musicological literature. The manuscripts themselves are described in detail with respect to copyist, place and time of origin, librettist, previous owners, and dedicatees. In addition, many works can also be identified by means of a music incipit, that is, the opening notes or measures from important movements or sections of a piece.

A variety of search boxes enables browsing and discovery through any of these fields. Specific questions can be answered by combining specific indexes. For example, it is possible to immediately access all the information stored by RISM about masses by Joseph Haydn. A search by means of a musical incipit is a valuable research tool when trying to identify an anonymous piece or a fragment of a piece. To make use of this tool, the researcher keys in the first few notes of the work.

The database provides information not only about the dissemination of works by composers who are still well known today, but also a wealth of knowledge about those many creative musicians who were highly regarded in their day, but are currently either little known, or even forgotten. This makes the database invaluable for music historians, and also makes it possible for performing musicians to “excavate” and rediscover many things.

RISM Series B

RISM series B comprises a systematic series which documents a self-contained group of sources. The volumes in series B are published by G. Henle of Munich. In addition, the portion of B/I covering the years 1500-1550 is available in the online catalog.[6] Series B includes (an English translation of the title appears in parentheses where necessary):

RISM Series C

Entitled Directory of Music Research Libraries, RISM series C lists in five volumes all the music libraries, archives, and private collections which house historical musical materials. This index of music libraries is produced in cooperation with the Publication Committee of the International Association of Music Libraries (IAML). The special volume RISM-Bibliothekssigel. Gesamtverzeichnis (RISM Library Sigla: Complete Index), which appeared in 1999, has been available in a regularly updated version on the RISM website since 2006, and in a searchable online database since 2011.[7]

RISM uses a series of abbreviations to identify different libraries and conservatories where manuscripts are located. For example, "I-MOe" means "Italy-Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena."

People who use the RISM publications

Further reading


  1. Rita Benton, "Répertoire International des Sources Musicales," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, 2002, vol. 21, p. 194. ISBN 1-56159-239-0
  2. Alec Hyatt King, "The Music Librarian, his tasks, national and international," Fontes Artis Musicae 6 (1959): 54; quoted in Benton, 195.
  3. International Association of Music Libraries (IAML): Joint projects and assisted publications
  4. Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz (in German)
  5. For a detailed list of publications, see the RISM List of Publications
  6. 1 2 "Printed Music (A/I and B/I) now in RISM's Online Catalog," http://www.rism.info/en/home/newsdetails/browse/3/article/64/printed-music-ai-and-bi-now-in-risms-online-catalog.html
  7. RISM Zentralredaktion, announcement 29 November 2011 and Birgit Grün, trans. Keith Harris, Forum Musikbibliothek 27 (2006/4), p. 331ff. Background information about the sigla
  8. "The present writer is grateful to record again a debt to RISM for directing him to four early tablatures for guitar and cittern, lying unrecognized in a small Swiss library--a discovery that marks one of the most substantial additions to the 16th-century instrumental repertory in many years." Daniel Heartz, "The Répertoire International des Sources Musicales," Journal of the American Musicological Society 14 (1961): 271.
  9. "2010 - RISM". Rism.info. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
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