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If you see an error or would like to give us feedback, do not hesitate to let us know. Fill out this form (click here) or send an e-mail to

Scope and content

The online catalog contains records for music manuscripts, printed music, libretti, and treatises held in music libraries, archives, churches, and other institutions around the world. 

The online catalog contains over 1,000,000 entries, mainly manuscripts from between the years 1600 and 1850. As of summer 2015, there are also ca. 100,000 entries for printed music published up to 1800 by a single composer and printed collections published between 1500 and 1550. Even though the emphasis of manuscript cataloging is on the years 1600-1850, you will find both older and newer sources in the online catalog.

Some of the bigger libraries are not (yet) completely documented in RISM but they tend to have - as opposed to, say, smaller church libraries - their own comprehensive, searchable catalog. With the improvements in recent years in data transfer technology, these data will also eventually be published in the online catalog. Sources that are now lost are not documented in RISM.

RISM's book publications, specifically series B, document groups of sources by topic. Most of the volumes in series B are not in the online catalog but can be consulted in well-stocked research libraries.

We estimate - based on a survey we sent to our national groups 20 years ago - that there are approximately 1.8 million extant manuscripts dating between 1600 and 1800 and at least 2 million from between 1800 and 1950. Of printed music to 1800, there must be around 140,000 copies still extant. Thanks to new printing technology, this figure increases rapidly during the nineteenth century and there might be as many as 4 million music prints worldwide from this time. But our numbers are just estimates; nobody can count such a large amount.

RISM is, therefore, far from complete, but it is the most comprehensive resource for musical sources there is.

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How to use the catalog

  • Quick guide to the online catalog (PDF) (YouTube video): This very short video demonstrates a simple search, using the filters, and what a typical catalog entry has.
  • New (2014) features of the online catalog (YouTube video): This video points out the new (2014) features of the RISM online catalog, including the search for digitized music, improved autocomplete, Boolean search, on-screen piano keyboard for entering incipits, sort results, atom feed, clearer attributions
  • City Guide (PDF) (YouTube video): How to find sources that are located today in a particular city or country
  • Printed music in RISM (YouTube video): Over 100,000 items of printed music from A/I and B/I added to the online catalog in May 2015
  • How to search for RISM library sigla (YouTube video): How to use the database of library sigla to find the RISM abbreviation for an institution

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Simple search

The single search box conducts an undifferentiated full-text search. Type in the search term(s) you want to find. Truncate words using * (asterisk). Use “ ” (quotation marks) to search for an exact phrase. Punctuation and case are ignored.

Examples:   Zar*
    Autograph Mozart
    “don giovanni”
    piano sonatas

Advanced search

Use up to three search boxes and a series of drop-down menus to direct a search to specific indexes. Truncation and searching by phrase are allowed. 

All fields Conducted like the simple search. Use to search fields not indexed, such as opus number, role names, or publisher location.
Title Enter the title, classification title, or text incipit. Use the plural for form/genre terms.
Examples: Music for the royal fireworks
Ich bin nicht gern allein
Composer Names, initials, pseudonyms, etc. of composers.
Genre Enter the form, genre, or type in the plural.
Examples: Sonatas
Music incipit Enter the pitches of the music incipit. Omit sharps, flats, and naturals.
Music incipit (with transposition) Enter the pitches of the music incipit if you wish to allow transpositions
Other names Names, initials, pseudonyms, etc. of individuals who do not function as composers: arrangers, co-composers, copyists, dedicatees, librettists, performers, previous owners, printers, engravers, etc.
Catalog of works number The abbreviation of a thematic catalog or works catalog and number
Examples: BWV 175
HelH 198
Key Major and minor keys, church modes (to be entered as 1t-12t; see “ecclesiastical modes” in Abbreviations, below)
Provenance Names of people or institutions who had prior ownership of the source
Source type Enter one of the following terms, or use the drop-down list under Source Type:
manuscript (for copies or manuscripts not in the composer's hand)
autograph (for manuscripts in the composer's hand)
print (a printed music edition)
possible autograph
partly autograph (for partial autographs, i.e. manuscripts with corrections or small additions in the composer's hand)
libretto, printed
libretto, handwritten
theoreticum, printed
theoreticum, handwritten
other material
musical journal
Watermarks Enter English terms
Examples: crescent
Liturgical festival Church feasts and holidays using the forms found in the Liber usualis
See also the Liber Usualis free online from McGill University
Examples: Pentecostes

See also the List of liturgical festivals from RISM Switzerland

Scoring Search for works that include specific instruments or voices, using RISM abbreviations (see below). Also known as instrumentation or medium of performance.
Library siglum Enter a RISM library siglum
Examples: D-B

See also the Online catalog of library sigla

RISM ID no. Enter the 9-digit record number assigned by RISM
Example: 806351640
Year Enter a single year
Example: 1806
Shelfmark Enter the shelfmark or call number as given by the holding library or previous institutions
Examples: MS 444
M1500.M46 L58 Case
Language Search for texts by language. Enter in either English or German.
Examples: Italian
Publisher Search for printed editions from a particular publisher.
Examples: Johann Jakob Lotter & Sohn or also Johann Jakob Lotter Sohn
Charles Dibdin
A/I or B/I number Search for printed editions by the sequential A/I or B/I numbers used in the print publications. Spaces, if any, must be entered exactly. Superscripts in B/1 are preceded by a vertical line.
Examples: S 6989
HH 6429a
AA 898 I,1
Plate number Search by plate and publisher’s numbers. You can enter strings of numbers and/or characters.
Examples: 424
L. M. 2. A. 31

1) All sources for symphonies by Haydn in E major 

2) All sources outside of Germany for Clara Schumann where she shows up in a function other than composer (such as copyist or former owner)
Tip: Use a Boolean search and select not

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Search results

The search results are given in a numbered list. The results list may show the composer, title, key, scoring summary, A/1 or B/1 numberthematic catalog number, source type, library siglum, and the shelfmark.

Refine the results by using the filters on the left: Digitized musicGenre, Composer, Source type, Scoring, PublisherYearLibrary siglum, and Series. The selected search filters appear in a box above the filters. To remove a search filter, simply click the X next to the filter.

Digitized music includes musical sources that have been scanned by the holding institution and made available online. A direct link to the digitized source is provided in the record. Clicking on the filter for digitized music will display only those records that contain links to digital surrogates.

Click on any of the search results to view the full record. 

Full record display

The full record display describes the source in full, often including incipits.

If you click on a term marked in blue with a  to the right of it, a window opens with further information.

If you see the phrase “In collection” near the bottom of the record, it means that the work described is part of a collective manuscript or anthology. Clicking on the blue number will take you to the collection's main entry. From there, you can view the records for the rest of the works in the collection.
Consult the table of abbreviations, below, as required.

For printed music, different formats of a publication are noted in abbreviated form: Chb (choirbook), Chor-P (chorus score), KLA (piano score/vocal score), Orgel-P (organ score), P (full score), St (parts), Tab (tablature). 

If you see the phrase "Initial entry" or "Following entries" on an item of printed music, note that linking records via initial entry / following entry corresponds with the suborder adopted in the printed volumes of series A/I, in which identical contents were indicated with a dash beneath the first printed edition mentioned. Most of these had a complete title. This system did not correspond to any hierarchy in a sense of first editions and reprints. However, linking in the catalog is necessary in that similarities in content of the titles have to be reflected. Furthermore, since the subsequent entries often lack short and/or original titles, there needs to be a clear reference to the (original) title of the first entry.

Registered users of the RISM website may consult the description guidelines, which are linked from the Community page.  

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Music incipits

There are two different ways of searching for music incipits (beginning notes):

1. Search by note names 

In the Advanced search, select the field Music incipit or Music incipit (with transposition). Enter either upper or lower case letters. For the English note name B, either B or the German H may be used.  Omit accidentals, sharps, flats, and natural signs because they are ignored in this field. For example, for the note F-sharp, enter an F. Selecting the option Music incipit (with transposition) will also include incipits that have been transposed from the initial search inquiry.

2. Search using the on-screen piano keyboard 

Underneath the search boxes is a virtual piano keyboard. This can also be used to input music incipits. The piano keyboard enables a chromatic search and takes into account exact half steps. All enharmonic tones are also searched: the black key for the note F-sharp also searches for the note G-flat - even when xF appears in the search field. Here it is also possible to search for incipits using the original notes or you can select the transposition option. 



Search term: fgfbagfa (Music incipit)


Search term: cdefgfead (Music incipit) or defgagfbe (Music incipit (with transposition)).

More tips:

  • Rhythm, intervals, and octaves are ignored
  • The search is truncated right, meaning that music incipits are retrieved that are longer than the search string.
  • Grace notes and ornaments are searched if you enter them and ignored if you do not. 
  • Start with a longer incipit and delete notes until you get results of a reasonable size.
  • To increase your chances of a match, search using Music incipit (with transposition)
  • Combine the incipit search with other fields and make use of the search filters 
  • You can use upper case or lower case letters
  • You may enter either an H or a B
  • Tied notes do not have to be entered twice
  • To search for enharmonic notes or accidentals, use the keyboard

And remember:
The music incipits in RISM are not standardised in any way. Rather, they reflect the incipits as they appear on the sources themselves. Accordingly, there may be slight variations among different copies of what is essentially the same work.

Not every source described in the RISM catalog includes a music incipit. Sometimes, only text incipits are included or only basic information about the movement (such as time signature or tempo marking).

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Tips & tricks

1. How can I search the holdings of a specific library?
Do an Advanced Search and select the field "Library siglum" (search the database of sigla here) and click Search. Now you are looking at only the records of a particular library. Use the filters on the left to further refine your search.

2. When I search for a composer, I get results where the name of the composer isn't anywhere on the record. Why is this?
Your search also searches authority records and main entry records (in the case of collections), so the name may appear as a variant if you click on the composer's name, or it may appear on the main entry record if the item is part of a collection.

3. How can I navigate between individual entries in a collection?
We admit navigation isn't ideal but there is a workaround: Do an Advanced Search and fill out the fields "Library siglum" and "Shelfmark" (aka call number), then click Search. The default order of entries in the search results gives you the individual entries in page number order. Or, use the "Sort by" option to sort the results. From any result, you can use the arrows in the upper right of a record to navigate.

4. How can I access all records in the database at once?
Simply click "Search" without entering anything and the results will be all records in the database. Use the filters to narrow your results.

5. Records are inconsistent: sometimes a word is spelled with a "v" in one record but a "u" in the next. Same with "j" and "i". Why is this?
The field "Title on source" transcribes the title exactly as it appears on the source, including the original spelling from the time and any mistakes the scribe made. This accounts for the variations you see. The titles at the top of the records and the incipits are standardized and reflect modern usage.

6. I don't know whether to search for sinfonie, symphonie, symphony, etc.
A good strategy is to search for the genre in English and in the plural: symphonies. 

Secondary literature abbreviations

Secondary literature most frequently cited in biographical pop-up windows

Need help?

Brown-StrattonBMB James D. Brown and Stephen S. Stratton. British Musical Biography. A Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors and Composers Born in Britain and Its Colonies. London, 1897/ reprint 1971.
CohenE|2    Aaron I. Cohen. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers, 2nd ed., 2 vol. New York: Books & Music, 1987.
ČSHS Gracian Černušák, Bohumír Štědron, and Zdenko Nováček. Československý hudební slovnik osob a institucí. 2 vol. Praha: Státní hudební vydavatelství, 1963-1965.
DEUMM/b Alberto Basso. Dizionario Enciclopedico Universale della Musica e dei Musicisti. Le Biografie. 8 vol. Torino: UTET, 1985-1988.
DEUMM/b suppl. Alberto Basso. Dizionario Enciclopedico Universale della Musica e dei Musicisti. Appendice. Torino: UTET, 1990.
EitnerQ Robert Eitner. Biographisch-bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker und Musikgelehrten der christlichen Zeitrechnung bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts. 11 vol. Leipzig, 1900-1904. 
FétisB|2 François-Joseph Fétis. Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique. 2nd ed., 8 vol. Paris, 1868-1870.
FétisB|2 suppl. Arthur Pougin. Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique par F.-J. Fétis. Supplément et complément. 2 vol. Paris, 1878-1880.
Frank-AltmannTL|1|5 Paul Frank and Wilhelm Altmann. Kurzgefaßtes Tonkünstler-Lexikon. Erster Teil: Neudruck der Ausgabe von 1936. 15th ed., vol. 1. 1936/ reprint Wilhelmshaven: Heinrichshofen's Verlag,  1971.
Frank-AltmannTL|1|5 suppl. Burchard Bullin, Florian Noetzel, and Helmut Rösner. Kurzgefaßtes Tonkünstler-Lexikon. Zweiter Teil: Ergänzungen und Erweiterungen seit 1937. 15th ed., vol. 2-3. Wilhelmshaven: Heinrichshofen's Verlag, 1974-1978. 
GarveyJacksonW Barbara Garvey Jackson. "Say can you deny me". A guide to surviving music by women from the 16th through the 18th centuries Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1994.
Grove|6 Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 20 vol. London: Macmillan, 1980.
Grove|7 Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd ed., 29 vol. London: MacMillan, 2001.
Kutsch-RiemensGSL|4 Karl-Josef Kutsch and Leo Riemens. Großes Sängerlexikon. 4th ed., 7 vol. München: Saur, 2003. 
LdMk Hermann Josef Schneider. Lexikon zur deutschen Musikkultur. Böhmen, Mähren, Sudetenschlesien. 2 vol. München: Langen-Müller/Herbig, 2000.
MCL Hermann Mendel and August Reißmann. Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon. Eine Encyklopädie der gesammten musikalischen Wissenschaften. 11 vol. Berlin, 1870-1879.
MGG Friedrich Blume, ed. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 14 vol. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1949.
MGG suppl. Friedrich Blume, ed. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Supplement. 2 vol. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1973-1979.
MGG|2/s Ludwig Finscher, ed. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Sachteil. 10 vol. Kassel: Bärenreiter; Stuttgart: Metzler, 1994-1998, 1999. 
MGG|2/p Ludwig Finscher, ed. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Personenteil. 17 vol. Kassel: Bärenreiter; Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999-2007.
MGG|2 suppl. Ilka Sühring. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Supplement. Kassel: Bärenreiter; Stuttgart: Metzler, 2008.
SCHML Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht. Schlesisches Musiklexikon. Augsburg: Wißner-Verlag, 2001.
Sohlmans|2 Hanse Åstrand. Sohlmans musiklexikon. 2nd ed., 5 vol. Stockholm, 1975-1979.
StiegerO Franz Stieger. Opernlexikon. 11 vol. Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1975-1983.
RiemannL|1|2/p Wilibald Gurlitt. Riemann Musik-Lexikon. Personenteil. 12th ed., 2 vol. Mainz: Schott, 1959-1961.
RiemannL|1|2/p suppl. Carl Dahlhaus. Riemann Musik-Lexikon. Ergänzungsband Personenteil. 12th ed., 2 vol. Mainz: Schott, 1972-1975. 
RiemannL|1|3 Wolfgang Ruf. Riemann Musik-Lexikon. 5 vol. Mainz: Schott, 2012. 
VollhardtC 1899 Reinhard Vollhardt: Geschichte der Cantoren und Organisten von den Städten im Königreich Sachsen. Berlin, 1899/ reprint Leipzig: Peters, 1978.

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Abbreviations and descriptions

Name attributions: You will see these designations appear after a name.

verified Attribution is certain.
ascertained The name is partially present or entirely absent from the source, but attribution is (reasonably) certain and based on comparison with concordant sources, secondary literature, or other scholarly resources.
conjectural The name is a questionable guess based on the secondary literature; includes doubtful attributions.
alleged The name appears on the source, but the attribution is questionable or doubtful.
misattributed The name is on the source but is incorrect.

The field "Form" in some printed editions:

Chb choirbook
Chor-P chorus score
KLA piano score/vocal score
kpl. complete
Orgel-P organ score
P full score
St parts
Tab tablature

Other abbreviations:

A alto (vocal)
a- alto (instrumental)
a-trb alto trombone
a-vla alto viola
arp harp
Autograph autograph manuscript
?Autograph? possible autograph manuscript
B bass (vocal)
b or b- bass (instrumental)
b-trb bass trombone
b.fig figured bass
Bariton baritone (vocal)
bariton- baritone (instrumental)
bass continuo
bc continuo (figured)
bombarde bombarde
brasses brasses
cb contrabass, double bass
cemb clavicembalo, cembalo, virginal, spinet
    cemb 4hands clavicembalo, cembalo, etc. 4 hands
chalumeau chalumeau
Chb choirbook (in printed music)
choir book choir book
Chor-P chorus score (in printed music)
cl clarinet
clav clavecin
clno clarino
cnto cornett, cornetto (Renaissance wind instrument)
Contra-A contralto (vocal)
contra-a- contralto (instrumental)
contra-fag double bassoon, contrabassoon
cor horn, French horn
cor di bassetto basset horn
cor inglese cor anglais, English horn
Coro choir, chorus
    1691 in 1691
    1782a before 1782
    1782c about (ca.) 1782
    1782p after 1782 beginning of the 18th century middle of the 18th century
    18.ex end of the 18th century
    18.1t 18th century, first third
    18.3q 18th century, 3rd quarter
    18.2d 18th century, 2nd half 18th century
    18/19 18th/19th century
    1691* born 1691
    1797a+ died before 1782
    1782p+ died after 1782
Dessus dessus (vocal)
dessus dessus (instrumental)
ex. copies (for printed music)
fag bassoon
fl flute
fl.picc piccolo, ottavino
guit guitar
hautecontre alto instrument
hpcd harpsichord
i instrumental part
iSol solo instrument
    major (mode): C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db  
    minor (mode): a, e, b, f#, g#, d#, a#, d, g, c, f, bb  
    A A major
    B B major
    b B minor
    f# F-sharp minor
    Bb B-flat major
ecclesiastical modes:  
    1t 1st tone (Dorian)
    2t 2nd tone (Hypodorian)
    3t 3rd tone (Phrygian)
    4t 4th tone (Hypophrygian
    5t 5th tone (Lydian)
    6t 6th tone (Hypolydian)
    7t 7th tone (Mixolydian)
    8t 8th tone (Hypomixolydian)
    9t 9th tone (Aeolian)
    10t 10th tone (Hypoaeolian)
    11t 11th tone (Ionian)
    12t 12th tone (Hypoionian)
KLA piano score/vocal score (in printed music)
Kornetto cornet (brass instrument)
kpl. complete (in printed music)
lute lute
Mezzo-S mezzo-soprano
ob oboe
ob d'amore oboe d'amore
olim old shelfmark
orch orchestra, instrumental ensemble
org organ
    org 4hands organ, 4 hands
Orgel-P organ score (in printed music)
P full score (in printed music)
pf piano
    pf 4hands piano, 4 hands
plck plucked instrument
recorder recorder
RISM A/I cross-reference to RISM series A/I
RISM B/ cross-reference to RISM series B
S soprano, cantus, discantus (vocal)
s- soprano (instrumental)
saxofono saxophone
Sprechstimme spoken voice
St parts (in printed music)
stck percussion
strings vl 1, 2, vla, vlc, b
T tenor (vocal)
t- tenor (instrumental)
t-trb tenor trombone
Tab tablature (in printed music)
taille tenor part
tb tuba
theorbe theorbo
timp timpani
tr trumpet
trb trombone
Treble highest voice (vocal)
treble highest voice (instrumental)
V voice (vocal)
V 5 quinta vox
Vag vagans
violetta violetta
vl violin
vla viola
vla d'amore viola d'amore
vla da gamba viola da gamba
vlc violoncello, cello
vlne violone
VSol vocal solo parts
winds winds
woodwinds woodwinds
(X) an unspecified number

How to link to RISM searches

In order to link to RISM searches, combine this address (without quotes):


with the parameter you wish to search:

author= for composer
callno= for shelfmark/call number
institution= for an institution that appears in the field Provenance
localkey= or documentid= or id= for RISM ID number
q= or query= for a keyword search anywhere
subject= for a genre
title= for filing title
year= for year
siglum= for library siglum

and add your search string.

As an example, to link to all sources by Marianna Martines: 

Truncating searches with an asteristk (*) is possible in some cases. Blank spaces must be filled with a plus sign (+). Combine parameters with an ampersand (&). - See more at:

Tip: Linking to the GND number is helpful if the name is common. This article explains how.

Truncating searches with an asteristk (*) is possible in some cases. Blank spaces must be filled with a plus sign (+). Combine parameters with an ampersand (&).

Details and more examples are on the RISM website.


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is in RISM?
Please see Scope and content, above.

2. Why isn't my article or other important research cited in RISM?
We try to stay abreast of current research but invariably we miss some things. Please alert us to new research or articles we may have overlooked.

3. How can I report an error?
Any and all corrections are welcome. Please send us an e-mail.

4. Where can I get copies of the music?
Music must be obtained directly from the holding institution itself. Some libraries offer digitized collections on their websites; whenever possible, RISM links to these digital surrogates directly in the records. If you do not find a digitized copy of the source, you must contact the library. Click on the library siglum to find the contact information.

5. Can I reuse data from the RISM online catalog?
Yes! Both the authority records as well as the records for the sources themselves are freely available as linked open data through a Creative Commons CC-BY license. You can download the data in MARCXML and RDF format. More information is available on the linked open data page.

6. How can I participate in RISM?
We warmly welcome anybody who wants to take part in RISM's projects.

Individuals can support RISM by:

  • reporting mistakes in the online catalog
  • sending us descriptions of sources not yet in RISM
  • making us aware of new research concerning sources
  • alerting us to institutions not yet in the siglum database
  • making us aware of new research concerning sources
  • informing us of performances that involve music found in RISM
  • translating the RISM brochure or Wikipedia articles into their local language

Libraries can support RISM by:

  • opening up their collections to RISM contributors
  • supporting their work by offering work space, Internet access, etc.
  • offering staff to work on the project (training is provided free from RISM)
  • sending RISM data from local catalogs about sources not yet in RISM

Anybody can:

  • contribute financially. All donations are welcome! (Receipt provided.)

7. How is RISM structured?
RISM relies on the work of individuals and working groups from around the world who catalog the musical sources in their own country in the international RISM database. Information about the structure of RISM can be found here.

8. How can I find a RISM contact person near me?
Please consult the list of RISM working groups worldwide. If your country is not listed, please contact us.

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