On this page you can find help for:

If you see an error or would like to give us feedback, do not hesitate to let us know.

Special topics

City Guide (PDF) (YouTube video): How to find sources that are located today in a particular city or country

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
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, publishers, 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)
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

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

Search results

The search results are given in a numbered list. The results list shows the composer, title, key, scoring summary, thematic catalog number, source type, library siglum, and the shelfmark.

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

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

How to search for music incipits

There are two different ways of searching for music incipits (beginning notes): a diatonic search entering note names with your computer keyboard and a chromatic search using the on-screen piano keyboard. In both cases, the search is purely based on the progression of pitches and does not take into account any other search parameters such as rhythm or intervals. This way, the number of hits is increased and entering the search terms is considerably easier.  The search is truncated right, meaning that music incipits are retrieved that are longer than the search string. Incipits are searched both with and without grace notes and ornaments, so entering them is optional. 

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. In this case as well, it is 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 defgagfhe (Music incipit (with transposition)).

Tips and tricks:
The number of hits depends on the length of the search term. Your results will be more effective if you enter 7 notes or more, depending on the incipit.

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.

The incipit search does not differentiate between different octaves. A search for the notes cf will find both the upper fourth and the lower fifth. Trivial broken triads will therefore only make navigating the number of hits difficult.

You can make a search especially effective by combining the incipit search with the search filters of the RISM online catalog.

The RISM online catalog currently contains over 1.1 million music incipits.

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.

Instrument abbreviations and descriptions

A alto (voc.)
a- alto (instr.)
a-trb alto trombone
a-vla alto viola
arp harp
Autograph autograph manuscript
?Autograph? possible autograph manuscript
B bass (voc.)
b or b- bass (instr.)
b-trb bass trombone
b.fig figured bass
Bariton baritone (voc.)
bariton- baritone (instr.)
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
choir book choir book
cl clarinet
clav clavecin
clno clarino
cnto cornett, cornetto (Renaissance wind instrument)
Contra-A contralto (voc.)
contra-a- contralto (instr.)
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 (voc.)
dessus dessus (instr.)
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)
Kornetto cornet (brass instrument)
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
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 (voc.)
s- soprano (instr.)
saxofono saxophone
Sprechstimme spoken voice
stck percussion
strings vl 1, 2, vla, vlc, b
T tenor (voc.)
t- tenor (instr.)
t-trb tenor trombone
taille tenor part
theorbe theorbo
timp timpani
tr trumpet
trb trombone
Treble highest voice (voc.)
treble highest voice (instr.)
V voice (voc.)
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

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: 

Details and more examples are on the RISM website.