Musical sources and authorities

Musical sources 1,537,015
Personal names                155,390
Institutions              27,024
Secondary literature 15,322


RISM contains over 1.5 million records for musical sources: music manuscripts, printed music, libretti, and treatises that are held in music libraries, archives, churches, private collections, and other institutions around the world. The bulk of the manuscripts dates from between the years 1600 and 1850. The focus of printed music is imprints up to 1800. However, you will find both older and newer sources in the catalog.

The RISM Catalog contains all of series A/I, A/II, and B/I. RISM's book publications in 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 or to an extent online.

Some of the major libraries are not (yet) completely documented in RISM but they—as opposed to, say, smaller church libraries–tend to have their own comprehensive, searchable catalogs. Agreements with these libraries will result in the transfer of their records to RISM in the near future. Sources that are now lost are not documented in RISM. 

We estimate—based on a survey we sent to our national groups in the mid 1990s—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 printed editions worldwide from this time. We therefore estimate that the catalog contains around 1/3 of the estimated music manuscripts that are extant worldwide until 1800 and about 60% of extant imprints to 1800. 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.

Technical developments

  • 2022 (February): Enabled IIIF display, search for new/updated records, and open all/close all button for holding libraries; and new cataloging features such as fingerprint identifier, related sources, and composite volumes. (Announcement)
  • 2019: The arrangement of information for printed music editions was improved so that copy-specific information is displayed next to the holding library. (Announcement)
  • 2018: The RISM catalog was redesigned, with an improved incipit search, a search available in French, Italian, and Spanish, and a mobile-friendly format. (Announcement)
  • 2015: Printed music (A/I and B/I) added to the RISM catalog (Announcement)
  • 2014: New interface (Announcement)
  • 2011: Music incipit search released (Announcement)
  • 2010: RISM catalog released (Announcement)