Choir books and manuscripts written in choir-book notation
The choir books of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, a collection of worldwide prominence containing 165 manuscripts with part music mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, are the subject of a Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) funded project aiming at the collection’s online cataloguing, digitization and publication.
Under the government of Duke Albrecht V. (1550-1579) and with Orlando di Lasso as Bavarian court musician, Munich has been one of the most important centers of musical life in Europe. Besides the famous stock of printed music in the 16th and 17th centuries, the extraordinary inventory of the choirbook tradition bears witness to this fact. Here, the term ‚choirbook’ means to represent a source with part music, showing several vocal parts on one page, or two pages face to face. This notation developed over the course of the development of polyphony long before the common disposition of part music in scores today was established. The first manuscripts written in choirbook notation date back from about 1400, the essential choirbooks from 16th to 17th century, with some late examples still remaining in the 18th century.
75 choir books in large folio format alone are from the Bavarian court music ensemble, predominantly from the time of Orlando di Lasso serving as court music director. Several particularly splendidly illuminated choir books originally belonged to the personal collections of the Bavarian dukes and electors. In the course of secularisation from 1802 onward, further choir book manuscripts of importance were transferred from monasteries to the court library.
Due to the current process of ink corrosion, the condition of most of the stock is extremely delicate, causing some of the manuscripts to be excluded from any usage. Digitization makes the access to these sources possible again. Pre-existant black-and-white digitizations (based on the microfilm copies made in the 1960s) are kept parallel to the new, making it possible in some cases to see the elder state of the manuscripts and compare it with the actual condition.