RISM: Répertoire International des Sources Musicales
(International Inventory of Musical Sources)

Music has always been a part of people's lives. But before the invention of recorded sound, one had to make music oneself or — if one could afford it — have music played. That did not work without music to play from, which had been available in printed form since the 16th century. Mostly, though, music was copied by hand, since only a small amount of music appeared in print and copying was commonplace, and also usually cheaper.

imageMuch of the printed or handwritten music has survived to this day and is preserved in libraries, archives, and private collections. For researchers, these sources act as valuable evidence for discovering which music was in favor at which time and where. Researchers evaluate this evidence with the goal of describing the history of music as accurately as possible. Musicians in turn go back to old music to present both known and unknown works in concerts.

Standing before scholarship and performance is information about the sources themselves. That is the task of RISM: Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (International Inventory of Musical Sources). RISMis goal is to comprehensively document musical sources which have been preserved around the world. In addition to handwritten or printed music, RISM indexes writings about music, including librettos and vocal and instrumental instruction works.

This work is carried out through international cooperation. In 36 countries around the world, one or more national RISM working groups participate in this project; the working groups are independent of the RISM Zentralredaktion. Those who work on the project locate musical sources in the libraries and archives of their countries and describe them in detail. The results of this work are forwarded to the RISM Zentralredaktion in Frankfurt am Main, which publishes the reported works.

RISM is the largest and only globally operating organization that documents written musical sources.

RISM establishes what is available and where it is kept.

Since June 2010, an online catalog has been available free of charge at www.rism.info. This database offers mostly handwritten sources that have been thoroughly cataloged in accordance with current scholarly criteria. At the time of initial publication, some 700,000 entries were included. Around 30,000 titles are added each year by RISM working groups. Some libraries offer data exchange with their OPAC’s and data converted from books has been added. At the end of 2017, the RISM Online catalog contains some 1.1 million records.

RISM data are (linked) open data and can be download free of charge under the license CC-BY. They can be used and reused for local library catalogs, as metadata for digital reproductions in digital resources, or for research projects.

Today, RISM is recognized by experts worldwide as the central resource for sources relating to music history.

RISM Website Constance
'Constance' Gradual, printed in Southern Germany c. 1473.
The British Library Music Collections