Frequently Asked Questions
Which sources can be found in RISM?
The online catalog contains over 1.2 million entries, mainly music manuscripts from between the years 1600 and 1850. As of 2021, there are also ca. 212,000 entries for printed music, as well as some libretti and treatises. Please see the catalog’s “Content” page for more details. 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. We are actively working on transferring records from other libraries to RISM. 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.
How complete is RISM?
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 printed editions worldwide from this time. Our numbers are just estimates; nobody has the resources to count such a large amount of manuscripts and prints.
RISM is, therefore, far from complete, but it is the most comprehensive resource for historical musical sources there is.
How do you use the online catalog?
Please see the catalog’s Help page.
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 or consult the Online Directory of RISM Library Sigla to find the contact information.
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 catalog’s data page page.
How can I participate in RISM?
We warmly welcome anybody who wants to take part in RISM’s projects.
Individuals can support our work by:
- cataloging sources directly with RISM or sending us descriptions of sources not yet in RISM
- reporting mistakes in the online catalog
- sending us descriptions of sources not yet in RISM
- making us aware of new research concerning sources
- informing us of performances that involve music found in RISM
- alerting us to institutions not yet in the siglum database
- translating the RISM brochure or Wikipedia articlesinto 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
- contribute financially. All donations are welcome! (Receipt provided.)
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.