Music Printing

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Music Printing


the printing of music texts.

Music printing appeared soon after the invention of book printing. In the first printed church service books, the text of church melodies was set in type, and spaces were left for the notes, which were written in by hand (the Psalterium, 1457). Later the staff was printed, and only the notes themselves were written in by hand (Ars musicorum, 1495); there is a theory that the notes were sometimes punched. Cast characters for notes (without a staff) appeared for the first time in the Grammatica brevis of F. Niger (Venice, 1480). In 1498, O. Petrucci (Venice) invented and obtained a monopoly on a method of music printing using movable pieces of metal type. The printing involved two processes: first the staff and then the notes were printed. Petrucci’s publications long remained unsurpassed in the beauty of the typeface and the precision of alignment of the notes with the staff. P. Haultain, or Hautain (Paris, 1525), improved the typesetting process: each piece of type consisted of a single note and a section of the staff. His type was designed for printing in a single operation and allowed for the reproduction of polyphonic music; however, because of the complexity of the typesetting process, Haultain’s method soon gave way to the simpler single-part type. In 1755, J. G. I. Breitkopf (Leipzig) invented a new typeface for setting, in which each note consisted of three separate pieces (head, stem, and flag). The complexity of the typesetting process prevented this typeface from becoming widespread. The engraving of music proved more promising. Examples of music in books were made in the form of relief woodcuts (Musices opusculum, 1488).

The first attempts at metal (recessed) engraving provide examples of music printing in the form of negatives, with white notes on a black background (Canzone sonetti strambotti el frottole, 1515), using the principle of letterpress printing. Well-executed engraving on copper plates, combined with the principle of gravure, appeared in 1586 in the work of S. Verovio (Rome), who applied the technique to music printing after borrowing it from Dutch engravers. Since the method allowed for the printing of a note design of any complexity, it became very widespread (England, c. 1611, the collection Parthenia; Germany, 1615; France, late 17th century).

J. Cluer, J. Walsh, and J. Hare (London, c. 1730) made significant improvements in the process of engraving. They began using plates made from a tin-lead alloy. The softness of the alloy made the work easier and made possible the production of all regularly encountered characters with punches. Until as late as the end of the 18th century, music printing was done directly from the plates, which led to their rapid wear. With the invention of lithography, an impression was made from each plate for transfer to a lithographic stone or metal plates for flatbed printing.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the note design has been transferred by a photomechanical process onto zinc (for zincography plates) or thin aluminum or zinc plates, which are used for offset printing. In addition to engraved plates, pages of sheet music that are written by hand or traced on transparent paper are also used as the originals for photomechanical transfer to printing plates. Typewriters for printing music have appeared in experimental form.

In Russia, the first znamennyi (staffless) music typefaces were cast in Moscow in 1652 by F. Ivanov and in 1678 by A. Mezenets and I. Andreev; however, there was no printing from them. The beginning of music printing in Russia dates from 1677, when S. Gutovskii (Moscow) printed music using copper engravings. In 1766, S. Byshkovskii (Moscow) developed a highly advanced method for reproduction of staffless music by typesetting. An Heirmologion, an Oktoikh (a book of liturgical songs for eight voices), an Obikhod (a collection of the major znamennyi chants), and a Prazdniki (a music book containing songs for the 12 state and religious holidays) were printed by this method (publication was completed in 1772). At first, works of secular music were printed in Russia by means of copperplate engraving (Coronation Chant, 1730; Idleness Amid Activity by G. N. Teplov, St. Petersburg, 1751) or I. Breitkopfs typesetting method (publications of his son, B. Breitkopf, St. Petersburg, 1781–1800). In the 19th century, music editions in Russia were published using ordinary methods of engraving.

The most common method of music printing in the USSR, other than engraving, is the method of stamping the music in printer’s ink on coordinate paper, using a set of stamps, french curves, and a drawing pen. The photo-offset method, in which the musical text is made up from plastic note symbols on a large board consisting of strips of rubber, has become common (introduced in 1959). After proofreading, the plates are photographed. For limited editions, as well as for the advance distribution to specialists, music is reproduced from manuscript on photocopying machines.


Iurgenson, B. Ocherk istorii notopechataniia. Moscow, 1928.
Kunin, M. E. Notopechatanie, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Ivanov, G. K. Notoizdatel’skoe delo ν Rossii. Moscow, 1970.
Luther, W., and R. Schaal. “Notendruck.” In Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik, vol. 9. Kassel-Basel, 1961. Pages 1667–95.
“Notendruck- und -stich.” In H. Riemann, Musik-Lexikon. Vol. 3: Subject index. Mainz, 1967. Pages 638–41.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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