Published: May 2, 2023

The title page of Esemplare, o sia saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappuntoIt’s not often that items borrowed from PASCAL, the University Libraries’ off-site storage facility, turn out to be rare, first edition titles. But one book from the music collection, identified by Professor of Musicology Robert Shay, is now part of the Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive (RaD) Collections with the help of Stephanie Bonjack, head of the Howard B. Waltz Music Library. 

The book, Esemplare, o sia saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto—roughly translating to Examples; or, the Learned Fundamentals of the Practice of Counterpoint—is by composer Giovanni Battista Martini and is the first volume of a two-volume set published in 1774. It turned out to be very important for Shay’s teaching and research.

“The publication is significant for being one of the few books devoted to old polyphonic music of its time,” Shay explained. “In addition to explaining in detail how this music worked, there are many complete examples, especially by the great 16th century composer Palestrina.”

Martini was once a teacher of Mozart and worked with him for a few weeks in 1770, when Mozart was 14. “There is evidence of Martini helping Mozart try to compose in the old style of Renaissance polyphony, something Mozart apparently had a hard time with initially,” said Shay.

Martini is also well known for his collection of old music which was rare to collect at the time. The collection included music manuscripts, prints and other music-related items such as paintings and went on to serve as the foundation for one of the great music libraries and museums in the world, the International Museum and Library of Music of Bologna

Shay borrowed the book from PASCAL to use for a graduate class he teaches on Renaissance music. “I like to include a unit on stile antico or "ancient style", showing how the practice of composing music in the Renaissance style persisted in later generations, even impacting figures like Bach and Beethoven,” he said. “Martini was one of the most important transmitters of this information in the late 18th century.”

That’s when he discovered it was a rare, first edition and notified Bonjack.

“The book was under a two-week loan rule for faculty and graduate students that I initiated in 2017,” Bonjack explained. “At that time, Music Library staff and I had identified approximately 1,250 music materials that were in the circulating stacks but were over 100 years old. These items were not fit for our circulating collections, but there was concern from some faculty members about access to the materials.”

To ensure continued access, Bonjack collaborated with colleagues in multiple departments coming to the solution of moving the materials to PASCAL and allowing short-term checkouts to faculty and graduate students.

“This enabled music scholars to continue to bring the scores to a piano or practice room,” Bonjack said. “It turns out that some materials were older and more rare than others, and Professor Shay argued that this work should be moved to Rare Books, and I completely agreed.”

Bonjack then reached out to Deborah Hollis, rare books curator on the RaD Collections Team. With her support, Bonjack transferred the work into the Rare Books collection, where it will now reside and be preserved for future researchers to reference and study.

Those interested in viewing Esemplare, o sia saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto may schedule a RaD reading room appointment.

Music example from Esemplare, o sia saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto

Music score in Esemplare, o sia saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto