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Wolfgang Caspar Printz
Historische Beschreibung der edelen Sing- und Kling-Kunst

(Dresden: J.C. Mieth, 1690)

 Wolfgang Caspar Printz, Historische Beschreibung der edelen Sing- und Kling-Kunst

Many authors in the 16th and 17th centuries discussed music history in some way, but Wolfgang Caspar Printz’s Historische Beschreibung der edelen Sing- und Kling-Kunst (that is, Historical Description of the Noble Art of Singing and Playing) is a pioneer in that music history is its main topic. Printz (1641–1717) was a composer (though none of his music survives), singer, and theorist as well as a historian. He served as music director in the German towns of Sorau (now Zary, Poland) and Triebel.

Printz begins the Historische Beschreibung with a lengthy discussion of the origins of music and its practice among the ancient Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. He draws heavily on Athanasius Kircher (1601–1680), whose copious writings on many topics—musical and otherwise—were widely influential in the 17th century. Kircher, a German Jesuit based in Rome, wrote in Latin, but Printz’s book is in German, and thus accessible to a broader readership. Printz then proceeds through the Christian era and up to the music of his own time, which he describes in valuable detail. He concludes in an unusual fashion: Chapter 16 deals with the enemies of music (a group that ranges from Plato to Zwingli, and includes several monarchs), and Chapter 17 is an autobiography of the author himself!

Our copy of the Historische Beschreibung is bound with another book by the same author, Phrynis, oder Satyrischen Componist.

Like many of the Gilmore Library’s treasures (including several on display in the present exhibit), this volume comes to us from Lowell Mason (1819–1872), a leading American music educator and editor, and the composer of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” Thanks to income from his best-selling music anthologies, Mason had enough money to amass one of the finest music libraries of his era. It included the collection of the organist and composer J.C.H. Rinck (1770–1846), which Mason purchased in Germany in 1852. Rink was a student of Johann Caspar Kittel, who in turn had been a student of J.S. Bach, so the Rinck Collection is an important source for the study of Bach and his circle. After Mason’s death, his family donated his library to Yale University, where it became the foundation of the music collection.


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