Timeline: Ottaviano Petrucci And The Art Of Music Publishing

Jun 26, 2017

In 1450, Johannes Gutenburg made history in Europe with his moveable type printing press. Thanks to his process and his machine, the printed word was able to spread across the Western world.

Many regard the printing press as one of the major factors that led to the Renaissance. The development of music publishing had a similar effect on the world of music, thanks in large part to the work of Ottaviano Petrucci.

Petrucci was born into a noble yet impoverished family and received an early education at the court of the Duke of Urbino. In 1490, Petrucci arrived in Venice, a hub of the new industry of printing. There he became enamored with the challenge of musical printing. Up to this point, printers had developed ways to mass produce simple musical scores for chants and some small examples. Most of these pieces had to be carved out by hand from wood or the staves had to be hand drawn. Petrucci had a better idea.

In 1498, he proposed a method of using movable type for music. He even obtained the exclusive rights to the technology, the patent if you will. It took him three years, but in 1501 he published his first book entitled Odhecaton A, which included about a hundred chansons by composers such as Josquin des Prez.  Apparently, Petrucci was the sole music publisher in Venice until 1520. He even obtained the exclusive rights to print music from the Pope himself. However, Petrucci failed to produce the keyboard music that the church desired so these rights were revoked. Other publishers had improved on Petrucci’s technique and he ended up leaving the business, spending the last few decades of his life as a consultant and owner of a papermill.

The Franco-Flemish style, which Petrucci immortalized in his publications, became the dominant musical language of all of Europe.

Petrucci’s system was a delicate three-pass method. The paper would be pressed first with the staves (the lines and spaces) then a second pass would imprint the notes and musical symbols. Finally, the text would be added on the third pass. The results are the finest examples of musical score dating from the early 16th Century. This process allowed music to be distributed across the Western world. Books of music, which for the most part had to be reproduced by hand, were now available to anyone. As a result, the Franco-Flemish style, which Petrucci immortalized in his publications, became the dominant musical language of all of Europe. The continent became a little smaller and the musical world much more connected.