New City, New Ideas

This was one of those days that blows your mind. It challenges what you thought you knew on a particular topic. The topic of the day was collectorship.Group shot

We came into this course knowing it was about collectorship. We spent the first few days learning about our collector in Ostiglia, Giuseppe Greggiati, his life, interests, connections, and most importantly his collection. In our first weeks, we started to notice how Greggiati collected and what he did with the materials he had (often in long notes at the front of the manuscript- more frequently with my randomly assigned manuscripts than anyone else…I think the timelords have been messing with the shelfmarks).  We took notes on the remnants of collectorship and what needed to be added to the cataloging schema to portray this. By the end of week 2 it seemed we had started putting some pieces together- and then we met Alfredo Vitolo, Head Music Librarian at the Museo internationale e Biblioteca della musica di Bologna.Alfredo's intro

Alfredo has been working with the collection of Padre Giovanni Battista Martini for many years.  This is a very fascinating and complex collection not only because of its large size, but also the ways its owners have changed the materials. In his introduction to the collection, he discussed the types of passive and active collecting.

These terms describe to what level a collector changes items as they acquired. Martini was at times an aggressively active collector- taking apart scores in order to have his collection arranged chronologically and by composer, even if things used to be bound together.

PartbooksOne example he gave us was an amazing account of what a piece in a collection can go through over time as the object and collector impact each other. Alfredo showed us a set of part books that Martini acquired.  The binding looked pretty common for the 18th century, we all thought it looked like an original binding.  Each partbook consisted of several different printed madrigal partbooks for the same voice type that were bound together.

Then he pulled out another set that looked like later binding, similar to some of what we had seen at the Greggiati.  In digging through boxes of Martini’s papers Alfredo has come across several catalogues made by the collection’s owners over the years. He has matched various items to their listings in earlier catalogues.  There was a set of partbooks with contents similar to this one with 18th century binding but it contained fewer things than what is in it now.  At first you think that it is a different item because the binding looks original.  Studying the cover, it becomes clear there are differing levels of discoloration on the binding and different holes for attaching fascicles- something was taken out and the same binding was put back on! Ok, so a collector wanted to separate items and put some back together, that’s not really that cool, right?

Next we examined the 19th century bound parts that contain the piece listed as part of the manuscripts in Martini’s catalogue that were not present in the other books. Now you might think he happens to own these two things, but he probably had many copies. He sold or traded items to make his collection grow.  Then all of the dots (holes, more literally) started to connect. Alfredo showed us water damage on part of the contents in the 19th-century binding whose stain matches EXACTLY that of the part in the 18th-century volume. On top of that, if you pull back the string binding the fascicles, you can see older holes. These older holes also line up exactly with the older holes in the 18th-century book.  This and other evidence leads us to the conclusion that these were once one thing taken apart yet still in the same collection!

This was such an interesting case of detective work. After this and other fascinating items in the Martini collection, each with its own particular differences, the possibilities for the study of collectorship and music as a part of collections seemed endless. With that comes many questions on all of the unknown elements of collecting and how to start figuring them out. If we can’t even trust a binding from the period containing prints, we should probably be questioning a lot of things and making notes of every detail. This lead to questioning decisions more closely in the Greggiati collection. If you take it too far it can be debilitating, but a certain amount opens so many possibilities for exploring how and why this music was collected and used.

At the Museum

After this experience, my mind swimming with these new ideas of the relationship between collector and object, we visited the museum part of the building. First we saw rooms showcasing many of Martini’s items.  Instead of sectioning off his collections of manuscripts, prints, treatises, paintings, and other items to different rooms, they set them side by side to demonstrate his various interests in music and the roles he filled.


Next, we visited rooms with many other musical objects not owned by Martini. There were exquisite instruments and some surprising artifacts too.


Split ALL the keys!

a pochette in the form of a fish (or some kind of sea creature)

a pochette in the form of a fish (or some kind of sea creature)

Rossini's toupee

Rossini’s toupee

I found one room to be particularly exciting because it contains elements of 3 topics I am currently studying- early-bowed string instruments, dance treatises, and music printing. I could go on for quite some time about it but I’ll let the pictures speak for me.

ren ten

Renaissance tenor viol



Cool Qs

After a lunch of tortellini, tortelloni, and other wonderful things, we went back to the library to examine more of the collection.  Here we got to see manuscripts that left all of us drooling- Q.16 and Q.15.  Each of these has a curious provenance and evidence of collectorship.





Alfredo also told us about his current projects to assist researchers studying these materials. His resources, recently put online, will help scholars better prepare for visits to the collection and begin to be comfortable with the collection on their first visit. For more information see the museum and library’s website:
All of the ideas explored in Bologna introduced me to a whole new level of possibilities not only in the study of collectorship, but also music history in general. What we study now is what has survived, but that is not all that existed. These people preserved what has survived, so it is important that we understand their motivations, processes, and contexts for collecting to get a better view of this repertoire and its reception history.




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