Types of scores and how to find them

Manuscripts: What are these?

Definitions and terminology

  • Autograph as defined by Laurie Sampsel in Music Research: A Handbook, 3th ed. (p. 275): “a signed manuscript”; as defined by the Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed. (p. 66): “A manuscript of a musical work written in its composer’s hand, as opposed to music in the hand of a copyist or printed music”
  • Holograph as defined by Sampsel, 3rd ed. (p. 279): “a manuscript in the hand of the composer or author”; subset of autograph; a holograph is ENTIRELY in its composer’s hand (no one, including editors or students, has made any markings on it)
  • Fair copy as defined by Sampsel, 3th ed. (p. 278): “a clean copy of a corrected draft of a work”

Where can you find manuscripts?

Search Strategy 1: Works lists in music-specific encyclopedias

Music-specific encyclopedias will sometimes include information about the location of manuscript sources; try the following options and look at composers' works list for indicators of the location of manuscripts in archives and libraries:

Oxford Music Online (which is in English and includes the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and several other music reference resources) and MGG Online (the premier German-language music encyclopedia) are excellent places to start gathering background information for your presentations and program notes. In both Oxford Music Online and MGG Online, you’ll find concise overviews of the life and works of musicians and composers, information on music genres, and more. These are a great places to start exploring your topic and learning about the context; better yet, they're scholarly sources including entries written and reviewed by experts, so you know they're trustworthy.


  • Use the search bar at the top of the screen to search for a relevant composer entry
  • Once you find a relevant entry, you can use the built-in navigation menus to jump to the Works List portion; works lists may be a complete list of a composer's oeuvre or selected works, and will often provide information about the dates of composition, premiere performances, and even the current locations of manuscript copies


Search Strategy 2: Search in the RISM database

  • Répertoire International des Sources Musicales or The International Inventory of Musical Sources (RISM) documents extant musical sources and will provide you with information about what they are and where they can be found.
  • RISM consists of several series divided by different criteria, and a large portion of these volumes' content is freely available to search through the RISM online catalog.
  • Learn more about RISM here, and reach out to Jessica Abbazio, Music Librarian at jabbazio@umn.edu for help!


Search Strategy 3: Check the composer's thematic catalog

  • If a thematic catalog has been created for a composer, it will be shelved in the ML134 section of the Music Library; most of these are located in the reference section, but some may be included in the general collection. Want to find out if a thematic catalog exists for a specific composer? Try searching their name along with the keyword "Thematic catalogs" - for example, "Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750 -- Thematic catalogs"
  • Thematic catalogs list information about individual pieces of music, including the location of existing manuscript sources, first editions, and other relevant details!
  • Questions about thematic catalogs? Need help? Reach out to Jessica Abbazio, Music Librarian at jabbazio@umn.edu!
Last Updated: Nov 22, 2021 2:06 PM