Case 1. Monuments on Musical Instruments

Font size: AAA

Marin Mersenne, Order of Minim (b. Oizé, 1588; d. Paris, 1648).
Harmonie Universelle Contenant la Theorie et la Pratique de la Musique.
Paris: Sebastien Cramoisy, 1636/37.
Later calf binding.

Mathematician, philosopher, and music theorist, Mersenne scientifically explored musical instruments, the theory and practice of music, sound as motion, harmony, and composition. Dr. Selch's collection contains both the French and Latin version of this monumental encyclopædia, offering the luxury of first-hand comparison. The Latin version is much clearer and more generally accessible than the vernacular French; it is easy to understand why it was more useful in the seventeenth century. However, the French version's pages are softer to the touch, exhibiting much more use.


Michael Praetorius (b. Creuzberg an der Werra?, 1571; d. Wolfenbüttel, 1621).
Syntagma Musicum. Three volumes and supplement.
Wittenberg: Johannes Richter, and Wolfenbüttel: Elias Holbein, 1614-1620.
Provenance: Wolffheim Collection; Collection of Geneviève Thibault, Comtesse de Chambure.
Contemporary vellum.

Previous volumes about musical instruments were small, practical handbooks for performing musicians. (See the three earliest: Virdung [in facsimile], Agricola, 1519, and Luscinius 1536 in case 2). Praetorius's large work is the first to encompass all aspects of musical performance. The first volume, in Latin, examines the earliest sacred and secular music.
The second volume, De Organographia, in Syntagma Musicum, in German, is the definitive work on musical instruments to date. Its supplement, Theatrum instrumentorum seu Sciagraphia (1620) bound in the back of this tome, contains 42 woodcuts of musical instruments illustrating the second volume. Drawn to scale in Brunswick inches (1" = 23.78 mm.), they are so precise, exact reconstructions of instruments can be made from them.
The third volume, also in German, examines contemporary performance practice and composition in Italy, France, and England, as well as Germany. A fourth volume of composition lessons was never published.


Johann Heiden (Nürnberg, 1536-1613).
Commentatio de Musicali Instrumento reformato.
Nürnberg: Paulus Kauffmann, 1605.
Modern marbled boards.

By 1575, Heiden had produced the first and still most successful ‘Geigenwerk', a bowed keyboard instrument with ten wheels turned by a tredle that sounded gut or wire strings. The book's 1599 revision, the instrument, and the 1601 imperial privilege for the instrument are described in this 1605 edition, which does not provide an illustration of the instrument. Praetorius, however, depicted the Geigenwerk in Theatrum instrumentorum, the illustrated supplement to Syntagma Musicum's second volume, De Organographia (1620).


Athanasius Kircher (b. Geisa near Fulda, 1601; d. Rome, 1680).
Musurgiæ Universalis Sive Ars Magnæ Consoni et Dissoni in X. Libros Digesta. 2 vols. in 1.

Rome: Hæredum Prancisci Corbelletti, 1650.
Contemporary calf.

A Jesuit like Mersenne, Kircher, spent most of his professional life in Rome. He viewed music theologically, and conservatively as part of the medieval Quadrivium. An archeologist, philosopher and mathematician, he scientifically examined acoustics and the production of sound animately through vocal production and inanimately through musical instruments. He also researched the music history of ancient cultures, the therapeutic value of music, and performance practice by studying a multitude of musical examples by prominent 16th and 17th century composers. This volume contains a book about musical instruments. His Museum Kircherianum in Rome, contained antiquities and musical curiosities.


Georges Kastner (b. Strasbourg, 1810; d. Paris, 1867).
Manuel Général du Musique Militaire a l'Usage des Armées Françaises.
Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, 1848.
Half morocco, mechanically-produced marbled boards.

Historian of military music, regiments and their evolution, Kastner describes all types of military instruments from ancient times to his, and the evolution of military ensembles. In this volume he describes how to play the instruments and compose for mid-19th century ensembles. He was also the first to evaluate the brass instruments invented by Adolphe Sax and their place in military ensembles.

Last updated:
August 25, 2012