© 2019 John Griffiths  All rights reserved

Music printing in 16th-century Spain

My research on music printing in Spain has focussed on both the commercial aspect of music in sixteenth-century Spanish cities, as well as the technical aspects of printing. Much is revealed through the close study of surviving music books themselves, but further invaluable information is derived from documents such as printing contracts between authors and printers. has allowed many aspects of the music printing business to be reconstructed, involving the technical side of printing, as well as the economics of music printing and publishing. From what we know so far, it is clear that vihuela and keyboard tablatures were produced in large numbers for a domestic market and for export. 1000 copies of Fuenllana’s Orphenica Lyra were printed in 1554, 1500 copies of Santa María’s Arte de tañer fantasía (1565), 1500 copies of Esteban Daza’s El Parnasso (1576), and 1225 copies of Antonio Cabezón’s Obras de música (1578).

Fuenllana, Orphenica Lyra (1554), title page

Like all other books of their time, vihuela tablature was printed on large sheets of paper that were later folded into gatherings and bound. Typically, the printer numbered the gatherings alphabetically (A, B, C…) and each folio within each gathering (Ai, Aii, Aiii…) to assist the folding of each gathering and assembly the order of gatherings in the book. Here, I have reconstructed the first gathering of Daza’s El Parnasso as it would have been printed.

Like all other books of their time, vihuela tablature was printed on large sheets of paper that were later folded into gatherings and bound. Typically, the printer numbered the gatherings alphabetically (A, B, C…) and each folio within each gathering (Ai, Aii, Aiii…) to assist the folding of each gathering and assembly the order of gatherings in the book. Here, I have reconstructed the first gathering of Daza’s El Parnasso as it would have been printed.

Pages from Enríquez de Valderrábano, Silva de Sirenas (1547) printed in Valladolid by Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, Diego Pisador’s Libro de música (1552) printed in Salamanca by Guillermo Millis and the author, and Esteban Daza’s El Parnasso (1576) printed by Diego Fernández de Córdoba in Valladolid. These three books were all printed using the same type. After completion of Valderrábano’s book it was sold, rented, or loaned to Pisador and Millis, and twenty years later returned to the workshop from which it originated.

The minimum set of type needed to print a book of vihuela music.

The minimum set of type needed to print a book of vihuela music.

It is possible to analyse the typesetting of vihuela tablatures. This example shows the individual type pieces required for one line of tablature from Orphenica Lyra and the complexity of the work.

The cost of printing books such as these was generally calculated on the basis of the amount of paper needed. This had other factors such as labour costs and other materials built in. Authors contracted printers directly and then had to look after distribution and marketing themselves. Printers seldom became publishers in their own right. Authors could sell directly within their immediate circle, or engage a professional book dealer to sell their product in their own shops or at the book fairs that flourished in Spain. The following table shows the costs and pricing mechanisms of the books for which such data survives. The official price for books appears to have been calculated as 400% of the cost. This seemingly high profit margin is mitigated by the evidence that shows that it was not easy to sell a full print run.

TO DISCOVER MORE, see...

John Griffiths. “Venegas, Cabezón y las obras “para tecla, harpa y vihuela”. Cinco siglos de música de tecla española —Five Centuries of Spanish Keyboard Music. Ed. Luisa Morales. Garrucha (Almería): Asociación Cultural Leal, 2007. 153-168.

John Griffiths. “Printing the Art of Orpheus: Vihuela Tablatures in Sixteenth-Century Spain”. Early Music Printing and Publishing in the Iberian World. Ed. Iain Fenlon and Tess Knighton. De Musica 11. Kassel: Edition Reichenberger, 2006. 181-214.

John Griffiths and Warren E. Hultberg. “Santa Maria and the Printing of Instrumental Music in Sixteenth-Century Spain”. Livro de homenagem a Macario Santiago Kastner. Ed. Maria Fernanda Cidrais Rodrigues, Manuel Morais, Rui Veiera Nery. Lisbon: Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, 1992. 345-60.