Woodblock Music Printing
Printing Music With Woodblocks
By the late 15th century a technique evolved for printing music called woodblock printing. The process involved writing or drawing the music on a piece of wood that was leveled on one side to make it flat and even. In order to prevent mistakes, the wood cutter would carefully write or draw the music on the wood in reverse. Reversing the music on the woodblock enabled the printing of a mirror image. The next step was to carve out the wood around the symbols so that the symbols were elevated. At intersections of lines, the cut needed to be clean or a small nick needed to be made between the perpendicular lines so that the ink would not blob or spread. (The quality of music printed by woodcutting varies in quality because of the carelessness of the woodcutter or improper inking and printing of the woodcut.) The completed woodcut was inked, pressed on paper or vellum, and left to dry.
The music in the woodblock above is called Opusculum Musices by Nicolaus Burtius. The music in this woodblock comes from the earliest known book of music printed by woodblock. It is from Bologna, Italy, and dates from 1487. The book is archived at the New Berry Library in Chicago, IL. The music measures 7.5 x 5.5 inches. The woodblock in this picture remains unfinished and is in the private collection of the author.