Home » Uncategorized » Pierre Attaingnant and Fors seulement

Pierre Attaingnant and Fors seulement


Pierre Attaingnant or Attaignant (c. 1494 – late 1551 or 1552) was a French music printer and publisher of the Renaissance, active in Paris.  Born around 1494, possibly in Douai, France, Attaingnant is considered to be first large-scale publisher of single-impression movable type for music-printing, thus making it possible to print faster and cheaper than predecessors such as Ottaviano Petrucci. Attaingnant is often credited with being the first to develop this technique; however, sufficient evidence exists to suggest that John Rastell, an English printer in London, was the first to use single-impression printing in 1520.   As the first Parisian music printer, Attaignant, whose career started in 1525, is, naturally, of considerable historical and musical importance.

Attaingnant published over 1500 chansons by more than 150 outstanding composers of his day, including Paris composers Claudin de Sermisy, Pierre Sandrin and Pierre Certon, and most prominently Clément Janequin with five books of chansons, and his printings include chansons, dance collections, masses, motets, psalms, and Passions. Attaingnant acquired royal privileges for his music books, which were renewed many times.  Before 1527 Attaingnant began using the newly invented movable music type, in which a fragment of a musical staff was combined with a note on each piece of type.  Earlier printers printed the staff and the notes in separate impressions.

Attaingnant’s major contribution to music printing consists in his popularizing this single-impression method for music printing, which he first employed in his 1528 publication Chansons nouvelles en musique à quatre parties. In this system, the individual notes were printed directly onto segments of staff, and so the notes, staff lines, and text could all be printed with one send through the printing press. Because Attaingnant’s single-impression method halved the time and labor formerly needed to print music, it was quickly adopted throughout Europe.  The main disadvantage of this method was the alignment of the staff lines, which often had a “bumpy” look—-some being slightly higher or slightly disjointed from others. Nevertheless, this method became standard music printing practice across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Music publishers have often been composers. Attaignant rapidly built up an international distribution network.  Since many works simply did not exist in manuscript, it can be assumed that much of the music that bears his name was, to some extent, completely reconstructed by Attaignant himself. An example of those are the seven books of anonymous pieces “for organ, spinet, clavichord and suchlike instruments”, that include chansons, two plainsong settings, psalm tunes from the Mass and Magnificat, motets and a selection of pavanes, branles and basses dances. Lute works such as the Padoana alla francese and the well-known Dix-huit basses dances (1530) continue to appear in modern editions arranged for a variety of instruments.  Attaignant also prepared new editions of established works.  These include the richly ornamented lute music of Adrian le Roy (1520-1598), as well as madrigals and French chansons (later known as airs de cour) for solo singer and lute, with the alto, tenor and bass parts omitted

Attaingnant was the first to use the printing press to achieve mass production in music publishing. Apart from his 36 collections of chansons, he also published books with pieces in lute or keyboard tablature, as well as Masses and motets.  Among the most important documents for the keyboard music in general and in French Renaissance keyboard music in particular are the seven volumes published by Attaingnant in Paris in the spring of 1531.  Eventually In 1537 he was named imprimeur et libraire du Roy en musique (Royal music-printer and librarian or bookseller to the French king Francis I.  He died, probably in 1552 at Paris, France. His 111 surviving publications are rich in information about early 16th-century music.

The following work by Pierre Attaignant is contained in my collection:

Fors seulement.


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