Dutch signs at the Pendlebury Library: a collection of librettos printed by Abraham Wolfgang

Summer … at least in theory. Just a few students around. Very quiet time at the Pendlebury Library. As promised in my previous post blog (More on Pendlebury hidden collections), I can carry on undisturbed my treasure hunting among the rare books held in the library. This time I was looking for something different from the usual scores, a new format to take on. My eyes fell on a small collection of 12 tiny librettos (5.1 inches) shelved provisionally among some equally small sized treatises and scores.

All the librettos have been printed in Amsterdam between 1684 and 1692 by the printer Abraham Wolfgang, not mentioned in the title page but recognizable by the printer’s device featuring a fox looking into the trunk of a tree as bees fly away with the motto “quaerendo” (“seeking”).

Abraham Wolfgang's device

Abraham Wolfgang’s device

They are pirated copies (sometimes wrongly attributed to his cousin and successor, Antoine Schelte) “Suivant la copie imprimée, a Paris”, two of them printed originally by René Baudry, Imprimeur (ordinaire) du Roi (et de l’Académie royale de musique), the remaining fruits of the labour of the Ballard family who still held exclusive royal privilege for printing music in France (they had obtained the privilege to print «toute sorte de musique tant vocale qu’instrumentale» in 1553).

Other features that characterized all the librettos are: a) the fact that neither the author nor the composer are mentioned; b) the title pages report only the title, a generic “representée par l’Academie Royale de Musique”, the words “Suivant la copie imprimée, a Paris” and a date;

Johannes van den Aveele's frontispiece

Johannes van den Aveele’s frontispiece

and c) all the librettos are embellished with engraved frontispiece-titles, three of them by the Dutch engraver Johannes van den Aveele; the others are unsigned.

Some very curious tail-pieces are printed throughout these librettos.



By far the most common (besides the numerous tail-pieces featuring birds or the traditional sort of floral or vegetal design) is a spider and three bees on a rose, appearing eight times, followed by a monkey-like creature and a fox tail-piece (appearing three times each).

The most represented librettist of this collection is Philippe Quinault who worked with Jean-Baptiste Lully (who unquestionably dominated the opera scene in the court of Louis XIV), over a period of 14 years (from 1673 to 1686 with a brief interruption from 1677 to 1680 due to Quinault’s temporary exclusion from the court) and adapted for him more than ten texts. Quinault’s works in this collection are Persée (PEN XRc.463.16B.Q1) and Cadmus et Hermione (both after Ovid’s MetamorphosesPEN XRc.463.16B.Q2]), Alceste ou le triomphe d’Alcide (after Euripides’ Alcestis – PEN XRc.463.16B.Q5), Les fêtes de l’amour et de Bacchus (a pastiche of excerpts from Lully’s and Molière’s comédies-ballets La pastorale comique, George Dandin, Les amans magnifiques and Le bourgeois gentilhomme; the libretto is actually by Philippe Quinault, Isaac de Benserade and the Président de Périgny – PEN XRc.463.16B.Q3) and Le triomphe de l’amour (a ballet with choreography by Isaac de Benserade – PEN XRc.463.16B.Q4).


Philippe Quinault’s Cadmus et Hermione

During the interval of Quinault’s disgrace, Lully composed, among others, the music of the tragedy Psyché; the libretto is a reworked version of Molière’s Psyche (performed on 17 January 1671 – PEN XRc.463.16B.C1) by Thomas Corneille, brother of the more famous Pierre, and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle.

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle is also the author of two other librettos in the Pendlebury collection, Thetis et Pelée (a lyric tragedy performed for the first time on Januay 11, 1689 at the Palais Royal in Paris – PEN XRc.463.16B.F1) and Enée et Lavinie (this work, performed for the first time on November 7, 1690, was a flop – PEN XRc.463.16B.F2). Both these two texts were set to music by Pascal Collasse, Lully’s secretary before becoming assistant music master of the Royal Chapel in 1687.

To Pascal Collasse is also attributed the tragedy Astrée (PEN XRc.463.16B.L1) on Jean de La Fontaine’s text and premiered in November 1692; unfortunately the tragedy encountered little success and had a short life on the stage.

The remaining librettos are two works attributed to Michel Duboullay, the opéra-ballet Zephire et Flore (PEN XRc.463.16B.D1) and the tragedy Orphée (PEN XRc.463.16B.D2) and the ballet Le palais de flore with a libretto by the abbot Charles-Claude Genest (PEN XRc.463.16B.G1). The first text by Duboullay was set on music by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully, sons of Jean-Baptiste and had a moderate success; the second one, composed by Louis Lully, was hissed at its first performance.

Michel Duboullay's Zephire et Flore

Michel Duboullay’s Zephire et Flore

The ballet Le palais de flore, performed for the first time on January 5, 1689 at the Grand Trianon, Versailles, had choreography by Pierre Beauchamp and music by Michel Richard de Lalande.

Searching for information to catalogue this collection properly has been without any doubt exciting and rewarding even if sometimes my eye sight has been put through the wringer 🙂


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1 Response to Dutch signs at the Pendlebury Library: a collection of librettos printed by Abraham Wolfgang

  1. Robert James Miller says:

    I was very pleased to see this, thank you I’ve very gratefully shared.


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