|Motto||Knowing what exists and where it is kept|
|Focus||Historical musical sources|
|Headquarters||Central Office in Frankfurt, Germany|
|Method||Contributors in working groups around the world|
|Klaus Keil, Director; Dr. Harald Heckmann, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Christoph Wolff, Honorary Presidents; Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, President|
|8 at the Central Office|
The Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM, English International Inventory of Musical Sources, German Internationales Quellenlexikon der Musik) is an international non-profit organization, founded in Paris in 1952, with the aim of comprehensively documenting extant historical sources of music all over the world. It is the largest organization of its kind and the only entity operating globally to document written musical sources. RISM is one of the four bibliographic projects sponsored by the International Musicological Society and the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres, the others being Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM, founded in 1966), Répertoire international d'iconographie musicale (RIdIM, founded in 1971), and Répertoire international de la presse musicale (RIPM, founded in 1980).
Shortly after its founding, A.H. King called RISM, "one of the boldest pieces of long-term planning ever undertaken for the source material of any subject in the humanistic field."
The musical sources recorded are manuscripts or printed music, writings about music and libretti. They are stored in libraries, archives, churches, schools, and private collections. RISM establishes what exists and where it is kept. RISM is recognized among experts as the key place for documenting music sources all over the world.
The work of RISM in compiling a comprehensive index fulfills a twofold purpose: for one, music documents are protected from loss, and for another, they are made available to scholars and performing musicians.
One or several RISM working groups in more than 35 countries take part in the project. Around 100 individuals from those working groups catalog the musical sources preserved in their countries. They use a central database that is maintained by the RISM Zentralredaktion (Central Editorial Office) in Frankfurt am Main. 
Musical sources in RISM publications and contributors in active RISM working groups include the following countries:
The RISM Zentralredaktion and the working groups in Germany are projects funded by the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. The other working groups receive independent funding in their own countries.
RISM's main publication is the RISM Catalog, a freely accessible online database containing descriptions of musical sources from around the world. In addition, RISM series, most of which were published as books, divide sources into distinct groups. 
The RISM Catalog has been available free of charge online since June 2010. The catalog is made possible through cooperation between RISM, the Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), and the Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin).
Most of the musical sources described in the catalog are music manuscripts (1,009,000 as of July 2019), while there is also a substantial number of printed editions (179,000), and smaller quantities of libretti (735) and treatises (122). The focus of music manuscripts is on material dating from between 1600 and 1850, though the catalog contains manuscripts that are both newer and older than this. For printed music, the focus is on music printed before 1900. The music of more than 37,000 composers preserved in over 900 libraries can be found in the catalog.
The catalog entries describe each piece in detail according to a uniform scheme containing more than 100 fields. Included are, among other things, information about:
- Name of composer (including dates of birth and death)
- An opus or catalog number if there is one
- Performing forces
- Format – e.g. score, parts or piano reduction
- Additional names such as librettists, previous owners, and dedicatees
- References to musicological literature
- List of libraries or institutions where is the item preserved
The manuscripts are described in detail with respect to copyist and place and time of origin. Printed music includes publication information such as place, year, and publisher. In addition, many works include a music incipit, that is, the opening notes or measures from important movements or sections of a piece.
A variety of search boxes enables browsing and discovery through any of these fields. Specific questions can be answered by combining specific indexes. For example, it is possible to immediately access all the information stored by RISM about autograph manuscripts by Clara Schumann or the dissemination of manuscripts with music by François Couperin. A search by means of a music incipit is a valuable research tool when trying to identify an anonymous piece or a fragment of a piece. To make use of this tool, the researcher keys in the first few notes of the work.
Apart from the stated intention of opening the way to the primary source for researchers and performers, this sort of catalog provides attractive possibilities for other areas of interest and inquiry as well. For example, one can gain insight into many different topics while researching the reception of a piece. One way could be to find out how the music of a composer was regarded after his or her death; to find this out, it would be important to know how many and which works were reissued.
The database provides information not only about the dissemination of works by composers who are still well known today, but also a wealth of knowledge about those many creative musicians who were highly regarded in their day, but are currently either little known, or even forgotten. This makes the database invaluable for music historians, and also makes it possible for performing musicians to “excavate” and rediscover many things.
The data in the online catalog is available under a Creative Commons license as linked data and linked open data for use in other library catalogs, projects in the digital humanities, or research projects.
During the initial years of the RISM project, a series of publications was conceived to organize the work of RISM and focus on specific repertories, most of which was published in book form. In the intervening years, much of the information, but not all, from the RISM series has been incorporated into the online catalog.
The RISM series are:
- Series A: manuscripts and printed music by composer
- Series B: inventories of sources by topic
- Series C: directory of music libraries
In addition to these, working groups conduct projects to document libretti surviving in their respective countries.
RISM Series A/I – Printed Music
RISM Series A/I Individual Prints before 1800 documents printed music editions containing works by a single composer published between 1500 and 1800. Collected prints (anthologies of works by various composers) are published in RISM series B.
Over 78,000 printed editions by 7,616 composers (arranged alphabetically) from 2,178 libraries were documented in the nine volumes of the series (published 1971–1981). Four supplementary volumes appeared between 1986 and 1999, and in 2003, an index volume followed listing publishers, printers, engravers and places of publication. All volumes of RISM series A/I were published by Bärenreiter in Kassel. The CD-ROM was published by Bärenreiter-Verlag at the end of 2012, and the CD-ROM data were incorporated into the online catalog in 2015. 
RISM Series A/II – Music Manuscripts
RISM series A/II Music Manuscripts after 1600 lists only handwritten music. The project was conceived as an electronic publication from the beginning and was published as microfiche and CD-ROM. The CD-ROM version of the accumulated database produced and published by K. G. Saur in Munich was discontinued in 2008. The subscription database hosted by EBSCO (formerly by NISC) is still available. The entirety of Series A/II is in the online catalog.
RISM Series B
- B/I and B/II: Recueils imprimés XVIe–XVIIIe siècles (2 Volumes). (Printed Anthologies from the 16th to the 18th Centuries; the portion of B/I covering the years 1500-1550 and 1600-1610 is available in the online catalog.)
- B/III: The Theory of Music from the Carolingian Era up to c. 1500. Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts (6 volumes)
- B/IV: Handschriften mit mehrstimmiger Musik des 11. bis 16. Jahrhunderts (5 volumes, 1 supplementary volume). (Manuscripts with Polyphonic Music from the 11th to 16th Century)
- B/V: Tropen- und Sequenzenhandschriften. (Manuscripts of Tropes and Sequences)
- B/VI: Écrits imprimés concernant la musique (2 volumes). (Printed Writings about Music)
- B/VII: Handschriftlich überlieferte Lauten- und Gitarrentabulaturen des 15. bis 18. Jahrhunderts. (Manuscripts of Lute and Guitar Tablature from 15th to 18th Century)
- B/VIII: Das Deutsche Kirchenlied (2 volumes, Kassel: Bärenreiter). (German Hymns)
- B/IX: Hebrew Sources (2 volumes)
- B/X: The Theory of Music in Arabic Writings c. 900–1900 (2 volumes)
- B/XI: Ancient Greek Music Theory. A Catalogue Raisonné of Manuscripts.
- B/XII: Manuscrits persans concernant la musique. (Persian Manuscripts about Music)
- B/XIII: Hymnologica Slavica. Hymnologica Bohemica, Slavica (HBS), Polonica (HP), Sorabica (HS). Notendrucke des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts (Printed music of the 16th to the 18th centuries in Bohemia, Slovakia, Poland, and Sorbia)
- B/XIV: Les manuscrits du processionnal (2 volumes). (Manuscripts about the Processional)
- B/XV: Mehrstimmige Messen in Quellen aus Spanien, Portugal und Lateinamerika, ca. 1490–1630. (Polyphonic Masses in Sources from Spain, Portugal and Latin America, from around 1490–1630)
- B/XVI: Catalogue raisonné of the Balinese Palm-Leaf Manuscripts with Music Notation
- B/XVII: Die Triosonate: Catalogue Raisonné der gedruckten Quellen ("The Trio Sonata: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Printed Sources")
RISM Series C
Entitled Directory of Music Research Libraries, RISM series C lists in five volumes all the music libraries, archives, and private collections which house historical musical materials. Each institution described in Series C has a library siglum, which is an abbreviation to identify the institution where musical sources are located. The siglum is made up of capital letters representing the country, a hyphen, capital letters representing the city, and lowercase letters for the name of the institution. For example, "I-MOe" means "Italy-Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria."
The special volume RISM-Bibliothekssigel. Gesamtverzeichnis (RISM Library Sigla: Complete Index), appeared in 1999 and included the sigla for institutions worldwide. The sigla directory has been available as a regularly updated searchable database on the RISM website since 2011.
People who use the RISM publications
- Musicologists looking for sources connected with their field of research find a basis for exploring catalogues of works and modern editions;
- Performers who discover a vast wealth of little-known pieces for concerts off the beaten musical path;
- Librarians who can explore sources that complement the holdings of their own libraries or use the RISM database during in library instruction;
- Students who need to consult primary sources for an assignment or term paper;
- Music antiquarians who can look up information about other copies of pieces they are offering;
- Researchers who incorporate RISM data as part of projects and analysis in the fields of digital humanities, big data, and music information retrieval
- Brook, Barry S. and Richard J. Viano. "The Thematic Catalogue in Music: Further Reflections on its Past, Present and Future." In Foundations in Music Bibliography, edited by Richard D. Green, 27-46. New York: Haworth Press, 1993.
- Falletta, Martina, Renate Hüsken and Klaus Keil, eds. RISM: Wissenschaftliche und technische Herausforderung musikhistorischer Quellenforschung im internationalen Rahmen. Academic and Technical Challenges of Musicological Source Research in an International Framework. Studien und Materialien zur Musikwissenschaft 58. Hildesheim: Olms, 2010. ISBN 978-3-487-14431-3
- Heckmann, Harald. "Das Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) in Geschichte, Gegenwart und Zukunft," in Wege und Spuren. Verbindungen zwischen Bildung, Wissenschaft, Kultur, Geschichte und Politik. Festschrift für Joachim-Felix Leonhard, ed. Kelmut Knüppel et al. (Berlin: Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH, 2007): 597-605.
- Jaenecke, Joachim. "RISM: Eine Fundgrube für verschollen geglaubte Musikdrucke aus Deutschland" ("RISM: A Treasure Trove of German Music Prints Thought to be Gone"). In Im Dienste der Quellen zur Musik. Festschrift Getraut Haberkamp. Ed. Paul Mai, 3-11. Bischöflichen Zentralbibliothek Regensburg: Tutzing, 2002.
- Keil, Klaus. "Report 2010." Acta Musicologica LXXXIII (2011), 161-168. Also available online.
- Tuppen, Sandra, Stephen Rose, and Loukia Drosopoulou. "Library Catalogue Records as a Research Resource: Introducing ‘A Big Data History of Music.’" Fontes Artis Musicae 63, no. 2 (April-June 2016): 67-88.
- Ward, Jennifer A. "Getting Back to the Source, Virtually: RISM as a Tool in the Digital Environment." Arti musices: Croatian Musicological Review, 48, no. 2 (2017): 281-294.
- Keil, Klaus and Laurent Pugin. "Das Internationale Quellenlexikon der Musik, RISM. Ein Gemeinschaftsprojekt zum Nutzen und als Aufgabe für Forschung und Bibliotheken." Bibliothek Forschung und Praxis 42, no. 2 (2018): 309-318.
- Rita Benton, "Répertoire International des Sources Musicales," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, 2002, vol. 21, p. 194. ISBN 1-56159-239-0
- Alec Hyatt King, "The Music Librarian, his tasks, national and international," Fontes Artis Musicae 6 (1959): 54; quoted in Benton, 195.
- International Association of Music Libraries (IAML): Joint projects and assisted publications Archived 2015-03-02 at the Wayback Machine
- Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz Archived 2012-03-14 at the Wayback Machine (in German)
- For a detailed list of publications, see the RISM List of Publications
- Keil, Klaus; Ward, Jennifer A. (March 2019). "Applications of RISM data in digital libraries and digital musicology". International Journal on Digital Libraries. 20 (1): 5–7, 10–11. doi:10.1007/s00799-016-0205-3.
- "Printed Music (A/I and B/I) now in RISM's Online Catalog," http://www.rism.info/en/home/newsdetails/browse/3/article/64/printed-music-ai-and-bi-now-in-risms-online-catalog.html
- RISM Zentralredaktion, announcement 29 November 2011 and Birgit Grün, trans. Keith Harris, Forum Musikbibliothek 27 (2006/4), p. 331ff. Background information about the sigla
- "The present writer is grateful to record again a debt to RISM for directing him to four early tablatures for guitar and cittern, lying unrecognized in a small Swiss library--a discovery that marks one of the most substantial additions to the 16th-century instrumental repertory in many years." Daniel Heartz, "The Répertoire International des Sources Musicales," Journal of the American Musicological Society 14 (1961): 271.
- "2010 - RISM". Rism.info. Retrieved 2018-05-23.