Music has always played a key role in the religious culture of the Netherlands. Music has been recorded in writing since the Middle Ages, including in Utrecht cloisters and chapters. In the Protestant parts of the Netherlands, hymns play a key role in religion and in churches the hymns are accompanied by church organs.
In the Special Collections the entire spectrum of religious music is represented in manuscripts and printed works. The acquisition of the confiscated cloister and chapter libraries means that the Utrecht University Library owns several manuscripts with the lyrics of hymns (including breviaries, missals and antiphonaries), often accompanied with musical notations.
This includes the renowned Antiphonary (Antifonarium) (Hs. 406) and the unique Utrecht Prosarium (Utrechts Prosarium) (Hs. 417), both produced for the chapter of Saint Mary's Church in the 12th and 13th centuries. The collection includes three medieval manuscripts containing polyphonic musical notations: manuscripts Hs. 406 (fol. 141v), 1846 (ca. 1440) and Hs. 16 H 34 (sometime in decades before or after 1500).
The Spanish Codex Lerma (Ms. 3 L 16) contains polyphonic music that was used and added to by various musicians around 1590-1610.
In addition to a large number of printed works from the 16th to the late 18th century, the collection also includes handwritten music from later periods, which originates from the Institute for Music Studies (Instituut voor Muziekwetenschap). In addition to many books, the Saint Gregorius library collection includes a large collection of sheet music.
One of the highlights is the Liber Choralis, in which notes are written by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) (Gregorius Ms. F 1).
The Utrecht Organ Archive, the compilation of which was begun by Professor Maarten Albert Vente (1915-1989), contains an estimated 130,000 documents. It includes the archives of the organ builders Bätz-Witte, Nöhren, Maarschalkerweerd, Smits, Strubbe and (a copy of) Ypma, and the organ experts Bolt, Erné, Gierveld, Kret, Legêne, Sijmons and Vente himself, as well as documentation of ‘The organ in society’ (Het orgel in de samenleving) and the Archive of the Organ Centre Foundation (Archief Stichting Orgelcentrum) (1958-1986).