What might this collection of sixteenth-century music albums mean in a contemporary cultural landscape dominated increasingly by digital media and hypertexts? First and foremost, they remind us that even printed books were at one point “new media,” with profound implications to shape the ways in which readers encountered the texts they contained. Connecting text and tone with a level of precision simply unimaginable in the contingent world of manuscripts, Du Chemin’s chansonniers made possible the representation of sounds and sentiments in identical copies across wide social divides. In this respect they afforded composers a chance to distribute their works with unprecedented levels of control. But in other respects the medium of printing opened up new uses that remained beyond the control of either composer or printer, as styles and individual compositions were reworked according to the needs of their readers. The digital environment offers similar promise, opening up new modes of presentation and new uses for the texts it contains. This innovative project—product of a partnership of American and French music scholars—aims to put the new medium to the test in the service of books like Du Chemin’s chanson albums, bringing old books before a diverse audience of modern readers. Our work will advance scholarship and serious study of Renaissance music in several related ways:

• Offering a searchable database and image archive of the works contained in the original albums;
• Presenting an innovative electronic interface for the display of the original books in ways not possible with microfilm copies or even in the various libraries that own the scattered volumes of the partbooks;
• Joining these images with commentaries, illustrative examples, modern transcriptions, and others tools for scholars, students, and performers interested in this repertory;
• Linking itself to related electronic resources for early music and the history of printing, and eventually to sound recordings, and providing forums for collaboration among interested musicians and musical scholars.

Du Chemin’s books also afford some excellent opportunities to engage modern readers in the challenges of working with early printed music books. Providing online access to digital facsimiles of rare books has its own merits in general, but when it comes to early music, it represents an even more important step. The majority of sixteenth century music was printed in sets of partbooks which were eventually scattered, and are now preserved separately through world libraries. Gathering these in one digital resource is simply the only means to give complete and convenient access to the works, presenting these books as they were created in the first place, and as they have to be used.
Our digital resource will offer modern critical editions of the nearly 300 polyphonic songs preserved in Du Chemin's anthologies. These will be freely available for download in pdf documents that be copied for study or performance, as well as in a special format for Sibelius Scorch Player that allows users to hear these pieces with the help of a special (and free) browser plug in. We also provide readers with a succinct summary of our editorial principles, plus materials and instructions for making their own editions based on our facsimiles.
Inasmuch as only the superius (soprano) and tenor partbooks survive for the last five sets of the Chansons nouvelles, users will be also be able to participate in a project that aims to reconstruct the missing voices on the basis of stylistic analogues and theoretical treatises of the period. We will provide many such reconstructions, but users can undertake and share their own. Such “re-creative” work could eventually be of great utility to other collections, too, as there are many such lacunae among the scattered partbooks found in libraries around the world. These remain a major challenge for modern scholars.
Finally, all of these resources are framed with an extensive set of historical and critical essays that put the books, poetry, and music in their cultural contexts. The Du Chemin project. in short, will put the fruits of specialist research before a diverse readership of scholars, students, and the musical public in ways that remain decidedly open to revision, debate, and discussion. Foregrounding the active interplay of old and new media, it will engender a self-conscious regard among readers and performers for the character of musical texts in relation to the works they prescribe. We also intend our work to be a model for a new kind of intellectual collaboration among musicologists and information technology specialists. No less than musicians of the sixteenth century, we aim to discover music through collective work rather than in isolation. Musicians and scholars anywhere will be able to read our commentaries, download editions (without performance rights restrictions), view and download facsimiles of original sources, or use our innovative editorial tools to make editions and reconstructions of their own.
Our resource will be maintained and hosted as a permanent part of the electronic publication program sustained by the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance (CESR) in Tours, the leading French research institute for Renaissance studies, thanks to continuing support from the Centre nationale de recherche scientifique (CNRS). And through its reliance on “open source” standards for inter-operability such as Dublin-Core Metadata and the new Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) we also hope that the electronic Chansonniers of Nicholas Du Chemin will serve as a model for other repertories of printed music. We actively encourage colleagues to build upon our successes as we create a new kind of digital music book that brings together images, commentaries, transcriptions, sounds, and tools in ways that hold much promise for musicians, students, and scholars.