Until the beginning of the fifteenth century in Europe, the monasteries had a monopoly on the copying, illuminating and preservation of religious texts and church music.
Thus, until Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type around 1450, very little secular, traditional, and popular music existed in manuscript. Music publishing ensures not only the dissemination of music, but also its preservation. Music publishers have often been composers (e.g. Telemann and Boismortier in the eighteenth century and Diabelli in the nineteenth). As the first Parisian music printer, Attaignant, whose career started in 1525, is, naturally, of considerable historical and musical importance. Attaignant rapidly built up an international distribution network, and between 1525 and his death, in 1551 or 1552, his publications spread to many other parts of Europe, beginning with "Chansons nouvelles" which led to an important series of four-part chansons books. He was also the first music publisher to increase production by inventing a faster, more accurate printing system which allowed notes and staves to be combined in a single impression. In 1537, Attaignant became royal printer to king Francis I (1515-1547). 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. Thanks to Attaignant, listeners can appreciate the variety and subtlety of such leaders of the chanson schools of composition in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as Machaut and Jannequin, and the fifteenth-century Burgundian school of Dufay and Binchois, whose settings emphasize colloquial speech rhythms. Attaignant also prepared new editions of established works. These include Jacques Claudin's chansons and 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, which anticipate the lute songs of English composers such as John Dowland (1563-1626). His inspired and meticulous work provides fresh insights into Medieval and Renaissance music through scholarly editions based on reliable sources. Instrumentation is often absent in pre-fifteenth-century music, and its present-day interpretation requires an imaginative approach to textures, and performing techniques that preserve its innate vigor and immediacy.