Instrumentarium de Chartres


Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Among the cathedral’s precious treasures dating from the 12th through the 16th centuries are the statues of the Portail Royal and its three stained glass windows, the largest collection of stained glass from the 13th century, and several hundred 16th-century bas-reliefs in the choir. These unique elements contain 312 catalogued depictions of 26 musical instruments representing a veritable history of French instrument making from the High Middle Ages through the Renaissance.

Preliminary research led to a 1966 proposal by Julien Skowron to reconstruct some of the instruments depicted in the cathedral’s visual arts; six instruments were built, and in 1977 the Instrumentarium de Chartres was born. Today the collection of some 40 string, wind, and percussion instruments comprises the most complete and most played instrumentarium in Europe; it also serves an important pedagogical function for the curious of all ages who enjoy hands-on experience with the collection. The success of the project attests to the fine medieval and Renaissance artistry that makes modern reconstruction of this rich historical collection possible.

Instrumentarium de Chartres is an open-access online presentation of this collection, presenting images of the original artworks and the newly reconstructed instruments, and many other resources for scholars, performers, and the general public.

Above, a rose window from the cathedral that includes several images of instruments (click to enlarge); below, a brief demonstration of some of the instruments.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance, Resources

Turandot in China


Chinese presenters have made their bid for grand opera’s international ranks with the very piece that marks the end of that tradition—Puccini’s Turandot.

The irony reaches further. In the country where Chinese singers have the greatest advantage, these productions have primarily featured Western performers; a piece that had been conspicuously absent from the country where it purports to take place has wound up essentially becoming China’s national opera; and the original story was never about China in the first place—it came from a French translation of a Persian folk tale that was adapted by an Italian playwright and later reinvented by a German writer whose version inspired Puccini.

This according to “A princess comes home” by Ken Smith (Opera LXIII/12 [December 2012] pp. 1473–1479). Above and below, excerpts from Turandot at the Forbidden City, directed by Zhang Yimou.

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Kecak beyond tourism


Kecak, one of the most popular dramatic dance forms performed for tourists on Bali, was developed cooperatively by Balinese artists and Western expatriates—most prominently I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies—with the explicit purpose of meeting the tastes and expectations of a Western audience.

Driven by economic considerations, in the late 1960s kecak was standardized into the kecak ramayana known today. Kecak ramayana does not appeal to Balinese audiences in an artistic sense; instead it is perceived as a traditional way of generating income for the community. In contrast, kecak kreasi or kecak kontemporer has been developed by local choreographers since the 1970s.

With its use of both pre-1960 traditional elements and Western contemporary dance, kecak kreasi is rooted in the contemporary Balinese performing arts scene. These dances appeal primarily to a Balinese audience, showing that kecak as a genre can be more than income from tourism; in its contemporary form it is valued by Balinese audiences on the basis of its artistic value.

This according to “Performing kecak: A Balinese dance tradition between daily routine and creative art” by Kendra Stepputat (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV [2012] pp. 49–70); this issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, Cak kolosal inovatif at SMA/SMK Negeri Bali Mandara in September 2016.

BONUS: A taste of the tourist version.

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Mlada (1872)


The opera-ballet Mlada was commissioned in 1872 by Stepan Gedeonov, director of the imperial theatres in St. Petersburg, Russia. Collaboratively taken on by five composers— Cezar’ Kûi, Modest Musorgskij, Nikolaj Rimskij-Korsakov, Aleksandr Borodin, and Ludwig Minkus—it was left unfinished. Some of the music was never written or has been lost, while most of what remains exists only in short score.

For the first time, the surviving original scenes and numbers of Mlada are now published in their entirety (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2016), including reconstructions of two incompletely transmitted numbers that render acts and I and IV complete. This edition turns Mlada—this “phantom of an opera”—into something palpable that will change our understanding of the music derived from it, such as the bulk of Borodin’s Knâz’ Igor’ and some of the scenes from Musorgskij’s Soročinskaâ ârmarka and Rimskij-Korsakov’s Majskaâ noč’.

Below, the prologue to Borodin’s Knâz’ Igor’, which recycles materials that he originally wrote for Mlada.

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Filed under Dance, New editions, Opera, Romantic era

Paul Creston, didactic autodidact


A winner of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award, Paul Creston was entirely self-taught as a composer.

Nevertheless, he was the author of three books on composition—Principles of rhythm (1964), Creative harmony (1970), and Rational metrical notation (1979)—and contributed many articles to various musical periodicals; he wrote the first three, on dance, when he was only 17 years old.

This according to “Creston, Paul” by Neil Butterworth (Dictionary of American classical composers, 2nd ed. [2005] pp. 100–101); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Creston’s 110th birthday! Below, the opening of his Concertino for marimba and orchestra (1940).

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Famous Victorians in a toy symphony



An event billed as A Concert for the Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street, held in London on 14 May 1880, featured a performance of Bernhard Romberg’s Toy symphony in which prominent London musicians performed on various mechanical birds and toy instruments; all but two of the musicians in the ensemble played instruments other than those that they were accustomed to performing on.

The evening also included performances of the Chœur des soldats from Gounod’s Faust and several children’s songs by a kazoo ensemble conducted by the operatic contralto Zelia Trebelli-Bettini.

This according to “Famous Victorians in a toy symphony” by Herbert Thompson (The musical times LXIX/1026 [1 August 1926] pp. 701–702); this issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above, the participants at a rehearsal; below, a more recent performance of the featured work.

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Ethnomusicology translations




In 2015 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched Ethnomusicology translations, a peer-reviewed, open-access online series for the publication of ethnomusicological literature translated into English (ISSN 2473-6422).

Articles and other literature in any language other than English are considered for editorial review, translation, and publication. Preference is given to individual articles published in scholarly journals or books during the past 20 years.

As a central online resource, Ethnomusicology translations aims to increase access to the global scope of recent music scholarship and advance ethnomusicology as an international field of research and communication.

Below, Greek animal bells (worn by goats in this case), a subject that figures in the series’s inaugural publication.


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Tango and therapy


Recent research suggests that tango dancing may be an effective strategy for influencing symptoms related to mood disorders.

In one study, 41 participants were randomized to tango dancing for 1.5 hours, four times per week for two weeks, or to a wait-list control condition. Self-rated symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, self-efficacy, satisfaction with life, and mindfulness were assessed at pretest, posttest, and one month later. The tango group participants showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia at posttest relative to the controls, whereas satisfaction with life and self-efficacy were significantly increased. At a one-month follow-up, depression, anxiety, and stress levels remained reduced relative to the wait-list controls.

In another study, 22 tango dancers were assessed within four conditions in which the presence of music and a dance partner while dancing were varied in a 2 x 2 design. Before each condition and five minutes thereafter, participants provided salivary samples for analysis of cortisol and testosterone concentrations and completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The data suggest that motion with a partner to music has more positive effects on emotional state than motion without music or without a partner. Moreover, decreases of cortisol concentrations were found with the presence of music, whereas increases of testosterone levels were associated with the presence of a partner.

This according to “Intensive tango dance program for people with self-referred affective symptoms” by Rosa Pinniger et al. (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal V/I [January 2013] pp. 15–22) and “Emotional and neurohumoral responses to dancing tango argentino: The effects of music and partner” by Cynthia Quiroga Murcia (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal I/1 [July 2009] pp. 14–21), respectively.

Below, Tina Frühauf provides a testimonial.

BONUS: A translation of lyrics of the song in the video:

Think it over
before taking that step
that perhaps tomorrow
you may not go back.

Think it over.
I have loved you so much
and you have sent me into the past
perhaps for another love.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Science, Therapy

Blood, thunder, and drums


The drumming style among Protestant bands of Northern Ireland known as blood and thunder evolved as a result of working-class bands both imitating military practices and adapting them to their changing tastes.

This unique tradition developed through working-class musicians’ endeavors to emulate the musical practices of the dominant military power without access to the tuition techniques and facilities on which that style depends. A transformation taking place in blood and thunder drumming is characterized by an added element of aesthetic deliberation, which is considered by many to be an artistic advancement.

This according to “Blood, thunder, and drums: Style and changing aesthetics of drumming in Northern Ireland Protestant bands” by Ray Casserly (Yearbook for traditional music XLV [2013] pp. 142–163). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Ballynahinch Protestant Boys, a group featured in the article.

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Šostakovič and Bach


The invocation of Bach’s Das wohltemperirte Clavier in Dmitri Šostakovič’s 24 preludes and fugues creates an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the latter’s compositional choices and style.

Through composing alternative solutions to fugal problems, Šostakovič’s ironic musical signature is revealed to have several major, previously undefined components. In large part, this signature creates a dialogue between traditional associations and modernist dissociation.

His remarkably consistent compositional choices define techniques that create musical dissociation. Important elements include the use of a rigid, virtually academic fugal format, the invocation and frequent use of traditional counterpoint and harmony, the preparation of musical confirmation and its subsequent absence, and the final achievement of musical affirmation through dissociation.

These techniques, displayed against the background of Bach’s fugal schema, put into relief the effects that traditional and nontraditional materials and approaches have on each other; they also reveal how a powerful sense of irony—the simultaneous recognition of irreconcilable opposites—can be created.

This according to The treasons of image: Bach, irony, and Shostakovich’s preludes and fugues, op. 87 by Evan Bennett, a dissertation accepted by Princeton University in 2004.

Today is Šostakovič’s 110th birthday! Below, Svâtoslav Rihter performs selections from the cycle.

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