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Barry & Claire Brook’s excellent incipit adventure

The practice of using music incipits for identifying compositions occupies an important place among the many musicological research tools that Barry S. Brook conceived. “The thematic index derives its superiority over non-thematic lists because it can not only arrange a body of music in a systematic order,” he wrote, “but it provides, at the same time, positive identification in a minimum of space and symbols. It does so by the use of the incipit, or musical citation of the opening notes. For most music, an incipit of no more than a dozen pitches is required. When rhythmic values accompany the pitches, the incipit’s uniqueness quotient is astonishingly high” (Notes, 29/3, 1973).

He promoted this idea through the publication of facsimile editions of The Breitkopf thematic calagoue (1967) and The Ringmacher catalogue (1773; 1987); he organized the index to his edition The symphony, 1720–1840 (1986) in the form of a thematic catalogue; and he published the definitive catalogue of thematic catalogues (1973; 2nd ed. 1997). In 1970 he made a proposal for his Plaine and Easie Code, a computer-readable coding system for music incipits in modern or mensural notation, and when RISM initiated the cataloguing of manuscripts in the A/II series he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of the incipit in the bibliographic description of each work.

Brook’s enthusiasm for incipits was sparked when he was writing his dissertation in Paris. His daily correspondence of 1958/59 with his wife Claire—whom he married only a few months before the trip to France—was full of notated incipits for works that he mentioned in his work, La symphonie française dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, and she patiently copied them and organized them in the thematic finder to be included with the final dissertation. His system of organizing incipits was a response to the index of eighteenth-century compositions that Jan LaRue was working on at the time, and the Dictionary of musical themes by Sam Morgenstern and Harold Barlow, both of which he found unsatisfactory.

In February of 1959 he told Claire in a letter about his thoughts for organizing the index:

“I think it will be number of #’s + ♭’s, with minor in with the majors since in some instances it is not immediately apparent from incipit if it is in minor; then subdivided into 2/4, 3/44/4, 3+6/8; then in alphabetical order note by note. If you run into LaRue you might ask him to explain his system—or even better ask him how he would do it if he were to start all over again….Then there is that crazy suggestion of Chailley, which he put very strongly, to transpose all themes into C and list them by letters alphabetically. — Take a look at appendix of Morgenstern-Barlow Dictionary of musical themes that we have and you’ll see what he wants. This looks like another big job for you. 

e.g. EFGGGGGGGGABGBA = Gossec #1
        GCCDGDDEGEEF = Gossec #2
        CDCGCDE♭F = Gossec #3” (15 February 1959).

A week later Barry returned to the topic and again asked Claire to have a talk with LaRue about how his finding system works, and whether or not he counted grace notes in alphabetizing. As LaRue was at the time still collecting incipits for his thematic identifier, he warned Claire not to reveal all that he was doing: “A little birdie keeps tweeting me about what Chailley said about keeping everything (i.e. finds) under wraps until after the thèse” (21 February 1959).

As Barry studied scores in Parisian libraries, he found more works that needed to be included in the finding aid for his thèse, and more incipits were included in his trans-Atlantic letters to Claire. Almost every letter he sent her in the late winter and spring of 1959 included a few handwritten incipits, a new consideration about their ordering, or a question about this or that detail.

A page of incipits sent to Claire on 14 March.

Replies from Claire included “just finished cutting a complete set of corrected insipids [sic], wrapped, stored, and next set ready to go” (19 April 1959), and “I refused to allow myself to sit down and write to you until the thematic index was cut and packed for mailing. A sort of external discipline—childish but effective. Just finished tying the string and lettering in the beloved name of my husband, and here I am” (27 March 1959). It seems that Claire worked on his dissertation in New York as hard as Barry did in Paris! It is impressive to see how they worked together on the intricate project of organizing the musical index of incipits, without having instant messaging, a possibility of online conversations in real time, and any other benefit of communications that we take for granted today.

At one point he was frustrated with difficulties in sorting incipits, and described to Claire his idea about an incipit box. Claire was confused by his eccentric idea and asked him to describe his concept better. In his second attempt he drew the design of the box along with his explanation of the concept: “Incipits are arranged in order in the box like file cards in a filing box or fiches in a fichier. Only the box is very flat—just high enough for the incipits to stand up in” (24 March 1959). As the deadline for submitting the dissertation was approaching fast, there was no time for constructing the box.

Brook’s drawing of the incipit box.

On 29 June the thesis—which included some 60 pages of incipits in addition to some 800 items that converted incipits to alphanumeric strings—was “delivered to [Jacques] Chailley at 5:30 in the afternoon”. This might have been one of the earliest dissertations that included such an extensive catalogue of incipits. A week after it was delivered, Claire landed in Paris for their belated honeymoon.

Above, one of Barry and Claire Brook’s wedding photographs from June 1958.

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Filed under From the archives, Musicologists, Musicology

Little Richard, “Architect of Rock & Roll”

“Little” Richard Wayne Penniman burst onto the American scene in 1955 with his mega-hit Tutti frutti, and went on to write the anti-rules and pour the concrete for the foundation of a new musical art form.

Dubbing himself “The Architect of Rock & Roll,” Little Richard had an incalculable impact on musicians and singers black and white with his wild, flamboyant performances and outrageous costumes, which included sequined tuxedos, velvet capes, pancake make-up, eyeliner, and a six-inch pompadour hairdo.

He was one of the first artists to make the androgynous look popular, and his influence could be experienced in the music and performances of Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie—who all cited him as their inspiration.

But Little Richard also had demons he struggled with throughout his career: his complicated relationship with his sexual orientation, and its effect on his faith. He left secular music 18 months after his first hit to sing “for the Lord” in an effort to suppress his homosexuality; but four years later he was back on stage in London with The Beatles as his opening act, shaking his hips and singing Tutti frutti, a song that originated as a testament to gay sex.

This according to Awop bop aloo mop: Little Richard—A life of sex, drugs, rock & roll…and religion by Tina Andrews (New York: The Malibu Press, 2020; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-55689).

Today is Little Richard’s 90th birthday! Above, an uncredited photo from 1967; below, performing in 1957 (the year John Lennon met Paul McCartney around some of Little Richard’s songs).

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Louisa May Alcott’s musical leitmotif

Louisa May Alcott effectively depicted collective musical performances to affirm community in Little women; but more significantly, she used music to represent the feminine sphere as she and the culture of her time defined it.

Each sister’s acceptance of or entry into that domain is depicted through scenes of musical performance: “No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano; but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoilt the most pensive tune.”

Laurie, the rich boy next door, who is a talented pianist, must take the opposite path on his journey; his attainment of manhood is symbolically represented through the silencing of his musical voice.

In these and more ways, the musical leitmotif in Little Women tells us much about gender roles in American culture and about the limited choices facing both nineteenth-century American women and nineteenth-century American men.

This according to “Music as leitmotif in Louisa May Alcott’s Little women” by Colleen Reardon (Children’s literature XXIV [1996] 74-85; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-26449).

Today is Alcott’s 190th birthday! Below, Beth’s Christmas scene from the 1994 film.

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Filed under Literature, Women's studies

Journal of Audiovisual Ethnomusicology

In November 2022 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched the Journal of Audiovisual Ethnomusicology (JAVEM), a bi-annual peer-reviewed streaming journal of ethnomusicological film and video. The journal aims to advance the use of multimedia as a method for exploring music and its entanglements, and as a medium for presenting those explorations.

JAVEM provides a viable public platform for ethnomusicological films. A public-facing venue for film screenings and multimedia installations, it gives scholar-filmmakers opportunities to reach new audiences, engage more diverse stakeholders in research topics and issues, and partner with organizations beyond the academy, building a structure for scholarly engagement with current research, theoretical perspectives, and filmmaking strategies in ethnomusicology and related fields.

Below, Frank Gunderson, one of JAVEM’s founders and co-editors, shares a filmmaking anecdote.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

Martin Scorsese, DJ and choreographer

Martin Scorsese’s Casino is structured around a compiled score of nearly 60 popular music recordings. Scorsese himself, working with the editor Thelma Schoonmaker and using digital editing tools for the first time, assembled and arranged a diverse body of preexisting music into a unified score that plays for more than two of the film’s three hours.

A close analysis of Scorsese crafting Casino’s compiled score in the manner of a DJ—and, in reciprocal fashion, editing film images and narrative to recorded music—demonstrates highly varied, multivalent relationships between musical form and film form. Indeed, musical form proves a constituent element of Casino’s construction at multiple levels of magnification.

The large-scale form of the score as a whole articulates the larger arc of Casino’s dual narrative. The strategic deployment of musical styles (from jazz to rock to pop) and the targeted use of lyrics as voiceover (often subtly deploying aspects of racial performance in popular styles) serve to differentiate narrative strands and fill out otherwise unspoken characterization.

Scorsese builds several sequences in Casino on a direct, often audible relationship between song forms and narrative unfolding, creating song scenes in which compiled tracks heard as musical wholes grant a musical shape to discrete narrative units. Casino’s complex use of music does not, however, penetrate the inner lives of the film’s three primary characters, who seem unaware of the musical flow Scorsese employs to set their story dancing.

This according to “The filmmaker as DJ: Martin Scorsese’s compiled score for Casino (1995)” by Todd Decker (The journal of musicology XXXIV/2 [spring 2017] 281–317; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2017-866).

Today is Scorsese’s 80th birthday!

Above, the director in 1995, the year Casino was released (photo credit: Gorupdebesanez; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Below, a sequence discussed in the article, which is set so closely to The Rolling Stones’s Can’t you hear me knocking that the recording must have been playing on the set to time the camera moves.

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Filed under Film music

Enchanting voices

Voices can make our hair stand on end or send shudders down our spine more easily and more powerfully than anything else.

The classic evolutionary and philosophical writings tended to downplay the role of music in human partner selection; but popular culture indicates otherwise, particularly where the voice is involved.

Still, the enchantment that audiences experience when they listen to their favorite singers is highly subjective. For example, while critics of Lata Mangeshkar’s little-girl sound view her popularity in terms of a desire to keep women immature and vulnerable, her millions of admirers hear in her voice a timeless and idealized lover.

This according to “Enchanting voices” by Wim van der Meer, an article included in Music, dance, and the art of seduction (Delft: Eburon, 2013, 49-70; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-28812).

Above and below, Mangeshkar enacts her enchantment.

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Filed under Curiosities, Film music, Reception

Oliver Mtukudzi: Instruction and reconstruction

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi left a vast and rich body of music produced over a long and illustrious career. Through his skillful use of traditional Shona proverbs, textured idiomatic expressions, metaphor, and ingenious word play, he was able to teach while simultaneously entertaining his audience.

Through its dialogic nature, Mtukudzi’s music positioned itself at the service of both instruction and reconstruction in ways that differed markedly from those offered by Western formal education.

These pedagogical and reconstructive potentials are located in traditional forms of knowledge generation and knowledge transfer. Mtukudzi’s music must be viewed as a reconstructive pedagogy that raises the social consciousness of its listeners. Framed against current trends in Africa and other formerly colonized spaces for the decolonization of ways of learning and teaching, Mtukudzi’s music articulates reconstructive ways of thinking about knowledge, knowledge generation, knowledge transfer, and the archiving of lived experiences in Africa.

This according to “Music as pedagogy: The life, times, and music of Oliver Mtukudzi” by Gibson Ncube and Yemurai Gwatirisa, an essay included in The life and music of Oliver Mtukudzi: Reconstruction and identity (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 39–50; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-407).

Today would have been Oliver Mtukudzi’s 70th birthday!

Below, Mtukudzi’s Todii (What shall we do?) evokes the world of traditional proverbs to convey new messages of social commentary.

BONUS: In a collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mtukudzi’s Neria raises vital themes involving women, family relations, and politics.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music

Anne Brown and “Porgy and Bess”

Anne Brown literally put the Bess in Porgy and Bess by inspiring George Gershwin to expand the character’s part in an opera that was originally to be called Porgy.

Brown was the first person Gershwin heard singing the role of Bess, who was a relatively minor character in the original 1925 DuBose Heyward novel. As he composed the opera, often with Brown at his side, Gershwin added more and more music for her. Because Gershwin died at 38 in 1937, she was the only Bess he ever knew.

Brown was in her second year of graduate studies at Juilliard when she read that Gershwin was writing his opera. She wrote to ask for an interview, which his secretary granted. She sang music by Brahms, Schubert, and other classical composers; then he asked her to sing a Black spiritual. Brown hesitated at the racial stereotyping, but finally sang an unaccompanied spiritual. Gershwin was silent after she finished; then he told her that it was the most beautiful spiritual he had ever heard, and they hugged.

In the last days of rehearsals, Gershwin told Brown that he was expanding the title of the opera to include Bess, her part. Though critics initially weren’t sure what to make of the work, her performance in it received wide acclaim.

This according to “Anne Brown, who was Gershwin’s Bess, dies at 96” by Douglas Martin (The New York times 18 March 2009; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2009-633).

Anne Brown would have been 100 years old this month! Above and below, a filmed excerpt from her performance.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Black studies, Opera, Performers

Acusfere: Suoni_culture_musicologie

In 2022 Libreria Musicale Italiana launched Acusfere: Suoni_culture_musicologie, a multilingual, annually published, peer-reviewed print and online journal with abstracts in English. The journal’s scope is purposely broad; however, there are several general elements around which it coheres, including emphases on:

  • Research from the fields of musicology and anthropology
  • Musical writing, invention, improvisation, and composition in the contemporary world
  • Local and peripheral music traditions
  • Relationships between music and many other artistic and expressive activities
  • Musical instruments and technologies
  • Vocal expression as manifested in individual and polyphonic contexts
  • The processes of thought, theories, aesthetics, and structures that shape musical meanings
  • The multifarious behaviors detectable in the music-making of diverse cultures
  • The spaces and places of music, stable and concrete, but also mobile and ephemeral
  • Projections of music in media, rapidly changing and integrated into multiple perspectives

The journal’s tripartite subtitle—suoni (sounds), culture (cultures), and musicologie (musicologies)—reflects the pluralities and variabilities of viewpoints, processes, scenarios, contexts, and knowledges at the center of the critical reflection of music making.

Below, Marco Tomassi performs on his reconstruction of the 17th-century sordellina, the subject of an article in the journal’s inaugural issue.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Instruments, Musicology, New periodicals

Gilberto Gil’s big hug

On Ash Wednesday 1969, shortly after being released from a military prison in the neighborhood of Realengo, Rio de Janeiro, Gilberto Gil composed the song Aquele abraço (Big hug), which would eventually become a landmark in the history of Brazilian popular music.

 It was his last day in Rio de Janeiro before he was placed under house arrest in Salvador (where he developed the melody and instrumentation for the song) and sent into exile due to his confrontation of the military dictatorship. The song became a kind of unofficial theme song of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In it, Gil referenced many personalities, events, neighborhoods, and traditions, creating a musical picture of the city. After his exile, the song acquired an added poignancy, as if he were greeting his beloved city from abroad.

Between that time and his work as Minister of Culture from 2003 to 2008, his musical innovations always went in tandem with his social and political activism, which were defining aspects of his career. Since the times of tropicália, Gil, along with his friend and fellow exile Caetano Veloso, has been at the center of some of the most important movements in Brazilian popular music. His imagination is boundless, his lyrics are superb poetic creations that honor the music and the cadence of the Portuguese language, and his effortless eclecticism continues to surprise.

Throughout his career, it was almost as if each new album stood at the beginning of something new. He has always been chameleonic and kaleidoscopic. No musical genre was beyond his reach: samba, choro, forró, reggae, rap, rock, folk song, ballad, candomblé. His works form a tapestry of the many musical traditions of Brazil, and it is literally impossible to single out any particular song as representative of his career.

His birthday comes two days after the traditional feast in honor of St. John (June 24), which is a major cultural event in northeastern Brazil, a showcase for the music, culinary traditions, dance, and costumes of the region. Here he is, donning a traditional hat from the heartlands of the northeast, celebrating the tradition in a live concert for the public of São Paulo. And so, “Aquele abraço” on his 80th birthday!

For a comprehensive biography, see GiLuminoso: A poética do ser–Gilberto Gil (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 1999; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-49790). Above, Maestro Gil in 2012.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music