Category Archives: Musicologists

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.

3 Comments

Filed under From the archives, Musicologists, Musicology

Music theory with attitude

Although the notion that Musicae rudimenta was written by Nicolaus Faber has persisted for centuries, internal evidence points conclusively to the Bavarian historian and philologist Johannes Aventinus (Johann Turmair or Thurmayr, 1477–1534) as its author. One of the first music treatises to use German as well as Latin, it borrows heavily from other sources, usually with due citations.

The author’s unequivocal style is striking: for example, the table of contents lists Chapter 1 as “The origins of music, a subject about which the barbarians err disgracefully, not to say ignorantly”, while other entries include such observations as “I am embarrassed to report what empty, fatuous things some writers have to say on this topic” and “In this matter, the run-of-the-mill singers are like night owls in the sunlight—blind!”

Nor does he spare himself, noting of his second chapter that “Most of the things here are quoted from others and are not very important, being pedantic and technical.” His preface concludes: “Look me over and buy me, the price is so low. Believe me, you won’t regret it.”

This according to “Musicae rudimenta: Augsburg, 1556” by T. Herman Keahey in Paul A. Pisk: Essays in his honor (Austin: University of Texas, 1966).

Above, an illustration from the treatise.

Comments Off on Music theory with attitude

Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists, Renaissance, Theory

Tovey’s marginalia

Donald Francis Tovey left thousands of marginal comments on the sheet music he owned, dating from different periods of his life.

Here and there one finds a score that is chock-full of pencil scribblings, critical, historical, personal—clearly remarks that Tovey meant for his own eyes alone, though it is impressive that he often wrote complete sentences with full punctuation. Most commonly he sang the praise of some compositional marvel in words of simple rapture: “Splendid!” “Magnificent climax!” “Wonderful!”

But Tovey was at his wittiest with composers he didn’t much like. Muzio Clementi came in for some particularly choice remarks, such as “Silly little beast in bad Mozartian style with one or two idiotically difficult bits of pianistics.” A passage in Clementi’s op. 50, no. 3, subtitled Didone abbandonata, elicited the comment “and here comes the Bishop, or the Pope with triple crown.” This whimsy is petulantly crossed out, and below, in a different but equally Toveyan hand, are the words “Pretentious NONSENSE” (see above). Where the theme is inverted he wrote “Here Dido stands on her head.”

This according to “Tovey’s marginalia” by Raymond Monelle (The musical times CXXXI/1769 [July 1990] pp. 351–53). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Today would have been Monelle’s 80th birthday! Below, the first movement of Tovey’s Sonata for cello solo.

2 Comments

Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists

A Knud Jeppesen resource

Sponsored by  Det Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen, the free online resource Knud Jeppesen (1892–1974) presents lists of the composer’s works, his music editions, his musicological writings, and literature on Jeppesen, along with a discography and portraits.

Jeppesen was one of the 20th century’s foremost musicologists, and as such he gained an international reputation. Professionally, Jeppesen worked as an organist at Sankt Stefans Kirke (1917–32) and Holmens Kirke (1932–46), both in Copenhagen, as a teacher at Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium (1920–47) in Copenhagen, and as the first professor of musicology at Aarhus Universitet (1946–57). Jeppesen, who was a pupil of, among others, Thomas Laub and Carl Nielsen, produced many compositions, most of which were both performed and published.

Comments Off on A Knud Jeppesen resource

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Musicologists

Resonanzen: Basler Publikationen zur Älteren und Neueren Musik

In collaboration with the Musikwissenschaftlichen Institut der Universität Basel, Schwabe Verlag inaugurated the series Resonanzen: Basler Publikationen zur Älteren und Neueren Musik in 2011 with Jacques Handschin in Russland: Die neu aufgefundenen Texte.

Edited by Жанна Викторовна Князева (Žanna Viktorovna Knâzeva), the book presents texts, reviews, correspondence, and biographies written by Handschin during his years in St. Petersburg (1909–22).

Comments Off on Resonanzen: Basler Publikationen zur Älteren und Neueren Musik

Filed under Musicologists, New series

Musicologica slovaca

In 2010 Ústav Hudobnej Vedy of the Slovenská Akadémia Vied revived the scholarly periodical Musicologica Slovaca: Časopis Ústavu Hudobnej Vedy Slovenskej Akadémie Vied (ISSN 1338-2594), thereby providing a standard platform for publishing the most recent results of domestic music scholarship in a peer-reviewed, biannual journal. In 1992 its predecessor, the irregularly issued Musicologica slovaca et europaea, replaced the original Musicologica slovaca, which started in 1969. The renewed Musicologica Slovaca, starting as volume 1(27), maintains the continuity of the previous volumes.

The journal’s broad orientation, with topics including music history, ethnomusicology, and systematic musicology, reflects traditions of interdisciplinary communication among specialized disciplines of music scholarship in Slovakia. Musicologica Slovaca is edited by the ethnomusicologist Hana Urbancová, the Director of the Ústav Hudobnej Vedy SAV. It is published in Slovak with English abstracts and keywords.

4 Comments

Filed under Ethnomusicology, Musicologists, New periodicals

PianoForum

The 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth in 2010 inspired the launch of a new Russian-language quaterly dedicated to piano, PianоФорум (PianoForum). Published by Международная Муызкально-Техническая Компания (International Music-Technical Company) and edited by the musicologist, pianist, and pedagogue Vsevolod Zaderackij, the journal covers diverse aspects of contemporary pianism, including instrument building, piano repertoire and interpretation, piano competitions and festivals, and piano pedagogy from the beginning level to professional training. A description of the contents of issue no. 3 (2010) in Russian is here.

Comments Off on PianoForum

Filed under Instruments, Musicologists, New periodicals, Pedagogy

A Renaissance sense of history

Pietro Gaetano’s Oratio de origine et dignitate musices (ca. 1568)—“an almost unknown text from an almost insignificant individual”—illuminates relationships between music and a sense of history in the Renaissance. Unlike Tinctoris, Gaetano tried to integrate a notion of organic evolution into music historiography, along with a sense of periodization—both concepts that added substance to a historical view that was already dominated by the idea of a lineage of great composers and their works.

This according to “To write historically about music in the 16th century: Pietro Gaetano” by Philippe Vendrix, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Above, the first page of Gaetano’s manuscript (I-Vmc, Provenienza Cicogna, MS 1049; click to enlarge).

Comments Off on A Renaissance sense of history

Filed under Musicologists, Renaissance

Postmodernism and performance

According to “Changing the musical object: Approaches to performance analysis” by Nicholas Cook, broad cultural developments associated with poststructuralism and postmodernism have placed an emphasis on reception—on performance rather than on inherent meaning—but the reflection of these developments in musicology has been skewed by that discipline’s retention of the concept of music as written text.

Cook argues that just as writings about music influence performances, so performance style has an impact on musicology, creating the prospect of a historiography predicated not on compositional innovation but on music as it is experienced in everyday life.

Daniel Leech-Wilkinson further explores the process wherein developments in performance precede changes in verbal interpretation in “Musicology and performance”; his examples are drawn from Schubert’s lieder and Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître. Both essays are included in our recently-published Music’s intellectual history.

Below, a performance of the final section of the Boulez work by the Montreal-based group Codes d’Accès.

Comments Off on Postmodernism and performance

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Musicologists, Performance practice, Reception, Romantic era

Baroque birdsong

Along with its wide-ranging discussions of theoretical topics, the 1650 treatise Musurgia universalis by the German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) includes what may be the first transcriptions of bird songs.

The illustration gives the nightingale’s song followed by those of the chicken, the cuckoo, the quail, and the parrot; the latter says χαίρε (“hello”). Vox cuculi is notated as the familiar falling minor third heard in cuckoo clocks (see below).

A facsimile edition of the treatise has been issued by Georg Olms (Hildesheim, 1970; reprinted 2006).

Related article: Athanasias Kircher’s global reach

3 Comments

Filed under Animals, Baroque era, Musicologists, Nature, Notation, Science, Visual art