Italian opera has played an important role in Russian musical life since the early 17th century, but by the 19th century it was being promoted there more than Russian opera. In retaliation, Russian composers used their operas to make fun of Italian opera’s stock situations and styles, and brought Russian opera back into prominence.
For example, in his early comic farce Богатыри (Bogatyri, Heroic warriors), Alexander Borodin used familiar music and arias from Italian and French operas (by Rossini, Verdi, Offenbach, Meyerbeer, and others) to set up situations where the original intention of the music and its new setting were at humorous extremes.
Read more in “Italians in a Russian manner: One step from serious to funny” by Svetlana Sergeevna Martynova (Fontes artis musicae LVI/1 [January–March 2009] pp. 1–6). This post originally appeared in Bibliolore 10 years ago this week.
Below is the opening of his B-minor symphony, which Massine used for his ballet Bogatyri, illustrated with images of the heroic warriors of Russian folklore.
During his life, Bach was primarily known as a dazzling organist with virtuoso improvising abilities. Not surprisingly, his prowess gave rise to a number of urban legends.
One such legend had him traveling incognito, dressed as a village schoolmaster, going from church to church to try out the organs—prompting one local organist to cry out, “I don’t know who’s playing, but it’s either Bach or the Devil!”
Read on in “Tod und Teufel” by Frieder Reininghaus, an essay included in Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007, pp. 91–93). This post originally appeared in Bibliolore on March 21, 2015 but it seems appropriate for Halloween 2023.
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, 3/4, 4/4, 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.
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.
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.
Plans for the publication of a bibliography of writings concerning art history were announced in the summer of 1974. The project’s vision was born much earlier, in large part influenced by the publication of RILM Abstracts of Music Literature in early 1967.
RILA (Répertoire International de la Littérature de l’Art) borrowed the model for its name from RILM, as well as the concept of international cooperation first proposed at the conference held in Paris under the auspices of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in 1969 and then confirmed in Washington, D.C., under the sponsorship of the College Art Association of America in October 1971. RILA was conceived to provide substantial abstracts and detailed subject indexes of art-historical scholarship concerning post-classical European art and post-conquest American art published in periodicals, books, Festschriften, congress reports, exhibition and museum catalogues, and dissertations.
The project took off in 1973 as the bibliographic pilot project of the American Council of Learned Societies, with the RILM office at the CUNY Graduate Center initially providing editorial and technological support. RILA was intended to be the first addition to a proposed interdisciplinary group of bibliographies in the humanities, initiated with RILM. In the Demonstration issue (above) , which tested RILM’s bibliographic models applied to art-historical literature, the editor Michael Rinehart wrote “Continued regular publication of RILA will depend on response to this issue, and particularly on two factors essential to its long-range success: the willingness of authors to contribute abstracts of their work, and the extension of international participation through a free exchange of materials among existing and future organizations and publications.”
RILM’s founder, Barry S. Brook, spent the summer of 1965 pursuing research in Brussels, Paris, and Vienna; midway he attended the IAML congress in Dijon, held on 1 through 6 July. Among the 14 letters that he sent to his wife Claire back in New York City, the letter of 8 July 1965, which he wrote immediately after his return to Paris, describes his participation in the Dijon congress and his social activities around it. The letter reveals the young Brook, who was still unaccustomed to the attention he received from his older colleagues. Every dinner and every conversation was making an impression on him.
On Saturday 3 July he was particularly busy. At a round table at 11 am he explained his idea about notating music using the ordinary typewriter, known as the Plaine and Easy Code. After lunch he was the principal presenter in a round table from 2 to 5 pm titled Utilisation of data processing techniques in musical documentation. Here he made public for the first time his idea about founding an international bibliography of music literature, which he was already calling RILM. Brook’s emphasis in the session was on the possibilities of using computers for the control of music documentation, and he showed a film about IBM called Once upon a punched card (1964; the film may be viewed at the bottom of this post). In an earlier letter, from 2 July, Brook described how he and Françoise Lesure loaded up the back seat of their car with a carton of IBM brochures in three languages that he obviously distributed in the session.
Finally, on Sunday, 4 July, he presented a paper in the session on tempo in 17th- and 18th-century music, organized by the Société française de Musicologie and presided by Mme la comtese de Chambure, who would be a his key partner in founding the Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale (RIdIM) a few years later. This may have been his first meeting with Mme Chambure, since in this otherwise very detailed letter, full of names of people with whom he was working and dining, her name was not mentioned.
His paper was Le Tempo dans l’exécution de la musique instrumentale à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Other presenters in the session was Mme de Chambure, Denise Launay, Charlese Cudworth, André Verchaly, and Claudie Marcel-Dubois.
A fragment of the letter concerning his engagements during the conference:
The congress, which was originally supposed to be more relaxation and wine gobbling than work and business meetings. turned out to be mad whirl. Many meetings—too many—and the “relaxed” part too filled with official receptions, dull speeches by [Député-]Maire [of Dijon, Chanoine Félix Kir], etc. and guided tours of museums and churches (separated by buses) that each lasted too many hours and too many miles. The food at the Cité Universitaire was cheap but dull and could be eaten only after a long wait in line. Despite all this, the congress itself has been a pleasant affair, which I enjoyed because of the people, the concerts, and small amount of wheeling and dealing, the spotlight which was on me more than anticipated since everyone kept referring to my big speech in later meetings.
Also we would drive into town for meals, even breakfast when the line was too long and that was the pleasantest of all—“we” included François [Lesure], Fritz Noske, Paule Guiomar, Nanna Schiødt from Denmark, Rita Benton, Nanie and Fredric [Bridgman], etc. Fredric has a big international job in Geneva where he lives; he & Nannie get together every weekend whether in Geneva or Paris; he took us out to dinner in a wonderful restaurant in the country 15 km outside Dijon on the way to Beaune, chez Jeanette (François, Nanna S., and me). Paule had to return to Paris to start her vacation with Michel so she couldn’t come). Also had breakfast with André Jurres of Holland who succeeds Fédorov as président [of IAML] & spent time with [John Howard] Davies of the BBC, who is good friend of Herman, [Enrich] Straram of French Radio, Sven Lunn of Denmark, spoke to [Friedrich] Blume at some length about R.I.L.M.
Now to the speeches, which as usual were down to the wire. Despite the complete lack of cooperation from Simone Wallon in charge of arrangements (projections etc.) everything was led smoothly with François [Lesure] & Paule’s [Guiomar] help. The first one on the code was changed by François at my request to 11 am instead of 9 on Saturday so as not to conflict with a round table & a RISM meeting starting then. I demonstrated the code and recent improvements with the aid of slides (made for Dallas) distributing French + German translations (Xeroxed by Elvood’s friend). The interest was very high & it was the best attended business meeting of the congress since other meetings stopped in time for those who wished to attend it.
The Round Table on Automation in Music Documentation was, according to François, the hit of the Congress. (I had missed the 1st while preparing for Code mtg, no.s 3 & 4 were very dull). I spoke for 1 ¼ hours, showed a 10 min IBM film, then followed by a German ([Walter] Reckziegel), Dane (Nanna Schiødt in English) and a Swiss ([Raymond] Maylan in French). It went very well. The Tempo meeting in a cold Abbey [de Fontenay] during a guided tour after a large winery lunch was ill conceived from the beginning and was not a success as a whole. Six speakers! 4 French who mainly spoke too fast and too low to be heard, [Charles] Cudworth who spoke charmingly as usual in English and me who spoke extempore—from careful notes—in French and did very well.
After all the intense work & preparation there was much relief and less letdown than anticipated. As indicated, the after round tables were not good, except for Vincent Duckles who was excellent and except that I was constantly being greeted or asked questions.
The letter continues by informing Claire about his research in Paris, his daily activities, the invitation to Vincent Duckles to use their New York apartment on the way through New York, and asking her to send him $150 to Vienna by special delivery.
Although the production of RILM Abstracts has always heavily relied on computing technology, the computers of the 1960s and 1970s were not able to support the complexities of its multilingual and multicultural mission. Even the most powerful IBM mainframe System/370, used in the production of RILM Abstracts from 1970 to 1988, had limited possibilities for rendering different fonts, writing systems, and diacritical signs. For RILM, displaying names and terms in their most accurate representations—including rendering them in their original writing systems—was an imperative since its inception in 1967.
RILM’s Soviet national committee, headed in the 1960s and 1970s by Grigorij Mihajlovič Šneerson (1901–82) and Ûrij Vsevolodovič Keldyš (1907–95), was prolific, contributing a large number of records for publications issued in the Russian language. As the S/370 was unable to render their authors and titles in Russian Cyrillic, early RILM editors used another, much simpler IBM machine: the Selectric typewriter. The Selectric’s changeable typeball made possible it to render different fonts and scripts. For RILM editors it was like an automated transliteration machine, since its typeball with Cyrillic letters enabled printing Russian texts by typing on a standard roman-letter keyboard.
IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter on 31 July 1961, 60 years ago today!
From the time of his earliest proposal for creating RILM, Barry S. Brook (above) had a vision that “scholars working on specific research projects will eventually be able to request a bibliographic search by the computer of its stored information and to receive an automatically printed-out reply.”
RILM was too small to implement this task alone, so in 1979—long before the Internet was commercialized in the 1990s—it made an agreement with Lockheed Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, a division of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, for the distribution of its data through the telephone lines.
In August 1979, the first month when RILM was available on the Lockheed platform, the database was searched 176 times by 24 users, earning $84.94 (see inset; click to enlarge).
Today, on the 40th anniversary of its Lockheed connection, RILM’s databases are searched online 16.5 million times per month.
The reviewer, Raymond Ericson, noted that the volume “looks, hopefully, like the first permanent attempt to describe regularly what is being written about in the world’s significant literature on music” and that it “obviously fills a great need in musicological circles.” He also included summaries of six of the volume’s 497 entries.
Below, something else that happened a couple of days later.
Before RILM set up online forms for sending us citations and abstracts, all submissions were made by writing or typing on forms like the one pictured above. We had forms in all necessary languages, color-coded for sorting. As was the case with most manual typewriters, corrections and diacritics all had to be added by hand. After we received completed forms, everything had to be retyped into the database (and, for non-English titles and abstracts, translated into English) at the International Center.
Over the years, countless volunteers have made such contributions to RILM, including some very distinguished figures in musicology and ethnomusicology. The example above was submitted by the preeminent Spanish musicologist José López-Calo (b.1922) for the retrospective project undertaken by RILM’s founder Barry S. Brook in the 1970s—a project that finally reached fruition with the publication of Speaking of Music: Music conferences, 1835–1966 in 2004.
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