2019 and online again (“the saga continues”)

Yes, blogging regularly is difficult … Nearly a year ago I wrote my last post, on the upcoming workshop at the DHBenelux2018 conference, which – IMHO – was quite a success (see this drive for a concise report and some of the materials presented). In August of the same year I co-organised another meeting: the ‘Editing the Past’ symposium, part of the 150th anniversary of the Royal Society for Music History of the Netherlands (KVNM) and embedded in the Utrecht Early Music Festival. The theme of the symposium was the interaction between editors and performers in the world of new digital possibilities. I presented as well, a contribution on editing the music of Josquin in a digital world (worthy of a separate blog post, I presume…).

Musical works

After this very brief summary of last year, a glimpse of 2019. First up is the RISM-conference Works, Work Titles, Work Authorities: Perspectives on Introducing a Work Level in RISM (9-11 May). An interesting program, touching upon different issues surrounding the concept of a ‘work’.

The topic is relevant to my own PhD research, since when modelling a network of musical compositions and the sources in which they are transmitted, there is a need for unambiguously identifying compositions, i.e. a (graph) database needs to know which entity is similar or dissimilar to another entity – it needs to know where the boundaries of an entity are, where a new ID should be assigned. But, such a focus on identifying compositions may seem anachronistic, since in the sixteenth century identification seems less important. As an illustration, we know of letters being sent that include a composition as attachment or refer to a composition, with an indication of what we might call a genre (e.g. ‘canto’, ‘motetto’, ‘canzone’), instead of using the more clear title of the composition:

un canto de Joschino bono per excellentia qual sera al proposto de quella per sonare de S.V. el facia cantare.

David Fallows, Josquin, Collection ‘Épitome Musical’ (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 368.

Io mando à vostra eccelentia, un motetto di Giachetto Berchem; degno certo di venire alle mani di tal signore. & mando à vostri Cantori una mia Canzone, mandovi due Sonetti composti dalla mia sprofondata memoria scritti di mia mano, & disegnati i canti, i sonetti, & le carte.2

Antonio Francesco Doni, Virginio Fagotto, and Gian Francesco Malipiero, Dialogo della musica, Collana di musiche Veneziane inedite o rare 7 (Vienna [etc]: Universal Edition, 1964), 163.

Furthermore our notion of a ‘composition’ is influenced by the concept of a ‘work’, and therefore we are compelled to assign a title (and composer) to a piece of music — making sure we have the connection between a Composer and His Works firmly in place.

But, as also stated on the conference site:

…. in recent decades, the concept of the work itself has been uncovered as a construct of the 19th century.

[ for an in-depth discussion on the work-concept and its history, see Lydia Goehr’s The imaginary museum of musical works (1992, reprint 2002) ]

Thus, us assigning database IDs to musical compositions from a time when the work-concept did not exist is problematic. What are we exactly assigning IDs to? Are the boundaries drawn between two compositions ‘natural’ to the music practice of the sixteenth century? Or is the concept of what a composition is perhaps more flexible in this period?

An interesting topic, on which I hope to gain some new insights at the RISM conference!

To be continued…


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