Jump to content
Mander Organs
Martin Cooke

Hunting around in IMSLP

Recommended Posts

I don't know about you, but over the years, I have often gone to IMSLP and typed in 'Organ'. This results in a lot of time wasting - especially if you are not a member and have to wait 15 seconds for every download - that's something I have also put right this weekend. [I am correct in thinking that you cannot search in IMSLP for both Organ and Composer, aren't I? In my experience, when you type in Organ you tend to get a list of titles of music without an indication as to who the composer is.]

Anyway, a good way to cut down on the time wasting...

Before you go to IMSLP, type 'Organ Music composers' into Google. You will be presented with a Wiki article with composers listed by nation and era - like this.

So, suppose you go to France... Romantic... you will find, for example, François Benoist. Then, in a new Google window, you open up IMSP and search for him and proceed as normal. 

You can then continue juggling between your two windows and I have found some real treasures.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think there’s a wider point to be made here, and it concerns the promises that are constantly made regarding technology and the failure to deliver them. I remember the twin claims of the ‘paperless office’ and the computers that were going to develop exponentially and overtake the capacity and abilities of the human brain. Yet IT still often fails to deliver - score writing programmes are a case in point: you would think that after decades of development you would be able to just tell your computer what you want it to do, but instead you often have to spend hours doing detective work to solve minor problems of layout or note entry.

But perhaps these are human failings rather than technological problems. Obtaining and using books and sheet music is a case in point. Years ago there was a hope that technology would make books and music available to all at low cost. What a disappointment! Academic books are locked away behind pay walls, unavailable to those who do not have institutional subscriptions unless they pay ridiculous sums of money for even short articles. You would think that doing away with the process of typesetting (now done by authors themselves who have to submit their work in tightly specified formats!), printing, binding, marketing, delivery, etc. would make books cheaper, but I regularly have to forgo the luxury of reading an academic work on some aspect of music because I refuse the pay vast sums for the privilege. I count myself lucky however. A great number of the books I wish to read are centuries old manuals written in German (e.g. by Turk, Adlung, Kerner, Wiedeburg, Kittel) for which there is either no English translation or, if there is, it is prohibitively expensive or even long out of print. But because I can easily read the German text in the original Gothic type I am able to gain access to many of these works which have been scanned and are freely available because they are out of copyright. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no technological process which will enable a computer easily, quickly and cheaply to recognise, transcribe and translate correctly the vast body of works, especially in German, that survive and would greatly inform the debates that have raged over past decades regarding historically informed performance.

Which brings me to the question of sheet music. For several years I have found it far more convenient to store music I wish to play on my iPad. I use it nearly all the time for practice: it is a marvellous way to annotate scores, prepare different versions for different organs, and even use it for performance. Yet the process of obtaining the scores in digital format is often extremely time-consuming and expensive. Yes, there are tens of thousands of scores available on IMSLP. But it is virtually impossible to obtain the most up-to-date scores in digital format. Anyone who wants to do that has first to buy the paper version, and then spend hours and hours laboriously scanning it into a computer, a process which is in itself illegal. Why is there no Kindle equivalent for music? The present situation is actually encouraging thousands of amateur musicians to rely on old editions they can download free, but which do not reflect the painstaking scholarship which has gone into preparing critical editions of the music of past centuries. The truth seems to be that human failings are standing in the way of technological progress. Of course, publishing houses need to make a profit and composers need to be paid for their work. But I cannot help thinking that we have built the academic equivalent of Trump’s wall with Mexico, to the detriment of scholars and performers alike. Why can’t publishers come up with a technological solution which will allow the widest possible access to books and music at reasonable cost, whilst still protecting their intellectual property? But I suppose if no-one can can come up with a technological solution to the Irish backstop, that’s probably a silly question!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with much of the above, as the points made impinge negatively on my own research in both physics and music.  Regarding the latter, I envy Zimbelstern's ability to read the old German texts which are almost impenetrable to me.  I have to rely on the modern scholarship of others to unlock their secrets, though even here much of it remains untranslated and difficult and expensive to access for the reasons Zimbelstern mentioned.  But as just one example of the importance of persevering I might mention Andreas Werckmeister who seems to be routinely deified, at least by Brits, as one of the most far-sighted thinkers of all time in tuning and temperament.  But this received wisdom starts to look a bit skewed when you discover things like how his early intellectual development was stymied for life by the Thirty Years' War, that he was a musician rather than a mathematician or 'natural philosopher', that nowhere in his writings is there mention of other European temperament scholars from Galileo to Newton and beyond, that hardly any of them had even heard of him, that he didn't really like his own Werckmeister III temperament, and that although he listened to beats while tuning he almost certainly did not understand what generated them nor their genesis in physics and mathematics.  So does this diminish his status?  Not a bit of it, because he was a self-taught prodigy whose hard-won knowledge was based on practical experiment and musicianship which was immediately comprehended by other practical tuners and musicians within a limited geographical area including J S Bach who owned at least one of his books.  He was one of them rather than the theoretician living in an ivory tower so often pictured, anachronistically, by writers today.

So it is indeed faintly ridiculous that we have to work so hard and spend so much time and money trying to get really quite basic information even in today's digital age.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Colin, you may already be aware of this paper which reproduces and translates every known 18th century quote relating to J.S. Bach’s preferences regarding temperament. 

http://www.huygens-fokker.org/docs/Kroesbergen_Bach_Temperament.pdf

Particularly interesting is the evidence that Werkmeister changed his opinions about temperament and at the end of his life had come to prefer equal temperament. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, Zimbelstern.  Yes, I came across this back in 2017 and it is indeed a most useful paper.  I have to be careful not to hijack this IMSLP thread, so will limit myself to saying that one has to be very aware of historical milestones across several disciplines to properly interpret writings on tuning in this era.  It was only towards the end of Werckmeister's life in the late 1600s that knowledge of the mere concept of absolute frequency, so casually taken for granted today, was becoming widespread and even vaguely understood - as witness the demonstration by Robert Hooke to the Royal Society of a piece of card held against a rotating toothed wheel.  Lo and behold, it emitted a musical note!  This was startlingly novel at the time (if it hadn't been it would not have taken place in front of that august gathering), and snippets of information such as this are essential to set the work of early temperament theorists against their proper background.  Otherwise it is all too easy to look backwards with the benefit of today's hindsight and generate 'research' of which far too much is hopelessly anachronistic and thus of poor quality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...