Monday, April 25, 2005

Blame Tim.

In a comment to my previous post, Jarrett wrote: "Good luck with the music catalogue work! I am very curious to see where your research takes you."

So everyone can blame him for this post, which is about just that.

If you have never been curious about the intricacies or intimacies of academic research, then you are in trouble, and might rather not read further.

But if you do quit now, you'll miss out on the exciting account of my recent encounters with a most sophisticated device of torture invented by a well meaning Dane with more organizational aplomb than he should have.

Now are you curious?

Then let me tell you about Peter Ryom's catalogue of the works of Antonio Vivaldi. If you are a classical music listener, then you may be familiar with the RV numbers that often follow descriptions of Vivaldi's pieces in album liner notes (like the BWV numbers for Bach works or the K numbers for Mozart). Vivaldi composed over 770 pieces of instrumental music, and Ryom attempted to organize them in a systematic manner, so that any smart person could identify a particular piece of music and then know what its manuscript sources are, whether it was published in Vivaldi's lifetime, whether it exists in multiple copies, etc. He helpfully provided thematic openings for every movement of each piece, so that if you're looking at a score you can identify the piece easily.

That all sounds good, right?


To use Dr. Ryom's catalogue you first determine whether the piece in question was written for one instrument and a basso continuo, two instruments and continuo, three instruments and continue etc. Or whether for one instrument, a string orchestra, and continuo; two instruments a string orchestra and contiuo and so forth.

Then you determine what the solo instrument is, or whether, in the case of pieces for more than one solo instrument, the two instruments are the same.

Then you determine the key in which the piece was written. In cases where the 3 movements are not all in the same key, see Ryom's note in his introduction.

Is your head hurting yet?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I met Dr. Ryom's catalogue and I was afraid. A couple of afternoons of work with it drove me toward my usual forms of stress relief, which were really no help.

But I have mastered that catalogue, yes I have. Faced with a list of about 25 Vivaldi pieces that I needed to identify, I covered every last one.

The more skeptical among you are now saying, well, that doesn't seem so bad. After all, the Ryom catalogue is very well ordered. Identifying music in it should be easy.

Here is the trick: my main man Ezra Pound copied Vivaldi scores from microphotographs of original manuscripts. And regardless of the composition of the piece, he set it up for solo violin and keyboard accompaniment.

(That kind of arrangement really was not uncommon during the 1930s, when people wanted to produce music at little cost.)

So whether the piece is for solo violin, orchestra and continuo or whether it is for 2 violins, 2 oboes, 2 salmoe, 2 bassoons, orchestra and continuo, the scores all look the same.

That left me with the key signature and themes to work with: Yes, that's right: a score with no sharps or flats would leave me to search through every piece written in C major or A minor.

But damn it, I did it.

And the good news is that it looks like it will be worth it. These scores say so much about Mr. P's involvement in the music of Vivaldi.

(For more detail than that, you'll need to read the book. When it comes out in about 8-9 years, if I am lucky.)

You might not know that prior to the 1930s, Vivaldi was a little known composer. Very little of his music was known, and he was routinely dismissed as a fine performer and mediocre composer. He ranked about 3 paragraphs in the Grove's Dictionary of Music.

But all that changed during the 1930s, thanks in part to the work of Pound and friends, and that is what I have been trying to piece together for the last 4 weeks.

So the next time someone claims that Gabler's edition of Ulysses is one of the most efficient torture devices known to man, you can tell them they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

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