How to Create a Sortable List of Works

P.davydov is IMSLP’s head librarian.  That means that he is in charge keeping everything on IMSLP standardized.  In addition, he is known for creating complete catalogs of composer’s works called ‘sortable lists’.  A sortable list of works is a chronological list of compositions by a certain composer that can be sorted by key, date, forces (instrumentation), and title.  About one year ago I asked Mr. Davydov how he created such splendid lists, like that of Tchaikovsky, and he politely answered my inquiry.  Without further delay, here is the method in his own words:

“1). I get them into Excel first, to get the formatting and sorting right.

2). Then I import that into Microsoft Front Page, which converts them to HTML

3). Then I usually cross-check that list with another source, to check the detail.

4). Then I copy the HTML code into a text editor to do a search and replace for the Wiki markup

5). then I copy that into the Wiki worklist, and tidy it up a bit.”

He finished the conversation by saying was “Simple really”.  But when you have thousands of works to sort through, it is only simple for our great librarian master, P.davydov.  I hope his words of wisdom help anyone in the future who wishes to complete a sortable list: us morals really can do it with a measure of hard work, a pinch of luck, and a dash of love.

WIMA Project Complete!

The 28th of August, 2011, marked an important day in the history of two websites: IMSLP and The Werner Icking Music Archive (WIMA).  After months of collaboration, it was officially decided that the immense collection of roughly 65000 PDF files and the collection of audio files from WIMA would be merged with the collection IMSLP.  From the start, we knew this would be a project of of Herculean proportions; but, after almost a year, the project is finally complete!

I would like to thank Christian Mondrup and all other WIMA contributors for their hard work – it really paid off. Before the project, IMSLP had just over 100,000 files.  Now we have more than 210,000.  In addition, the WIMA transfer improved IMSLP in ways that we could have never foreseen. As Carolus, a member of the IMSLP staff, pointed out, “The WIMA transfer has also resulted in improvements in the way IMSLP handles things – notably in the area of collections, whether of a single-composer or multiple composers”.  This couldn’t be more true.  The WIMA merge also improved IMSLP’s representation of early music, which before the transfer was probably our least prolifically represented time period.

I think I can speak for us all when I say that this project was far more work than any of us had anticipated.  As a result of the largely different ways WIMA and IMSLP organized their music, conflicts arose almost every day.  Sometimes there were over one thousand files to review in a given day, and each one of these had to be processed.  I think nobody described the inundation of files better than Carolus, when he called it “The Great WIMA Tsunami”.

But now that it is all over, I realize that the hard work was worth it.  Thanks again to the WIMA staff, it really did pay off.

A Logical Approach to Ear Training

Even Beethoven used ear training.

By Nicholas D. Lewis

The Soviet system for very early music education: divide groups of young children into those with a ‘good ear’ and those with a ‘bad ear’.  Kids with a good ear learn to play a stringed instrument; kids with a bad ear learn to play the piano.  The Soviets realized early on that the genetic propensity for developing relative or perfect pitch was important for a musician, and they were right.   Briefly, relative pitch is the ability to discern intervals, identify qualities (major, minor, diminished, augmented), and and sing melody when given a starting note; perfect pitch is the ability identify a note without a reference point.  I argue that everybody can attain relative pitch.  Today I am going to propose a new systematic approach for ear training that should be started during the early stages of musical training.

– – –

The first stage: The first stage in ear training is to establish a basis for pitch. To do this, sound a pitch for the pupil. Tell them to think about the pitch and wait about ten seconds before playing a second pitch that is either higher or lower than the first. The student’s objective is to identify whether the second note was higher or lower than the first.  While this may sound easy, I’m always surprised how many people cannot do this at first.  And that’s OK.  This step may take anywhere from one week to a month, depending on the student.

The second stage: The second stage is called the ‘tone matching stage’. The piano is a percussive instrument, which means its sound will eventually diminish.  For this reason, it is important to be able to remember the sound of a pitch and be able to ‘audiate’ (sing) the pitch.  Like before, the teacher should play a pitch on the piano. The student should then sing that pitch. Once a student can do this perfectly with any pitch (within their range!), they are ready to move onto step three.

The third stage: The third stage is called the ‘pitch recognition stage’.  The teacher should play a given pitch-class (ex. ‘C#’), and play note over and over again, while having the pupil audiate (sing) the note aloud, and then internalize the pitch. Once the student does this, the teacher should play a set of two notes, including the pitch they have internalized.  The student should then try to identify which is the pitch that they were supposed to remember.  Once student can do this successfully many times, the teacher will move on to three notes, four notes, etc. once student can successfully pick out a given note in a set using this method, the pupil can graduate to the fourth stage.

The fourth stage: The fourth stage is called the ‘half step phase’. This stage requires the pupil to sing a half step above a given pitch.  For example, if the teacher sounds a ‘C’, the student should sing a “C#”. The reason this stage is crucial in addition to the other stages is because it establishes a basis for later stages in terms of triads and intervals. In addition it will also help a pupil’s ability to sight read. This stage will take anywhere from two weeks to four weeks from my experience.

The fifth stage: The fifth stage is the ‘whole step phase’. The procedure is the same as the previous stage.

The sixth stage: The sixth stage is called the ‘classification of intervals’. This stage helps a student identify whether an intervals is dissonant, consonant, or perfect. This will later help a student to recognize specific intervals. For this stage the teacher will play an interval and the student will classify it as either dissonant (which would of course be sevenths, seconds, and the augmented fourth though the student need not know this theoretical jargon yet), consonant (Thirds, sixths) or perfect (perfect fifth, perfect fourth, unison, and octave).  It is easy to tell the difference between dissonant intervals and non-dissonant intervals, but it can sometimes be difficult for a student tell the difference between a consonant interval and a perfect interval.  This stage can take many weeks.

The seventh stage: The seventh is the ‘harmonic tendency’ stage. The goal is for the student to be able to sing the harmonic resolutions to given intervals or (later) chords.  This stage can take several weeks to master.

The eighth stage: The eighth stage is to be able to recognize intervals based on their size. For example, being able to recognize seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves.  This stage can be difficult, so it may be useful to give the student some famous songs or jingles that utilize those intervals.  For example, something commonly used for the major sixth is the opening to the “NBC” theme.  I generally dislike this method for younger students because it is more useful for people to identify intervals instinctively rather than having to rely on remembering something else.  It is an extra step.  However, for older students, this approach may be more useful because it is more unlikely they will be able to fully internalize the sounds of intervals.

The ninth stage: The ninth stage deals with triads. At this time it is appropriate to apply the concept of the previous step to triads.

This course of study can continue now alongside regular theory training.  In more advanced stages the students can begin melodic and harmonic dictations, but the discussion of that is beyond the scope of this article, focusing on the very early stages of ear training.

Do think about it.

A Case for Contour: A Clarification

By Nicholas D. Lewis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvELcETEtQg

“This is nothing but random noise.  A baby stomping around on a piano could do this.  It’s like the Jackson Pollock of music”, so said a good friend of mine about the sixth piano sonata by Russian composer Ustvolskaya.  And indeed, many friends of mine have said similar things upon hearing the piece, and they have all been dead wrong. Many of you may remember Ustvolskaya from my previous article, “What’s Important In Music?”, and many of you may also think I went off the deep end talking about the importance of contour. I am going to hit on some key questions that have been raised about the main idea presented, and also dispel the myth that avant-garde music is “random” in the process.  Today you are getting to get an earful of thinking aloud.

Maybe the 6th sonata wasn’t the best thing to show my friend at first.  After all, it is one of her ‘messier’ late pieces where the counterpoint evolves beyond single notes to tone clusters.  To give my friend the benefit of the doubt, the piece probably does just sound like random banging to most people.  But that doesn’t mean that it is.  This piece is fascinating, well constructed, and original.

One of the most interesting things about the piece is that you can hear the ‘consonances’ peeking through those clusters and severe dissonances after a while – part of it almost sounds like F# major to me. More than in her earlier pieces, I’m strongly reminded of Webern by her thematic subjects – a minor second in one octave plus a major second in the other, and she builds from there.  Analysis of the piece reveals that a lot of the chromatic lines in the piece are derived from that thematic subject.  Immediately this reveals that the piece cannot be “random”.

Another thing that makes this piece so fascinating is that the writing is so minimal.  It is exactly as much as it needs to be, no more and no less, and completely freed of any trappings of ornamentation or phrasing that even a lot of modern music pursues.  It is blunt, hard counterpoint.  The ‘harmonies’ that result from it are secondary; we only hear any of it as harmonic because we are inundated with harmony from other music.  The tone clusters are not harmony and are not really separate notes.  I almost have to introduce the term “macro-note”, because it’s treated as one tone and moved around in a unit; it’s not separated or constructed.  It’s an atom.

Her sixth sonata – and her music in general – is basically anti-harmonic; she breaks off anything that could possibly resemble a phrase, and there are no cadences in her music.  And this realization is what brought me to my original article, but I I did not explain myself well enough.

In Ustvolskaya’s sixth sonata, one starts to see the basic structure of a phrase, including contour and cadence, as a result of the necessity to follow through with certain harmonic prerequisites, and this is carried over into most modern music distorted beyond normal recognition.  Xenakis, for instance, uses phrase/cadence structures in most of his pieces, and only a minority of them really break down beyond the level of the recognizable phrase.  Yet they still sound so alien – it’s an incredibly flexible idiom, I suppose it seems that way to us because it is so human.  We instinctively think of music as consisting of a pull between tension/resolution, even the most simple rock music has it, a ‘settling’ of one particular key, and on the level of shape or contour.  Most avant-garde music also has it: Stockhausen,Ligeti, Penderecki, Varese (of course), and even Boulez (especially the second piano sonata).

I am talking about a more basic necessity than something harmonic, as the term tension/resolution is usually applied – it goes much, much deeper than that.  And this is what I only hinted at in my past article.

Ustvolskaya approaches it from the opposite direction: she deliberately creates counterpoint and voice leadings that follow some of Dmitri Tymoczko’s ‘rules of tonality’ (move by short distances).  But that counterpoint is freed from most of the trappings it has traditionally had in Western music. It doesn’t usually create any kind of voice-leading resolution, and there’s certainly no harmony to help you out; she writes so concisely in that absolutely nothing is drawn out at all.  It is as though she decided to take one key element out of the Western classical tradition – counterpoint – and develop it in a vacuum, reducing it so much that barely anything else remains beside it, each note sounds pure and concentrated.  Free. (paradoxically, since each one is placed precisely and firmly by the counterpoint).

There are very, very few composers who have ever been able to free themselves from human music enough to look on it as something of an outsider and manipulate it with full consciousness of what they are doing.  Cage may have been one, and Ustvolskaya was one of the few others – one of the only who could really stand untethered by the music that came before her, even though she borrows from it.

The extreme avant-gardists were really much more tethered – for the most part, they were trying to create something as different as they could, to explore a completely alien soundworld.  But most of that means doing something totally different from what a ‘normal’ human composer would do.  Therefore they are still reliant on the music that came before them for a sort of anti-inspiration.

And that is a discussion for another day.

Open Goldberg Variations Project

Since December 2010, IMSLP has been working together with the Open Goldberg Variations project to help produce a new score and recording of Bach’s iconic masterpiece. We are happy to announce that both parts of the project have completed, and are now available on IMSLP.

The Open Goldberg Variations recording was made by pianist Kimiko Ishizaka in the Teldex Studio, Berlin, in January 2012, on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial. Anne-Marie Sylvestre is the producer. The score was made and edited by Werner Schweer using the MuseScore notation program. Two rounds of public peer review contributed to the high quality of the score.

The works are listed on IMSLP as being governed by the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, but in fact, have been released into the public domain by the team who created them. It was the intention of the Open Goldberg team to use the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) tool for the licensing, but this option is not yet available on IMSLP.

What’s Important in Music?

By Nicholas D. Lewis

Graphical score of Metastasis (Xenakis)

The philosopher Pythagoras (6th century B.C) and his disciples are credited with the discovery of the numerical relationships governing the basic intervals of music. Pythagoras was concerned with numbers, and it is with him that the idea of “harmony of the spheres” was born. Although many people don’t realize it, this is the very reason that astronomy and music were linked and even codified later by Plato and his followers.

Plato considered harmony to be its own branch of physics. This alone suggests the kinship of harmony and mathematics. On one micro-level, sound itself is governed by the laws of mathematics. Frequency, amplitude, and loudness – to name a few wave characteristics – all depend upon the structure and speed of a given wave in terms of oscillation and size. Rhythm is intrinsically mathematical in nature. Beats flow along time and are subdivided. Rhythms fill those pulses. Even tuning systems are based upon the divisions between certain frequencies.

Most important, perhaps, is that music has patterns. Mathematics, almost by definition (and certainly by connotation) deals with patterns. Since mathematics deals with patterns, and one of the most fundamental concepts of most world music is patterns, it stands to reason that mathematics is a good way to describe music. Nearly conversely, it seems to stand to reason that people could use mathematics to create a musical composition. And moving into the 20th century, that is exactly what composers began to think.

Set theory, a branch of mathematics that deals primary with collections of objects, is a very convenient modern way of showing the relationship between different musical sounds. Although musical set theory and mathematical set theory are different in many ways, they share a number of similarities.  While musical set theory does not deal with various sizes of infinitely large sets, it does serve to achieve the same basic goal: to organize elements. Although there are many types of musical set theories, the most well known is probably pitch-class set theory. When given pitch classes are introduced as elements into a given set, they can be related by techniques such as transposition, inversion, and complementation.  So why does this matter?

Although the music created by people using mathematics a medium for composition  is inherently structured, it rarely sounds good to most people.  This is because it does not  meet all (and sometimes none) of Dmitri Tymoczko “Five things that make music sound good”.   Those five things are the following:

“1. Conjunct melodic motion. Melodies tend to move by short distances from note to
note. Large leaps sound inherently unmelodic.
2. Harmonic consistency. The chords in a passage of music, whatever they may be,
tend to be structurally similar to one another.
3. Acoustic consonance. Some chords sound intrinsically good or pleasing. These
are said to be consonant.
4. Scales. Over small spans of musical time (say 30 seconds or so), most musical
styles tend to use just a few types of notes, between 5 to 8.
5. Centricity. Over moderate spans of musical time, one tonic note is heard as being
more prominent than the others, appearing more frequently and serving as a goal
of musical motion.”

When one of these rules is broken, people may perceive the music as “random” or “discordant” or any of the other infinite gradation of inaccuracies that I often hear about 20th century art music.

But Tymoczko’s claims in the “Geometry of Music”, while wonderful in their own right, are far too subjective to be taken as a universal truth.  In Western Art Music during the common practice period, his theory holds largely true.  Most art music does in fact make conform to the five rudimentary points of his theory.  But, a great number of people like Xenakis.  A great number of people think Stockhausen, Boulez, Carter, Ustvolskaya, Cage, Ligeti, Babbit, and other avant-garde composers sound good. 

I know I do.  Do they share similarities that make their music sound good to me?  And indeed, what are those similarities?

I will deal with a relatively famous piece by a relatively famous composer: Metastaseis, by Iannis Xenakis. This work, scored for 61 players, has nobody playing the same part. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article about the piece:

“As Newtonian views of time show it flowing linearly, Einsteinian views show it as a function of matter and energy; change one of those quantities and time too is changed. Xenakis attempted to make this distinction in his music. While most traditional compositions depend on strictly measured time for the progress of the line, using an unvarying tempo, time signature, or phrase length, Metastasis changes intensity, register, and density of scoring, as the musical analogues of mass and energy. It is by these changes that the piece propels itself forward: the first and third movements of the work do not have even a melodic theme or motive to hold them together, but rather depend on the strength of this conceptualization of time.”

This is interesting for several reasons. One, it shows a new approach to the concept of time in music. Every time I am in a car I am reminded of Xenakis’ music by analogy. Whenever two turn signals are on, but click at different speeds, it captures my imagination. Every so often they click at the same time, but most of the time they are flashing at two different speeds… Abstractly ,they are two different universes. Another thing that is interesting about this quote is that it shows, though not outrightly, that Xenakis was relatively careful about macro-phrasing.  And that brings me to the purpose of this article.

Almost all music created by sentient beings has a phrase.  In fact, upon analysis of Xenakis’ work, one will find that it follows many of the same rules, though perhaps more abstractly, that the classical sonatas of Mozart’s time followed.  Or more accurately, that the composers followed.  Metastaseis follows all of the same overarching rules.  Although the tonality and approach are different, one aspect is the same: contours intentionally lead to phrases (or at least macro-phrases).  There are, at least abstractly, cadences, phrases, and even melodies in the music.  Does this suggest that the phrase is the most important of all elements of music?  It is essentially the only thing that almost all music, and all non-chance music, shares.  And indeed, I must ask a question that seems to have an obvious answer at first: is that all that’s important in music?  Do think about it.

Classical Music & Laughter

Classical musicians fall off stages, run puffing after thieves who’ve stolen their music case, develop hiccups just before a solo, and lose their toupée to a gust of wind at an outdoor concert.

Classical music can be deadly serious — Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs — but also pompous and ‘up itself.’ Classical musicians, especially those who’ve been told from age four that they’re geniuses, can be insufferable. That’s not an argument for dumbing down, classical crossover, or endless Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Classic FM.

But it is possible, reasonable, even desirable, to laugh at, say, a puffed up operatic tenor, full of noise, wind, and a keen sense of his own importance, who falls, mid-aria, into the orchestra pit…. on condition only his pride is hurt. If laughter pops his ego, like a deflated balloon, where’s the harm in that? Indeed, a bit of laughter-induced humility might improve him as a musician.

Readers are cordially invited to submit articles, comments, tweets, facebook mentions etc describing humorous, even subversive, events in the classical music world.

Classical Musicians & Alternative Therapy

Performing classical music is exciting, stressful and full of enormous highs and lows. Other professions are more stressful, e.g. fire fighting, soldiering or the mountain rescue service but, nevertheless, classical musicians do suffer from real anxiety and physical strain.

Anyone who has performed before 2,000 people knows about sweating palms, butterflies in the stomach, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of fight-or-flight, adrenaline-flushed, anxiety. Anyone who has practised eight hours a day for months or years on end, knows about the pressure that places on the human body.

Stage fright or performance anxiety is the anxiety, fear, or persistent phobia which may be aroused in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of an audience… Source

To stay emotionally and physically fit, many classical musicians use special techniques to help resolve the anxiety and mitigate the bodily stresses and strains. One of the roles of a good teacher is to recommend, and then monitor, such techniques. A violinist with repetitive strain injury is in a potentially career-destroying state. A pianist whose hands sweat so much during a concert that his fingers slip on the keys may not win that piano competition, or receive good reviews from the critics.

What can be done to solve or mitigate these problems? The key is a good teacher. One of their roles is to keep their students mentally and physically fit. They may recommend relaxation techniques, e.g. yoga, massage, aromatherapy, or certain mental “tricks” to deal with stage fright. They will look at posture to ensure that strain placed on the body by prolonged practise is not damaging. They’ll keep a look out for conditions which require the attention of a medical practitioner.

Quite often, stage fright arises in a mere anticipation of a performance, often a long time ahead. It has numerous manifestations: fluttering or pounding heart, tremor in the hands and legs, sweaty hands, diarrhoea, facial nerve tics, dry mouth, erectile dysfunction. Source

I sell IMSLP merchandise in central London and also supply aromatherapy oils: the widest range of essential oils in central London. A procession of musicians from the London orchestras, ensembles and music colleges arrive to buy the oils and other preparations designed to aid the combat of stress.

They drip the oils on a handkerchief, to be inhaled before or during a concert. They use them in massage – diluted with a carrier – to relieve muscles aching from prolonged practise. They add them to a bath or drip them on their pillow to aid sleep, before or after a concert. Various types of lavender and chamomile are the most popular, but jasmine, bergamot, clary sage, geranium, orange and sandalwood are also effective.

Other calming, stress relieving and relaxing oils include: patchouli, neroli, ylang ylang, angelica, cedar, cistus (rock rose), citronella, cypress, mandarin, may chang and melissa.

… “fight or flight” syndrome, a naturally occurring process in the body done to protect itself from harm. “…The neck muscles contract, bringing the head down and shoulders up, while the back muscles draw the spine into a concave curve. This, in turn, pushes the pelvis forward and pulls the genitals up, slumping the body into a classic fetal position” Source

Nothing should replace a medical practitioner, qualified in Western medicine, when a musician is physically or mentally unwell. But there are limits to what Western drugs can achieve, and controversy surrounds the use of beta-blockers by classical musicians suffering from stage fright. Some doctors will not prescribe them. Some people view them as having the same status as performance enhancing drugs consumed by corrupt athletes. They can have nasty side effects. Classical music audiences may not be too keen listening to drugged musicians. The Royal Albert Hall is not Glastonbury!

So there is a role within classical music for essential oils, massage, yoga, reiki, the Alexander Technique and other complementary therapies. The tradition goes back deep into human history. The Romans drank a Lavender infusion to help them sleep and introduced the plant to Southern Britain.

Pupils will dilate giving someone the inability to view any notes they have in close proximity, however, long range vision is improved making the speaker more aware of their audience’s facial expressions and non verbal cues in response to the speaker’s performance. Source

IMSLP Orchestra

Alonso del Arte has started the IMSLP Orchestra! From the IMSLP Forums:

I would like to start the IMSLP Orchestra, and to have them make the world-premiere recording of the Symphony in C major by Franz Asplmayr. It would be like the YouTube Orchestra, except the players would not necessarily have to meet, and some players could play multiple instruments (e.g., a bassoonist could play both bassoon parts). These would all be synchronized by a mechanical playing of my figured bass realization; each player would listen to the continuo through headphones, which would hopefully not bleed into the recording of their playing. Later on a skilled harpsichordist could give a less mechanical performance that would be integrated into the finished recording…. More

The continuo realisation can be found here. If you would like to get involved please contact Al via the thread.

NB Franz Asplmayr, 1726-86, was an Austrian composer and violinist, best known for an opera on Greek myths.

franz_asplmayr

Frances & Sara – Silver & Semiprecious Stone Jewellery at St James’s

Exotic silver and semiprecious stone jewellery from Frances and Sara at Piccadilly Market in the courtyard of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.

One of a series of articles on the market at St James’s Church Piccadilly where IMSLP merchandise is available at the puffinpoint.com stall.

Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church PiccadillyFrances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church PiccadillyFrances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 3Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 4Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 5Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 6Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 7Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 10Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 11Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 8Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 12Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 14Frances & Sara - silver & semiprecious jewellery St James's Church Piccadilly - 13