The limitations of musical datasets

The value of statistical techniques in historical musicology depends on the quality of the available data. The extent and diversity of these sources is considerable, but it is important to remember that they can only ever illuminate a small proportion of the musical world.

A historical musical dataset can be thought of as a snapshot of part of the entirety of musical activity. Although we may be tempted to extrapolate our conclusions beyond the scope of the data, there are fundamental reasons why such extrapolations can only ever be valid within narrow limits.  Continue reading →

Women vs John

As part of my research into women composers, I have been playing around with first names – partly as a way of identifying genders among general lists of composers. The most common first name for female composers overall is Mary / Marie / Maria, followed by Anne, Florence, Alice, Dorothy, Elizabeth, Louise and Margaret.1

I thought it would be interesting to compare this with male composers, whose most popular first name is John / Johann / Johannes / Jean / Giovanni. Which are there more of, women, or Johns? Continue reading →

Franz Pazdírek’s Universal Handbook

Franz Pazdírek was a Viennese music publisher who, in the first decade of the twentieth century, compiled a ‘Universal Handbook of Music Literature’ – a composite catalogue of all sheet music then in print, worldwide. This ambitious undertaking (which, perhaps not surprisingly, was never repeated) was published over six years, and resulted in nineteen 600-page volumes listing music publications by 1,400 publishers covering every continent except Antarctica.  Continue reading →

Deduplication

Deduplication is an important, though often messy and time-consuming, part of many statistical investigations. It is usually required when data comes from several different sources, to identify all of the records that actually refer to the same thing. For example, I have recently been deduplicating the names appearing in the ‘women composers’ sources listed in this previous article. Deduplication may also be needed where several publications of the same work are described in different ways in a library catalogue. Continue reading →

Reading a scanned book

I have recently been working on extracting data on women composers from the various sources listed in this previous article. The first source on that list is a scanned copy of a French translation of a book – Les femmes compositeurs de musique – compiled in 1910 by Otto Ebel. It is available at archive.org here. Although I’ve not had great success in the past in extracting usable data from scanned books, this appears to be a reasonably tidy scan of Ebel, which looks like a useful source on women composers, so I thought I would give it a go. Continue reading →

Triangulation

Surveyor 2Triangulation is a research technique that involves looking at the same thing from two different perspectives. In surveying, it enables positions and distances to be calculated by measuring angles from two locations. In the social sciences, it can increase the reliability of conclusions if they are found by two (or more) different methods. And in statistical historical musicology, looking for the same works or composers in two or more datasets can tell us a lot about the characteristics of the datasets, and about the works’ patterns of survival or dissemination. Continue reading →

Further thoughts on Composers’ Star Signs

Aquarius symbol 3Virgo symbol 3Following this previous article, a friend got in touch to thank me for disproving some astrological ‘nonsense’. I replied that I had not disproved anything – I had just failed to find supporting evidence – but it did get me wondering about the nature of the conclusions that can be drawn from this sort of analysis.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that people born under Aquarius do show a significantly higher propensity to become composers than those born under Virgo. Consider these three possible explanations… Continue reading →

Encyclopedia of Women Composers

I have just taken delivery of a good ex-library copy of the weighty two-volume ‘International Encyclopedia of Women Composers’ by Aaron I Cohen,1 which will be useful for some research I am doing (as well as for writing some materials to accompany a series of concerts by the excellent Bristol Ensemble next year). The encyclopedia weights about 3½kg, has almost 1,200 pages, and lists 6,196 women composers spanning all continents and over four millennia. Each entry includes brief biographical details, lists of works, and references for further reading. Continue reading →