What’s in a name?

Many datasets of composers tell us relatively little about them, so we sometimes have to guess details from the information available – such as the composer’s name. Forenames, for example, are often a good indicator of gender, as described in this previous article. Titles – associated with the church, aristocracy or royalty – can also reveal gender, and tell us about occupation or social class. This article looks at what names can tell us about nationality – based on a recent attempt to identify Italian composers among the many obscure and unknown names listed in the British Library’s music catalogue.

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Reading the Musical Times

A few weeks ago I noticed that those nice people at JSTOR have a scheme whereby researchers can apply to access large chunks of their data in order to carry out quantitative research projects.1 I sent off an application to see if they would let me have all copies of The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular in order to carry out a statistical analysis of the text (a technique which I will cover at some point in a future article). Lo and behold, after a couple of emails and a few days, I received a link from JSTOR to download the data I had asked for.

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Statistics as a tool in researching women composer populations

My field of research is using statistics to explore the history of music. Today I’d like to talk about some analysis I’ve done on women composers and their works. Time is short, so I’ve got just four charts, and I’ll talk briefly about what they tell us about women composers, and about the data and the methodology, and the sort of issues that can arise with this sort of investigation. There is more detail available at this link.1

The first chart is an attempt to quantify how many women composers there are.2 Continue reading →

On the trail of Carlotta Cortopassi

Carlotta Cortopassi was one of the first ‘lost composers’ that I came across in my research into the use of statistics in music history (as described in this article), and I have often mentioned her as an example of one of the many thousands of names that have disappeared from music history. So I was delighted last week to be contacted by Mickey Cortopassi, a descendant of Carlotta and Luigi who emigrated to the USA in 1908, aged 41.

This prompted me to have another online search for her. It is always worth repeating searches from time to time, as new material comes online and search algorithms change. I managed to find two interesting things… Continue reading →

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 →