Time at the top: classical vs popular music

One of the things that seems to distinguish ‘classical’ from ‘popular’ music is the fact that the same classical composers and works can remain at the top for very long periods of time – decades, even centuries – whereas popular music songs and artists can reach the top of the charts, sell millions of records, and disappear within a matter of months. But is this difference real?

Continue reading →

Music Honours

Yesterday saw the announcement of the 2019 New Year Honours in the UK, recognising those who have made a particular contribution to public life. Although we hear about Honours given to various celebrities and other well-known names, most of them are awarded to ordinary people for their service in science, education, charity work, the arts and other fields. I thought it would be interesting to investigate those given Honours for services to Music.

Continue reading →

Christmas Music

Christmas music is everywhere at the moment, so I thought I would look at the history of it. In the British Library Music Catalogue, of the one million or so total publications, almost 10,000 – very nearly 1% – have the words ‘Christmas’, ‘Noel’ or ‘Weihnacht’ in the title. This chart shows the proportion by publication date…

Proportion of festive titles in the BL’s sheet music catalogue. The white snowflakes are the proportions of Christmas works among publications in each ten year period centred on the dates shown.
Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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 →