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 →


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 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 →