Song Lyrics 1: Counting Words

This is the first of a series of articles about analysing text data. The statistical music historian might be interested in many sorts of text – from lists and catalogues through to complex ‘free format’ writing in tweets, record reviews, composer biographies, or encyclopedias. For these articles I will consider a dataset of song lyrics, taken from the LyricWiki website.

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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?

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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.

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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.
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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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