Exploring the Genesis of Complex Music Manuscripts

Authors: Kepper, Johannes / Sänger, Richard / Voigt, Jan-Peter

Date: Thursday, 7 September 2023, 11:15am to 12:45pm

Location: Main Campus, L 2.202 <campus:measure>


A common task in humanities is to explore the genesis of textual or musical works. While the creative processes behind a composition are usually not directly accessible to our investigation, we can sometimes deduce them by traces left on scrap paper. For genetic editions, these traces are crucial to understanding the original material relating to a composition, and to identifying as many intermediate steps in the creation of the work(s) in question as possible. Sketchbooks are challenging for a number of reasons. Sketchbooks are personal documents, that normally are not intended for any audience other than the writer. The writing is therefore often rather untidy. This is seconded by the fact that sketches in music are often incomplete as they do not specify all musical parameters found in traditional music notation. For instance, a series of noteheads with stems would usually be interpreted as a sequence of quarter notes. In sketch material, however, the very same scripture could just indicate a series of pitches, without making statements about the rhythm of that series of “notes”. In addition, musical sketches often compile music material differently compared to the way in which it is implemented later in the compositional process. For instance, an idea for the section of a full-orchestral work might be sketched in one or two staves only. The visual appearance of such sketches compared to their final implementation in such cases is significantly different, which, as a result, requires an intimate knowledge of the final work to be able to relate the sketch to a corresponding passage in the final work. This is often complicated by the fact that musical sketchbooks may contain material and ideas for multiple works composed more or less simultaneously. Since not every sketch is actually taken up and eventually included in the final composition, this introduces a significant amount of uncertainty, making the determination of a sketch a task that is far from trivial and requires interpretation on many different levels.

Modelling such material together with its editorial treatment for a digital edition results in significant complexity. Following the basic approach of the TEI’s original proposal for an encoding model for genetic editions1, such a model for music documents makes use of multiple encodings of the same content, gradually moving from the description of the visual appearance of shapes on pages, through their interpretation as musical symbols, the editorial supplement of context to turn such sketches into musically valid texts, and eventually to the relation to finished works. While such a model will help to ensure transparency of editorial work, creation and maintenance of data conforming to this model poses notable challenges because of an inevitably large number of elements linked with each other across multiple encodings.

Our paper will introduce a prototype software called FacsimileExplorer, which assists in creating encodings for digital genetic editions of music sketchbooks. It implements a data model based on the combination of SVG and multiple variants of MEI.


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