By Tess Knighton
This was, as far as anyone knew, the first conference to be dedicated to the question of musical inventories. It brought together scholars from Spain, France, England, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Australia, all of whom have recently worked on musical inventories, as well as some technical experts in the field of creating databases and other electronic means of storing information. The periods and geographical regions covered, and the wide range of different types of musical inventory helped to highlight a number of interesting questions and issues, not all of which were easy to answer or resolve definitively in one way or another. The question as to what is an inventory brought different responses and perspectives according to timeframe and specific circumstances. Is an inventory a ‘list of anything’? That is, might ‘inventories’ or lists of personnel working at, say, a court in eighteenth-century Germany be included? Musicians working at court were certainly seen as belonging to their patron and could thus be considered ‘possessions’. Might lists of, for example, music editions that a music-lover, whether performer or collector, would like, in an ideal world, to own, constitute an inventory? Or should inventories be considered to refer strictly to clearly defined objects and material possessions such as music books and instruments? Strong cases were made on both side of this argument. In my paper, I proposed a typology of inventories that might serve as a starting-point, at least for the sixteenth century; but, as other papers at the conference made clear, would need adjusting for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The questions raised by a late eighteenth-century inventory, with incipits, scoring and details on movements and possibly even details of dynamics, are very different to those of an early sixteenth-century in which an entry might consist of nothing more than ‘a book of polyphony’. All were agreed, however, that while the nature of the material might vary, it was absolutely essential that analysis of the inventory itself was complemented by the study of other documentation in order to understand the context in which it was produced, its function and its implications for questions of ownership and social milieu, collecting and selling, use and performance practice and the distribution and acquisition of music and musical instruments.
One of the other major issues raised by the study of inventories is how to present the material, generally of a very high level of details, in a consistent form that makes it useful for analysis and comparison: how to inventory inventories, in fact. Databases are the most likely option, and several examples were presented during the conference. But how to make those databases connect, how to make them accessible and, perhaps above all, how to ensure that the programmes used to generate the databases can be converted, and so the data ‘migrated’, when, as they will, they fall into obsolescence or are superseded (as they generally are now, every two or three years) by new and incompatible versions that do not easily allow retrieval of that data. The two workshops –one led by Laurent Pugin (of RISM Switzerland) and Claudio Bacciagaluppi, the other by Lukas Rosenthaler– were highly instructive. On the one hand we learnt about the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) (and the connected Music Encoding Initiative), an xml programme that allows for much greater consistency and connectivity in terms of encoding data than do specific programmes such as Filemaker that have such a limited shelf-life these days. They also afford a good deal of flexibility as to how much information might or might not be included, as at what levels, and are perhaps most useful for their searching and indexing capacity. Others, more expert than I, will already know all this, of course. Lukas Rosenthaler, of the University of Basel and a physicist by training, talked about SALSAH (System for Annotation and Linkage of Sources in Arts and Humanities) and the closely related ORACULOM (Open Repository for Access, Curation and Usage of Legacy Online Material). This addressed much more directly the problems of ensuring that the research of many years and teams of researchers that are poured into databases and other electronic formats that serve as basic research tools is not lost once the programme, and indeed the original programmers, are no longer around. He also brought us uptodate with some of the most recent graph-format renderings and analyses of data.
This was a very useful and productive gathering in all sense: papers of a high standard and interest; debate that developed in and out of sessions; and a generally focussed but congenial atmosphere. The concluding round table served to bring a lot of threads together and point to directions that need to be followed up, possibly in an annual, or at least fairly regular, meeting. The exceptionally pleasant environment of Bern University was an ideal venue. Thanks to Cristina Urchueguía and her team for thinking of everything, both at an intellectual and at a more pragmatic level.
The papers given by members of the URBANMUSICS project were:
Tess Knighton (ICREA Research Professor, Barcelona): ‘Inventories as Historical Evidence of Musical Knowledge and Activity’ (keynote paper)
Ascensión Mazuela (IMF (CSIC), Barcelona): ‘The Musical Life at the Monastery of Santa María de Jonqueres in Barcelona through Inventories Made by Visitors of the Order of Santiago (1495-1628)’