The Google Books Ngram Viewer is a powerful tool for analysing historical text data. It uses the enormous corpus of books scanned by Google to analyse the frequency of words and phrases over time. An n-grams is just a combination of words – so a single word is a 1-gram, a pair of words a 2-gram, etc. The Google viewer has data up to 5-grams.
This has potential uses in many fields – including musicology. Here we will use the ngram viewer to analyse the rise and fall of ragtime music.
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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.
The first chart is an attempt to quantify how many women composers there are. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 archive.org 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 →
Triangulation is a research technique that involves looking at the same thing from two different perspectives. In surveying, it enables positions and distances to be calculated by measuring angles from two locations. In the social sciences, it can increase the reliability of conclusions if they are found by two (or more) different methods. And in statistical historical musicology, looking for the same works or composers in two or more datasets can tell us a lot about the characteristics of the datasets, and about the works’ patterns of survival or dissemination. Continue reading →
I have just taken delivery of a good ex-library copy of the weighty two-volume ‘International Encyclopedia of Women Composers’ by Aaron I Cohen, which will be useful for some research I am doing (as well as for writing some materials to accompany a series of concerts by the excellent Bristol Ensemble next year). The encyclopedia weights about 3½kg, has almost 1,200 pages, and lists 6,196 women composers spanning all continents and over four millennia. Each entry includes brief biographical details, lists of works, and references for further reading. Continue reading →
The gentleman pictured to the right is Welsh composer Henry Brinley Richards. Although he is little-known today, his piano nocturne ‘Marie’ Opus.60 was the most published British musical work in Germany in the nineteenth century. German music lovers could purchase ‘Marie’ in its original form or in various arrangements in an impressive 34 separate publications from 27 different publishers between 1861 and 1877.
That conclusion comes from an analysis of Hofmeister’s Monatsberichte – a monthly listing of music publications appearing in the German market, compiled by Leipzig music publisher Friedrich Hofmeister from 1829 onwards. The Monatsberichte up to the end of the nineteenth century are available as an online database, listing about a third of a million publications from over 36,000 composers. This article is about the British composers and their works that appear in Hofmeister’s listings. Continue reading →
If you go to the British Library online catalogue, search for music scores published in each year from 1650 to 1920, and plot the number of ‘hits’ by year, the result looks like this. Continue reading →