Research digital skills training 2021
The new Wanhal catalogue
Halvor Hosar, PhD Candidate, Associate Professor Allan Badley, School of Music, University of Auckland.
Figure 3. Examples of Wanhal sheet music
One of the main concerns of musicology has from its inception been to make sure that historical music is performable today. This entails not only understanding the notation, but also making sense of variations from source to source: music was often transmitted in handwritten manuscripts, rather than prints, well into the nineteenth century, and when dealing with such sources, transmission errors were almost unavoidable. In addition, a work could often be changed significantly to suit the needs of the performers.
It is therefore necessary to create source catalogues. These list up the surviving sources where a particular piece of music may be found, and the content and condition of different sources. This facilitates the process of deciding which source or sources to work with when publishing a new edition of a piece, or which version performers playing for historical sources should use, by showing which sources are incomplete, contain significant internal variations and similar details. In addition to the musical sources themselves, such catalogues often try to collect other known facts, such as dates of composition, letters or other texts mentioning particular works and so forth. In this way they are invaluable sources for music performance, publications and research alike.
The works of Wanhal
Johann Baptist Wanhal (Figure 1) was one of the leading minor Viennese classic composers, esteemed by both Haydn and Mozart. Despite never holding a position in church, he wrote more sacred music than any of his Viennese contemporaries, pointing not only towards an innate religiosity but also to connections in the church in the Bohemian lands, where most of his sacred music survives. Sacred music was the last to make the leap to print: of Wanhal’s almost 300 sacred works only four were printed in his lifetime.
Figure 1. Johann Baptiste Wanhal (1739 – 1813)
Figure 2. A screenshot from the MerMEId editor.
Composers such as Wanhal have proven highly problematic for cataloguers: the sheer number (see Table 1) and geographic distance between sources makes the work of creating a catalogue a highly problematic business, as it is practically impossible to look at every work in question. As an example, Alexander Weinmann’s catalogue of Wanhal’s non-symphonic works that he began in the 1950’s was still unfinished at his death in 1987, and the resulting catalogue has never been considered satisfactory.
Creating a digital solution with the Centre for eResearch
Digital solutions solve many of the problems associated with the old paper catalogue. Where these had to be finished before going into print, digital solutions may be updated over time.
Examples of metadata recognised and recorded by the system include general title, identifier and text blocks, source metadata, Musical structure and instrumentation metadata, Performance data, bibliography and external resources links (Figure 3).
The new Wanhal catalogue greatly simplifies the writing process and makes the catalogue useful even as it is being worked out, potentially making an already useful tool available decades before it can be considered a finished product. It will at first only contain the locations of different sources, which may then be studied by local experts later.
Geertinger, Axel Teich & Pugin, Laurent: MEI for bridging the gap between music cataloguing and digital critical edition. Die Tonkunst 5/3 (July 2011), pp. 289-294