Thesis: Authorship and Attribution in Early Music Research

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Authorship and Attribution in Early Music Research

Scholars of early music face a problem that is one of an important nature and one that endures and that is the question of who is actually the composer of music surviving today and in the form of various written manifestations from early period of music. The work of Bruce Haynes entitled: "The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century" states that the "true Canonic musical experience requires knowing who wrote the piece one is hearing, knowing when they lived and knowing where they fit in the hierarchy of the Pantheon." (Haynes, 2007)

Haynes writes that John Spitzer "…for his dissertation…traced the histories of works attributed to great composers that were later proved spurious; they disappeared from the repertoire when they lost their pedigrees." (2007) Spitzer made the observation how "…when in 1964 they were re-ascribed to Hofstetter, Haydn's Opus 3 string quartets began to disappear from the repertoire." (in Haynes, 2007) Haynes states the opinion that it appears that "the label…is more important than the product." (2007)

I. Challenges of Attribution and Authorship of Musical Compositions

Haynes emphasizes the importance of the authorship of music by stating "When the listener suddenly exclaims to himself 'Beethoven, 'he does not than just hang a label on the music. With one word he calls up an entire context of Beethoven's biography, Beethoven's other works, Beethoven's patrons, early 19th century Vienna, what critics have said about Beethoven, and so on. The listener hears the remainder of the Fourth Symphony in a different frame of mind, because knowing its authorship has greatly enriched the context in which the work is perceived and appreciated." (Haynes, 2007) Knowing the authorship of a piece of music serves to satisfy the need "to put art into its historical context (since it is no longer in one). It also contributes to our sense of a piece's identity, since each performance is a little different (and in some cases so different as to render the music unrecognizable)." (Haynes, 2007)

According to Haynes 'musicology' came into being during the 'Romantic' period and resulted in a plethora of biographies and other collected works of various composers being produced and at the same time "it gave the Romantics an unholy obsession with attributing works, and who influenced whom." (Haynes, 2007) Another factor driving such need for authorship identification was that of printed and typed programs at various performances in which the name of the composers were published along with the works to be performed. Programs are stated to serve the function "of announcing their (musical compositions) historical credentials especially for those who might recognize an otherwise unintelligible sound mass as a rendition of Purcell or Beethoven." (Haynes, 2007)

Haynes relates that it is just as one might suppose in that authorship was less of an issue in the days prior to "…the 'genius personality' became a dominant issue." (2007) the first four centuries in which music in England was notated there was not ascription whatsoever to the composer and even after that "attribution of songs often seems not to have been for the music but for the texts." (2007) it was not until the ending of the fourteenth century that "manuscripts start regularly giving composers names…[and]…attributions were sporadic as late as the sixteenth century." (Haynes, 2007) Haynes writes that even in today's world "attribution is not an important issue except in Canonic music." (2007)

II. Kranenburg -- Attribution by Quantifying Compositional Strategies

The work of Peter van Kranenburg entitled: "Composer Attribution by Quantifying Compositional Strategies" states that in order to 'describe a musical style, or differences between styles, or the historical development of certain styles, a theory of style is necessary. This applies to "traditional" descriptions of musical style as well as studies in which tools and algorithms from information technology are used." (2006)

Kranenburg reports a pilot experiment in which a data set is assembled with "16 fugues for organ that are listed in the catalog of compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach. Of six of these fugues the authorship has been disputed. Also five fugues of his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and eight of his most important student, Johann Ludwig Krebs, are incorporated. So we have a three-class data set." (2006)

Kranenburg states that each of the compositions are "segmented using a segmenting method…so each composition is represented by a "cloud" of points. The Fisher-transformation…can be used to project the data points onto a two-dimensional space in such a way that the classes are optimally separated.

Figure 1

Source Kranenburg (2006)

This projection is stated by Kranenburg to be depicted in the background of the figure labeled Figure 1 in this study which demonstrates that the "compositions of each composer do form a cluster." (2006) in figure one it is indicated "…where the data points of the disputed fugues projected. Some interesting observations can be made. The F minor fugue BWV 534.ii, is projected among the fugues of J.L. Krebs. This fugue has been ascribed to W.F. Bach. With the current result, that ascription can be rejected. An ascription to J.L. Krebs seems more likely. A suggested composer for BWV 536.ii is J.P. Kellner. If this is true, Keller's style resembles more the style of J.S. Bach than that of the other two composers. BWV 537.ii is said to be composed partly by J.S. Bach (bar 1 -- 40) and partly by J.L. Krebs. The first part is projected among the works of J.S. Bach indeed. The second part however, is outside of both the Bach-region and the Krebs-region. The ending of the fugue is in the region between J.S. Bach and Krebs. This does not fully support the hypothesis, but it shows that a large part of the fugue is not Bach-like. Also Bach's authorship of the fugue in C minor, BWV 546.ii, has been doubted. The current evaluation shows us that, with respect to the styles of W.F. Bach and J.L. Krebs, this fugue has the characteristics of the style of J.S. Bach. The fugue in D minor, BWV 565.ii, the second part of the most famous organ work in existence, is not projected among the other compositions of Bach. This confirms the doubts expressed…" (Kranenburg, 2006)

Kranenburg concludes by stating that since not all candidate composers are represented in the data set that the current results "…don't offer enough evidence to draw conclusions about the authorship of the involved compositions. It is, however, clear that the proposed method is very helpful in finding hypotheses about differences in personal styles and thus for studying authorship problems." (Kranenburg, 2006)

III. Temporary Concealment of Authorship of Musical Composition in Late 18th Century

It is reported in the work of Bowers and Tick (1987) entitled: "Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition" that women's activity increased in the late eighteenth century in bourgeois music-making and this is stated to be a reflection of "contemporary sociopolitical trends that theoretically granted women equal status in legal rights and education. As a result, society gradually began to enlarge its concept of appropriate musical education and activities for women." (Bowers and Tick, 1987) Rousseau wrote of the creative deficiencies of women as follows:

"Women, in general, possess no artistic sensibility…nor genius. They can acquire a knowledge & #8230; of anything through hard work. But the celestial fire that emblazons and ignites the soul, the inspiration that consumes and devours…, these sublime ecstasies that reside in the depth of the heart are always lacking in women's writings. These creations are as cold and pretty as women; they have an abundance of spirit but lack soul; they are a hundred times more reasoned than impassioned." (Bowers and Tick, 1987)

However, Bowers and Tick report that with the progression of the nineteenth century, "…educational opportunities for women proliferated. Singing became an integral part of the female curriculum, stemming from traditional German pedagogy which recognized society's benefits from the well-reared child nurtured on mother's singing. What better way to strengthen family ties and instill basic moral values?" (Bowers and Tick, 1987)

Even so only a very few females singers received formal training and this was remarked upon the Johann Adam Hiler of Leipzig, an opera composer who stated in 1774 that there was a "lack of adequately trained professional female singers, a situation he himself attempted to remedy with the opening of his coeducational singing schools." One of the first of Hiller's female students was Coirona Schroter, the composer of lieder. Prohibitions of women performing in public based upon views of improprieties made professional singing and piano instruction for women very scarce during this time. While singing did gradually become part of the educational programs for females in the early nineteenth century only Schroter received musical instruction in school.

It is stated that female musicians were all too "aware of the sharp discrepancy between their high level of musical training and society's negative attitudes toward them as composers, especially as published composers." (Bowers and Tick, 1987)… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Authorship and Attribution in Early Music Research."  Essaytown.com.  April 14, 2009.  Accessed April 25, 2019.
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