Focus point of research & sharing = caring

Focus point in mandolin research

People who have been in touch know my vision, but for the sake of clarity I will repeat it here. (I don’t think I shared it as it as clear and openly on this blog yet.) I have directed my main efforts to a focus point of mandolin history instead of a wide spread research effort. Even though I concur that best results are coming from a multi-disciplinary approach, the amount of work to be done on mandolin history is staggering. Hence I had to decide on my priorities.

For me, it makes most sense to start work on the mandolin prints prior to 1850. I won’t completely ignore iconographical or written sources or even manuscripts as long as they are connected to the prints. (And I allow myself to occasionally diverge to these other sources besides my primary focus to break the boredom – not all print research is exciting.)

Why this focus?

  • Access
    • Printed sources are usually a lot more easily retrieved and accessible than manuscripts. In my experience they are also less expensive than manuscripts (though everything is relative and some libraries are expensive regardless). In the same category: I usually am able to retrieve prints faster and easier and I often won’t need gloves if I take a look at them in physical form (though library rules differ).
    • Often the catalogues containing music prints are part of the main catalogues of libraries – which these days are more and more accessible online (a lot of manuscript catalogues of libraries are not even digital).
  • Size matters
    • Usually prints are composed of a big set of music movements, such as a set of 6 sonatas or duets (of each two-three movements). Manuscripts sometimes also come as a big collection but mostly tend to be limited to one sonata or duet. The difference lies in the fact that each item you retrieve takes time and money; hence retrieving prints is more efficient.
    • There are only about 250 items to be retrieved in my current focus point of prints. If I take a look at the manuscripts in the same range, there’s about 500. Having a limited focus point hence also helps to get a more obtainable goal.
  • Manuscript copies
    • Most often you’ll find a manuscript copy or two of a print. But these won’t always mention the source in full, so having all prints will help identifying them as copies if I start to shift focus to manuscripts. (There are expections: some Paris prints such as the Récreations de la campagne seem to be based on manuscripts and not the other way around as the manuscript are the more extensive versions.)
  • Distribution
    • Prints are intrinsically printed in many identical copies. Manuscripts are sometimes copied and distributed as well, but on a lot smaller scale. The chance of retrieving an existing copy out of a set of 100 printed copies versus one out of a handful of manuscript copies are quite different.
    • As there are more copies distributed, it is also a lot more likely to get hold of one. Some libraries are not readily accessible. Knowing in such a case that you can also retrieve the item elsewhere can save a lot of time and effort.
  • Chronological boundary
    • A time limit to 1850 is of course arbitrary. But we need to keep the focus on the historical repertory for mandolin rather than the flood of late 19th century prints from the revival of the instrument. (Otherwise the amount of sources to be retrieval is expanding on an exponential scale from 1880 onward.) The chronological boundary might yet shift upwards – it has already done so twice in the course of the search.

Current status: about 8 years on into my research I’ve reached the point where only a few dozen of prints remain to be collected (besides those items still lost). Some of my finds of lost volumes were already shared, some I’m still preparing as research on the items is ongoing. However, I’m close to reaching the focus goal and hopes are up I will be able to start sharing a lot of knowledge and (when possible) even repertory with the community. For this I have even started the effort of a specific site on which people can easily search for mandolin sources. This is then the nice hook into the next topic.

Sharing = caring

As mandolin history research isn’t exactly my main paying job, I don’t mind not making money out of my research. It would be nice to get some of my expenses covered now and then, but I don’t think it’s remotely possible to make a living out of this rather nice hobby. So it will remain a hobby and I won’t extort anyone to pay money for what is essentially our cultural heritage. My editions will be free, and my research results and where to find the sources will be shared.

Do I expect something back? No. It would be nice if people reach out to help, though. Helping can be done by a donation to cover some of my expenses (I’ll likely set up a donation button at some point in the future), or by offering to help out on the actual research. There are also quite a lot open tasks on entering data on the website. Because, of course in this day and age, it makes most sense to share online.

The site will make it possible to look mandolin sources based an search criteria (date, region, instrumentation, composer etc). The music movements will get a detailed description including the structure, key, metrum, articulations and similar properties. It will also include an incipit (first couple of bars). All of this should make it a lot more easy to either look up or compare. For example, if we find an anymous and untitled piece in a library we should be able to compare with the pieces entered quite quickly.

In the end I hope this contribution will help make more advancements than a specific research paper or book, or publishing music through regular publishers. I have hopes other people will start to get involved later so the community rather than a single person will be maintaining the project after a while. After all, sharing = caring. :p