Arthur P. Schmidt in the Digital Age

Detail from Henshaw Dana’s ”It Was a Knight of Aragon” (1878).

Determined to spend at least part of my summer “break” on work that was not so serious and/or urgent, I recently digitized a couple of first editions from American music publisher Arthur P. Schmidt for the International Music Score Library Project. While Schmidt’s catalogue was already well-represented, visitors to the library can now download complete scans of Henshaw Dana’s “It Was a Knight of Aragon” (1878), with lyrics by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and Wilhelm Carl Ernst Seeboeck’s Impromptu-Nocturne Op.118, No.1 (1902) for solo piano. Both works have long been in the public domain, an essential prerequisite for inclusion in the library, and are moreover long out of print. My hope is that scholars and even performers will once again find value in the two pieces, for which full bibliographical information appears below.

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Adventures in R

The path was humbling, the path was steep, the path was sometimes so obscure that I wasn’t sure I knew the way. But earlier this summer, my first scratch-built digital research project went live on the hosting platform. Written almost entirely in the R markdown programming language, A Visual Guide to Some Nineteenth-Century Composers and Their Publishers takes a quantitative look at the economic relationships that helped nine ten prominent composers to get their music into print during the long nineteenth century. You can go behind the scenes and view the code for the entire project here on GitHub.

I came to R only after having concluded that none of the more user-friendly, prepackaged software options could offer precisely the combination of features and customizability that I had in mind for the project. Even with a series of handy R cheat sheets scattered around my desk, the process certainly took longer than the prepackaged route. But I’d like to think that much of the time spent importing the data, writing the scripts, and (inevitably) troubleshooting the resulting website will pay me back with interest as I embark on other R-based projects in the future. 

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Arthur P. Schmidt & Company: A Walking Tour of Boston

Detail from Boston 1899 (Boston: E. A. Downs, 1899). Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, Boston Public Library Digital Collections.

As I continue to research the groundbreaking American music publisher Arthur P. Schmidt (1846–1921), I can’t help but marvel at the variety of businesses and institutions that now occupy the buildings in which his Boston-based publishing company operated during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If you haven’t heard of Arthur P. Schmidt, you’ve probably heard some of his music. Schmidt was the first in history to publish a symphony composed by an American (bam!) and one of the first to publish a symphony composed by a woman (kaboom!). The works in question are John Knowles Paine’s Symphony No. 2 in A Major, Op. 34 (1880) and Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 (1897), in case you’re curious.

Let’s begin our walk just outside the Park Street Station on Boston Common. The nation’s first subway tunnel was constructed beneath our feet in 1897, so this is one landmark that Arthur P. Schmidt himself would probably recognize. With our backs to the gold dome of the State House, we must first stroll down Winter Street towards the building that in 1876 served as Schmidt’s first place of business:

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Is That You, Mr. Berlioz?

Portrait of Hector Berlioz by Pierre Petit, 1863

In my large lecture courses, I often introduce musical examples by displaying a portrait of the composer in question. For composers who lived up through the early nineteenth century, I show paintings. For the more recent composers, I show photographs.

The oldest of these photographs are (unavoidably) grainy, black-and-white affairs. They are an excellent means to illustrate the contemporaneous state of photographic technology, but less than ideal as a means to bring their subjects to life for the students.

Given the recent hubbub over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to digitally upscale and then later colorize the famous Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, filmed by the Lumière brothers in 1895, I thought I would see what AI could do for my old photos of famous composers.

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Music History Anthologies

The University at Buffalo is the first institution at which I’ve encountered the undergraduate music history survey being delivered across only two semesters. Brandeis University offers a sequence of five courses, as I recall, but with the requirement that students take just three of them. The music history faculty here at UB have recently been thinking about which printed anthology of scores works best as a course text for the survey, the challenge being that most publishers now seem to divide the sequence into three volumes instead of two.

While thinking about this question, I have found it difficult to avoid broader considerations of course content and teaching style. A complex topic! But if we begin by taking the question at face value, there remains at least one ready solution.

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American Musicological Society, Boston 2019

Historic map of Boston published by E. A. Downs (Boston, 1899).

I am very pleased to be presenting a paper entitled “Sounding the Interrogative: Cadential Attenuation as Syntactic Device in the Madrigals of Sigismondo d’India” on Friday, November 1, at the 85th annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. The session, to be chaired by my friend and colleague Joel Schwindt (Boston Conservatory), is entitled “Rhetorical Devices” and will also feature papers by Matthew Hall (Cornell University) and Russell O’Rourke (Columbia). My own research builds on some of the findings that I presented last year at the third annual Italian Madrigal Conference at Colgate University. The session runs from 10:45–12:15 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel (Stone Room) in Boston.

Teaching and Learning Philosophy

While participating in Maggie O’Rourke’s recent “Designing Experiences” faculty academy at the UB Center for Educational Innovation, we were asked to dig out our teaching statements and transform them into “teaching and learning philosophies.” Mine still sounds a bit stuffy, but here’s what I came up with:

My purpose as a teacher is to expose my students not only to the content of a course but also to the skills necessary to think and write as scholars.

When teaching the history of music, I first introduce my students to the people who helped make it happen. The styles, ideas, and events of music history can only have developed through the active participation of not just composers but also performers, critics, patrons, publishers, and many others. One of my favorite strategies for promoting this approach to music history is simply to encourage my students to cast people—not works or concepts—as the subjects of their sentences. For example, I ask them to consider the Piano Concerto in A Major, ᴋ. 488, not as the inevitable consequence of an evolving concerto genre but rather as Mozart’s response to the expectations and demands of the culture in which he lived.

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Conference on the Italian Madrigal

On the weekend of September 15–16, I will be traveling to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, to give a presentation at the Third Annual Conference on the Italian Madrigal. My talk is entitled, “Hearing the Interrogative in the Polyphonic Madrigals of Sigismondo d’India: A Quantitative Analysis.” The talk is scheduled for a Saturday morning session about poetic form to be chaired by Massimo Ossi.

Amidst the presentations and discussions, the conference will also include a live concert performance by the marvelous Blue Heron vocal ensemble. All events are free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!