Music Library (Almost) Without Limits

Everyone has web sites that he or she returns to compulsively in idle moments, and my new one, which I learned about from a comment on New Music Box, is the International Music Score Library Project at http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page, a rapidly growing collection of PDF scores from the entire history of music. (Unable to remember the cumbersome title, I’ve started thinking of it as “I’m-asleep.org.”) You would imagine that the site would fill up quickly with Beethoven symphonies and Brahms chamber music, but actually the variety and the obscurity of the musical offerings are quite stunning.

My most exciting find so far has been the 36 Fugues, Op. 36, of Antonin Reicha (1770-1836), Beethoven’s teenage-years friend from Bonn. Reicha professed unbelievably advanced (for the time) theories about music and about the fugue in particular. He advocated for odd meters; the 20th fugue is in 5/8 (with the subject answered at the tritone rather than the fifth), the 24th is in virtual 7/4 (4/4 alternating with 3/4), and another one in 3+3+2/8. They were written in 1803. Reicha ended up teaching at Paris Conservatoire, where Liszt and Berlioz were among his pupils, and sent his old friend Beethoven a copy of the fugues; old Ludwig tossed them aside with the comment, “The fugue is no longer a fugue.” One of the fugues has simply a single repeated note as a subject; another is built on the theme from Mozart’s Haffner Symphony, and their modulatory propensities are sometimes as striking as their rhythmic oddities. I’ve been fascinated by them since Tiny Wirtz’s recording came out (the premiere recording) on CPO in 1992, and am astonished to suddenly find a score. (MDG has also released a charming and rather Czech-sounding Reicha orchestral overture in 5/8 meter. He also speculated about quarter-tones, long before Liszt and Busoni. The earliest explicit use of quintuple meter I can find, by the way, seems to be the mad scene in Handel’s Orlando. One of the Obrecht masses has a passage with a repeating five-beat isorhythm, but of course there was no way to notate quintuple meter in that era.)

My first, 1997 Village Voice article about internet web sites was entitled “Weirdos Like Me,” enthusing about the other crazy people who vomited forth their obscure passions on the internet, and many of those weirdos, it seems, are uploading to imslp.com. Here you will find a two-piano score to Max Reger’s Piano Concerto (one of his most elephantine and least gratifying works, but one I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with lately); Arthur Foote’s Piano Quintet, perhaps the finest chamber work of the American 19th century; Anatoly Liadov’s lovely little high-register piano piece The Music Box; Busoni’s wonderful Piano Concerto in a two-piano version, which a friend had finally bought me in Germany a few years ago; and Kaikhosru Sorabji’s astonishingly forward-looking First Piano Sonata of 1919. I’ve now got the Concord Sonata in PDF form, as well as the Second and Sixth Nielsen Symphonies, and several early Dussek Sonatas for which I can find no recording. In recent weeks the number of scores expanded from 6000 to 7000 in only 20 days, and one of my favorite features is the “Recent Additions” on the main page, which I check daily to see what’s been added. A couple of days ago I wanted to show a student an example from Holst’s The Planets, without having to drive to my office for the score, and there it was.

Submissions are limited by copyright restrictions, as you can imagine, and so there are few recent works, and hardly any postclassical ones; though you will find In C and an intriguing flute and piano piece by electronic genius Chris Brown. Living composers are encouraged to add any works they are willing to release into public domain, or under a Creative Commons license. I toyed with the idea, but my available scores are easy enough to find on my web site for those who are looking for them. It’s tempting to consider the people who might run across my pieces without imagining that they might find them at kylegann.com, but I am reluctant to relinquish so much control. So for now I’m not joining in the uploading frenzy, but I’m having a blast benefitting from it. The crazies who are releasing their eccentric music collections to the world have my immense gratitude.

Comments

  1. says

    I had heard about this around a week or two ago and debated putting up my scores, but also had initially decided that I’d rather people go to my site to get the scores and MP3s. But I decided it couldn’t hurt to have things in multiple places, so I just uploaded a bunch of my stuff to IMSLP. Based on your post, Kyle, I figured they need more postminimalist representation 8-)

  2. says

    I believe Tobias Hume wrote a piece in 5/4, although I can’t remember the title.
    KG replies: I’d love to know details if you run across them.

  3. Paul Beaudoin says

    How coincidental that I was at the imslp site yesterday and discovered Schoenberg and Webern scores are there (along with Berg’s Piano Sonata). Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question too. It will be a boost to my composition and theory students who often head to the “real” library and come up empty handed.
    When I was working on a book for Oxford Univ. Press I was amazed at how much information is now digitized and available to researchers.
    It will be good when recordings join in …
    It really does make me wonder that if we don’t participate in the revolution can we still expect to be a part of it?

  4. says

    Isn’t it funny? Just yesterday I decided that it might be fun to make an on-line thematic catalog of my music, and have been spending too much of my time scanning and uploading first pages of music to a blogger site, which works perfectly for this purpose. The problem that I have is that I often simply forget what I have written, so having a nice way of indexing music helps me remember.

    I’m hoping that some other composers do this too, and I also hope that it might be a way for me to hear some new performances of some of my music.
    I guess I should give the address (I’m about halfway finished, I think): http://www.thematiccatalog.blogspot.com

  5. says

    If you like IMSLP, you might also enjoy browsing around the Musical Scores Collection in the University of Rochester’s digital repository, urresearch.rochester.edu. The url for the music is https://urresearch.rochester.edu/handle/1802/291. Everything in there is taken from the collections of the Sibley Music Library of the Eastman School of Music, of which I am the Head of Public Services. To date we have uploaded over 1600 scores, books, and periodicals (and a handful of theses and research papers). I’ve noticed that several of them have been posted by others in IMSLP, usually with credit to Sibley.
    Our criteria for inclusion is that the item be in the public domain (generally that means published before 1923) and also out of print since we do not wish to be in competition with publishers. If obscure music is what you are looking for, we have it! At the moment we have lots of multi-hand piano music (arrangements of standard works as well as original compositions), a great amount of organ music, and plenty of chamber music. There are some operas and other vocal music, but primarily it’s been instrumental. I’m happy to answer any questions about it.
    KG replies: I knew of the connection. One of your recent graduates, Adam Baratz, showed me the collection, and I look forward to looking through it, thanks.

  6. says

    Re early uses of odd meters – there are several in English music of the 16th and 17th century. Christopher Tye’s (1505-1572) In Nomine subtitled “Trust” is in 5, for example, and John Bull (1563-1628) has an extended keyboard piece in 11 (also, interestingly, an In Nomine).
    KG replies: I’ve seen the Bull In Nomine – printed kind of ammetrically, but it falls into a 4+4+3 pattern.

  7. says

    To the gent who is looking for the Hume in 5/4: try searching anything that Jordi Savall has recorded, in his Barcelona ensemble Hesperion 21, or search “Les Filles de Saint-Colombe” the gamba group. or gambists Susie Napper, Bill Skeen, or Joanna Blendulf. You will find what you want! D Bowes Music Librarian Philharmonia Baroque

  8. Dan Schmidt says

    Wow, those fugues look awesome. I may just be not familiar enough with the fugal repertoire, but it’s a real jolt to see such Classical-sounding subjects. The fugues or fugal episodes by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. that I’m familiar with tend to at least have Baroque-style themes, even if they’re treated anachronistically later on.
    KG replies: Good observation. W.F. Bach’s fugues strike me that way too, now that you mention it.

  9. Scott Klein says

    For piano scores, afficianados might also want to check into
    the Classical Sheet Music Thread at:
    http://ca.geocities.com/cm_index/
    Oddly, it seems to be hosted by a gaming site, and you have to create an account and log in to have access. But there are many, many scores there that haven’t yet been uploaded to other sites. Tis a brave new world indeed.

  10. says

    Interesting on the 5/8 Reicha fugue: I was just at the Morgan Library working with the autograph of Chopin’s first Sonata (op. 4; 1827), whose slow movement is in 5/4. There the irregular meter sounds more like an early exercise in how to notate rubato (a kind of regular irregularity, if you will). With Chopin’s propensity for things fugal, the Reicha might be an important model. Have you run across other 5/4 movements from the first couple decades of the 19th century?
    KG replies: Nothing besides Reicha. Interestingly, Chopin wanted to study with Reicha, but heard negative things about him and decided not to. But the classical era was a quirkier and more interesting period than the musicologists ever let on. My other favorite pieces to play for students are the Albrechtsberger concerti for jew’s-harp and mandora. The jew’s-harp cadenzas are a riot.

  11. K says

    In response to the posting by Paul on June 13 saying “It will be good when recordings join in …” I would like to mention that there are sites which carry recordings of all sorts, which also provide streaming in addition to download/purchase options. Check out http://www.magnatune.com for everything from medieval songs to Uccellini, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven – as well as music in many other genres such as jazz, electronica, punk, and world music. On Magnatune, you can listen to as many of the works as you’d like as many times as you like – and you can play the entire work. It’s a great way to get exposed to something before you decide to buy it – and the artists get 50% of the purchase price. Or even if you don’t buy, you can hear as much of their offerings as you’d like. It’s a great place for artists to increase both their exposure (by having people just be able to listen) and their sales (by those who decide to purchase) – with the added benefit to us listeners that anyone who is curious can hear a lot of music that can’t be easily found elsewhere.

    Forgive me if this info is old hat to everyone who reads this site; I was only just referred by a colleague and am looking forward to exploring the other resources that have been mentioned. Thanks!
    KG replies: Happy to provide space for the information. However, I’ve got three walls covered with CDs of the entire history of music, and more in boxes in the basement. Scores of obscure works are what *I* have trouble finding.

  12. Jeffrey Quick says

    Actually, Obrecht had the tech for notating 5; there are some pieces in the Cancionero de Palacio in 5/8. Theoretically, you can do almost anything with proportions.
    KG replies: Well, come to think of it, some of the surviving ancient Greek music, notably the 1st Delphic Hymn to Apollo, is presumed to have been sung in quintuple meter (and even 15/8), so in that sense it goes back to the very beginning. I was thinking of scores with 5/8 or 5/4 written into them.
    But let me ask: I know how a beat can be divided into five in early 15th-century notation of the Avignon school. How do you do it in late 15th-century prolations of O, C, and so on?

  13. Christopher Culver says

    File-sharing networks are awash with PDFs of contemporary music scores. Obviously the most popular pieces are the easiest to find–Ligeti’s Etudes are everywhere–but I was thrilled to begin building a collection of Boulez’s minor pieces and Dusapin scores.
    Project Gutenberg has a sister site in Australia where, because of different copyright lengths, books for some years after 1923 can be offered. I wonder why no such arrangement has been made for these scores websites, so that the work of e.g. the Second Viennese School could be made easily available.

  14. says

    Oooooh! Thanks for turning me on to those fugues. I’ll enter those in score and get MIDI to MP3’s ready so I can disect them properly. Neato.

  15. says

    Now, the question is, where is a repository of MIDI files of these scores? It can be quite interesting to play with instrumentation in the scores.

  16. cbj smith says

    In answer to Paul Beaudoin early on It will be good when recordings join in …
    The copyright on recordings expires 50 years after the date of recording, so right now if you have any old vinyl from 1958 or earlier, you can digitise it and put it on the internet completely legally. (Re-releases by the label themselves or anybody else are not eligible; it HAS to be made from a copy dating 1958 or previously.)
    It would take a site willing to host it like IMSLP, but it is completely doable.