Best practices for researching classical music?
July 24, 2006 1:33 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to locate scholarly writing and analysis of a given piece of classical music?

I've been giving a series of classical music lectures recently, and I've quite enjoyed reading up on each piece before I give a lecture on it. So far I've been working off my own rather modest collection of music books, and the local library's offerings.

There is a lot of music I'd like to lecture on (and learn more about myself) that isn't well-covered in the limited selection of books available to me. I'm also finding it a little difficult to determine from the library's online catalog which books are going to cover the works I'm interested in.

How does one go about researching a piece of music and finding analysis on it? Do you have any tips for finding out which books or other resources give inisght into a given piece of music?
posted by agropyron to Media & Arts (19 answers total)
Didn't you ask this before?

I think your best bet is to ask a musicologist. Peruse some faculty listings at some decent university music departments and email a few.
posted by Gyan at 1:40 PM on July 24, 2006

Response by poster: Gyan, I realized that my previous question was too narrow, and rather than asking for a fish, I wanted to learn how to fish. I even ran it by Jessamyn, and she said "Sure, post it, it's an interesting question. Take out the references to your previous question though."

Thanks for the suggestion.
posted by agropyron at 1:43 PM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: Music librarians are trained not only to fish but how to teach you to fish. I'd suggest a visit to the music library at Local Large University. If you phrase your question to the librarian in such a way as to indicate that you are not a music student but you would like to be made aware of the reference sources available and how to use them, I think they would be glad to school you.
posted by matildaben at 1:48 PM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: A most comprehensive general resource is the multi-volume New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. It is the musician's reference bible and I would hope that you have access to a public or university library that has a copy: it is online but it costs ~300$US for an annual subscription (there is a free trial). I hope you can get access to a copy. It is an astounding resource.
posted by persona non grata at 1:49 PM on July 24, 2006

Yes, check your library's online catalog; I'd wager they subscribe to Grove's online service. For my local, they have a link to the online version. On the next screen, I entered my library card number and PIN, then asked for information on "The Rite of Spring" as a test. Et voilà — étonne-moi!

P.S. Thanks for inspiring this wonderful find.
posted by rob511 at 2:01 PM on July 24, 2006

I posted my comment after reading png's just because it never would have occurred to me that I — a mere library member — could directly access the library's Grove subscription.
posted by rob511 at 2:03 PM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: I would recommend searching Questia and Highwire.
posted by mattbucher at 2:05 PM on July 24, 2006

Just to emphasise, university music libraries are the only places that are likely both to have a good collection and someone who knows what's in it. In turn, only universities with a good music school are likely to have decent-sized music libraries.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: I recommend you hop across the lake and check out what the University of Washington has. Their music resource page is quite extensive. Not sure what limitations there are with using the computers in person, but the reference section is most likely open to anyone, even non-university members. If you need access to some of the databases, they have probably allow visitors access or have an subscription type card you can purchase.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 7:21 PM on July 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. Looks like I'll be heading to UW. Questia and Highwire look like fantastic resources, but they're a little expensive.

An evil person who doesn't respect copyright told me that shameless pirates have made the New Grove Dictionary of Music available online. I am a good citizen, so I certainly plan to shun that option. It didn't look like KCLS makes the Grove online service available, but I am going to ask to be sure.
posted by agropyron at 9:30 PM on July 24, 2006

Best answer: Austin's Music in the 20th Century is good reading in its own right though it doesn't give too much technical analysis of individual works. However, the real treasure is the 110-page annotated bibliography, organized by composer, listing books and articles that do the in-depth analysis. Used in conjunction with a good library, it's hard to beat for the period it covers (which is some of the late 1800s, up to the death of Stravinsky).
posted by Wolfdog at 6:07 AM on July 25, 2006

If I'm looking for anything I ask a librarian (although I agree with the caveat that to find these specific things you need to go to a large uni with a big music department.) They'll know what you're looking for plus the vast majority of them (in my experience) are very happy to be asked!
posted by ob at 7:42 AM on July 25, 2006

Btw, I just reread your question. When you talk about the music that you lecture on not being covered that well by the books that are available to you is this music by any chance contemporary music? If so journals are the way to go. Indeed if it's any kind of off-the-beaten-path-type music, journals are probably a better resource. Again a librarian at a good music library will be able to direct you to the most relevant publications.
posted by ob at 7:46 AM on July 25, 2006

Response by poster: ob: No, not yet. I'm talking about finding articles on, say, Haydn's opus 74 string quartets.

Wolfdog: That book looks great.
posted by agropyron at 8:30 AM on July 25, 2006

Note: Questia is free.
posted by mattbucher at 11:28 AM on July 25, 2006

I second the journal reading. It doesn't hurt to do a search through journals on related topics to the more canonic piece that you're researching on (like a combination of the genre and the composer for example) and see if there are any article titles that strike you as an interesting topic of discussion or lecture for your students.
posted by margaretlam at 12:19 PM on July 25, 2006

Response by poster: Questia is free? It says it costs $19.95 a month. And if I try to read an article it lets me see a couple of pages, then tells me to subscribe.

Continue reading this publication now and get full access to Questia's entire online library with our NO RISK 7-DAY TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION. You may cancel any time within 7 days with no obligation.

* Subscription automatically
renews each month until you cancel.

posted by agropyron at 1:02 PM on July 25, 2006

Best answer: My bad. I stand corrected. I use Questia and Google Books not to read long passages to but to find little chunks of text and I haven't had an issue getting around this. BTW, I posted about this World E-Book Fair running through Aug 4. You might be able to find some relevant books there.
posted by mattbucher at 3:19 PM on July 25, 2006

Response by poster: Nice. There is indeed some good stuff there! You are the e-book master. And Questa might just be good enough to pay for; there is some great stuff there.
posted by agropyron at 5:05 PM on July 25, 2006

« Older Google News has dropped my site as a news source!...   |   Help me keep the hospital's thugs from breaking my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.