Practical musicologist

Estonia's first music print
A few months before I was due to take my graduating exams and become a Bachelor-of-Music-with-Honours, it became clear that my conducting teachers thought my interest in musicals and productions which combined music, dance, drama and the like - that's what we called 'multi-media' in those days - indicated a less than serious attitude.

They said they would give me a pass mark, but nothing more, and made it rather clear that they thought I had nothing to give the musical world as conductor or musical director.

That's OK, some of us are just late developers.

I wasn't very impressed by their first suggestion, that I should go back to playing the clarinet - I hadn't touched the thing for 18 months, since they said we were supposed to concentrate on our special area for at last two years, and my special area was conducting!

Estonia's first music print

So I ended up doing a major study on the dulcimer, an instrument I was playing quite a bit then, and which no-one knew much about. I managed to scrape together material for 200 pages in those few months, and the Austrian musicology teacher said "David, this marvellous - it's a PhD thesis!" I was even less impressed with his judgement than that of my conducting teachers, because I knew that my first dulcimer dissertation was just scraping the surface, while I did actually believe I could conduct ... Interesting, by the way, that when I finally did submit my PhD thesis, the guys examining that also said there was far too much of it, and that they'd only read a quarter of it, the history part ...

So for a while I enjoyed the status of being the person who knew more about the dulcimer than anyone else did, and went to a few places to talk about it; but after a while it dawned on my that actually I knew more about the dulcimer than anyone else wanted to know, or thought was important, and then I was really stuck for a while, exercised by the question of how knowledge could be both deep and useable, in a world in which most people prefer not to look too deeply at things.

Maybe 15 years ago I was perhaps the person who knew most about what music was played in provincial Swedish towns in the 17thC., a delightful musical language which fills human needs in ways nothing else does ... One fascinating CD which showcases this repertoire was made as part of the project about the Swedish warship Kronan, which was sunk in 1676.

Kronan - audio CD

about the whole 'Kronan' project

Early Music in Swedish Libraries

Estonia's first music print

And during the past 10 years I've been cataloguing the 2,000 music manuscripts in rococo style, mostly from the period 1740-1790, in the collection of the former Grammar School for the north of Sweden, in Härnösand: this is also remarkably fresh and satisfying repertoire, and we have performed and recorded a lot of it. The paper version of the catalogue is now complete, I'm currently working on computerising the whole catalogue, and then it's a question how we can make it all generally available ...

But by and by I discovered that music was much more than just a question of which instrument you use, or even which notes you play from ... In my student days there happened to be a facsimile copy Thomas Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Music in the university bookshop: Lord knows why, all but 10 of the 3,000 students there were engineers ... But I snapped it up anyway, and soon discovered that Morley's English was every bit as refined and entertaining as Shakespeare's; that his way of thinking about music was significantly different from that of my living teachers; and that renaissance teachers actually knew an awful lot about what predictable effects you could produce on your listeners, by doing one thing rather than another. So I learnt all about that next, Musica Poëtica,  music to move the emotions, and I've spent a good bit of time teaching and writing about how today's musicians can influence the feelings of their listeners in predictable, harmonic ways.

And that's how I came to start my first web-site, about the musical world of Johan Skytte, first rector of Tartu University. Before it got finished I found there were dozens of other topics which felt more urgent for all kinds of reasons, and I still haven't finished it: but you can an idea of what it's about here.

I've always felt that anything I write becomes part of the world I've created round me, and I want my writing to be nice to look at, as well as enjoyable to do. I discovered that so many of the old music scribes had left very beautiful samples of their work behind them, and it was easy to be inspired to imitate them. For me a 'note-picture' produced by a computer with every note-head and tail the same as every other one, and with equally-spaced notes regardless of the context, doesn't fit in very well with a concern to make music in the old way because it feels so good ... and the best thing I ever heard about my music-writing was when Anna, a singer and violinist said "your notes just play themselves ..." There are examples you can download at the Musica Thulia web-site.

So: lots of ideas, lots of different angles, lots of projects needing lots of time: but what has got finished in the way of usable musicology, at least for the time being, is these sites:

The New Renaissance

Early Music in Swedish Libraries

... while I still need more time for those about improvising, reading renaissance and baroque music direct from the original notation, the historical development of harmony and composing, and a load of other fascinating stuff . But there's a neat little example of what a bit of it might look like here (100 Kb)