"Some Quite Nice Little Tunes": An Overview of the Preparation and Recording of "Incipits" for the Britten Thematic Catalogue

By Manton, Jonathan | Notes, December 2010 | Go to article overview

"Some Quite Nice Little Tunes": An Overview of the Preparation and Recording of "Incipits" for the Britten Thematic Catalogue


Manton, Jonathan, Notes


ABSTRACT

Due for completion in 2013, the Britten Thematic Catalogue, an online musicological research tool that will present detailed individual records charting Benjamin Britten's entire compositional output (approximately 1,200 works both published and unpublished including all juvenilia), is currently being compiled at the Britten-Pears Foundation in the United Kingdom. As this resource will be published exclusively online, it is the project's intention to fully employ the benefits afforded to the catalog through its virtual format, specifically when presenting thematic incipits for each work. In addition to typeset incipits, which in the case of the Britten Thematic Catalogue will extend beyond the traditional "opening fragment of music," corresponding audio examples will also be included that will enable users to not only view but hear Britten's compositional development, particularly during his childhood. Whilst extracts from existent recordings will be used to this end for the composer's published works, the majority of pieces to be included, principally the bulk of Britten's juvenilia, will need recording for the first time. This article outlines the various considerations that have informed incipit construction throughout the project's progression. Following an examination of specific issues regarding incipit length and error correction that arose during the process of typesetting examples, the article goes on to detail a number of observations that have been made thus far during the act of recording some of Britten's earliest efforts.

Our whole life is but a greater and longer childhood

--Benjamin Franklin

Centered around Benjamin Britten's original manuscript sources, and due for completion in 2013 to coincide with the centenary of the composers birth, the Britten Thematic Catalogue project, (1) now in its second and final phase at the Britten-Pears Foundation, (2) aims to produce a publicly available, fully integrated online resource presenting--for the first time--a complete chronological set of individual records spanning Britten's entire compositional output both published and unpublished. Of the estimated 1,200 works to be included in this catalog, approximately 735 constitute the composer's juvenilia written between 1919, when Britten was just six years old, and 1932 when, at the age of eighteen, he wrote what would later become his opus 1, Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra. These early works have demanded the most substantial efforts thus far in the project as they are not only numerous, but also relatively unknown, with little previous research available for reference. In contrast, Britten's published works are extensively documented in an existing publication, (3) the contents of which will be absorbed into the Britten Thematic Catalogue. In keeping with traditional print-based catalogs, the Britten Thematic Catalogue will present thematic incipits for each individual work. However, as this resource will be published exclusively online, these incipits will not merely be typeset notation, but will exploit the functional benefits afforded by a virtual format, including corresponding audio recordings of each incipit, which it is felt will "enhance the academic function of the conventional thematic catalogue structure." (4) It became apparent at an early stage in the project's development that while it would be possible to use existing recordings for most published works, the vast majority of pieces to be included in the catalog, notably the unpublished juvenilia, would need to be recorded for the first time, a task that the project's staff have been addressing throughout the catalog's progression. (5) This article will discuss the challenges presented hitherto in attempting to record the bulk of Britten's childhood works, and outline the various considerations that have had to be addressed during the recording and typesetting of incipits for the catalog. It should be noted that this examination does not seek to provide a detailed musicological investigation of Britten's juvenilia, as this has been provided by Dr. …

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