The Quotable Musical Text in a Digital Age: Modeling Complexity in the Renaissance and Today

paper, specified "long paper"
  1. 1. Richard Freedman

    Haverford College

  2. 2. David Fiala

    Ecole Polytechnique de l'Université de Tours

  3. 3. Micah Walter

    Center for Hellenic Studies - Harvard University

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The allusiveness of musical discourse is so fundamental to the Western tradition that it is hard to imagine a work that does not in some way make reference to some other composition, type or topic. Indeed, music that refers to other music has been a constant in the European tradition of the last 1000 years, from the layered polyphony of 12th-century Notre Dame de Paris to the rampant borrowing (from himself and others) of George Frideric Handel, and from the topical allusions of film music to looped sampling heard in rap. Thanks to the advent of new technologies for encoding and addressing symbolic music scores, we can now begin to explore these complex cultures of citation with both new scope and precision.

Citations:  The Renaissance Imitation Mass (CRIM) [Freedman and Fiala, 2017] focuses on one important but neglected part of this allusive tradition: the so-called Imitation or Parody Mass of the sixteenth century, in which a composer transformed a short sacred or secular piece into a long five-movement cyclic setting of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass:  Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The resulting works are far more than collections of quotations. The sheer scope of the transformation–in which a work that lasted perhaps five minutes was recast as a cycle lasting thirty minutes or more–required the composer to thoroughly re-think the model, adapting pre-existent melodies to fit new words, and shifting, extending, or compressing them to new musical contexts and expressive purposes. Indeed, if counterpoint is a craft of combinations (as two or more vocal independent melodies come together in a polyphonic weave), then the Imitation Mass involves the art of
recombination on a massive scale.

Musicologists have considered the intertextual relationships of these Masses from a number of vantage points. At a cultural level, for instance, they have been read in the context of debates about whether secular sounds of models might be elevated by the sacred lyrics and contexts of the Mass, or conversely whether the sacred words and purposes of the Mass were corrupted through secular sounds. But the chief challenge of measuring the genre has been dampened by two basic factors: the sheer number of possibilities for contrapuntal elaboration, and the idiosyncratic ways in which individual scholars have sought to explain and exemplify them. The CRIM Project, with its digital capacities for managing citations, claims, and counter-claims in a collaborative environment, answers both of these key challenges in ways that will transform our understanding of the repertory, and set the stage for the investigation of related corpora as well.
CRIM builds upon recent developments in the digital domain for music scholarship, implementing for the first time a new kind of quotable text for music. XML encodings of symbolic music scores are the foundation of this work. Built according to the open-source
Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) standard (
), these texts provide dynamic scholarly editions that are readable by musicians and computational systems alike. Scores of related works are presented in a novel citation engine (using
Verovio, a Javascript rendering system that works in any internet browser without additional software), from which analysts can directly select any combination of notes, in any combination of staves or measures. These selections are stored as durable addresses following the Music Addressability API [Viglianti, 2016], which in turn can be used to return MEI representing the selected notes (as well as their original context) to any subsequent user (sample relationship at Such digital citations inaugurate a new kind of durable, quotable text for musical scores that we invite others to use.

CRIM citations are also critical assertions:  statements made by particular analysts about relationships between musical patterns. For these, too, we are proposing durable ontologies of various sorts. Within the confines of the CRIM project itself we have defined various controlled vocabularies that describe the workings of Renaissance counterpoint as it migrates from one work to the next. Participants record not only a collection of notes, but also a range of metadata that detail the specific kind of patterns (the order of voice entries, their relationship in musical time and space, etc), and the particular kind of transformation that has been applied to the model as source material is compressed, prolonged or recombined in imaginative ways. The specifically musical portions of the observations, moreover, are surrounded with information about the person responsible for the assertion, and other relevant data about its motivation and status. All of these data are exposed using Open Annotation ( and Linked Open Data standards (

These complex, structured annotations (CRIM participants have created over hundreds of them to date) are assembled in a database and Django web application that permits users to discover related patterns in disparate works, and to deploy dozens of citations in collaborative discussions and narrative arguments about style and practice. We expect that digital publications of this sort–joining durable citations with open annotation–will have important implications for scholarly discourse about music. This in turn points towards the wider perspectives of the project: enhancing music digital edition and analytical annotation tools; improving the understanding of citation, imitation and, more generally, charting the processes by which pre-existing materials are transformed in the course of creative musical expression. We view the Digital Humanities community as the ideal forum in which to expand the reach of these technologies, and to continue the collaborative spirit of our work.

Freedman, Richard and David Fiala, directors,
Citations:  The Renaissance Imitation Mass (CRIM). URL:

Freedman and Raffaele Viglianti, “MEI as Quotable Text,” Poster presented at Music Encoding Conference 2017 (Tours, France): URL:

Kuhn, Tobais, et al.
Nanopub URL:

The Music Encoding Initiative.  url:

Pugin, Laurent, developer.
Verovio.  url:

Viglianti, Raffaele. “The Music Addressability API: A draft specification for addressing portions of music notation on the web.” Proceedings of the Third International Digital Libraries for Musicology Workshop (DLfM 2016), New York, USA — August 12 - 12, 2016, pp. 57-60. URL:

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2019

Hosted at Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands

July 9, 2019 - July 12, 2019

436 works by 1162 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (14)

Organizers: ADHO