Question of the day: how often will I feel like Victor Frankenstein while I work on CURI this summer?

The latest task of formatting data from over 200 premiers was monstrous, however, when we finally uploaded our information into the first draft of a map, I had a legitimate “it’s alive” moment. Seeing the map populate with the markers we made added another layer to the spreadsheets we had been editing. It also brought to light patterns and questions that would have escaped my notice had I simply read the data on a table. Below, I’ve examined three patterns and the questions they prompted me to ask about musical culture in the 1920s.

Pattern 1: European/Parisian Centrality

There’s no debating the Eurocentric patterns that are evident in the study of Western music history. The composers we study, the pieces we learn about, the structures of musical power, have been (for the most part) in Europe. The map we created of the premieres of Stravinsky, Poulenc, Honegger, and Milhaud brought this Eurocentrism into pointed relief. Not only does Europe contain the vast majority of the premieres of their music, but Paris, specifically, contains approximately 71.5% of the premieres we mapped. What story does this tell about Parisian centrality in developing musical taste? While German premieres of pieces occur throughout the county, French premieres are far more centralized. What can we postulate about the musical culture of each region given this spatial information?

Pattern 2: Performance Venues, Public and Private.

In examining patterns of data on a map, it is also easy to decipher which data points fall outside of the average. Performances mainly occurred in two types of venue: either smaller, more private Salles, like the Salle Pleyel or Salle Gaveau in Paris, to the more public venues like the Paris Opéra. However, one premiere may have been given in a Church. Stravinsky’s Four Russian Peasant Songs were likely premiered in the Russian Orthodox Church of Geneva. Why did this church premiere on of Stravinsky’s works? Who did Stravinsky know at the church, and what kind of power did they have that allowed them to premiere this piece?

Pattern 3: Out of Europe

The small number of pieces premiered outside of Europe sponsored their own unique questions. There are two main geographic areas outside of Europe where the works of Milhaud, Stravinsky, and Poulenc were premiered before 1930: the East Coast of the United States, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Who did the composers know if those areas that agreed to premiere their works? Who did they connect with, and how did those connections have the power to premier their pieces? Especially in the case of Milhaud’s Premiére Symphonie (the one piece premiered in Rio de Janeiro). Who did he know? Why pick Rio de Janeiro as a premiere location?

Mapping data feels at once promising and infuriating. For as much as mapping clarifies, it equally confuses. One answer inevitably sprouts several questions. I’m beginning to discover, though, that this is the very nature of research. If we got all of our questions answered in one go, what would be the point of research?


Question: How many times will I feel like Victor Frankenstein this summer?

Answer: At least a few more.