Uncovering the Untold History of Music with RIPM

Library Resources | H. Robert Cohen| December 14, 2017

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Le Répertoire international de la presse musicale (RIPM) is the only internationally coordinated initiative created to preserve, reconstruct and provide access to music periodical literature published in Europe and the Americas from approximately 1760 to 1966.

When music historian and RIPM founder H. Robert Cohen was working on his doctoral thesis, locating the source material alone took several years. Musicologists like Dr. Cohen uncover and interpret untold stories of music and musical life that are both instructive and often overlooked by history. Here’s one amusing example: how did the public in America and in Europe react to ragtime when introduced in the early 1900s? To find out read RIPM’s Curio, “Does Ragtime Cause Insanity?”

Founded in 1980, Le Répertoire international de la presse musicale (RIPM) is one of four international cooperative bibliographic undertakings in music, alongside Le Répertoire international des sources musicales (RISM), Le Répertoire international de littérature musicale (RILM), and Le Répertoire international d’iconographie musicale (RIdIM). These projects are “without doubt, the most important current bibliographic documentation projects in the field of music research.” Of the four ‘Rs’, RIPM alone focuses on music and musical life from approximately 1760 to 1966.

We asked Dr. Cohen about RIPM’s history and mission:

Why are these music periodicals so valuable to researchers?

They offer an almost daily detailed chronicle of music and musical life seen through the eyes of those who lived it. If one wished to study the dissemination of a composer’s work, the works performed in a given city, their popularity, the manner in which they were performed, their initial reception, their possible influence, or, if one wished to compare teaching methods, to prepare bibliographies of published books and music, or to study the musical life in any of the major cities of Europe and the Americas, one could begin by examining the contemporary press. The press offers substantial information about these subjects and almost any other subject one might wish to explore. RIPM’s mission is to preserve some 200 years of the musical press and to make it accessible in a searchable format. That RIPM has been successful in achieving its goals is confirmed in many reviews. 

Before RIPM, what challenges did researchers confront in accessing the contemporary press?

There were three fundamental problems:

  1. Copies of the journals are scattered throughout Europe and the Americas and are often difficult to locate, incomplete and at times in very poor condition.
  2. Periodicals lack indexes.
  3. The monumental size of this corpus of literature is overwhelming. About 4,500 specialized music periodicals were published between 1760 and 1966.

When did the movement to preserve and archive literature about music and musical life from this period begin?

The importance of gaining access to the musical press has been recognized since the 1930s. But it was not until 1980 that RIPM was created to resolve this impasse on an international scale.

How has RIPM addressed these challenges?

RIPM functions with collaborators in more than 20 countries and treats music periodicals published in more than 30 countries. Collaborators select journals for treatment, index journals, edit data (per RIPM’s guidelines) and participate in scanning and reconstructing complete runs of journals. RIPM works with digitization centers all over Europe and the Americas in New York, Washington D.C., Vienna, Brussels, Rome, Prague, Parma, Moscow, Bologna, London, Milano, Paris, Torino, Amsterdam, Leipzig and The Hague.

You mention that there’s a daunting amount of literature available. How is RIPM able to process that content?

We handle journals in two different ways:

  1. Journals treated in the Annotated Series databases include detailed indexing and abstracts (A&I) that is done by professional music researchers.
  2. Journals included in the Preservation Series are not annotated, but the full text is searchable and search terms are highlighted on each page. For example, the full run of the publication “Musical America” comprises 80,000 pages, with many containing 25 subjects (or headings) per page, which makes manual indexing all but impossible.

Can you please summarize what RIPM provides today?

  1. Unique access to primary source material.
  2. An almost daily chronicle of music and musical life from 1760-1966.
  3. An essential complement to databases such as the RILM Suite, MGG Online, Music Index, and Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  4. The primary source for reception history with over 400,000 reviews.
  5. An immense bibliography of little-known musical works for performers.
  6. A valuable teaching tool widely used in educational institutions.

Today, students conduct their music research more quickly and effectively, thanks to the work of the many scholars and librarians involved in producing RIPM. 

RIPM has just launched RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals with Full Text, available via EBSCOhost® and EBSCO Discovery Service™. RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals with Full Text is an international, highly annotated, unique database containing detailed content analysis of writings on musical history and culture published between 1760 and 1966 combined with the full text of 170 journals.

RIPM makes rare primary source periodicals, that otherwise might have been lost forever, easily accessible to music researchers, a joy described by one as “downright intoxicating.”

1 Music Library Association Notes, December 1983: 277.

Discover RIPM Resources

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H. Robert Cohen
Founder and Director of RIPM

H. Robert Cohen is Founder and Director of RIPM and the author or editor of many volumes and articles. Cohen studied philosophy and literature (B.A.) and musicology (M.A., Ph.D.) at New York University.  He has taught at the Université de Paris, Université Laval, the University of Amsterdam, the University of British Columbia, and the Universiy of Maryland and has lectured throughout North America and Europe. In 2007 he was named Professor Emeritus, by his colleagues. For his “contribution to French culture,” the title of “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” was bestowed upon him by the French government.  For his contribution to the field of music research, the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML) recognized Dr. Cohen with an Honorary Membership in 2016. The following year the same title was bestowed upon him by the International Musicological Society (IMS).

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