Building a Unique Collection of Music Periodicals: An Interview with RIPM Founder H. Robert Cohen

Library Resources | H. Robert Cohen| February 11, 2019

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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 Le Répertoire international de la presse musicale (RIPM) founder H. Robert Cohen was working on his doctoral thesis, locating the source material alone took many months. Musicologists like Dr. Cohen uncover and interpret the untold stories of music and musical life that are both instructive and often overlooked by history.

Founded in 1980, 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). Cohen describes these projects to be “…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 1800 to 1950.

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

What are some of the challenges for researchers studying music during this period?

There were three fundamental problems:

  1. Copies of the journals are scattered throughout Europe and the Americas and are often difficult to locate, often incomplete and at times in very poor condition.
  2. Periodicals lack indexes.
  3. The monumental size of this corpus of literature is overwhelming. Nearly 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.

Why are these music periodicals valuable to researchers?

When evaluating music, individuals makes choices based on his or her taste and aesthetic, but in addition to hearing the music, we need signposts to guide us; a performance or documentation (the musical press) to inform us of what might be of interest and why.

Much of the world’s music has not been not recorded and the history books give us only a distant view. RIPM’s mission is to capture documentation in the musical press for this important period in our history and make it available in a searchable format.

Much of the world’s music has not been not recorded and the history books give us only a distant view. RIPM’s mission is to capture documentation in the musical press for this important period in our history and make it available in a searchable format.

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 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 included in the Annotated Series databases include detailed indexing 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 an average of 25 subjects (or headings) per page.

Can you please summarize what RIPM provides today?

  1. Unique access to primary source material
  2. An almost daily chronicle of music & musical life from 1760-1966
  3. An essential complement to databases such as the RILM suite, MGG Online and Music Index
  4. The primary source for reception history with over 400,000 reviews
  5. A teaching tool in many institutions

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 of several works. Cohen studied philosophy and literature (B.A.) and musicology (M.A., Ph.D.) at New York University while at the same time pursuing a career as a clarinetist. 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.

He has received numerous research awards from the governments of the United States, Canada, Québec, and France, and, in 1986 was decorated “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the French government for his “contribution to French culture.” In July 2016, and in March 2017, respectively, the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres, and the International Musicological Association bestowed upon him the title of Honorary Member.

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