The "Preposterous Muddle" Revisited: An XML Thematic Catalog DTD

Perry Roland
Technology Services
Alderman Library
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22906


Thematic catalogs of music have been produced for centuries. Yet, little attention has been paid to the study of this class of documents due to its specialized and complex nature. This paper describes the thematic catalog, its value in the field of music bibliography, and proposes an XML Document Type Definition that, it is hoped, will stimulate debate on the value of standardization of this document class.

What is a Thematic Catalog?

A thematic catalog systematically arranges a body of music. Its general functions are the same as other bibliographical tools: identification, location, and collocation. The thematic catalog, however, derives special power from the use of brief citations of music, called incipits, which provide more certain identification of musical works than any single element or combination of elements used for other materials, such as creator, title, publisher, or date. (Brook, p. vii) Such precise identification is necessary because a single musical work can exist in multiple printed and recorded editions, because portions of musical works are frequently published or performed separately (sometimes with a different title) with no reference to the parent work, and because entire musical works, or selected portions, are often arranged or transcribed to create "new" entities. (Nagy, p. 15)

Brook identifies several applications for thematic catalogs -- mnemonic aid, table of contents, guide to a composer's own output, inventory of library holdings, advertisement for a copying or publishing firm, legal document, compilation of "true" themes, musicological documentation, and thematic locator for incipits without an existing catalog. (Brook, p. x-xv) This list of functions demonstrates the same continuum of activity from simple list-making to complex analytical endeavor observed in general bibliographies. (Krummel 1984, p. 4)

The Value of Thematic Catalogs Thematic catalogs have long been recognized as a solution to the special problems of accessing and describing music. The earliest examples of thematic catalogs were produced in the 9th to 11th centuries (Brook, p. x). The fact that production of printed thematic catalogs has increased every year since 1850 (Basart, p.7) also demonstrates their value. Vincent Duckles wrote "the thematic catalog is one of the most useful of all reference tools in the field of music bibliography." (Duckles, p. 552) While Duckles was primarily concerned with the value of thematic catalogs to scholars, librarians, and catalogers, Brook's list clearly demonstrates their usefulness to many segments of the music community.

How is a Thematic Catalog Organized?

Despite Cowley's statement that "the compiler of a bibliography ... is bound by no conventional rules of arrangement" (Cowley, p. 179), several organizational methods can be identified for thematic catalogs. When dealing with the work of a single composer, catalog entries are usually arranged chronologically or in some classified manner, e.g., by genre. (Basart, p. 6) Alphabetical arrangement is usually preferred when addressing a single genre or a body of works by many composers. It is not uncommon, however, to encounter complex hierarchical arrangements, e.g., alphabetical geographical entries containing alphabetical composer entries containing works listed by date.

Responding to the rise in production of thematic catalogs, Hyatt King was the first to set down the data requirements for a thematic catalog. (King, p. 45-46) His list of suggestions was later expanded based on examination of catalogs created after the publication of King's guidelines. (Basart, p. 8-10) While not appropriate in every situation, the data requirements given by King and Basart demonstrate the wide range of information that may be included in a thematic catalog.

Why Do We Need a Standard?

The benefits to creators and users of an encoding and interchange standard for thematic catalogs are many. The major benefit of a structured markup language like XML is that syntax and semantics are treated separately. Once the precise identification of the role of the information in a document is accomplished, the data is almost infinitely malleable and can be distributed in both print and electronic forms. This is a considerable advantage given the difficulty of creating a thematic catalog and the wide-ranging needs of its potential users.

Possible applications of the standard include: (1) encoding and interchange of data in existing catalogs; (2) improvement of the quality of information contained in future catalogs by providing a template for creators; (3) realization of "music in print" or "recordings in print" publications, highly desirable by the music community, comparable to the cumulative trade catalogs the book world enjoys (Krummel 1987, p. 47); 4) creation of databases necessary for identifying anonymi, eradicating past errors of attribution, resolving multiple-parent riddles, and providing data for future research, e.g., stylistic analysis (LaRue, p. 1181).

Why Not Use an Existing DTD?

The DTDs that exhibit potential for markup of thematic catalogs (TEI and MARC) are unsatisfactory. TEI is designed primarily for representing texts, not data, while MARC uses a flat database approach that doesn't accommodate markup of existing catalogs. In addition, neither DTD allows markup of musical data using recognized musical terminology, such as "clef" or "pitch range". Consequently, markup of this group of documents is more likely to be successful if a new DTD, under the control of the music community, is created.

The MusiCat DTD

The MusiCat DTD is intended to meet the specialized needs of thematic catalog creators and users. It provides traditional access points like title, creator, and imprint as well as music-specific data elements, such as tempo, meter, and key.

The DTD allows for the many bibliographic arrangements encountered by using (descriptive unit) elements. Data elements within the are optional and repeatable, including additional descriptive units. This approach is structured enough to be usable for database-oriented applications, but loose enough to accommodate presentation-oriented existing catalogs. It is also applicable to other kinds of catalogs and bibliographies where extensibility is a concern.

The use of header information at each descriptive level allows for the inclusion of management data necessary for collaborative projects and data access restriction, very important concerns to the music community.

MusiCat Examples

While space does not permit inclusion of the entire DTD, short examples of compliant markup are provided below.

Example 1

<catalog id="18thItalianInstr">
<descunit class="composer" id="besozzi">
<creator>Besozzi, Alessandro,
<p>Oboe virtuoso active in the royal court of Turin ...</p>
<p>There are nineteen trio sonatas by Alessandro Besozzi ...</p>
<descunit class="entry" id="It67">
<md><key class="sig">A major</key></md>
<titlepage label="1.">
<title>Sonata a tre</title> / Del Sigr. Allessandro Besozzi/ Basso/
<extent>v 1 & 2, bass.</extent>
<dimensions>22x30.5 cm</dimensions>
<otherphysdetail>Hand A. Brown</otherphysdetail>
<notation><!-- musical notation --></notation>
<duration units="measures">:11:+:14:</duration>
<tempo class="term">Andante</tempo>
<notation><!-- musical notation --></notation>
<duration units="measures">:34:+:38:</duration>
<tempo class="term">Allegro</tempo>
<notation><!-- musical notation --></notation>
<duration units="measures">:21:+:29:</duration>
<tempo class="term">Allegro</tempo>
Published as no. 6 of
<title>XII Sonates ... par Mrs. Bezzossi. Oevre IIe</title>.
<publisher>Le Clerc</publisher>,
<date>ca. 1740</date></imprint>
<!-- additional descunits of class "entry" -->
<!-- additional descunits of class "composer" -->

Example 2

<catalog id="DaviesP">
<descunit class="dramatic works">
<descunit class="entry" id="d4">
<title>The Lighthouse</title>
<md><duration units="time">75 mins</duration></md>
<imprint><publisher>Chester Music</publisher></imprint>
<formgenre>Chamber opera in one act with prologue</formgenre>
<scoring>for tenor, baritone, bass and instrumental ensemble</scoring>
<odd>Libretto by the composer</odd>
<performerlist label="Characters:>
<dramatispersona>Sandy, Officer 1</dramatispersona>Tenor
<dramatispersona>Blazes, Officer 2
<dramatispersona>Arthur, Voice of the Cards, Officer 3 </dramatispersona>Tenor
<scoring>flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), clarinet in A ...</scoring>
<scoring>*percussion: marimba, 4 timpani, ...</scoring>
<performed>First performance <date>September 2, 1980</date> at the
<corpname>Edinburgh International Festival</corpname> by <performer>Neil Mackie</performer>, <performer>Michael Rippon</performer>, <performer>David Wilson-Johnson</performer> and <performer class="group">The Fires of London</performer> conducted by <performer role="conductor">Richard Dufallo</performer>
<composed>Commissioned by the <corpname role="commissioner"> Edinburgh International Festival</corpname>. Winner of the first Tennent Caledonian Award.
<availability>Full score, vocal score and parts for hire. Publication of full score and vocal score for sale 1981/2. Libretto on sale.
<!-- additional descunits of class "entry" --> </descunit>
<!-- additional genre descunits -->


Basart, Ann. "Bringing Order into Preposterous Muddle: Recent Trends in Thematic Catalogs," Cum notis variorum, 67 (Nov. 1982): 5-17.

Brook, Barry S. and Viano Richard. Thematic Catalogues in Music: An Annotated Bibliography. 2nd ed. New York: Pendragon Press, 1997.

Cowley, J.D. Bibliographical Description and Cataloguing. London: Grafton & Co., 1939.

Duckles, Vincent. Notes 11 (Sept. 1954): 552.

Goldfarb, Charles and Prescod, Paul. The XML Handbook. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall PTR, 1998.

King, Alec Hyatt. "The Past, Present and Future of the Thematic Catalogue," Monthly Music Record LXXXIV/953, 954 (1954): 10-13, 39-46.

Krummel, D.W. Bibliographical Handbook of American Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Krummel, D.W. Bibliographies: Their Aims and Methods. New York: Mansell Publishing, 1984.

LaRue, Jan and Logemann, George W. "EDP for Thematic Catalogues," Notes, 22 (1965-66): 1179-86.

Nagy, Kären. "Music Authority Control: A Public Service Perspective" in Authority Control in Music Libraries. Ruth Tucker, ed. MLA Technical Report No. 16. Canton, MA: Music Library Association, 1989.