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Cataloger’s Corner: Mystery Score Identified!

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Krasinsky, "Ouverture et airs du ballet de Telemaque." Paris? between 1790 and 1820?

The following is a guest post by Sharon McKinley, Senior Music Cataloger.

Old sheet music can be brittle.  The pages are often dissected and bound into volumes by previous owners.  Sometimes a piece is simply missing pages. With all that, do you ever wonder how Library of  Congress catalogers can identify a piece?  I did too.

Recently I had occasion to deal with a mystery score entitled Telemaque.  Hmm, no composer.  Looks like we’re missing the title page.  There are a bunch of Telemaques and his relatives (such as Telemaco) in the Library of Congress catalog.  Cool, I can run downstairs and look….oops, nope.  Seems a lot of people wrote works about this character (he stars in the Odyssey), among them Gluck, Scarlatti, and Campra.  Mine is not among them.

More research ensues.  Hmm, here are two publications of a nice ballet in with a title that looks hopeful: Ouverture et airs du ballet de Telemaque.  My item starts with”Ouverture de Telemaque.”  Could it be? How to identify it further…ah, there are two editions at Harvard.  Can I get away with taking a research junket to Cambridge?  Not likely. Next best thing:  Music Library Association colleagues.  I email a photograph (no flash!) of the first page to Beth Iseminger, Music and Media Catalog Librarian at the Loeb Music Library.  She sends it on to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger at Harvard’s Houghton Library, who compares my publication to her two, and Eureka!  An orphan has been identified.  The work is “Télémaque dans l’ile de Calypso,” by a fellow named Krasinsky.  We can’t be sure which edition it is, since only the missing title page differentiates the two.  But now we know what it is, and it’s proudly cataloged under the correct composer.  Professional contacts and the wonders of technology have solved a problem that would have been daunting not so very long ago.  And…now you know how it’s done.

Comments (5)

  1. Ah, the thrill of the hunt! Thanks for describing for the uninitiated how fun and satisfying cataloging can be!

  2. Congratulations! What a triumph! So many times something like this would have gone unidentified. Bravo to you.

  3. How fun and rewarding. Thanks for sharing your success story.

  4. For years I admired the cadenza to the Mozart 4th violin concerto used by David Oistrakh and since I play the concerto myself wanted to use it in lieu of the default standard Joachim cadenza. I was led astray by an early recording with attributed the cadenza to Oistrakh himself – he did a couple of minor modifications. Finally I learned that is was really by a 19th century composer named Adam. [I still haven’t sorted out which Adam it was…the more famous Adolphe who wrote “Giselle” or a couple others active at the time. Attempts to find a printed version in normal commercial channels failed. As I live near Washington, DC, I inquired at the Library of Congress. They had it in an old edition, long out of print edited by Hans Sitt. So I went to the library to see it. The edition was from 1905, acquired the next year by the library and apparently never check out by anyone in the interim. I was permitted to make a photocopy (it was in the public domain) which I have also given to several other violinists. Mystery solved.

  5. Hooray for colleagues who help with tricky music identification! And that goes for the authoress of this item who has helped me with a tune or two.

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