RCMI/CUNY: The Research Center for Musical Iconography of the City University of New York

October 1, 1973

The Research Center for Musical Iconography was established in the spring of 1972 under the auspices of the Ph.D. Program in Music at the City University of New York, to augment the facilities for music research within the University and to serve as the American headquarters for the recently established Répertoire International d'Iconographie Musicale (RIdIM). The purpose of the Research Center, as with the parent organization, is to collect, classify, and analyze depictions of musical subjects in visual sources. The Center will provide for broad-ranging data retrieval by means of computerized in-depth cataloguing. Its archives, although modest in size at present, are available for consultation.

The almost interchangeable terms, iconography ("image drawing") and iconology ("image study"), have traditionally referred to the investigation of figures and symbols in the principal visual arts. Musicologists tend increasingly to employ the terms in a somewhat broader sense to include significant visual documentation from whatever source—including photography—"artistic" or not (the use of photography, for example, is essential in the study of ethnic music).

An awareness of the scholarly potential of a vast, unexplored treasure of visual documentation of the musical life of the past has existed for over sixty years. During that time many musicologists have voiced the need for a systematic gathering and cataloguing of such materials. With the formation of RIdIM (and its several national working groups, the Research Center included), an internationally agreed-upon plan for such action has at last been set into motion. A word about the parent organization is in order.

RIdIM joins RISM and RILM as a third major, internationally organized bibliographic project in music.1 During its inaugural meetings in St. Gallen in August, 1971, it was decided that the basic structure for RIdIM would consist of: (1) a Commission mixte, a 12-15 person policy-making board, composed of representatives from each of the three sponsoring societies, the International Musicological Society, the International Association of Music Libraries, and the International Council of Museums; three co-presidents were designated, Mme. G. Thibaut de Chambure (ICOM), Harald Heckmann (IAML) and Barry S. Brook (IMS), chairman; (2) an Advisory Board made up of museum curators, library directors, art historians, art collectors, automation specialists, etc.; and finally (3) Working Research Groups in each country comprising the active scholars in the field. Each national group would be responsible for setting up its own national center, obtaining its own funding, and gathering data about sources located in its own country.

The Research Center for Musical Iconography at the City University of New York, in addition to fulfilling the national function for the United States, also serves for the time being as the international center for RIdIM. The co-directors of the Center are Barry S. Brook, Executive Officer of the Ph.D. Program in Music at the City University of New York, and Emanuel Winternitz, the curator of Musical Instruments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.2 The day-by-day work of the Center is supervised by its Research Associate, who during 1972-73 was Dr. Richard D. Leppert, a musicologist who has researched the musical iconography of both Flemish and Dutch seventeenth-century painting. For 1973-74 the Research Associate will be Dr. George Golos, who has specialized in the organology and iconography of Eastern European countries. The current staff also includes two research assistants drawn from the doctoral student body at the university, Anita Heppner and Murray Citron. Their work is a form of internship that lasts one to three years.

Training is a major concern of the center. The study of musical iconography demands interdisciplinary background. Students who aspire to become music iconographers need solid work in art history and usually also in sociology, anthropology, cultural history, etc., to properly interpret visual materials. Not every picture of musical activity can be accepted at face value as an indication of a musical practice. Students must learn to distinguish between the apparent and the symbolic, the original and the restored, the authentic and the copy, etc. Accordingly, the Ph.D. Program in Music of the City University has initiated seminars in iconography, organology, aesthetics, and the sociology of music. The courses in iconography and organology are currently taught by Professor Winternitz at the Metropolitan Museum of Art using the considerable resources of that institution's picture and sculpture collections, slide and reference libraries and famed Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments.

In addition to the training of iconographers, the main emphasis of the Research Center is directed toward the gathering, classification and analysis of visual data and the building of a carefully-catalogued computer-indexed photo archive. The indexing will be accomplished with the aid of the thesaurus and computer programs already developed for the indexing of RILM abstracts.

Since so little bibliographical control exists over the subject matter found in visual arts (with exceptions, of course, such as Princeton's Index of Christian Art) and since subject cataloguing and classification is virtually non-existent in most museums, it was essential that internationally acceptable methods be established. This would prevent duplication of effort and make possible effective intra- and international exchange of documentation and reproductions.

Since early 1971, considerable effort has gone into the formulation of an effective and internationally agreed-upon cataloguing method.3 From the start, it was decided that all data should be recorded on 5 × 8 inch cards. After consultation with art historians, computer specialists, iconographers and musicologists, a draft of such a card was presented and emended at the St. Gall meetings. The revised version was tested during the ensuing year; and at RIdIM sessions held in Copenhagen (IMS) and Bologna (IAML) in August and September of 1972, numerous suggestions for further improvement were made.4 The task of designing the "definitive" version of the card was left to the staff of the Research Center, which dealt with this problem for nearly four months in the fall of 1972. In January of this year, the re-revised RIdIM Master Catalogue Card was ready for use as the internationally-accepted data-gathering tool. Copies of both the card and accompanying detailed instructions were widely distributed and are available on demand from the RCMI.

Analysis of the visual materials, as provided for on the RIdIM Master Catalogue Card, includes the following information for each item collected:

(1) Artist, including dates and school

(2) Title, along with the date and place produced

(3) Location of repository, listing country, city, museum or collection, catalogue and/or inventory numbers

(4) Artistic Medium (painting, print, sculpture, etc.)

(5) Total number of Performers, Non-Performers, and Instruments

(6) Musical Notation, whether it is legible or not, the identification of the piece when possible, and the kind of notation

(7) Performers, both human and non-human (e.g. angel musicians); in the case of humans, social class is recorded (e.g. peasant, noble, bourgeois, etc.), as well as sex and age distinctions

(8) Each Instrument, associated with its player, including details of its structure, the manner in which it is played, and with what other instruments it is combined

(9) Pictorial Category (e.g. portrait, still life, landscape, mythology, etc.)

(10) Setting (i.e. the performance site)

(11) Occasion for Music (e.g. civic event, coronation, wedding, dance, concert, opera, ballet, music lesson, banquet, etc.)

(12) Documentation, including bibliographic references to the object in question (A completed card is reproduced below.)




The Catalogue Card has been designed for computerization; an automated retrieval and cross indexing system is planned for 1974-75.

From the information recorded for each object catalogued, as just described, some of the potential value of musico-iconographical research to musicology is evident. Systematically classified data will be made available concerning, for example, the shape of instruments, their evolution both in design and musical function, the manner in which they were played, with what other instruments each was combined in order to form ensembles (seldom indicated in the music itself before the eighteenth century), the proportion between vocal and instrumental bodies, performance sites, etc. From a sociological point of view, scholars will have at their disposal a much broader range of useful information than was hitherto available regarding the role of music, instruments, and performers in a society at a given time, which instruments were used by a particular class, and for what occasion.

The Research Center is building two principal files: (1) the Reproductions File and (2) the RIdIM Catalogue. The Reproductions File is made up of the Center's collection of reproductions of art objects with musical subjects. It includes museum-supplied glossy photographs, original engravings, reproductions of book illustrations, Bärenreiter and Peters calendar prints, black and white slides, color transparencies, greeting cards, etc. These materials, except, of course, for the slides and transparencies, are mounted on museum board stock and stored in file drawers. The RIdIM Catalogue consists of the RIdIM Master Catalogue Cards (the information recorded thereupon has been listed above) and in-depth cross-indexing information. All cards contain a small reproduction of the object in question, to be used for identification (see completed example above). Detailed analysis and interpretation is generally carried out using the mounted Reproduction File.

With the assistance of Professor William Shank, City University of New York Graduate School music librarian, a select body of research and reference materials is being assembled for the Center. These include musico-iconographical studies of all kinds; catalogues of musical instruments collections; books on organology, iconology and art history; check lists (published and unpublished) of museum holdings, artists' works, instrument specifications, etc.

The Research Center is planning the publication of a RCMI/RIdIM Newsletter. Considered for inclusion will be checklists of the musico-iconographical content in works of individual artists, descriptions of collections of musico-iconographic materials (both original and photo reproduction), listings of scholars active in the field, information on meetings, projects, new publications, etc. In the spring of 1974, the Research Center will cosponsor, together with RILM, the publication of Frederick Crane's The Iconography of Music, an Annotated Bibliography (a preliminary version is available free on demand).

In March of this year the Research Center, in cooperation with the Greater New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society, sponsored an all-day meeting devoted to musical iconography. The morning session was devoted to technical matters, the redesigned Master Catalogue Card, cross-referencing file systems, and the development of photo archives of musico-iconographical materials. Similar projects in France and West Germany were described by Mme. de Chambure, curator of the Musical Instruments Collection of the Conservatoire in Paris, and Dr. Harald Heckmann, director of the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv in Frankfurt. In the afternoon session the following four papers were presented: "The Basse de Violon and the Violoncello in Western European Art," by Mme. de Chambure; "Musical Instruments as Portrait Props in Western European Paintings and Drawings, c. 1600 to c. 1830," by Mary Rasmussen (University of New Hampshire); "Musical Scenes in Old Polish Paintings," by George Golos (formerly of the University of Warsaw); and "Open String and Stopped String Cultures in Classical Antiquity: A Chapter in the Iconology of Music," by Emanuel Winternitz. A similar colloquium is planned for the spring of 1974.

During 1973-74 the Research Center for Musical Iconography will concentrate on the cataloguing of the musical holdings of the major museums in the Greater New York area. Similar research is also being undertaken by several scholars and institutions elsewhere in this country. Dr. John Suess at Case Western Reserve University is heading a project to catalogue materials in the Cleveland area; Dr. Ruth Watanabe of the Eastman School of Music is coordinating iconographical research at five upstate New York universities (Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Cornell, and Binghamton); Barbara Lambert of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is making a systematic inventory of relevant documentation in that collection. Eventually it is hoped that all major public and private collections will be inventoried. The Research Center will act as a clearing house for such cooperative efforts, facilitating the exchange of information and reproductions as well as maintaining a central file.5

In addition to its general gathering and cataloguing efforts, the Center has inaugurated in-depth investigations of three specific areas for the coming year: (1) musical Americana; (2) eighteenth-century performance practice; and (3) musical subjects in Italian Renaissance paintings in American collections. These subjects have been selected to reflect student and faculty interests. For the first area, visual materials relating to musical life in America, the Center will cooperate with the Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings. This project, of which Miss Abigail Booth is Coordinator, was initiated in relation to the Bicentennial of the American Revolution and has been under way for the past two years at the Smithsonian Institution.

The RCMI has benefited from the advice of numerous outstanding art historians including Jean Adhémar of the Cabinet des Estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale; Elizabeth Roth, Chief of the Prints Room of the New York Public Library; H.W. Janson, Professor of Art History at New York University; Eve King of London; Rensselaer W. Lee of Princeton University's Department of Art and Architecture; and Edith Jaenicke of the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. The late great Hans van de Waal of the University of Leiden, creator of the Decimal Index of the Art of the Low Countries classification, was most interested and helpful in the project's formative months.

The Center is privileged to enjoy the cooperation of numerous individual scholars who have contributed extensive and path-finding work in the field. Among these may be mentioned, in this country, Mary Rasmussen, Edmund Bowles, David Boyden, Frederick Crane, and Harriet Nicewonger; Koraljka Kos, Anders Lönn, A.P. de Mirimonde, and Frédéric Thieck, abroad.

The RCMI staff has made surveys of the photographic archives, the filing and classification systems, etc. of such institutions as the Index of Christian Art at Princeton, the Frick Art Reference Library in New York, the New York University files at the Institute of Fine Arts, the Photo Collection at the New York Public Library and Metropolitan Museum of Art and several European museums. The Center works with the International Council of Museums, and, through it, with museum directors all over the world.

In conclusion, the Research Center for Musical Iconography is now established as an on-going institution; it hopes to be of service not only to its students and faculty, but to the American musicological community in general. Its files are open; and it welcomes receipt of materials which can be added to its collection, whether they be engravings, photographs, calendar reproductions, post cards, or even greeting cards showing musical subjects, new or old, real or fanciful.

The Center encourages inquiries and is happy to add new names to its burgeoning file of scholars active in the field. Anyone desirous of being added to its mailing list should send in his name, address, and affiliation, plus a brief description of his interest in musical iconography and information about any known collections of musico-iconographical materials. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Research Center for Musical Iconography
City University of New York
Graduate School and University Center
33 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036

1See Barry S. Brook, "RIdIM: A New International Venture in Music Iconography," Notes, XXVIII (June, 1972), 652-63.

2Professor Winternitz is among the first to have defined the potentials and pitfalls of musical iconology—both from the standpoint of music history and art history. See his "The Visual Arts as a Source for the Historian of Music" and "The Knowledge of Musical Instruments as an Aid to the Art Historian" in Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art (New York, 1967).

3A sizeable debt is owed Howard Mayer Brown and Joan Lascelle for their work in cataloguing and classification of musico-iconographical documentation. See their Musical Iconography: A Manual for Cataloguing Musical Instruments in Western Art Before 1800 (Cambridge, 1972).

4Reports of these meetings have been published in Fontes Artis Musicae XIX (1972-73), 196-206 and XX (1973-74), in press.

5RIdIM Master Catalogue Cards are supplied gratis to any institution, public or private, desirous of cooperating, and the Center encourages all who can to fill out the cards themselves for the works they possess. On the other hand, the Center will do the analysis if the cooperating institutions supply photographs with the usual source documentation (artist, title, date, medium, size, etc.), sending a copy of the completed RIdIM card back in return. A number of small museums are currently assisting in this procedure. In the future, repositories throughout the country will be formally invited to participate.

2586 Last modified on November 13, 2018