Getting Started

by Kris Shaffer

The Lieder Project will chronicle a research project that Stephen Rodgers (music theorist from the University of Oregon), Jordan Pyle (CU–Boulder student), David Lonowski (CU–Boulder student), and I will be undertaking beginning this summer. Recently Stephen has been researching the relationship between the sounds of poems and the structures of the music to which they are set. Our team will be collaborating on a corpus-study expansion of this project. The initial goal is to find if the patterns Stephen has discovered in songs like "Nacht und Träume" by Schubert are characteristic of a broader repertoire, or if his findings represent isolated incidents. We're also thinking through possible expansion to other genres, such as pop/rock "diva songs," to see if similar patterns emerge. (For example, in the case of "diva songs," I'm interested in seeing if songs written for specific singers make particular use of phonemes such as "open" vowels in prominent parts of the song — the chorus, the longest notes, the highest notes, etc. — in order to maximize vocal quality at key musical moments.)

At this point, we are encoding a set of nineteenth-century Romantic German poems in plain text using the IPA Unicode fonts and keyboard from SIL International. We will also be encoding the melodies of the settings of these poems to music by Romantic composers using Trinket-flavored TinyNotation (see trinket.io and music21 for more information). We're still working on how we'll be encoding harmony, form, and other musical parameters that may be helpful to analyze. Finally, we'll be using original Python scripts (possibly supported by music21) to analyze patterns in the text and music, and of course their relationship.

I'm excited about this project, and about the insights and community feedback we'll receive as we blog the process. We'll try to keep a steady stream of posts and examples coming throughout the summer! We'll also be publishing many of our materials to GitHub, so that others can make use of our IPA text transcriptions, musical transcriptions, and Python code.

We are thankful to UROP (the Undergraduate Reasearch Opportunities Program) at CU–Boulder for their financial support of Jordan and David's work on this project this summer.