Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Back from IAML08

(Panoramic view of Naples in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius taken from the Castello Sant'Elmo high above the city.)

After spending some weeks in Italy, I'm finally back at work. It wasn't all r&r having attended the IAML08 Conference which was held in Naples, Italy this year. (IAML stands for the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres.) Kudos to the conference's organising committee and the host Italian branch (Complimenti e mille grazie!) who pulled off one terrific conference full of interesting presentations!

The keynote speaker, Dr Luciano Scala (Regional Director for Cultural and Landscape Heritage of Campania) delivered (in Italian with Powerpoint slides in English) an amazing speech on Italian efforts to document their cultural heritage. Their efforts resulted in the digitisation of over 9.2 million music manuscripts, scores and other ephemeral objects. (

The interface operates in trilingual versions (English, French and Spanish). Here one can access (some for the very first time) manuscripts of Paisiello, Puccini and Verdi to name a few. Many can be downloaded albeit with reduced dpi. If needed for publication one can pay for high resolution. I can only imagine that researchers who did not want to have to travel all the way to tiny monasteries and dusty archives will be as struck as many of the conference delegates at what the Italians have truly achieved here!

One of the 9.2 million digital objects from the database. Here you can read in his own hand writing, Puccini sending a telegram the day after the premiere of the second revision of Madama Butterfly in Brescia describing what a 'complete triumph, 7 encores and being called up [to the stage] 30 times' (Biblioteca Statale di Lucca - ms. 3699/59)

The interface also serves as a union catalogue (SBN) amongst the institutions but I think there are some other e-resources (which I'll blog about later) that can do that and then some! There are digital cultural exhibitions (not just music) following on from physical exhibitions from various libraries and museums.

Certainly the Library of Congress, British Library and other national institutions have documented 'cultural memory' but this seems to stand out on its own. This is not to downplay the accomplishments of other institutions but their focus is towards an English-speaking world. It is refreshing to see an endeavour such as the one the Italians have built here operating in a pluralistic world. Certainly the musicological canon with its developments across the world at least begs us to think about it and take note.

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