Friday, January 8, 2010

D-S-C-H: A Wikipedia Story

Back in March 2009, I wrote about a post called Why I Love Wikipedia. In this post, I discussed how Wikipedia can be used as a research aid without breaking the cardinal rule of not directly citing Wikipedia. A great example of this came up recently. One of our patrons was wondering how he could find the correct terminology for a compositional technique. While he was partially wondering how one would do this in general (when you know what you're looking for but don't know what it's called), he was also wondering specifically about the technique of turning names (often the composer's own) into musical motifs. Two well known examples of this are B-A-C-H (B♭, A, C, B♮) and D-S-C-H (D, E♭, C, B♮ [for Shostakovich]). One solution might be to look in articles and books that discuss the work and see if they mention what this technique is called. Another solution, however, is to try out this newfangled Internet thing. So here's what I did:

1) First, I searched in Google for D-S-C-H.

2) The first results was the Wikipedia entry for the musical motif DSCH, so I clicked on that.

3) The second sentence of that Wikipedia entry refers to this theme as a "musical cryptogram." That sounded reasonable, so I clicked on that.

4) The entry for "musical cryptogram" seemed to describe what I was looking for, but I wanted a more authoritative source. A quick scroll to the bottom revealed a reference (all good Wikipedia articles list references!) for "Cryptography, Musical" in New Grove, 2nd ed.

5) Since we have access to New Grove through Oxford Music Online, I took a look at the "Cryptography, Musical" there and sure enough, that's exactly the term I was looking for. Also, the New Grove article had much more information than the Wikipedia article!

So, with very little effort, I was able to use Google and Wikipedia as research tools while still ending up with a highly authoritative source to answer the question. Consider this encouragement to do the same when you're doing your own research!

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