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The Sources of Absolute Music: Mapping Emotions in Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DIDONE (The Sources of Absolute Music: Mapping Emotions in Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

The DIDONE project explores the musical resources through which 18th-century opera seria composers expressed a codified set of emotions. To that aim, we have selected 8 libretti written by Pietro Metastasio, of which ca. 250 full musical versions have been preserved. At this stage we are prioritising 3 librettos that make a total of 130 versions.
This allows comparison and study of a corpus of ca. 3,000 arias across seven decades. On these bases, our main objectives are:

1.- To identify the techniques and conventions through which 18th-century composers expressed a definite set of emotions.

2.- To create a new corpus of digital objects, based on music still preserved in manuscripts. It will consist on the engraving of some 3,000 arias in standard digital formats and elevant metadata. These will be analysed using both traditional and computer-aided methods.

3.- To develop a cluster of related analytical models to identify narrative, poetic and musical patterns associated to the expression of emotions in 18th-century opera seria. The models and related tools will be applicable to other tonal music corpora.

4.- On the basis of our corpus, to investigate the development of harmonic, melodic and formal techniques throughout the 18thcentury, as well as the interrelation and mutual influences between a number of selected musical parameters, thus demonstrating the central role that opera played in the construction of European musical language.

5.- To transfer research results beyond academia.

As the digital objects will be reusable and interoperable, and we are following annotation standards developed in conjunction with other groups, our corpus will potentially be studied by other scholars. Furthermore, we are recovering music that is now forgotten but which, however, was central in European Enlightenment culture. In this manner, new insights into the foundation and development of European culture will be uncovered. Our editions are prepared with the aim that some will be performed in stage productions in operatic theatres. A first milestone was the premiere of Achille in Sciro by Corselli scheduled for March 2020 at the Teatro Real, Madrid, yet it had to be postponed to 2023 owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. Furthermore, we are planning to organise a European opera festival by the end of the project.
By the 18th month of the project, we have:
- located the musical and textual sources we need to carry out the project. These are spread in libraries and archives all around Europe and America.We have already purchased some of them.
- established a clear workflow from the engravers (technicians) to the postdoctoral researchers. To that aim, tools to enable both communication among the team members and work monitoring have been chosen.
- established clear and functional criteria for the process of transcription and correction of the arias. Almost 600 arias have been engraved so far.
- determined which digital formats are most useful for our purposes. These are .musx, MusicXML and .mscx (MuseScore), along with PDF.
- started preparing our database to store our metadata.
- started studying Metastasio’s poetic and philosophical conception. Through the study of his texts and correspondence, we have determined that most aria texts express a combination of basic emotions, as classified in Descartes’ theory of passions.
- developed computational tools for the visualisation of various musical parameters, such as texture, density and scoring.
- determined the general model for computational music analysis. To that aim, we have selected a list of 10 musical parameters, with a view to writing code to analyse each of them separately. Once the data are extracted, the model will allow application of artificial intelligence techniques to determine which aspect(s) of these musical parameters is/are most relevant to the expression of each singular emotion.
- Ground-truth annotations of some musical aspects, such as harmony and phrase structure, have been seen to be necessary.
- Scripts to analyse key and scoring have been completed. Work on melodic and harmonic analysis is currently being
performed, with a view to prepare code to be able to process any score in musicXML format.
- The data indicate that perhaps other factors besides the emotion expressed in the text may have been more determinant in
composers’ key and scoring choices.
- With the data extracted so far, we have been able to test some algorithms for the classification of the arias. Some clear
groups are already observable.
- established collaboration with members of a related ERC project
As we found more musical sources than initially planned for each libretto, we decided to reduce our textual sources from 8 to 3 librettos. In any case, this will not reduce the total number of arias very significantly: from 4,000 to 3,000, which is a more realistic figure given how long the score correction process takes. It is expected that, by the end of the DIDONE project, we will have:

- produced a corpus of ca. 3000 digital objects.
- classified the select Metastasian aria texts by the emotion(s) they express, using both ground-truth and computational methods.
- developed computational code to extract both ground-truth and automatically-generated metadata for the select 10 musical parameters for the whole corpus.
- test the current hypothesis that other factors, such as date and place of premiere, may have been more relevant in composers’ choices of musical techniques.
- through the application of artificial intelligence techniques:
- compared ground-truth and computational emotional labelling of the arias.
- determined which aspect(s) of these musical parameters was/were most relevant to the expression of each singular
emotion.
- classified the arias on the basis of their musical characteristics only.
- compared music-based and text-based grouping of the arias in order to determine whether or not there is a direct
correlation between text and music in the studied repertoire.
- organised at least 2 conferences (currently postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and an opera festival.
- premiered our edition of the opera Achille in Sciro by Corselli. The premiere was scheduled for March 2020, butm due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponed until 2023.
Teatro Real, Aquiles in Esciros
Researchers' team of the Didone Project
Principal Researcher, Prof. Alvaro Torrente