A Word about RISM

Bettina Hoffmann

Thursday, October 12, 2023

RISM is not simply an abstract database or a series of books, the project lives above all through intensive exchange with our users. Therefore we are very grateful for comments pointing out potential errors or reports on personal experiences. Some remarks of this sort you can also find on the page Who uses RISM?

The following contribution comes from the gambaist and musicologist Bettina Hoffmann – a long-standing user of our database.

In these days of mine, in which everyone can not only receive but also pass on knowledge; in which anyone with just an internet connection can write or modify an encyclopedia article; in which intentionally or unintentionally falsified data have the upper hand statistically, RISM is a true lifeline. A source of information on which trained musicologists and librarians of the first rank have been working for more than a hundred years (Robert Eitner included) to collect reliable data, and to improve and complete it with each new edition, with each supplement and each monthly update, is for me naturally the first address, which I turn to constantly and gratefully during my investigations.

Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case for everyone: I observe that many musicians hardly know RISM and make little use of it, preferring to grapple with unverified information from the first search engine at hand. Now, fake news about 17th-century printed music editions are far less dangerous to humanity than those about vaccines or warfare, but they are no less persistent and difficult to eradicate. That is why I like to make advertisement for RISM, emphatically calling it to the attention of my colleagues and students, but the real solution right now could only be if the information contained in RISM’s records would systematically be captured by Google & Co, which unfortunately is not yet the case, so that anyone searching for a work, composer or source in general would be referred to RISM.

RISM is an enterprise of unimaginable scope and high authority, and yet it is run and managed by people; flesh-and-blood people who respond to queries and suggested corrections with personally crafted words. No academic exclusivism, no chat with “Vanessa, your virtual assistant,” but some real engagement with the topic that encourages collaboration. And that too remains special about the RISM Experience.

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