[tei-council] Encoding 18th century comic operas

Martin Mueller martinmueller at northwestern.edu
Tue Apr 5 15:21:46 EDT 2011

I'd like to bring to your attention an issue that has arisen in converting
P3 SGML texts from the Text Creation Partnership into versions that fit P5
without any customization. Brian Pytlik Zillig at Nebraska and I have been
working on this for a while. The encoding of libretto-like texts has posed
the most intractable problems. The problem is in one way a problem of
concurrent hierarchies: there is a verbal structure and a musical structure
(even though there is no score). And how to harmonize those two is

Lou suggested a new element that groups speeches.  This certainly helps with
musical numbers where singers take turns within a particular duet or larger
ensemble. But the problem may be more general and deeper. I attach a few
pages from Dibdin's pantomimical burletta Harlequin everywhere and Garrick's
Peep behind the Curtain. The most distinctive feature of these texts is a
systematic shuttling between relatively more "open" and more "closed" forms.
An "air" or a "duet" is a closed form and sung. A recitative is more open
and may be the default form of discourse (in the Garrick example) or
distinguished from plain speech on the one hand and sung matter on the other
hand in Dibdin.  There is an alternation between different media (speech,
recitative, song) , and the layout of the printed page makes this very

It seems surprisingly difficult to model this in P5 without lots of
different wrappers. The TCP encoders clearly struggled with it, with often
awkward or inconsistent results.

Oddly enough, the simplest way of dealing with all this would be to use 'q'.
Lou calls this tag abuse, and I can't disagree with that. On the other hand,
if you take the definition of the Guidelines very literally, you read that q
"contains material which is marked as (ostensibly) being somewhat different
than the surrounding text, for any one of a variety of reasons including,
but not limited to: direct speech or thought, technical terms or jargon,
authorial distance, quotations from elsewhere, and passages that are
mentioned but not used." From the perspective of that definition, <q> is an
element that "sets off" some stretch of text for whatever reason or purpose.
And that is very much what is going on in textual regions that are marked as
"recitative", "air", or "duetto."

I don't think I've come across any of the difficult stretches in 18th
century comic operas that couldn't be quite economically modeled with <q>,
except that you need to use <label> rather than <head> for the highly
conventional headings of musical numbers. Is there a case to be made for a
q-like element that focuses very abstractly on an "off-set effect"? Or are
there equally simple and better ways of modeling such textual phenomena?

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