Bravo! Very good observation, @ListMyCDs.com!
I will venture a step further to say that there are some implicit ideas common in MusicBrainz guidelines and participants, which I think are sometimes incorrect — especially for western art music, or “classical music”. The case of generic work titles is an example of these ideas being incorrect for these works.
It may seem that everything has a name, in the form of a specific sequence of words or characters in a specific language. I’ll argue that a lot of classical works do not have names in this sense. They have identifiers, “generic work titles” as @ListMyCDs.com put it. The identifier gives the type of the work, a sequence number, maybe a summary of the instruments, maybe an idea of the key; but all are language-independent abstract concepts. All are best rendered into the reader’s local language using the conventional terminology for those abstract concepts.
It may seem that each thing has only one best name . No, many things in life have multiple names, used by different people in different contexts. So too with classical music works. Mozart wrote an opera, to which he apparently gave a formal name Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni. Another person came up with an identifier, K. 527. In current North American reference, it’s perfectly fine to refer to this work as Don Giovanni. And MusicBrainz has standardised on the compound name, Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, K. 527. Works have many names. It’s important for MusicBrainz to embrace this.
It may seem that the Artist is the only source of names. Maybe, for music composed and published recently, few hands were involved in the naming: perhaps the artist, their manager, the record label. In classical music, many works have had decades or centuries to marinade in the culture. Many hands have influenced how we name works. For instance, it was not Tchaikovsky, but a translator, who applied the name “Pathétique” to his Symphony No. 6. MusicBrainz correctly retains this mistranslation.
It may seem that it’s to apply the Artist Intent principle strictly for these names. I think the Artist Intent principle is good, especially for metadata where the artist made an intentional choice about text which we will put in our database. But note that Artist Intent is now phrased as “Artists sometimes choose to present names and titles in ways that deliberately contradict the rules”. It does not say, we will slavishly imitate every accident of the Artist’s wording. In fact, quite the opposite. We correct errors in MusicBrainz, except when the Artist deliberately chose to break the rules.
It may seem that a reference should be limited to one language. Normally in English language discourse, we render foreign phrases into English. But classical music in particular has a rich German, Italian, and French language cultural history. It’s quite normal in classical music discourse to code-switch among these languages. Note how in English and German, when naming Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, we switch to French for the word “Pathétique”. Conversely, it’s quite normal in classical music to render those language-independent references, e.g. “Type: Symphony, Number: 2” into the local language.
So, I think it would be good for MusicBrainz to:
- embrace this understanding of some classical works having abstract, symbolic references, or “generic work titles”
- have a robust mechanism for presenting each user with the desired language rendering of Work (and Track and Release) titles, so that a user can see the abstract, symbolic reference rendered in the customary words for their language
- allow multiple customary names for things, with the user able to choose which name they prefer, in preference to having endless battles about which of several legitimate options MusicBrainz will exclude
- have a place for culture-specific customary names, even when they differ from the Artist’s wording at the time
- embrace the idea that some Titles (and Releases) will involve multiple languages, and stop insisting that there be only one answer to the question, “which language?”.
Easy? No. But essential to representing classical music well? Yes!