An eighteen-month pilot study for the OCVE project was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2003–04, followed by three developmental phases (2005–09, 2011–15, and 2015–17). The OCVE site currently comprises c. 6,000 digital images of individual pages of primary source material of the music of Fryderyk Chopin, comprising music text and other elements of manuscripts, first editions, and later impressions produced during Chopin’s lifetime or after his death, along with associated metadata. The latter includes excerpts from Christophe Grabowski and John Rink’s Annotated Catalogue of Chopin’s First Editions (Cambridge University Press, 2010), which itself is available in digitised form in the Chopin Online resource. So too is a restructured and redesigned version of Chopin’s First Editions Online (CFEO). Together these three sites constitute a resource of unprecedented breadth and depth, providing new access to the most important sources, fostering new understanding of their individual and collective significance, and facilitating scholarly research and performance alike.

One of OCVE’s main aims was to stretch the boundaries of the conventional music edition if not to redefine it altogether. To that end, the project team devised a range of display tools which are straightforward to use but which significantly extend the capacity of musicologists, individual musicians, and others to compare discrete witnesses and to trace the creative history of Chopin’s music.

The project as a whole addressed four key research questions:

  • What is a musical ‘work’, and how is the ‘work concept’ that has prevailed since the mid-nineteenth century challenged by the Chopin sources?
  • What is the best means of capturing in an edition the creative history implicit in the sources, ranging from the earliest sketches through to the last impressions of the first editions and beyond?
  • How can the intellectual and logistical difficulties routinely experienced by editors in handling disparate source materials be overcome by means of technological support?
  • In what ways might technology change the mode of presenting information previously contained within – or, conversely, uncontainable within – printed editions? Moreover, how might technology fundamentally alter the musician’s and the musicologist’s understanding of individual sources, their often complex interrelationships, and their significance as artistic and cultural artifacts within a rich history of publication, pedagogy, and performance?

The main outcomes of the OCVE project were as follows:

  • An online musical edition demonstrating the ways in which scholarship and technology can interact to mutual advantage
  • An interlinked archive of digitised manuscript and printed sources of a large body of music, all of which can be displayed in various formats
  • Detailed philological descriptions written by the scholarly team
  • Personal annotation tools allowing individual users to create their own virtual OCVE with personal comments at several levels of granularity, and pick-lists of scores or works which persist between access sessions.

The following features are particularly noteworthy:

  • An important body of primary source material has been comprehensively assembled for the first time, facilitating philological and style-historical investigation and encouraging new understanding of Chopin's compositional and publication histories.
  • The OCVE resource – totalling some 6,000 images – provides direct access to musicians and musicologists to Chopin’s manuscripts and a range of impressions of the first editions of his music.
  • The display features have considerable practical and scholarly potential but are simple to use and intuitive in design.
  • The online catalogue excerpts and bar-level commentaries foreground the major differences between the manuscripts and multiple first editions, in addition to highlighting their chronological and filial relationships.
  • The annotation tools provide users with unprecedented scope to construct their own ‘critical commentaries’ within what amounts to a uniquely ‘dynamic edition’.
  • The technical outcomes are generalisable to similar projects of a musical and/or non-musical nature and to other initiatives.