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15 March 2018

30. Double-crossed?

I spoiled the mood.  I was at a dinner with musicological colleagues and students after a meeting of the Southeast chapter of the American Musicological Society last spring.  It was a lovely timegreat food and conversationbut then someone thought to ask a question to the whole table:  What is your favorite opera?

When the turn to answer came around to me, I knew that there would be a universal howl of disapproval for my choice:  Così fan tutte.  There was.  I suppose I could have picked several others as honest answers to the question.  Favorite isnt really a fair word for such a big repertory.  Still, I adore Così even while I dislike it.  And I certainly understand why others are repelled by it or think it unworthy of Mozarts genius.  It can certainly be played tastelessly (as this perceptive review of the current Seattle Opera production shows).  But I think it can be staged beautifully in a way that doesnt sugarcoat anything.  I have taught the piece many times, and in class I usually have turned to Nicholas Hytners superb (and superb-looking) Glyndebourne production from 2006.  As I regularly tell my students, each time I teach this piece I am seeing it again, where they are (almost always) seeing it for the first time.  Each time it affects me more deeply, and there will be tears streaming down my cheeks while they look on unfazed.  But that's how art works:  the more you invest, the more you reap.  This scenebeautiful as it isis harrowing for me to watch, as these guys put their girlfriends in an utterly false position just over a cocky bet.  I hate it.  And yet....

Certainly Così is an example of what I would describe as the Disney Happy Ending Problem.  All sorts of terrible, traumatic events happen in childrens movies; no matter how blissfully perfect the finale ultimo appears to be, it never seems to me to compensate for the kidnapping, the guardians death, the lonely wanderings (or whatever) of Scene 2.  Granted, by the time we reach the end of Così, Im not really enjoying it anymorebut Id say that of just about every opera I know (Idomeneo being an exception in that regard).  Hytners production does a good job of leaving the audienceor me, at any ratewith a lingering bad taste.  As Mozarts C major fanfares bellow in the pit, the four protagonists eye each other nervously.  Happily ever after, perhaps, but it is no longer clear who belongs with whom.
SOURCE:  The original couples restored but confused:  cropped screenshot from DVD of 2006 Glyndebourne production (at 2:56:58, during the orchestral conclusion to the Act II finale).  
One of the things that makes the ending so unsatisfactory is that weve hardly seen the right pairings of these couples, andmore than thisthose right pairings are so musically wrong:  the opera seria soprano Fiordiligi is not the fiancée of the romantic tenor Ferrando, but rather of the baritone Guglielmo; it is the buffa mezzo Dorabella who is engaged to the tenor.  Our earsor at least my earsknow that something is wrong with this.

SOURCE:  Boydell & Brewer website
It was thus refreshing to read Ian Woodfields fascinating monograph Mozart’s Così fan tutte A Compositional History.  I read it when it came out in 2008, but have been eagerly awaiting a chance to re-read it, and teaching the work again this spring while also writing the blog prompted me to find the time to do itand to have the (relatively inexpensive) facsimile of Mozart's autograph at my elbow.  This is a great convenience, as the autograph itself is split between two libraries (Kraków and Berlin), and the facsimile includes also a scan of the original printed libretto and portions of a Viennese copyist manuscript.  That is only a start, though, as Woodfield scrutinized twenty further copyists scores of the work.  Scrutinized is a mild word to capture the intensity of Woodfields examinations, but the only way to appreciate that is to read the book.  This sort of forensic study is not for everyone, but I would expect anyone who follows this blog would find it at least worth a try.  That said, the conclusions Woodfield draws from this are earth-shattering.  Of these, the most astonishing is that, at some point during their work on the opera, Mozart and da Ponte planned that the couples would not be switchedthat the conditions of the bet would be that the guys would be compelled to seduce their own (rather than each others) fiancees.

This is, of course, not the work as we know it.  I suspect that it was an attempt to make the far-fetched plot seem a little more reasonable (not that that is a precondition for opera libretti...).  We might be more willing to accept the womens yielding so quickly to suitors physically like their boyfriendsbut that would result in a dramatically much weaker second act.  In the opera as finished Ferrando has to learn from Guglielmo that his side of the bet is lost, and we get two powerful reactions:  Guglielmos misogynist rage (Donne mie, la fate a tanti) and Ferrandos conflicted recognition that he loves her still, sadder but wiser (Tradito, schernito).  If the pairs were not crossed, Ferrando would not need to be told anything (nor Guglielmo later), nor would the audience.  It would be a recipe for tedium.

I should add that Woodfield does not argue that the un-switched pairs was da Pontes original plan, but that instead it was an innovation during the gestation of the work with Mozart.  Intriguingly, the opera was first intended for Antonio Salieri, whose incomplete draft of the first few numbers survives.  (On this issue, see the compelling 1996 Cambridge Opera Journal article by Bruce Alan Brown and John A. Rice.)  The libretto Salieri was working on begins in exactly the same way, commencing with Ferrando praising his Dorabella as incapable of infidelity:
SOURCE:  cropped screenshot of a page from Antonio Salieris attempt [La scola degli amanti], Austrian National Library, shelfmark Mus.Hs.4531, fol. 5.
With Mozarts(?) idea to revise the plot, these name-pairings remained the samethat is, Dorabella and Ferrando were paired (throughout, even with Ferrando in disguise)and similarly Fiordiligi and Guglielmo.  Leaving these couples together, though, made it necessary to switch the vocal types, with Dorabella as the high soprano and Fiordiligi as the mezzo.  Evidence supporting this can be seen where these vocal parts have been reversed in the autograph (as in the example below in their first number (4), but nos. 6, 10, and 13 have the same situation); also suggestive are places where lines given in the first edition of the libretto to one sister are set by Mozart for the other.

SOURCE:  detail of scan of Bärenreiter facsimile (Vol. I, p. 55), reproducing Act I, fol. 28the beginning of the duet No. 4, “Ah guarda, sorella” 
Woodfields scrutiny of the autograph score reveals Mozarts considerable indecision at crucial moments.  In the recitative below, there is a false start for Ferrando, then (after the new accolade with clefs) the same text allocated but given to Guglielmo, followed by Ferrandos response, but which Mozart then struck through, reversing the order of the characters back to the original plan, and adapting the vocal parts accordingly.
SOURCE:  detail of scan of Bärenreiter facsimile (Vol. I, p. 207), reproducing Act I, fol. 104the beginning of the recitative “Ah non partite.”
If Woodfield had to rely on a single page for strong evidence of his theory, it would certainly be the first page of an aria intended for Guglielmo, but replaced long before the premiere.  There are good dramatic reasons for replacing it, but Mozart clearly valued it enough that even after removing it from the opera he entered it in his own catalogue of works, where it appears thus:
SOURCE:  detail of scan of Mozart’s Thematic Catalogue:  A Facsimile (BL Stefan Zweig MS 63, ff. 22v-23)
In December [1789]
An aria intended for the opera Così fan tutte, for BenuccìRivolgete à me lo sguardo etc: 2 violini, viola, 2 oboe, 2 fagotti, 2 clarini e Timpany e Baßi:
The cut aria remains in situ in the score.  Heres the first page:
SOURCE:  detail of scan of Bärenreiter facsimile (Vol. I, p. 209), reproducing Act I, fol. 105the beginning of the Guglielmo's cut aria “Rivolgete”
SOURCE:  the same, even more detailed
Looking more closely [detail at right], we can see that the aria was originally addressed to Dorabella, but her name has been scratched out and Fiordiligis superimposed.  Beyond this, though, Woodfield notes the ink color of the word lui is different than the surrounding text.  Mozart left the space for the pronoun blank for a while as he decided what Guglielmo was to say (and to whom).  In the catalog listing, he says Turn and look at me (Rivolgete à me lo sguardo); but in the score he says instead Turn and look at him.  Mozarts omission of the pronoun allowed him time to figure out what would work best for the opera.  Ultimately that was a restoration (apparently) to the criss-cross couplings, but it is fascinating to consider how different the work might have been.

These are a few of the dozens of examples Woodfield musters to support his conclusions, and I cannot do justice to them in the small scale of a blog poststill less to his examinations of performing traditions in sources dating from the first few decades after the premiere.  The work that resulted is not perfect.  It bears the traces of Mozart trying to make changes as he went along, and then incompletely fixing them.  (Fiordiligis first line of recitative, for exampleIm ready for some mischief this morningseems more in character with her sister.)  This is a problematic work, and Mozart struggled to bring it off.  Given that Mozart fell in love with one woman and ultimately married her sister (to whom he was later to write about the necessity of her fidelity in preserving his honor), it wouldnt be surprising if this plot hit particularly close to home.  One reason I like teaching this piece is that I think it comes close to my students, too.  Generally speaking, my students are still idealists, like the couples in this opera.  

The moral of the talethat one will be better off accepting how people are than pretending they are who we want them to be (and consequently being perpetually hurt or disappointed)is, I think, one well worth learning.  Maybe it is my Calvinist upbringing, but I have found the #metoo revelations simultaneously appalling and unsurprising.  What conceivable grounds do we have to expect people in power to behave better?  (Granted, Le nozze di Figaro deals more overtly with #metoo; and the moment at the end of Act III where Barbarina turns it to her advantage is particularly satisfying.)

I dont like the plot of Così; I dont like the situations the characters are put in.  I understand why people dont want to see it (and thus the howls of disapproval at an otherwise pleasant dinner last spring).  It is an ugly story beautifullythough problematicallytold.  I cant stand its title, which singles out women specifically and unfairly.  It should be called Men behaving badly:  their arrogance is the cause of all the heartache.  I would settle for This is how people are. Any work with a title like that is bound to be a tragedy:  da Ponte in bed with Voltaire. 

The textual situation of Così is a healthy reminder that (of course) all life is compromise:  not just politics, but relationships tooand even art from as sure a hand as Mozart.  The music is so beautiful, but it appears he didnt get it to work out quite the way he wanted.  Still, its so much better than nothing at all.  That, too, is the lesson his couples have to learn if the ending is going to mean anything at all.

01 February 2018

29. Fine print

This tenth installment in my slowed-but-still-proceeding
further explores an idea that crossed my mind as I was writing the fourth installment, which examined the two AMB notebooks.  Toward the end of that post, writing about one of the two incomplete copies of the aria Schlummert ein (from BWV 82) in one of these notebooks, I wrote:

Several pages later the aria appears a second time, although this time AMB did not finish the copy.  The vocal line breaks off midway through bar 60 (at the end of a page); the unfigured bassline breaks off after 28 bars.  It seems likely to me that it was added in later, as it too breaks off at a page-turn:  waiting for the ink to dry before turning the page, she was needed elsewhere and never completed the project.  (Similarly, I wondered, are the five missing appoggiaturas in her first copy merely a sign of a practical notational issue?  That is, might she have used a different pen-nib for the appoggiaturas, so that there was a reason to leave space and move on, coming back to fill them in later? I dont know the Bach literature well enough to know if this has been explored, nor have I seen it discussed in other eighteenth-century sources.)  [On the image on the left, the vertical blemish in the middle of my red circle where the appoggiatura ought to be does not seem to be an erasureand there is no such blemish in the other four instances.]
SOURCE:  cropped scans of "Schlummert ein" b. 40 in AMB2 p. 108 (f. 55r) [with absent appoggiatura highlighted] and 113 (f. 59v) from Bach-Digital.

The example above is in the hand of Anna Magdelena Bach.  In the past several months of exploring Bach sources (particularly in his own hand), this issue about the absence of small-note ornaments has recurred with such regularity that I find myself with a short catalogue of data points.  I should stress that Im thinking exclusively of the small-note ornaments (i.e., those in which a note is written smaller to indicate that it is ornamental) rather than what one might call the squiggle ornaments (i.e., those indicated by an arbitrary symboltrill, mordent, turn, Schleifer, etc.)  These latter show up regularly in composing scores, and thus (I am speculating) did not require a change of nib to notate.  (And nota bene:  Pen-nib was not quite accurate in my earlier post, as really it is quill-nibs that are at issue.)

Indeed, much of this post is really just speculation, as I do not have much to go on.  I remember a moment in a graduate school seminar when I voiced some idea for which I had assembled a similar paucity of evidence, and the professor (rightly) shot it down with the line Thats not a theory; thats speculation.  The contempt with which he enunciated the word still sticks with me.  For some reason, I enjoy reliving that moment in my memorymaybe because it was an important lesson I needed to learn.

I have also written in this blog about the dangers of amateurism in music scholarshipyet I will wallow in amateurism in this post.  As Ive said before, I am no Bach scholar; his music is an inevitable topic in a blog such as mine, as the amount of textual research to which his Nachlass has been subjected is truly staggering.  There is just so much for me to write about.  Like Everest, hes there.  But in this post I find myself writing speculatively, without any underpinnings in the literature.

SOURCE:  Bärenreiter promotional photo
A few weeks ago I was studying the new Bärenreiter facsimile of BWV 20 (which reproduces the autograph composing score of the cantata together with the original manuscript parts and the two wrappers).  Although it wasnt what I was looking for, I was startled by a consistent discrepancy:  the small-note ornaments in the parts were not in the composing score.  These ornaments were authenticthere for all to see in the parts (the collective work of the composer and four copyists).  But of course the parts were where these marks needed to be in order to be heard because they would not be played directly from the score.  This brought to mind my earlier idea about the smaller nib:  would it have been more trouble than it was worth to put the small-note ornaments in the hastily-written score?  (Indeed, the number of instances of small-note ornaments in the composing score is exceedingly small: mvt. 1 / b. 92 / Vln. I; and a handful in mvts. 5 and 10.)

I have made no general survey of the Bach works for which both a composing score and an authentic set of parts survive; that task is certainly beyond what can be done with a blog that is very much on the side of my obligations.  But that the parts supply this sort of information when the scores may not is noted by Moritz Hauptmann, the original chairman of the Bach Gesellschaft edition, and the editor of this cantata in the second volume of the BG (1852):
SOURCE: detail of "Vorwort" (p. xiii) to BG vol. 2, from scan available via the IMSLP.
[Third and fourth sentences; roughly:]  ...Where in addition to the score the original parts were also available, these were conscientiously consulted.  The parts are of importance not only for the appoggiatura markings and the figuring of the basso continuo, of which the score seldom has any; they also serve to verify unclearly-written notes and lyrics [in the score]....
A particularly striking example of this in BWV 20 is the sixth movement, the alto aria O Mensch, errette deine Seele, which is replete with small-note ornaments in both the BG and the NBA, both of which give proper editorial deference to the parts over the score in this respect.  As a sample, observe (if you can make it out below) just the opening bars of the BG, the autograph, and the original Vln. I part:
SOURCES: (top L) cropped screen-shot of BG Bd. 2, p. 314 from IMSLP; (top R) cropped scan of Bärenreiter 2017 facsimile of D-LEb Rara I,14; (bottom) cropped screenshot of original Vln. I part f. 2r. from Bach-Digital.  [Note also that the trill in the score b. 3 is dutifully copied into the part; the trill in b. 2 is Bachs added ornament (the identical mark as in the score) to the copied part, and thus not in the score.]
All of this brought to mind a startling difference between the early version of the St. Matthew Passion and the version universally familiar from Bachs c. 1736 fair copy score.  The sole extant source for the early version is a copy by J. C. Farlau made some ten or so years after Bach's fair copy revised version was prepared.  Originally the NBA issued the early version only as a grey-scale facsimile of Farlau’s score (which at the time1972was attributed to Johann Christoph Altnickol), although it has subsequently been issued as a newly-edited volume in its own right.  It has been recently recorded by the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr, who (on the promotional video for this release) notes the absence of some of these appoggiaturas:
I find a lot of things sharper in focus and more dramatic in color, whereas in the later version things have been softened up with appoggiaturas and more rococo ornaments.  So generally I find some things are a little bit more shocking, and a bit clearer. (at 04:21)

On that video we hear what must be the most shocking example of this textual difference, which is the duet So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen (no. 27a, near the end of Part I).  Here is the beginning as it appears in Bachs c. 1736 manuscript, replete with "small notes" in the imitative woodwind lines:
SOURCE:  BWV 244 no. 27, bb. 1-5;  detail (p. 55) of Bach's fair copy (D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 25) from Bach-Digital
And the same passage as it appears in Farlaus copy; nary an appoggiatura in sight:

SOURCE:  BWV 244b no. 27a, bb. 1-5;  detail of copy by J. C. Farlau (D-B Am. B. 6) from Bach-Digital.
To Egarr, this is an intentional stylistic difference:  Bach has added (new) ornaments as he revised the work in 1736; they werent there in 1727.  If we take Farlaus effort to have resulted in a faithful copy of Bachs 1727 score (and there is nothing at all to suggest he was scoring up from parts), we can grant that these were not in that source.  But maybe (I speculate) these appoggiaturas were in Bach's conception of the work in 1727, but included in the no-longer-extant parts rather than the score.  As in BWV 20, the parts were where it would really matter, as this would be what the players read.  The later fair copy autograph is justly celebrated as a beautiful calligraphic copy, and it is reasonable that Bach would make more effort to present a more accurate text in it than in run-of-the-mill scores.  But if the original 1727 score was anything like that of the hastily-prepared BWV 20and if indeed adding such notes meant using a different nibI would not really expect them to be there.  That is not something Farlau would have known to take into account as he prepared his copy.  One thing that is consistent about Farlaus copy is the incredibly scarcity of small-note ornaments.  In my examination of this source, apart from the more profusely ornamented no. 39 (the alto aria Erbarme dich), I located only nine examples in the whole work.  (If you want to see a list, click here.  My list also includes some instances where the 1736 fair copy score lacks some of the small-note ornaments transmitted in the corresponding(?) set of parts.)

My speculative nib idea also suggests a new way at looking at (for example) the profusely ornamented chorale Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV 641 (in the Orgelbüchlein).  This is the chorale which was later revised as the so-called deathbed chorale (Vor deinen Thron tret ich, BWV 668), stripped of the ornamentation, and with imitative interludes interpolated between the chorale phrases.  (Christoph Wolff has dealt with this situation very lucidly.)  But what strikes me as I look at the page is that the ornamented melody seems to have been written with two different sized quill-pointsand am I imagining things to perceive a different tint to the ink?  Here is the full page:

SOURCE:  BWV 641, p. 115 of Bach's autograph of the Orgelbüchlein (D-B Mus. Ms. Bach P 283); scan from Bach-Digital
And here is a detail of the third measure leading into the fourth.  The downbeat of b. 3 seems to be a normal-sized note-head; all of the notes of beat two, and the first note of beat 3 and beat 4 similarly seem to be the default size, as well as all of the notes in the other voices.  But the rest of the figuration seems significantly smaller:

SOURCE:  detail (bb. 3-4) of BWV 641 (D-B Mus. Ms. Bach P 283); scan from Bach-Digital
Turning to Peter Williams's excellent survey The Organ Music of J. S. Bach, Im delighted to see that he has noticed the same thing:
The coloraturas, unlike most of those in BWV 614 and 622, centre around turning phrases that lead to the next note of the cantus, which is placed where it would be even if there were no decoration.  This is a particular technique that can be understood in two ways:  these embellishments could be taken out in order to produce BWV 668, or they could be added in order to produce BWV 641, where they are written as smaller notes in P 283.  (p. 311; emphasis mine)
We might imagine (uh... speculate), then, that Bach initially wrote something like this:

only later to squeeze in the more florid version.  His use of the smaller nib would then be merely a practical matternot indicating small-note ornamentation, but simply cramming a lot of notes into an insufficient space.  It is certainly hard to believe that he would have intended such a florid second beat of b. 4 when originally laying out the work in this manuscript, as he ends up not just in the margin but in the gutter of the binding of his little book.

Another imponderable question:  do the squiggle ornaments which would then have been written mainly over quarter notes apply also to my putatively new florid line (i.e., resulting in the face-value reading of the page, as it is invariably played now)?  Or does the filigree supersede the squiggles (or some of them), themselves mere remnants of a previous version?

One thought leads to another, and the suggestions here about BWV 641 strike me as support for those organists who would add ornamentation to another Orgelbüchlein chorale, BWV 639 Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, in which the first half of the chorale is decorated with a few passing tones but the second half is left in bare quarter notes.  I have always taken this to mean you get the idea... go thou and do likewise.  The Orgelbüchlein was explicitly a teaching volumeand, like Bach's other pedagogical works, transmitted not in print but by students (and subsequently their students) copying it out.  From the NBA critical report for this work and from perusing some of the scans available via Bach-Digital, I see that some of these extant copies (NBA sigla B2, L2 and M1 particularly) do indeed have a few added squiggle ornaments and passing tones in the second halfalthough, of course, the presence of such decoration on the page is not the prerequisite to the performance of a more decorated version.

And so I sit and speculate.  And piece after piece comes before my eyes in which the similar small-note ornament discrepancies recur, although the conditions are never quite the same.  It should be noted, for example, that solo music need not have the ornamental details worked out that ensemble music (particularly ripieno parts) would need.  It is also worth keeping in mind that unlike our current rehearsal situation, where a pencil or other writing implement should always be handy, Bach's players may have had no writing implement at hand (surely not any requiring an inkwell!), and so it paid for ensemble parts to be as carefully prepared as time allowed.

I have been wondering about what evidence might refute this whole idea.  Certainly an example intermingling squiggle and small-note ornaments in close proximity could be inconvenient for my proposal, although it might be hard to show that the two different sorts of notation were written in the source in the same sitting.  (At this point in a draft of this post, I digressed with an example from BWV 873/1, the C# minor prelude from Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier.  I took it out because it was too dense for the flow of this already-too-dense post, but if you want to see it, here it is.)

I will close with an example I stumbled across while flipping through Walter Emerys classic study, Bach’s Ornaments.  As with most treatises on ornamentation, Emerys subject is how an ornament should be interpreted in performance.  That is not my subject, but I turned to Emery nonetheless because of his keen eye for the notation.  I have quoted Emery on this blog beforeand will surely do so again.  In this book, he is scrupulously cautious about the sources he quotes, remarking sagely one cannot deduce Bach's habits from ornaments that he did not write.  As things stand, this means that unless a writer on ornamentation has made himself competent to edit every work he wishes to quote, he must take examples only from reproductions of autograph manuscripts, and from a few texts whose reliability can easily be tested.  The Bach examples in this book have been chosen in this way; with a few exceptions, included for special reasons and expressly described as questionable, they are authentic beyond all reasonable doubt. (p. 7)
Thus his Ex.157 caught my eye, in which small-note appoggiaturas surround a single hook (b. 11):
SOURCE:  cropped scan of Walter Emery, Bach's Ornaments (Novello, 1953), p. 77.
But Emery was cautious as ever:
As the hooks have been translated into small notes by all but the most conscientious of editors, it is impossible to say, without access to large numbers of autograph manuscripts, whether Bach made any distinction between hooks and small notes.  If the BG is to be trusted, he used them indifferently in the tenor aria of Cantata 67 [his Ex. 157]. (p. 76)
If the BG is to be trusted, he writes, and even before looking up the BG I went straight to Bach-Digitala resource which gives precisely the access to large numbers of autograph manuscripts that Emery craved.  There I found a scan of the original Violin I part, copied by J. A. Kuhnau, and what did I see?
Source: BWV 67/ii, Violin I part, end of b. 1; cropped scan from Bach-Digital
Emery was right to be wary.  In fact, BG is unreliable here:  the small-note E appoggiatura is actually therebut I cant help wondering if Kuhnau's hooked flags for the sixteenths might have caught the editor (Wilhelm Rust) out on this one instancethe hook from the f# flag somehow being turned into an appoggiatura hook on the d#.  Otherwise it is hard to explain whence the hook in BG came.  It does no damage in performance:  the appoggiatura is authentic; it's just Rust's notation of it that is not.   Even more curious, actually, is (for example) bar 5 of the same aria, where Rust converts the original small-notes all into hooksrather than, as Emery would have expected, the other way around:
SOURCE:  BWV 67/ii b. 5-6; (top) BG vol. XVI, p. 228  (at IMSLP); (bottom) original Vl. I part (as above).
Rust actually does this switch inconsistently throughout the aria in both Violin and Oboe lines, and I can see no logic to it.  The lesson I take from it, though, is that I don't have the time or the energy to plumb the depths of the small-nib question further.  At least for now.

15 December 2017

28. The philological wading pool

A month ago I was privileged to be part of a panel titled Rethinking Primary Sources for the Music History Classroom at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society.  It was more of a workshop than a panel, as the four presenters had each brought an assignment we have used with our classes, and the audience then did the assignment.  I picked up a lot of good ideas from the other panelists.  I was there to talk about musical textsspecifically how I try to get my students to be more aware of how a musical text gets to be the way it isand that many (sometimes well-meaning) hands may interfere.

Below I will describe the assignment I presented, but I will digress here to mention its inspiration.  My father was also a college professor.  His degree was in ancient near eastern archaeology, but working at a small college meant that he ended up teaching across the history curriculum, as well as classics and religion.  By the end of his career, most of his time was consumed teaching Hebrew and the Hebraic scriptures in the seminary that shared the campus with the college.  For one of his courses there he designed an assignment that he referred to as the fishand it was one that his former students continue to talk about (whenever I run into them) more than ten years after his death.

The fish referred to Samuel Scudder’s account of his studies under Louis Agassiz at Harvard in the 1850show Scudder had learned to see only by being forced to take the time to look at the fish for days on end.  My father was pursuing a similar end with his assignment, in which the students were to attempt to reconcile the chronologies of the kings of Judah and Israel as transmitted in the different biblical accounts.  On the assignment (reproduced here), he noteswith a characteristic understatementIt is likely you will have difficulty in doing this.  The UNDERLINED BOLD ALL CAPS text for emphasis is also characteristic.  (I dont know for how many years he used this assignment, but the worksheets that go with it were all prepared on a typewriter.  That may well be because that was a method he was much more accustomed to using than trying to do a table in Microsoft Word.)

In fact, my father didnt care what solution a student came up with for the textual difficulties this assignment compelled them to confront.  There was no one right answer.  The point was the confrontation itself.  These were students intending to enter the Christian ministry, and he thought it was crucially important that they be confronted with real textual difficulties in the Bible.  The dates dont line up.  Some students, he told me, would perform all manner of mathematical gymnastics to establish that every syllable of the Holy Writ available to them was inerrant.  At the other extreme, some students reaction was to hell with it.  It did not matter to my father where the students placed themselves on that continuum, but he wanted them to become aware of their attitude toward the text itself.

It seems like a descent from the sublime to the trivial to lay out my own fish assignment, as mine is aimed at nothing more than raising my students consciousness of textual issues at all.  Where my father was throwing his students into the deep end, my assignment was just a chance for mine to get their feet wet in the philological wading pool.  But I hope it sticksthat it makes them view any musical text put before them thereafter with a little skepticism:  Why is it thus?  How did it get that way?

There are many ways one might approach such an assignment.  I commend to your attention Rachel Scotts interesting article treating edition selection as a way of teaching information literacy, and particularly the worksheet she suggests as a pedagogical method.  My own assignment is a practical assignment of a different sort, but also requires an examination of multiple sources of the same musical work.

I decided for this assignment to use a hymn-tune because
  1.  such tunes are short 
  2.  they have often appeared in dozens (and sometimes hundreds and more) editions, each of which is a valid source for the assignment
  3.  via the website hymnary.org, many of those editions are readily available to my students
  4.  the transmission of a hymn-tune from one source to another may be straightforward copying of a full four-part texture, but it may just as likely be that the melody alone is taken overperhaps even from memoryand a new setting is devised; or an editor may make any number of alterations to suit himself (and for much of the history of hymnal production, it is inevitably himself)
  5. if you find a hymn-tune that is generally familiar outside of the church, students may more readily grasp the relevance of otherwise esoteric textual issues to real musical life.
And so I settled on the anonymous tune ANTIOCH, pretty much universally associated with Isaac Wattss Psalm paraphrase Joy to the world! the Lord is come.  The tune is admittedly more widely known in the United States than elsewhere, but as such it fitted my students pretty well.  Its origins are obscure, and it is regularly attributed to either Lowell Mason or G. F. Handel (no doubt because portions of it sound like the beginnings of two different numbers in his Messiah:  Lift up your heads and Comfort ye, my people) or both.  Certainly Mason propagated it, but it seems to be of English origins, with its first appearance in the 1830s.  (Many hymnologists have taken notice of this, but a handy and widely-available summary can be found in The New Oxford Book of Carols, p. 273.)

And so, my assignment:
Because they were transmitted primarily by rote memorization by musically illiterate congregations (unlike texts, which could be read from the page by anyone verbally literate), older hymn-tunes often exist in many variants. The purpose of this assignment is to get you to look for any distinct lines of transmission of the printed sources of a particular hymn-tune, called ANTIOCHand perhaps familiar to you associated with Isaac Watts’s text “Joy to the World!” Go to the page for this tune at Hymnary.org, and select any EIGHT of the page scans at the bottom of the page. Print these off (although BE SURE TO NOTE the source of each, as this is on the webpage but wouldn’t be on the printed copy) and study them, looking for any variants you can find. While I am more interested in melodic textual variants, you should also look at the harmonizations: if you come across two identical harmonizations, they are pretty much guaranteed to be in the same line of transmission. Note also the verbal text: any alterations or omitted verses are significant clues. Don’t just print off the first eight it gives you—look around for some interesting ones. (There are some with some really glaring errors—including a completely misplaced first system.)  Turn in to me:
  1.  A list of your eight sources, numbered 1–8 (in chronological order, as best that can be determined), with the bibliographic details for each from Hymnary.org
  2.  The eight page scans you printed, numbered to match
  3.  A diagram (stemma) to indicate how sources 1–8 are related, if at all
  4.  Notes of the idiosyncrasies you spotted that allowed you to construct the diagram (You don’t need to account for every detail, just enough to show me how you sorted it out.)

I thus make clear to my students that they have a very incomplete data set.  From the dozens they might look at, I ask for only eight.  Then, however, they are expected to take those eight and treat them as the sole surviving sources, collating the readings and then trying to connect them in any ways they can.  I call the assignment armchair philology because they are spared the trouble of finding recalcitrant sources, and there are no consequences to ignoring all the evidence beyond their eight selections.

For my presentation at AMS a month ago, I picked eight and distributed them to the audience.  I usually allow a week for my students to do thiseven if they wait until the night beforebut my AMS crowd had about eight minutes to do the best they could.  And even with just a few sources, there is much to be seen.  Consider these three sources, for example:

CS:  Carmina Sacra or Boston Collection of Church Music, ed. Lowell Mason  (2nd Ed., 1841)

SH:  The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, ed. William Walker (“New” Ed., 1854)
SOURCE: resolution of https://www.ccel.org/ccel/walker/harmony2/files/png75/Antioch.png was so poor that this is from IMSLP #168494

Sum:  Songs of Summerland, ed. Thoro Harris  (1943)
While it is clear that The Southern Harmony version is taken from Carmina Sacrait even gives the attributionthere is a substantial change in the musical text:  where Carmina Sacra gives a four-part texture (with the melody on the staff directly above the bass, as is customary in such sources), The Southern Harmony only gives three parts, deleting the second staff of Carmina Sacra.  There are a few other changes:  SH translates everything into shaped notes; omits the sustained accompanying bass note in the third phrase of CSalso deleting the figured bass (that only show up in the first few bars of CS anyway).  Both of these sources transmit a slight variant in Wattss hymn, beginning the second stanza with "Joy to the world" instead of his original Joy to the earth.  They also preserve an archaic variant ending for the end of stanza 3:  rather than gleeful repetitions of the extent of the taint of original sin (far as the curse is found! far as the curse is found! far as, far as the curse is found!), this version truncates the verse abruptly to get on with the good news.

The version of Songs of Summerland (1943)a Seventh Day Adventist publication far removed in time from either of the nineteenth century sources aboveis also directly connected to this line of transmission, notwithstanding the very different lyric to which it is set.  Like SH, Sum conveys only a three-part texture derived from the reading given in CS, but this time it is the top staff of CS that is omitted; and of course in Sum it is reworked into a melody-at-the-top format.  (The added tenor third in the final chord is surely editorial.)  My students could thus determine that, whether or not CS was the direct source for Sum (as there may be other sources in between, or they may share a common ancestor), Sum could not possibly be derived from SH.  If we had only these three data pointsour stemma would be like the one at right.

Adding a fourth source naturally complicates the stemma, even when it too is clearly connected to the same line of transmission, with the same basic harmonization.

AncSong Anchor: A Choice Collection of Favorites for Sabbath School and Praise Servicesed. J. E. White  (1878) 
Indeed, except for an apparent error (tenor voice, first note of b. 2), this is the same harmonization presented in CS.  Like SH, the sustained bass of the third phrase has been eliminated; like Sum, the format is modernized to put the melody at the top; a tiny variant occurs in the penultimate bar in the tenor, where the introduction of an eighth note allows all voices to change syllables at the same time, but does not affect the harmony.  None of these, save perhaps the first, is substantial enough to require the stemma to posit any number of hypothetical lost sources (even though we know that many such sources have not been consulted for this exercise).  Thus whether one favors the stemma on the right or the one on the left depends on how likely the elimination of the sustained bass tone was arrived at independently.
But then along comes a source to complicate things:

SSSongs for the Sanctuary: or Hymns and Tunes for Christian Worship, ed. Chas. S. Robinson  (1868)
The date of publication puts this clearly before Anc, but it shares the same tenor figure in the penultimate bar and the lack of the sustained bass in the third phrase.  While it is essentially the same harmonization of CS, it has been transposed down to Dand there is a slight but significant modification which essentially exchanges the alto and tenor voices in the first two bars.  Something has also gone wrong with the text setting at the beginning of what ought to be the last phrasealthough that may just be a type-setting error.  Most importantly, this source has a short notea dotted quarterat the end of the second phrase (on King of Let earth receive her King); all the other sources reviewed thus far have a note twice as long at this point.  For all these reasons, SS is clearly not an ancestor of Anc (or, for that matter, Sum), yet it is closer to Anc than any other.  Here the stemma could allow for a hypothetical common ancestor, explaining the similarities while also acknowledging the variants:
The other three sources I gave my AMS audience presented wholly different lines of transmissionthat is to say, different harmonizations (some straightforward, some showy), some with the long-held King note, some with the short.  For these,  at least with the data available, the stemma branches  would only meet at the hypothetical Ur-text [x].  Over the years of using this assignment in class, I note that my students tend too readily to assume that this x marks the only meeting place for any of the sources.  The fact that it is seldom sothat indeed these sources are connected by complicated websis only revealed by a minute study of the details.  As Agassiz instructed, Look at the fish.
SOURCE:   "Haemulon melanurum" from Wikimedia Commons

It is my contention that Agassizs scientific dictum should be the creed of any text critic:  Facts are stupid things until brought into connection with some general law.  A variant reading may be curious, but it is no more than that until it can be explained as part of a larger scheme.  The critics task is not merely the mechanical listing of variants, but rather the creative connection of the dots to propose some pattern.  And anyone can learn to do that, with time and patienceprecious commodities in this day and time.

Although Ive used this assignment with many students, I have had the opportunity to use it only once since starting this blog, and so the work of those most recent students in that very small class certainly led to the examples I used here.  They deserve to be acknowledged:  Taylor Hedger, Sarah Vermazen, and David Bates.  I thank them for taking this assignment so seriously.