In each of these two passages, a single idea is presented by the soloist and then the orchestra, and then the same exchanged is repeated a third higher:
|SOURCE: my resetting (with Finale) of II mm. 40-48 (using Elgar's piano reduction), reset just to fit it in a smaller space.|
Of these last four bars Del Mar asks “Did Elgar intend (but not mark, assuming it as understood) the same ‘largamente a tempo’ as four bars earlier, or did he, on the contrary (and as some soloists make a point of doing), wish these bars to make a contrast, continuing this time a tempo?” Here Elgar’s own recordings with Harrison employ the unwritten largamente in these second exchanges, although not a single written source includes it. (At least not a source in Elgar’s hand; Harrison has added to her copy of the printed part “largamente molto” to b. 43.) Del Mar concludes tellingly
“Fortunately, there is at least no conflict whatever between individual sources between either group [paper or recorded], so that there is absolutely no doubt as too what we should (a) print (b) play—even if these two groups are in direct opposition with each other.” [all of these quotations from pp. 36-37 of the critical commentary]Even more interesting to me is that Elgar apparently took pains to erase some instruction at this point: what was written above the cello stave here that was subsequently obliterated, distorting even the lines of the blank stave above? This is bb. 44-46:
|SOURCE: cropped scan of Bärenreiter facsimile (2007) of autograph full score (RCM ms 402), pp. 44-5.|
In any case, acknowledging this distinction between how the music is performed and how it is notated is significant. Del Mar decided to deal with the whole issue in the critical commentary rather than in the separately published score, but at least a footnote in the score directs the user to the commentary. A more intrusive editor might impose instructions (bracketed or not) or more extensive footnotes to indicate that the solo in bb. 44-45 should resemble bb. 40-41, etc., citing these recordings as support for that. (I say intrusive—but is that the right word for this? Heavy-handed? Patronizing would be more pejorative; the positive spin might be avuncular.)
Christopher Hogwood has cited an interesting case of this sort of detail: Aaron Copland’s 1974 Columbia recording of Appalachian Spring in its original scoring (13 players) included a bonus disc with excerpts of Copland rehearsing the Columbia Chamber Orchestra. At this passage
|SOURCE: cropped scan of Boosey & Hawkes study score (HPS876), p. 5.|
“That, to me, constitutes something as good as written evidence. Copland wanted it, asked for it in rehearsal and fixed it in his recording. That crescendo can then go back into the score, but indicated differently from the crescendos he actually wrote, being one that he dreamed he had written but never had, but asked for, and if you want to explain it in the critical notes, you can.” [pp. 5f]Hogwood's “as good as written evidence” suggests that if he were editing Appalachian Spring the crescendo would be in the score, modified in some way (brackets, dotted lines, whatever) to indicate an editorial addition, but he felt that an indication of its source is optional: “If you want to explain it in the critical notes, you can.” Okay, we have the composer literally on the record in this instance, and the ensuing studio recording backs it up. The critical notes should say at least “hairpin absent from A[utograph], B[oosey published score], P[arts]....” I think ideally the notes would be the place to document not only the 1974 rehearsal comment, but also if the crescendo is present in Copland’s other recordings of the work (in its larger scoring). It could therefore be a task for an editor to seek an answer to Copland's “I don’t know where it came from.”
Patrick Warfield documents a much more complicate situation in his edition of six Sousa marches in the Music of the United States of America (MUSA) edition. He lays out the case for why the early recordings are not to be trusted—greatly reduced recording forces, truncations made to fit works on to a disk or a cylinder, and uncertainty of the identity of the performing ensembles billed on the record label as Sousa’s band (often conducted by assistant Arthur Pryor). Add to this Sousa’s jealously guarded authentic sound for his own music in live performance: the published texts of the marches lacked the details of his own performance practice. Sousa is quoted as saying “we make some changes now and then to make it a little bit different” (p. xxxii). At best these “authentic” recordings could document only a moment of that dynamic tradition.
Thus Warfield turns to the recollections of Sousa’s players (each keenly aware, after all, of intentional departures from the face-value reading of the printed parts) to try to establish Sousa’s performance practice as best that he can. These changes generally involved certain groups of instruments sitting out during a repeat (or a first-time-through), getting the melody brass (cornets/trombones) or the percussion out of the way to let a mellower ensemble sound prevail; or it might be moving players to a higher or lower register—clarinets an octave higher or lower than notated. Warfield’s edition cautiously refrains from printing these alterations directly into the score (“as no printed source includes these changes” [p. xxxviii]), although they are indicated in bracketed instructions. For example, this bit of The Washington Post:
|SOURCE: cropped scan from Sousa: Six Marches (A-R Editions, 2010), p. 10; there are further instructions at the bottom of the page as well.|
A more vexing sort of recorded evidence is conveyed by surviving mechanical instruments like player piano rolls or the eighteenth-century barrel-organs that preserve versions of Handel’s organ concertos. (For the former, Neal Peres da Costa has done admirable work disentangling performance practice evidence.) The Handel concertos are shown to be laden with what might otherwise be considered improbable ornamentations. Of course these cannot be exact transcriptions of Handel’s—or anyone’s—performances, as they have had to be “pinned” by hand (the metal pins hammered one at a time into the wooden cylinder). Due to the minute distances of linear travel as the cylinder turns, it is hard to believe that these can transmit very much in terms of precise rhythmic relationships, still less is there a pattern to suggest notes inégales:
|SOURCE: cropped scan of David Fuller's transcription of an eighteenth-century barrel organ [p. viii]|
For pitches (for example, starting a trill with the principal note) the barrels are much more reliable. They certainly serve to indicate something of the variety of added ornamentations known (even plausible) at the time, and what sorts of ornaments would happen on repeats while other things might be altered. When such instruments came to be studied in the 1980s (for example this) there was great hope that they were a sort of Rosetta Stone for understanding Handel’s performance style: thus David Fuller insists that
“Here, in principle at least, there are no decisions to be made, no opportunities for interpretation. One may like or dislike what he sees here [in Fuller’s meticulous transcriptions]; one may not dispute it.... The listener may imagine his ear pressed to a speaking tube extending without obstruction nearly 200 years into history.” [p. v]This was too good to be true, but that doesn’t make such evidence irrelevant by any means, and a few pages later Fuller backs down a bit to something much more useful:
“That Handel himself played this or that particular ornament on a particular note in a particular measure could not possibly be claimed; this his style of playing was wholly without effect on general English practice of mid-century and thence upon these cylinders is, on the other hand, unlikely.” [p. x]Beyond Handel, such barrel organs can offer us a lot about early eighteenth-century ornamentation in general. Paul Badura-Skoda even opens his Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard with a chapter on the Handel barrel organs. But these tell us more about eighteenth-century musical culture—barrel organs in particular—than they do anything about keyboard playing or ornamentation, and they must be treated with caution.
The barrel organs are recordings of performances rather than notational instructions about music—and I think we must keep that distinction in mind. In 1958, Charles Seeger articulated concepts of prescriptive and descriptive notation—“a blue-print of how a specific piece of music shall be made to sound” over against “a report of how a specific performance of it actually did sound” (MQ 1958, p. 184). When we think of music in terms of composers and works, we are (almost invariably) conceptualizing written music as prescriptive: How did the composer want this to sound? When, instead, we think of music in terms of performers and performances, we conceptualize notation as a description of that performance: How did the performer render this?
The notation may well look pretty much the same in either case, as (despite what Seeger argued for in 1958) descriptive notation is still very much bound to the notational elements devised around prescriptive writing, particularly if the descriptive notation is expected to be an adjunct to some sort of recording of the real thing. Thus the curious, 1100+ page anthology The Beatles: Complete Scores is descriptive of the Beatles recordings, laboriously (although to me not always convincingly) transcribed by Tetsuya Fujita, Yuji Hagino, Hajime Kubo, and Goro Sato. I presume it is a labor of love, and it’s difficult to know what it is for: a coffee table curiosity (commercial)? A handbook for cover bands (prescriptive)? An ancilliary resource—but a dangerous one—for scholars of the “British Invasion” (descriptive)? We can see more rigorous approaches in the MUSA volumes devoted to (for example) transcribed recordings of “Fats” Waller (ed. Paul Machlin) or Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band (trans. John J. Joyce)—fascinating volumes to peruse, even when I did not have the recordings immediately to hand. These volumes do much to emphasize the complexity of this music, and of course the notation acts to “freeze” the improvised music to allow us to scrutinize and dissect it (... to apply, in other words, the autopsy-table analysis that has been the stock-and-trade of music scholarship).
There is much more to be said here, but this post is already overlong. I should return at some point to some prescriptive transcriptions—that is, of transcriptions from recordings intended to facilitate new live performance of music that was originally improvised—like Maurice Duruflé’s reconstructions of Charles Tournemire’s Cinq Improvisations, or (rather differently) the Jazz Arts Trio’s “note-for-note transcriptions of historic moments in piano jazz.” In the latter instance, when I sat through a concert in which these transcriptions were realized (and with scores available for purchase), I was left pondering what manner of performance this could be. Somehow the music seemed to have been violated in an attempt to bring it back to life.