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15 January 2017

12. Recorded history

A question to which I will periodically return in this blog is What sorts of non-textual musical evidence nevertheless bear upon the text?  Another way of thinking of it is Beyond the notated sources, what other sources can/should affect a new edition of a work?  A fairly obvious non-notated source is an recording involving the composer as interpreter, or perhaps involving a performer who had worked directly with the composer.  An editor might introduce, for example, metronome marks to approximate a given recorded performancealthough this might very well be misleading.  I have already remarked in this blog of an instance where the composers performance tempo slowed down considerably over the years; and in early recordings, where the play duration was short and unavoidably constricted by the dimensions of the playback medium (wax cylinder or shellac disc), performers are known to have opted for faster tempi just to squeeze their rendition into the time available.  As far as new critical editions are concerned, my feeling that the editor should do the due diligence of studying any recording that might have claims to be authoritative in any respect, even if none of the findings make it out of the critical report.

SOURCE:  baerenreiter.com
An interesting example of this is to be found in Jonathan Del Mars excellent edition of the Elgar cello concerto (Bärenreiter, 2005).  The critical commentary is a wonder to behold, containing seventeen color facsimiles comprising the whole of the solo cello part in Elgars hand prepared for the cellist who gave the premiere (Felix Salmond), four pages of the original short score draft, and the first page of Beatrice Harrisons copy of the printed solo part.  Later in the commentary Del Mar carefully catalogues the pencilled instructions in this sourcea significant document because Harrison recorded the work twice under Elgars direction (first in 1919-1920, subsequently in 1928).  These two recordings are among the sources Del Mar uses for his edition, and they feature in one of the most fascinating discussions in the commentary itself:  second movement, bb. 40-48 and the parallel passage at 78-86 (the most severe dilemma for the interpreter in the entire work, as Del Mar puts it).

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 Elgars 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 Elgars 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) playeven 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.
Of this Del Mar remarks, there istantalizinglydistinct evidence of deleted markings, but these are very efficiently scratched out so that almost nothing remains.  Only from the extremities of a few individual letters can we tentatively conjecture that Vers. I might have read (44 largamente altered to) 45 largamente a tempo.  Interestingly, the obliterations occur in both the autograph full score (above) and in the short score draft.

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 Coplands 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. 
Copland instructs the string players Would you mark a crescendo on the [first] Athe fermata? [demonstrates]  Im used to that; I dont know where it came from.  (Hear this moment of the recorded rehearsal here.)  Hogwood comments
“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 Coplands 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 dont 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 trustedgreatly 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 Sousas band (often conducted by assistant Arthur Pryor).  Add to this Sousas 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 Sousas players (each keenly aware, after all, of intentional departures from the face-value reading of the printed parts) to try to establish Sousas 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 registerclarinets an octave higher or lower than notated.  Warfields 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.
Warfield has done an admirable job presenting the evidence of Sousas practice without imposing it.  Conductors may experiment as they like.

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 Handelsor anyonesperformances, 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 Handels 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 Fullers 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 doesnt 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 culturebarrel organs in particularthan 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 musicand I think we must keep that distinction in mind.  In 1958, Charles Seeger articulated concepts of prescriptive and descriptive notationa 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 its difficult to know what it is for:  a coffee table curiosity (commercial)?  A handbook for cover bands (prescriptive)?  An ancilliary resourcebut a dangerous onefor 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 transcriptionsthat is, of transcriptions from recordings intended to facilitate new live performance of music that was originally improvisedlike Maurice Duruflés reconstructions of Charles Tournemires Cinq Improvisations, or (rather differently) the Jazz Arts Trionote-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.


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