Although when I started this project I had a long list of issues I wanted to cover—and that list remains long—I never imagined I would spend a post on bar numbers. What could there possibly to say? The bars are numbered! End of story! But just a few weeks after I began blogging, I knew eventually this post would happen. It was prompted by a post on the blog put out by the G. Henle Verlag. Henle urtext editions have dominated the market (particularly for piano students) in the USA for as long as I can remember. You’d know those slate blue covers anywhere, even if they have updated the look a bit over the years. Their blog comes out every two weeks, written by their house editors in rotation. It offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse at editorial work in progress.
The post that got me thinking concerned their new edition of Camille Saint-Saëns’s marvellous second piano concerto. (To clarify: the edition is a two-piano version, with a new reduction of the orchestral material.)
|SOURCE: cropped page scan of https://www.henle.com/en/detail/index.html?Title=Piano+Concerto+no.+2+in+g+minor+op.+22_1355, accessed 20 July 2018|
Jost’s blog post concerns the arresting opening of this concerto—a free-flowing, unmeasured prelude at first, developing gradually into more conventional Romantic virtuoso piano figures covering the whole compass of the instrument. Here are the first three pages as they appeared in first edition of the full score:
|SOURCE: scan of 1875 Durand edition from 1995 Dover reprint.|
|SOURCE: scans of the autograph score, F-Pn Mus. MS-488, fully available here. In this example, I have taken the images not from the Bibliotheque Nationale site, but rather from the Henle blogpost. This has required cropping them to display them appropriately: Henle inaccurately represents p. 2 abutting p. 1 (as if recto facing the preceding verso), although it really should abut p. 3, as above.|
The first edition lacked measure numbers, but had rehearsal letters. Sabina Teller Ratner’s thematic catalogue of Saint-Saëns works gives the total number of measures in each movement, and thus in this case numbers from the beginning, with the last bar as number 115. (Her bar 11 below is Jost's bar 8.
|SOURCE scan of Ratner catalogue (OUP, 2002) Vol. 1, p. 353|
As I see it, bar numbers serve one principal and practical function: orienting the user in a score. A bar number is a coordinate used to locate something. It need not be anything else.
For any music requiring more than one player, numbered bars are useful in rehearsal (“We’ll start in bar 63”), where the system is more precise—and arguably less cumbersome—than rehearsal letters (“We’ll start six bars before F”). In Jost's edition, taking it “from the top” is not the same as from bar #1, and that may lead to some confusion.
Measure numbers are essential, however, in critical editions (like Jost’s) so that the editor can cite a detail in the critical commentary and the user can locate it easily. Compare, in this connection, how the new C. P. E. Bach edition deals with the unmeasured sections of the fantasies:
|Source: cropped scan of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works, Ser. I, Vol. 3 (ed. David Schulenberg, 2005); detail of p. 34, the fantasy from Wq 63 no. 6.|
It is a more honest method than, for example, Henle’s treatment of the Mozart “Modulating prelude” (K. Anh. C 15.11) which gets a new bar number for each system, despite no barlines:
|SOURCE: cropped scan of Mozart: Klavierstücke (HN 22, ed Ullrich Scheideler, 2006), p. 66.|
|SOURCE: scan of p. 40 of Mozart: Klavierstücke (ed. B. A. Wallner; Henle, 1955)|
Does any of this really matter? It depends, of course, on whether a number is merely a milepost or whether it has any substantive meaning relating to the music. Once you start disconnecting the numbers from the sequence of bars on the page you surely must mean something. I looked to see what the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe does with those passages in the organ concertos in which they have interpolated Wolfgang Stockmeier’s “suggestions” of how to improvise in response to Handel's instruction “ad libitum.” I, for one, don't think such interpolations belong in that sort of scholarly edition, but at least the editors had the good judgment to leave those bars unnumbered (and in small type): Handel didn’t indicate how many bars to play, and neither should the HHA.
|SOURCE: cropped scan of a portion of the second movement Op. 7 no. 4 (HWV 309) as presented in HHA Ser. IV Bd. 8, p. 204|
|SOURCE: page from Handel’s autograph for HWV 309 (Op. 7 no. 4), mvt. 2; British Library R.M.20.g.12, f. 66r|
When I began work on my first editorial project—Walton’s Variations on a Theme by Hindemith for the William Walton Edition—I remember starting by numbering the bars and assuming that it would be a straightforward task (young and callow as I was). The anxiety that awaited me! I wanted to number the bars sequentially across all the variations. In a way, this was a substantive statement: it meant essentially the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But really there was a practical reason for this: the critical commentary would be much harder to use if you had to keep track not only of the bar number but also of the variation number. When I set to work, however, I found that Walton had paid no attention to the seams between the variations. This might be because he would send off a completed variation to his publisher before starting another, but it is just as likely that he didn’t care if a complete final bar of one variation was followed by a pick-up bar of the next. In many musical editions, “bar number 1” is the first complete bar rather than the first thing on the page—but I found I would have to count each of these incomplete tags at the beginnings and ends of variations as full bars if I wanted to have just a single numbering system for the whole piece. It worked, but I still don’t like the look of it.
On the substantive (rather than practical) value of rehearsal marks, the words of Jonathan Del Mar are a useful reminder. The following disclaimer can be found in the preface to each of the scores of his Bärenreiter editions of Beethoven symphonies (and a similar one for the concertos, etc.):
|SOURCE: cropped scan of p. V of Del Mar's edition of Symphony no. 9 (BA9009)|