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01 August 2018

34. So teach us to number our bars

Todays post marks the second birthday of Settling Scores.  I have been having altogether too much fun with it, and Ive met all sorts of interesting (and interested) people.  Some were names I knew professionally, but very many have been entirely new.  I am gratified by the response, even if I am sometimes completely in the dark on the reasons why some posts take off and others fall comparatively flat.

Although when I started this project I had a long list of issues I wanted to coverand that list remains longI 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.  Youd 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-Saënss 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
Although in the preface editor Peter Jost goes to some pains to point out that the piano reduction published as the first edition in 1868 was not by the composer (but rather his pupil, Adam Laussel), the Henle blurb above gets this wrong.

Josts blog post concerns the arresting opening of this concertoa 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.
The Durand engravers have provided the conventional full score accolade on the first page, showing the complete resources required for the work.  In the autograph, however, the first page to be in full score is the third page, at the orchestral entrance, and the preceding two pages appear very much as a separate introduction, ending mid-page with a double bar and a clearly implied attacca across the page:
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.
Jost points out that Saint-Saëns numbered the measures of this movement, starting with the orchestral entrance.  Thus the prelude is unnumberedalthough it isnt entirely unmetered, and even concludes with ruled bars.  Jost follows the composer on this, yielding a movement of a prelude plus 112 bars.

The first edition lacked measure numbers, but had rehearsal letters.  Sabina Teller Ratners 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 Josts bar 8.)
SOURCE scan of Ratner catalogue (OUP, 2002) Vol. 1, p. 353
I do not understand the value of Mr. Jostreturn to the composeroriginal numbering.  We dont know enough to understand whether those numbers were intended to mean anything at all.  Was Saint-Saëns making a philosophical statement about the music (as Mr. Jost inevitably issome music designated as preceding the real piece)?  Was there at that moment nothing written on the preceding pages, with the composer planning to improvise an introduction based on material that appears later in the movementeventually codifying it as text?  I exchanged e-mails with Mr. Jost in the days following his post, but came away unsatisfied.

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 (Well start in bar 63), where the system is more preciseand arguably less cumbersomethan rehearsal letters (Well 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 Josts) 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.
Here the first portion of the piece goes without a barline for several systems, so each system is given a letter:  bar 1a, bar 1b, bar 1c.  This illustration begins at bar 1h.  The first barline does not appear until after the 3/4 time signature, so that in this edition the bar marked Largo is still bar 1j, with the bar following it reckoned (finally) as bar 2.  (The critical commentary can thus cite a note in a specified portion of this extended bar 1.)  This method is necessarily idiosyncratic:  it works for this edition, but it would not be readily translated to another.  But it doesn't need to be:  the sole function of these bar numbers is to connect the critical commentary portion of the volume with the score, and this system works well enough.  (To be fair, Jost does employ a similar policy:  the opening systems of the Saint-Saëns are labeled with Roman numeralslike the front matter of a book—which inevitably suggests that we havent yet reached the real thing.)

It is a more honest method than, for example, Henles 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.
Glancing through their back catalogue, I see that Henles practice has been inconsistent.  Here is a page of K. 394 in their 1955 edition (no longer in print), and the circled bar numbers correspond with ruled bars rather than with systems:
SOURCE:  scan of p. 40 of Mozart:  Klavierstücke (ed. B. A. Wallner; Henle, 1955)
Incredibly, this same worknewly edited by Mr. Scheidelerappears in the same new volume as the modulating prelude (HN22) with the bar numbers allocated exactly the same way as in 1955, so the new volume itself is inconsistent.  The Neue Mozart-Ausgabe isnt much better in this respect:  K. 394 is treated as above (although the Henle and NMA bar numbers do not correspond); other works in the volume, including the modulating prelude, use the a... b... c... system as in the C. P. E. Bach edition.  For a particularly interesting situation, see the NMAs presentation of K. 284a [NMA IX/27/2, pp. 5–9]; bar (25) is my favorite.

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 Stockmeiersuggestions 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 didnt 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
For comparison, heres Handel's autograph for this section:
SOURCE:  page from Handels 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 projectWaltons Variations on a Theme by Hindemith for the William Walton EditionI 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 didnt 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 pagebut 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 dont 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)
How orchestras survived for so long without rehearsal marks I cant imagine, and at least those who attempt historically-informed-performance are not bound to historical rehearsal practices.  (The unions would never stand for it.)  I bristle against heavy-handed editing, when the editor goes out of the way to make a mountain out of a molehill.  Herr Josts treatment of the Saint-Saëns strikes me as just that.  Then again, this blog is made entirely out of molehills treated as if they were mountains, so Im one to talk.