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15 December 2021

49. The sound of (editorial) silence

There is a temptation for an editor to select a variant reading that alters the sound of a work enough to be audible to musically-sensitive listeners.  (It provides for a certain frissonTheyre playing my edition!)  Some years ago I discussed Thurston Dart’s edition of the “Brandenburg” Concertos as an extreme case of in-your-face textual difference.  This is an temptation I had to learn to resist when editingbeing different for the sake of being different.

I stumbled across an example the other day.  I had been reading Christoph Wolffs new book, Bach’s Musical Universe.  I was struck by this passage, which concerns a group of chorales associated with the lost St. Mark Passion:

Moreover, their manner of four-part chorale harmonization shows a consistently greater degree of contrapuntal intricacy and rhythmic animation than Bach had typically brought to bear in the past, particularly in the inner voicesa trend that would continue in the Christmas Oratorio. [p. 226]

It never occurred to me that Bachs harmonizations improved as he aged.  Yet it brought to mind an e-mail exchange I had with a music theorist friend about a year ago about particular favorite Bach chorale harmonizations.  I had said then that my favoriteif I had to name onewould be the closing chorale of the first part of the Christmas Oratorio, a setting of Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her.   That setting punctuates each phrase of the melody with a fanfare of trumpets and drumswhich I once liked very much, but which now I regard as an intrusion on the real stuff, the harmonization.  (In any case, the fanfares are striking, as they seem at odds with the text:  essentially Make for yourself a clean, soft bed in my heart, O sweet little Jesus, so that I never forget you.  (As a further aside, my guess is that it was this thirteenth strophe of Martin Luthers hymn which somehow gave rise to the false idea that Luther had authored Away in a Manger.  He didnt, but the sentiment is there.)  Some conductorsTon Koopman on the video linked above, and John Eliot Gardiner are examplesdownplay the trumpets and drums, as if not to wake the baby.  But I think Philip Pickett is right to have them thunder away:  the effect is not of a newborn but rather the King of Heaven beating on the door of my heart.)

I love this harmonization, particularly the last two phrases.  Spurred by Wolffs commentary, I pulled it out again and played it on the piano a few times.  The next day it was on my mind as I walked to my office, so when I got there I pulled the Dover reprint of the BG edition of the shelf and played it anew.  And right at the endIs this a misprint?  What is that D doing there?

SOURCE: BWV 248/ix, bb. 10–15; cropped scan of BG bd. 5 (ed. W. Rust, 1856), p. 48; from ISMLP #02418.

The D may at first appear odd harmonically:  the tenor crosses below the bass to produce a second-inversion subdominant chord.  But assuming that the continuo bass line has some instruments sounding an octave lower (double bass, organ?), then the true bass line is still below the tenor; thus no such solecism has occurred.  The voicing is unusual, but the harmony at this cadence offers no surprises.

SOURCE:  cropped scan of NBA II/6, p. 54
(ed. W. Blankenberg and A. Dürr, 1960) 

I wasnt expecting the D because it is not what I grew up hearing.  (The D is on the Koopman video above, though.)  What I heard for years is the reading in the NBA, where the tenor steps down to a wonderfully dissonant E.  I love that chord.  Now instead of IV we have ii, and my argument about the second-inversion is undone.  If we disregard the 16-foot doubling in the continuo line, the tenor becomes the bass of a (very proper) root position chord; but if we account for the octave doubling, we have an unexplained second-inversion chord.  That notwithstanding, I think it is a gorgeous effect.  And so I found myself wondering how it came to be, given that it was not in the old edition.  What was the story?


I turned next to the NBA critical report, which states that the autograph manuscript shows a correction from the D to the E, although the manuscript parts (tenor and viola) transmit the D.  Hmmmmm..Let's take a look at that autograph....

SOURCE: enlarged details from D-B-Mus.ms Bach P 32, Bl. 12v (from Bach Digital).  The detail on the left shows alto, tenor, bass, and continuo staves for bb. 11–13 of no. 9; on the right the fourth tenor note of b. 12 is further enlarged.

So... is that a correction?  To my eye the D [we are in tenor clef] remains much clearer than the smudge that is alleged to be an E.  I will admit that the smudge is rounded like a note-head, though it appears a different color and much lighter, and would have to have been made at a different time, maybe unintentionally.  When Bach isnt able to make a correction appear unambiguous (as, for example, the B which replaces an A as the very first choral bass note in the example above), he does something to clarify itas he does elsewhere on this same page.  In this instance, Bachs second thought was to let the third trumpet leap up rather than to repeat the same descending figure, but as the ink was smudged in the process, he clarified by indicated that the intended note was C.  (The lower C was sufficiently obliterated.)  
SOURCE:  same page as above; this detail is bb. 24 of the trumpet and drum staves. 

So why, then, did he not write the letter E in bar 12 to clarify the tenor correction?  

Because it wasnt one.  Sometimes a smudge is just a smudge.  Indeed, for a blissful moment I thought it might just be ink bleeding through the paper.  Here is a side-by-side comparison of the same detail of the Bach with a mirrored image of the other side of the pagemirrored, that is, to facilitate comparison of markings which are bleeding through:

SOURCE: marked, cropped scans from P32.  Left is the same image as above; right is the corresponding portion of the other side of the page (f. 12r).

You can see the shadows of a lot of the markings bleeding through, the clearest of which I have marked with red arrows.  Conspicuously absent, though, is any mark to bleed through to create the E smudge:  I have circled that spot in blue.  But keep fol. 12v (with the chorale) was the last page of a fascicle, and it shows signs of other ink transfer (marked in yellow)having been put down on top of something else. My guessand it can only be a guessis that the E smudge (which is very close to the area marked in yellow) is a similar offset transfer.  In any case, it's not an E.

If that smudge were an E, Bachs figured bass should reflect it.  The figures transmitted in the continuo part (not in the score) show know signs of alteration.  (Those figures appear in both the BG and the NBA examples above.)  Nothing accounts for the E in the harmony; and in no other source is an E transmitted.  If this was indeed a second thought, Bach apparently didn't think it was important to have anyone actually perform it.  But I would argue instead that this reading is the wishful invention of Walter Blankenburg and Alfred Dürr, editors of that volume of the NBA.  Id hate to see it go; I think it sounds fantastic.  But it has no textual authority, and is thus usurping the rightful place of the authoritative D.

All of this is a lot of words spent on a single quarter note; but it is an example, I think, of an editor opting for an audible difference even without the evidence to support it.  For a considerably more egregious example, get a load of this:

SOURCE:  cropped scan (p. 61) of BA 10303-01, C. Saint-Saëns, 3e Symphonie en ut mineur, op. 78, vol. 3 (ed. Michael Stegemann) of Camille Saint-Saëns:  œuvres instumentales complètes (Bärenreiter, 2016).

This new critical edition of Saint-SaënsOrgan” Symphony is marred by an astonishing number of typographical errors; it really merits a post of its own just for that reason, and maybe I will get around to that someday.  But what appears above is not an error.  It is what the editor (Michael Stegemann) meant.  In case there is any doubt of that, here is the remark in the critical commentary, together with my scrawled commentary in the margin.  Pardon my French.

SOURCE:  cropped scan (p. 206) of BA 10303-01 plus pencil annotations

On no authority whatsoever, Stegemann interrupted the composers very carefully contrived legato arpeggio, inserting a break right before the downbeat of b. 365.  (Say what you like about it, it is an audible change.) Other than the dotted-slur in the cello, there is no indication on the page that a change has been made, and users who do not consult the notesor who do not already know the piece very wellwill be none the wiser.  This edition has been issued as a much less expensive offprint, and Bärenreiter reports to me that typos (all of them?) have been corrected, but that edition appears without any of the critical commentary.  Users who trust the Bärenreiter Urtext marketing (the last word in authentic text) may well assume this represents responsible editing.  Caveat emptor.

If Stegemann had left this text as he had found itif, that is, it appeared as in all other sources (including the first (1886) and second (1907) editions, issued by Durand)he would not be neglecting his editorial duties.  An editor is still doing the job even when the decision is made to let any given reading stand without alteration.  But maybe an editor only feels like an editor in the act of emending something.  What is the sound of an editor not changing the text?

A few weeks ago I was amused to see someone in a Facebook group posting their various complaints about eccentric readings in the Bärenreiter edition of Handel's Messiah.  (What the post referenced is the vocal score published by Bärenreiter, which is a reduction of the text of the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe (the HHA), but the textual decisions are not Bärenreiters editorial responsibility.)  The person was essentially complaining that this is not the textus receptus, and that Bärenreiter should just get in line.  I suppose the Novello edition is the closest thing to a standard edition now, having (in this country) replaced the old Schirmer edition.  But people use all sorts of editions all at once, and a few years ago in this blog I was grumbling about orchestral players bringing their own partbooks from different setsleading to a chaos of conflation in performance.

A particular example the writer cited was from the climax of the Hallelujah chorus.  Here is the reading of Bärenreiter vocal score:

SOURCE:  cropped scans of pp. 247 and 248 of the HHA vocal score of Messiah, ed. John Tobin (Bärenreiter, 1965).

The textual surprise here:  the words sung in bb. 76-77.  We expect and Lord of Lords, yet we get and He shall reign.  But the HHA is a scholarly edition... or rather it became a scholarly edition after a rocky start and a number of superseded volumes.  The editor of Messiah, John Tobin, thus had no interest in what people have come to accept as Messiah.  He was interested only in what the authoritative texts convey.  My advice:  If the user doesnt want to put up with a scholarly edition, then buy something else instead.  There are plenty of alternatives.

Perhaps and He shall reign is not what Handel intended here, but Tobin did not make the choice capriciously.  Here is this passage as it appears in Handel's composing score:

SOURCE:  scan of British Library RM 20.f.2, p. 205 (scanned from Bärenreiter facsimile edition).

Observe that both texts appear:  and He shall reign below the altos, and Lord of Lords below the tenors, and and He below the basses.  This bass and He is the only one in Handels hand.  The alto and tenor words have been inserted by his assistant, John Christopher Smithand the smudge indicates some degree of uncertainty.

Smith was the copyist of the conducting score, a fair copy with some autograph insertions of new and revised movements, and a host of other markings in the composer's hand.  Here is the relevant page:

SOURCE:  scan of GB-Ob MS Tenbury 347 f. 96v, from the Scolar Press facsimile (1974).

Here there is no ambiguity.  Maybe Smith got it wrong, but there is no sign of correction here.  Tobin thus felt justifiably obligated to print and He shall reign (as did some of the earliest editions) because that is what the most authoritative sources transmit most consistently.  If you dont like it, tough.  You dont have to sing it that way; alter as you see fit, but dont complain about a scholarly edition being scholarly.  

This issue of sticking with the authoritative textcome what mayhas now hit home for me in a new way.  In the last year, I have been asked to assist with the completion of an edition that is already 75% done.  It is a critical edition of Princess Ida, a Gilbert & Sullivan opera that premiered in 1884, the immediate predecessor to The Mikado.  It is a scholarly edition, although with vocal score and orchestral parts prepared to facilitate its use in performance.  I have a student assistant; her first task has been just proofreading the text of the full score as it has been set against Sullivan's autograph.  She has done great work with this, and it is so good to have another pair of eyes on this sort of project.

A few weeks ago I got a text from her:  I had a question about the lyrics, but we can discuss it another time if you're too busy.  I was intrigued, mainly because the lyrics are not our task at the moment.  This edition has a policy of divided authority:  the autograph full score is the principal authority for the orchestral parts; the second state of the first edition of the vocal score is the principal authority for the vocal parts, the lyrics, and the text underlay; and a certain edition of the libretto is the principal authority for the dialogue.  So we weren't concerned about the lyrics as such at the moment.  What would her question be?

Actually, I should have foreseen it.  This was the page of proofs that prompted it, although it appears here as I think it should in print--with the offensive n-word redacted:
SOURCE:  cropped scan of proof of p. 197 of new critical edition of Princess Ida (forthcoming), no. 12, b. 109–112; I have redacted the text.

Of course she asked Why is this word there?  At the very least, why is it not relegated to the footnote, with the substitute text in the score proper?  As this edition seeks to establish the text as it was settled in the first run, the line quoted in the footnote is extraneous, and certainly doesnt belong in the main text of the score.  But I feel strongly that we can't print what Gilbert wrote.  All the same, we cant hide what Gilbert wrotewe need to leave the ugliness on display, or else we let Gilbert off the hook.  Princess Ida is a troubling piece in many ways, particularly as the focus of Act II is lampooning women's education generally.  (The joke, as it happens, is on Gilbertor at least on his chauvinist characters.  They rattle off a list of impossible things that these girl [sic] graduates hope to accomplish; but several of the items on that list have actually come to pass since 1884.)  But ugly and troubling texts still need to be presented, and in ways that don't simply bypass the problems.  

Several years ago, at my previous institution, one of my responsibilities was directing the chamber orchestra.  I had great fun with it, particularly as the instrumentation changed substantially each year as students graduated and matriculated.  There were always new challenges and new opportunities.  One year I had such an idiosyncratic ensemble that I rashly decided to compose/compile/arrange a score to accompany a silent film.  If I had realized what I was getting into, I would never have done itbut it proved to be great fun despite the labor that it entailed.  I settled on a Buster Keaton film that I felt sure would appeal to my undergraduate audience:  College (1927). 

But there is a short scene right in the middle of the film where Keaton is in blackface.

SOURCE: cropped screenshot at 29:14 from the full film, available on youtube.

I considered skipping this scene in performance; I briefly considered not even scoring this film at all.  My solution, ultimately, was to show the film, but for the orchestra to remain tacet throughout the four or five minutes of the blackface scene.  We thus could present Keatons film intact, butby remaining silentpointedly not endorse it.  Or at least that was what I was hoping we could do.  We could remind the audience that in the midst of the brilliance and finesse, there is an ugly and indelible stain that is more than just an artifact of its time.

So too in this edition of Princess Ida, I want the ugly stain to be clear, even if I dont feel we can actually print the n-word.  Even if the opera dates from 1884, the edition is a product of the early twenty-first century; our edition inevitably will reflect our historical moment, too.  At the moment, the black-box redaction (in the style of released government documents) seems the best way to do be faithful both to Gilberts text and our present interaction with it.  The page is visibly scarred, but the content of the text is still clear.  And anyone who wants to see what Gilbert wrote can easily consult a multitude of other sources.

To do otherwise in such a casethat is, to print the text as it stands, to remain silent as an editoris simply not an option.  The editorial silence would be deafening.