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 frisson: “They’re 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 editing—being different for the sake of being different.
I stumbled across an example the other day. I had been reading Christoph Wolff’s 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 voices—a trend that would continue in the Christmas Oratorio.” [p. 226]
It never occurred to me that Bach’s 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 favorite—if I had to name one—would 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 drums—which 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 Luther’s hymn which somehow gave rise to the false idea that Luther had authored “Away in a Manger.” He didn’t, but the sentiment is there.) Some conductors—Ton Koopman on the video linked above, and John Eliot Gardiner are examples—downplay 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 Wolff’s 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 end—Is 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 wasn’t 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 isn’t 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 it—as he does elsewhere on this same page. In this instance, Bach’s 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. 2–4 of the trumpet and drum staves.|
So why, then, did he not write the letter E in bar 12 to clarify the tenor correction?
|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).|
|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-Saëns’s “Organ” 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|
If Stegemann had left this text as he had found it—if, 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 Bärenreiter’s 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 sets—leading 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 doesn’t 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 Handel’s hand. The alto and tenor words have been inserted by his assistant, John Christopher Smith—and 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 don’t like it, tough. You don’t have to sing it that way; alter as you see fit, but don’t complain about a scholarly edition being scholarly.
|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 doesn’t belong in the main text of the score. But I feel strongly that we can't print what Gilbert wrote. All the same, we can’t hide what Gilbert wrote—we 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 Gilbert—or 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.
|SOURCE: cropped screenshot at 29:14 from the full film, available on youtube.|