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01 August 2022

51. Cutting out the middleman?

 Why should we assume a priori that any score prepared some centuries ago by one musician for another musician to play from cannot be used by a musician today without the intervention of someone (often a non-musician) with a Ph.D. in musicology?  Why does the score first have to be entirely rewritten in some other form and accompanied by a lengthy critical report that can only be understood by someone else with a Ph.D. in musicology?

Alexander Silbiger:  In Defense of Facsimiles
Historical Performance 7/2 (Fall 1994), p. 103

SOURCE:  screenshoot of Facebook group post (June 26, 2022); poster name and profile picture redacted 

Today this blog turns six years old.  My original intent was to get to about fifty posts, posting twice a month for two years.  But it has slowed to a trickle.  With a change of jobs and then the more crowded schedule imposed by a global pandemic, it has taken me six years to reach the intended scope, and yet the list of topics that I scrawled in the summer of 2016 is not yet exhausted.  Todays topic is from that list; it came to mind again this past February with the death of composer George Crumb (1929-2022).

Theres nothing quite like examining one of Crumbs scoresespecially those which require an oversize format to be legible at all.  His published scores very often bear this notice:

SOURCE:  found in a considerable number of Crumb scores; this is scanned from the title page of Mundis Canis (Edition Peters, 2000).

With good reason:  his notation is meticulously clean, and his innovative and idiosyncratic graphic notation would be challenging for a professional copyist/engraver to reproduce (which would add substantially to the cost of publishing the music).  If you havent seen any of it, just google george crumb graphic notation; sure, youll also get some non-Crumb images, but you will quickly get a sense of what he accomplished.  (Heres a tribute that appeared in the Washington Post and has remained on my desk for several months to remind me to write this post.)  Crumb reminded me of this long-delayed post because he effectively bypassed an editor:  he cut out the middleman, with his carefully prepared fair-copy scores becoming the unmediated text for the performers eyes.

That sounds like a good idea:  no interfering editor meddling with the text.  And I have sometimes taken editors to task for overreach; even for making things too easy (in a way, like subverting the teaching of cursive by putting everything in print).   But Im not in the least ready to dispense with the what a good editor offers us.

I remember very clearly a particular moment on an afternoon in the autumn of 1997.  It was in my first semester in graduate school, and my classmates and I were in a seminar about Haydns string quartets.  The professor was at the time finishing up a volume of some of the quartets for JHWJoseph Haydn Werke, the (still ongoing) complete critical edition of Haydn's works.  One very important thing I learned from that seminar was to never assume I knew what the composer wrote, based on whatever edition I was using.  The JHW is actually among the most scrupulous of the 20th-century critical edition projects to give a pretty clear indication within the musical text of what the principal source really shows.  The edition uses a complicated series of brackets:  angle brackets to indicate material which the editor has filled in following Haydn's shorthand instructions in the autograph score; ( ) rounded brackets to indicate something that is lacking in the principal source but is supplied from a source that is right below it in the chain of textual authority, like performance parts prepared by one of Haydns copyists; and [ ] square brackets to indicate something that the editor has added by analogy with some other passage or in order to spell out something musically necessary.  Taking an example almost at random, here is the first system of the musical text of Symphony no. 46 as it appears in JHW, although I have highlighted these distinctions in different colors:

SOURCE:  scan (detail) of the opening of Haydn's Symphony no. 46, as it appears in JHW series I, volume 6 ("Sinfonien 1767-1772"), ed. C-G. Stellan Mörner, p. 104; I have added color highlighting.

The orange passages (indicated in the edition by angle brackets) are realizations of Haydns abbreviated instructions for the second violins to double the firsts; the markings highlighted in blue (indicated by the rounded brackets) do not appear in Haydns autograph at all but are taken from the most authoritative set of parts.  (Notice that the initial f dynamic is assumed in the autograph, but made explicit in the partsexcept for the horns, who maybe never have to be told to play forte.)  The green markings (indicated by the square brackets) are not found in the first or second tier of sources, but were deemed by the editor to be intended or otherwise necessary.  All of this is clearly marked on the published score itself, without even having to turn to the critical report (which gives further details of Haydns corrections and second thoughts, as well as other variant readings in the principal sources).

I forget what the particular issue was that afternoon in the Haydn quartet seminar, but when the class was reminded that we needed to know what Haydn wrote (not just what was presented in whatever edition we might have to hand), one of my classmates posited that the ideal music library would comprise high-resolution scans of every source:  then we could all see exactly what was on the pagenot just of a composers manuscript, but of all the copyists scores and parts, and even all the early editions.  Then we would not have to take anyone elses word for it (as even a critical commentary gives one only the information an editor bothers to relay, and sometimes it may be in error).  

My reaction at the time: Wouldnt this just compel us all to reinvent the wheel every time?  

A few years after this conversation came sites like Bach Digital:  such portals have the potential of fulfilling my classmates wish, with high-resolutions scans not just of autographs, but often a range of derivative sources tooand with no limit to how many sources might be uploaded in the future.  Or take the Online Chopin Variorum Editiona misnomer, since there is really no editorial authority producing an edited text.  These resources encourage a see-for-yourself approach, even maybe a do-it-yourself approach, and I heartily approve making such resources available beyond the walls of the libraries and other holdings in which they are found.  But do the users of such sites know how to read them?  We are making the materials of editing available without any instruction of what it means.  

In an earlier post, I strongly criticized a particular urtext edition of BachGoldberg Variations because of its amateurish assumption that it was presenting the Holy Grail (i.e., Bachs intended text), while the editor had unknowingly taken a shortcut that undermined his claim.  And the unknowingly is the issue:  when we dont know what we dont know, we dont really know what were doing.

Take this example, from a scan of Beethovens autograph of his Septet, op. 20, very near the end of the first movement.  The top stave is the clarinet, and below that the horn.

SOURCE:  (cropped) scan of Beethoven's autograph of the Septet, op. 20 (held in the Biblioteka Jagiellońska in Krakow), available on the ISMLP as #774464 and #774465.  This detail  (showing bb. 271–273) comes from the upper right corner of p. 25 (which appears as scan p 15 of $774464).

The last note in the clarinet staff is clearly marked c-natural.  The natural is ostensibly superfluous, as the key signature for a b-flat clarinet in a movement in e-flat major would be just one flat.  Thus it is no surprise that this accidental is eliminated in the new Beethoven Werke edition (ed. Egon Voss, 2008). 
SOURCE: detail of BW IV/I:  Kammermusik mit Blasintrumenten, p. 25.

The critical commentary does not even mention that there was ever a natural sign therenor does it comment on b. 273 at all.  The commentary does list as a supplemental source Beethovens later arrangement of the work as a piano trio, op. 38 (with the option for a clarinet to substitute for the violin), and one would expect that substantial textual differences in otherwise analogous materials would be mentioned.  But when we look up the corresponding moment in op. 38 we may well be surprised:
SOURCE:  detail of p. 95 of Beethoven: Klavier Trios III, ed Friedhelm Klugmann (Henle, 1968), showing bb. 271273 of the first movement of op. 38.

The top staff here is the violin, which may be replaced by the clarinet on the second staff.  Note that the last note in the clarinet here is c-sharp ( = the b-natural of the violin).  Voss doesnt mention any of this in his critical commentary to the Septet. 

For the do-it-yourself editor, this discrepancy may seem like an inconsequential difference between the two texts, and that Beethoven clearly must have meant c-natural ( = concert b-flat) in the Septet at this moment, as he actually notated the natural sign.  That is the reading transmitted in virtually every edition.  (I see that someone involved in producing the French edition (Pleyel) in 1828 caught the mistake and emended it, but that emendation didnt catch on.)  But, looking across a much wider range of manuscripts and with decades of experience, editor Jonathan Del Mar has spotted a pattern of errors which very neatly explains this problem.  This pattern manifests in erroneous accidentals in transposing parts, and indicates that Beethoven used the clef substitution method of transposing.  That is, instead of thinking that, for example, each note of a b-flat clarinet part sounds a whole tone lower than notated, he merely thought of this staff as being in the tenor clef, on which he could then note that sounding pitch (albeit sounding an octave higher).  

Beethoven indisputably notated c-natural; Del Mar makes the case that he meant concert b-natural (and thus c-sharp, when transposed up a tone).  He points to exactly the same mistake in a place in the second movement of the Eroica where there really cannot be any doubt of the error.  The autograph is lost, but as the wrong accidental occurs in the closest copyist score, the surviving parts used in the 1804 first performance, and the first edition of 1809 (shown below), the mistake surely descends from Beethoven himself.

SOURCE:  detail of p. 60 of the first edition of Beethoven, Symphony no. 3 (Cianchettini and Sperati, 1809), taken from scan available at https://www.beethoven.de/en/media/view/4716012494651392/scan/61; this shows bb. 139-144 of the second movement.

Surely the clarinets and the violas should be in unison; the viola b-natural would need to be transposed as c-sharp for the clarinets, and yet the same natural persists.  Del Mar has observed the same pattern with horns, for example the dubious f-flat that occurs in the fourth movement of the Septet.  Using the clef-substitution method for e-flat horn, Beethoven would have imagined a bass clef on this stave, and the flat is thus coming from the intended sounding a-flat.  Again the argument is that what Beethoven meant is not what he wrote (which should have been f-natural)but we need an experienced editor to recognize that; a facsimile wont clue us in.

SOURCE:  (cropped) scan of Beethoven's autograph of the Septet, op. 20; This detail  (showing bb. 100–102 of the fourth movement) comes from the upper right corner of p. [52] (which appears as scan p 7 of IMSLP #774465).

But editors should tread lightly on this thin ice, seeking what is meant in preference to what is actually on the page.  (Query:  What did the framers of the Constitution intend?)  A notorious example of this is Jacques-Louis Monods recomposed edition of Arnold Schoenbergs A Survivor from Warsaw, in which Monod altered Schoenbergs score to accord with Schoenberg's theories... or at least with Monods analysis.  As James Grier cautions, "Let the editor not be accused of printing the piece the composer would have written had he or she known as much as the editor" (p. 136).  (I think what my client was meaning to say...)

Many of my posts have dealt with overly intrusive editingwhich I think often comes from the temptation to prefer a variant reading just for the sake of an audible difference, maybe in some sense justifying the new edition.  (Heres a recent post on precisely that topic.)  But I find myself torn between the two quotations with which I started this post.  Silbiger (who himself earned two PhDs) is right to champion the great value of experiencing the sources closest to the original context of the music; and I looooove facsimiles.  I am interested in seeing sources that allow me a glimpse of the composer at workcomposing scores, or revisions happening on the page of what otherwise seems to be an attempt at a fair copy.  Here, for example, is Bach revising the text as he transforms the E major violin concerto (BWV 1042) into the D major harpsichord concerto (BWV 1054) in D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 234, a collective score of all seven of the extant concertos for (one) harpsichord, plus a fragment of another.  He had already copied out and transposed the solo line (which at this point features some double stops in the violin version) when he decided to rework the figuration to be more idiomatic on the keyboard.  Having run out of space, he opted for keyboard tablature below the system:

SOURCE:  cropped scan from Bach Digital of P 234, p. 48 (detail), showing BWV 1054/iii, bb. 77-87.

There are many examples of similar re-workings throughout these seven concertossometimes squeezing in passing tones, at other times inserting much more florid ornamentation.  There is a lot to learn from it. Werner Breig, the editor of the NBA volume of these works carefully documents the corrections and changes to the manuscript in his critical report.  I, for one, am glad to be guided by an editor who has the experience and expertise to discern the patterns behind the markings on the page as it stands; and I would certainly not attempt to perform from a scan of P 234, even the beautifully-produced Bärenreiter facsimile of it.

That is not to say, of course, that Bach intended anyone (other than himself?) to perform directly from this score.  But what of a text from the composers hand that is intended to be the performance copy?  This brings up the Facebook group post above:  Why dont composers just do their own engraving [recte computer-setting] and page layout?  Cut out the middlemanlike George Crumb, or (for that matter) Wagner.

I have learned a lot from the facebook Music Engraving Tips group:  there are all sorts of issues of spacing, orthography, and best-practices in preparing and printing parts, a lot of which had never crossed my mind.  But Ive also learned that many people who prepare editions of music (whether professional or not) have very little education about music history.  I see the most elementary questions about the meaning of some mark in a manuscript or an old edition; thankfully, these queries are generally answered gracefully and without contempt.  And the groups members are genuinely concerned with presenting the text in the way that is most immediately accessible to the userthat is, the performer.

Although an individual may interact with a musical text in many different ways, we should conceive of these as distinct roles.  There are surely very few people truly suited to fulfill all of them.  The primary roles might be delineated as: 
  1. Composing:  originating and finalizing musical ideas;
  2. Notating:  getting those ideas into a graphic form comprehensible by others;
  3. Editing:  encompassing a wide variety of activities, but essentially amounting to tweaking the notated text (ideally in dialogue with the composer) to ensure that it presents what is meant; Ralph Vaughan Williams referred to this as washing its face, and his sometime assistant Roy Douglas has written an illuminating account of such activity;
  4. Setting:  actually getting this text into a form that can be mechanically printed and/or distributed; and
  5. Reading/Interpreting/Performing:  the end user(?) is presumably a performer, scholar, or listener.
Of course we might interpolate other such functions:  1a might be Orchestrating.  That in itself is a good reminder that an individual may be prodigiously gifted in one of these tasks while having no appreciable ability in another.  Certainly we expect roles 1 and 2 to go together, but we do not necessarily expect a composer to be the best conductor of their own music, though.  (William Walton, a composer Ive done a lot of work on in my research, is a good example of someone who was generally better off leaving the conducting to the professionals.)  The Facebook post I reproduce above suggests that role 2 is essentially the same as role 4, and that role 3 might be bypassed altogether.

But at what cost?  The value of the middleman editor is to push back:  Is this what you mean?  (Or, for the dead or otherwise unavailable composer, Is this what was meant, given what we know about this composers usual practice?)  From my own experience with this blog, I know that I need someone elses eyes to look over my prose.  I never publish a post without several pairs of eyes reviewing itand always at least one of the reviewers is neither a musicologist nor a musician.  The comments and suggested revisions I get from that person are particularly helpful because they show where I have made a complete pigs breakfast of my explanations.  I dont always adopt the suggestions for revisionas sometimes they have completely misunderstood what I was trying to conveybut I am sure to do something to fix the problems that led them to misread it.  Here I am composing verbal text; musical text it is no different, and it can only be improved by an editorial review of some sort.

And yet, as stated above, I understand why publishers are glad to have camera-ready scores from their composers:  it saves money.  Again:  at what cost?  Here is a bit of the published score to Judith Weir's powerful one-unaccompanied-singer opera King Haralds Saga.  In this scene, Haralds two wives bid him farewell as he sets off to conquer England.  Weir wrote the libretto, too, and here it gives each wife the same 12-syllable text.  Weir duly sets this as a 12-tone row; presumably in order to throw the differences in characterization into sharp relief, the second wife presents the row in inversion.

SOURCE: detail of scan of  Judith Weir, King Harald's Saga (Novello, 1982), p. 6.

I have enjoyed teaching this work for many years now, and Ive used it in classes for music majors as well as for general students who cannot even read music.  It is a fascinating work, particularly in the ways it pushes generic conventions to (maybe past) the breaking point.  And, as a meditation on the senselessness of violence and conquest, it seems always timely.  So Ive spent a lot of time with this score.  Every time I look at this passage I am irked by the absence of a bar-line near the beginning of the second system:  the second wife should have take / care, shouldnt she?  This is the only place in this section where the bar-line for the second wife is different than the first, and in every other place it seems to indicate which syllable is to be accentednamely, the one right after the bar-line.  I think this is a simple omission in Weirs fair copyone that may not matter, as in performance the singer may intuit what Weir was after despite any irregularity of the notation.  Or did Weir mean to break the pattern?  (I havent bothered to reach out to her and ask her.  It seems such a petty complaint.)  

Note that here the problem is what isnt there:  it is not an erroneous marking (as in the Beethoven examples above), but a presumably missing marking.  I do not know in what ways the editorial staff at Novello were involved in the publication of this score, but I think someone should have caught that.  Sure, editors can and do introduce mistakes of their own.  Merely by imposing a house style, an edition can obscure a composers musical fingerprint (what in German is usefully called the Partiturbild).  John Eliot Gardiners Music in the Castle of Heaven posits that Bach's manuscript notation is expressive of performance gestures:  There is also the bonus of his graceful and expressive orthography, which reveals the way he experienced his music and expected it to unfoldthe shapes and gestures suggestion of his phrasing an motion (p. 226).  Perhaps. For a much more nuanced argument (relating to Haydn), I recommend James WebsterThe Triumph of Variability:  Haydns Articulation Markings in the Autograph of Sonata No. 49 in E Flat.  (Webster was the professor directing the seminar discussed above, although I didnt come across this article until years later.)

Clearly, there is no substitute for getting back into the sources as much as possible; but I dont regard a musician as negligent if they dont do that, nor do I regard the performer who plays from a facsimile as on a higher artistic plane than anyone else.  Maybe an analogy would be that a critical edition is like currency or a credit card in place of gold:  the edited text is a convenient substitute for the real thing that will suffice for most musicians in most situations.  But for anyone for whom the text itself is a supreme concern, a good edition is a useful guide and nothing more.