From notes to performance

From notes to performanceThe catalyst for the latest exhibition in the Jerwood Library was a conversation I had with Joe Townsend earlier in the summer about the role of libraries and archives in the creative process of performance. A moment’s consideration is perhaps enough to list the ways in which they support preparation for music performance. Apart from the expected collections of printed scores in many editions, there is a wide range of books – biographies, histories, dictionaries and other academic books, some of which contain, among other things, fascinating written accounts of past performances, published collections of correspondence and diaries giving insight into a composer’s composition and performance intentions. Then there are journals delving into more detailed aspects of composition and performance through articles, critiques of performances and written interviews with performers about their approaches to particular pieces of music. Finally, but importantly, there are recordings often offering the chance to compare performances of the same work made at different points in music history.

So this new exhibition from notes to performance attempts to show some ways in which library materials can be used to support and inform a musical interpretation.

Two works have been selected – Mozart’s Piano sonata in Bb, K 333 and the aria I know that my redeemer liveth from Handel’s Messiah. These were chosen because the library also has access to facsimile editions of the scores which provide a basis for a critical examination of the printed editions on offer.

An examination of each of these facsimiles immediately provokes questions which an intending performer needs to consider, viz. what information does the composer’s manuscript yield about how the music should be performed and how trustworthy are the printed editions. The opening bar of the Mozart Sonata, for example, is notated with an appoggiatura – not all editions preserve this (why not?). Does this notation have a performance implication (weight, rhythm, tempo, dynamic)? The various Mozart editions show different interpretations of other articulation, adding or subtracting slurs or staccato signs. Some insert dynamics, and many add suggested fingerings. The Messiah facsimile shows ornaments in the instrumental parts but not in the vocal line, why so? Choices must made about these aspects and these choices will affect the final performance.

A performer must also look beyond the notes and consider the wider historical context of the piece. When was it composed and what implications does that have? What instrument would Mozart have in mind for his Sonata, for example, and should that influence a 21st century performer’s performance? Articulation and fingering, dynamics and ornaments are likely to be influenced by the type of piano to be used. Can the phrasing suitable for a fortepiano be translated to a concert grand? What would Mozart have wanted?

When were the printed editions made and does that affect how editors may have decoded the composer’s “intentions” as expressed in the manuscript (facsimile)? Might this explain how different the three ‘Urtext’ editions of the Mozart Sonata are? Barth’s (1991) article in Early Music offers a fascinating study of how editors reflected changing attitudes to music of the past drawing his evidence from the first editions through the 19th century and into the 20th century. Happily, Mozart left indications of his ideas in his letters describing his contemporaries’ performances to help us decode the printed legacy.  The situation with earlier music is perhaps less straight-forward.

The materials selected for this exhibition to provide performance background to Handel’s aria I know that my redeemer liveth include a facsimile score and various written accounts from or about performers and performances.

The manuscript is fairly hard to read, but is notably lacking in ornamentation. This aspect has been a contentious issue, as demonstrated in the Cummings (1903/4) article, where the author inveighs against the introduction of ornaments in printed editions. Some 80 years later, Roche (1985) wrote a slightly plaintive article deprecating the deliberate stripping away during the 20th century of these very ornaments which had been part of an ‘living tradition’ of Messiah performance, ornaments which are now consider standard in any ‘historically informed’ performance of this work. Isobel Baillie’s (1982) memoire supports the ‘back to the composer’s intentions’ approach where any added embellishment of the vocal line was eschewed. However, she was happy to make modest revisions to the word-setting to improve her performance. The printed editions on display (Jenkins; Tobin; Walter) demonstrate editors making choices about appoggiaturas, articulation and other ornaments which must, again, be challenged by careful study of the wider historical performance context. Recordings can help offer insights to compare with written accounts of performances of the work. Musical Times (1850) critics of a performance in Liverpool in 1850 by leading soprano, Jenny Lind dramatically disagreed with her interpretation. One wrote: ‘We never before heard the airs in the Messiah sung with so much power, simplicity and earnestness…. “I know that my Redeemer liveth” was perfect’, while the other commented ‘“I know that my Redeemer” lost all that effect we have been accustomed to hear produced, through the fact of this air testing those tones that in Mdlle. Lind are most unquestionably defective. The reading of the song was a mistake throughout.’

As always, an exhibition can only include a limited number of examples and much material that is fascinating must be omitted. I have included a select bibliography below of the sources used and, of course, staff and students at Trinity Laban have access all these materials either by borrowing them from the Jerwood Library, or by using online research resources (Quicksearch, for example) to find further written and recorded examples.

Perhaps there is a CoLab project here for a student or group of students who would care to pursue the idea further and create a video charting their journey from printed score to a performance?  I can see the title already “From page to stage”…

Select bibliography [showing Jerwood Library shelf locations]


Badura-Skoda, Eva and Paul (2008). Interpreting Mozart: the performance of his piano pieces and other compositions. London: Routledge, pp.138-160. [Shelved at 789 HAN]

Baillie, Isobel (1982). Never sing louder than lovely. London: Hutchinson.  [Shelved at: 784.19 BAI]

Barth, George (1991). ‘Mozart Performance in the 19th Century’, in Early Music, Vol. 19/4, pp. 538-555. Accessed at

The pianist as orator: Beethoven and the transformation of keyboard style (1992). Cornell University Press. [Shelved at 785.68 BAR]

Brown, Clive, 1947- Title: Classical and Romantic performing practice 1750-1900 [electronic resource]. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. [Shelved at 783.96 BRO]

Cummings, William H. (1903/4). ‘The mutilation of a masterpiece’, in Proceedings of the Musical Association, 30th season, pp. 113-127. Accessed at

Eighteenth-century keyboard music (1994). New York: Schirmer. [Shelved at 785.68 MAR]

Ferguson, Howard, 1908-1999 Title: Keyboard interpretation from the 14th to the 19th century: an introduction Publication info: London: Oxford University Press, 1975 [Shelved at 785.65 FER]

Gill, Dominic (1981). The book of the piano. Oxford: Phaidon Press. [Shelved at 785.61 GIL]

Good, Edwin M. (2001). Giraffes, Black Dragons and other pianos: a technological history from Cristofori to the modern concert grand, 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press. [Shelved at 785.61 GOO]

Irving, John Title: Mozart’s piano sonatas: contexts, sources, style. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1997. [Shelved at 789 MOZ]

Landon, H. C. Robbins (1984). Handel and his world. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. [Shelved at 789 HAN]

Lampl, Hans (1996). Turning notes into music: an introduction to muscal interpretation. Maryland: Scarecrow Press. [Shelved at 783.96 LAM]

Lang, Paul Henry (1996). George Frideric Handel. New York: Dover. [Shelved at 789 HAN]

Langley, Robert, et al. (ed.) (1984). Handel in London. London: Royal Society of Musicians (Published by the Royal Society of Musicians to mark the 200th anniversary of the first Handel Commemoration). [Shelved at 789 HAN]

Letnanova, Elena (1991). Piano interpretation in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: a study of theory and practice using original documents. Jefferson: McFarland. [Shelved at 783.96 LET]

[Musical Times (1850)]. ‘Jenny Lind at Liverpool’, in The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 4/76 , p. 57.  Accessed at

Neumann, Frederick (1986). Ornamentation and improvisation in Mozart. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. [Shelved at 783.96 NEU]

Roche, Elizabeth (1985). ‘Handel’s Appoggiaturas: A Tradition Destroyed’, in Early Music, Vol. 13/3, pp. 408-410.  Accessed at

Rosenblum, Sandra P (1988). Performance practices in classic piano music: their principles and application. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [Shelved at 785.65 ROS]


Handel, Messiah (I know that my redeemer liveth)

Facsimile of the autograph score of Messiah, an oratorio composed in the year 1741 by G. F. Handel. London: Sacred Harmonic society, 1868. [Shelved at REFERENCE FACSIMILES COLLECTION: HAN]

Tobin, John, ed. (1965). The Messiah = Der Messias [in critical complete edition series]. Kassel: Bärenreiter. [Shelved at COLLECTED EDITIONS: HAN]

Jenkins, Neil, arranger and editor (1997). Sing solo sacred: 40 favourite songs and arias for low voice and organ or piano. Oxford University Press. [Shelved at 780.309 SAC]

Walter, Richard, compiler (1994). The oratorio anthology. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. [Shelved at 780.309 ORA]

Mozart, Piano Sonata, K. 333, B-flat major – editions… [all shelved at 781.4 MOZ]

Associated Board of the R.A.M and the R.C.M (1931). edited (based on Bischoff’s edition, which was compiled from composer autographs and earliest editions) by York Bowen, with analytical notes by Aubyn Raymar.

Peters Urtext edition (1951), Nr. 1800b, edited [after the sources] by CA Martienssen and Wilhelm Weismann.

Henle Urtext edition (1977/1992), edited by Ernst Herttrich

Baerenreiter Urtext edition (1986), edited (from the Neue Ausgabe) by Wolfgang Plath and Wolfgang Rehm,1986.


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