David’s choice – Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

Monday 21st November 2016 marks 69 years since the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, gave the world premiere of Symphony no. 5, op. 47 by Dmitry Shostakovich.

‘Shos 5’ (as it’s often referred to) is one of my all time favourite pieces of music. I feel like I know it very well (and not just the cello part!), having rehearsed it at length and having performed it several times over the years. The first time I performed it, and probably the most memorable for me, was with my youth orchestra, the Lancashire Students Symphony Orchestra (LSSO for short), as it was known then, under the baton of Malcolm Doley. What an amazing experience. Aged 15, we went on tour to Tuscany in Italy and performed this incredible symphony several times over the 10 days that we were away, in some amazing places. Also in the programme was another one of my favourite pieces, Elgar’s concert overture ‘Cockaigne’.

Concerts in Italy didn’t start till 9.30pm and Shostakovich symphony no. 5 is around 50 minutes long and was always in the 2nd half of the concert. Therefore, concerts didn’t finish till very late indeed! I do remember closing my eyes briefly one evening, during the 16 minute ‘Largo’,  letting the still, calm yet desolate sounds wash over me…….and then struggling to open them again! (I think anyone who has been on any sort of residential youth orchestra course/tour will empathize with this!) There was no danger of dozing however in the fierce and powerful fourth movement, using full bows on each fortississimo quaver for a whole of the last page or so of music! (See image of score below). Referring to this ending, Erik Levi explains in the CD sleeve notes to Vol. 22, No. 8 of the BBC Music Magazine CD, “Whether this resolution is genuinely optimistic remains an open question given the music’s lugubrious tempo”.

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (minature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (miniature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

It is interesting to listen to various and vastly different interpretations of the end of the fourth movement and hear the massively contrasting speeds this passage is taken at and how this affects the whole mood of the final movement. Personally, I prefer the slower tempo for the end of the symphony, closer to the actual metronome mark of ‘quaver = 184’ as shown in the example above. This is expertly demonstrated on a live recording, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the LSO in 2005, (shelved at ORC: SHO in the library). This contrasts considerably with the 1969 LP recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, (LP no. 167d in the library)

Prior to the composition of his 5th Symphony, it was a difficult time for Shostakovich. He’d had a couple of unfavourable editorials, one of which was entitled, ‘Muddle instead of Music’, and subsequently decided to pull his 4th Symphony on the morning of the premiere. There was a lot resting on the 5th Symphony, which Shostakovich composed in a short space of time, between April and July 1937. He went back to the conventional 4 movement structure for the first time since his 1st Symphony and reduced the orchestra to a more conventional size, only adding celesta and piano, rather than the huge additional forces which were needed for the 4th Symphony.

It is interesting to note how well received the 5th symphony actually was. As Roy Blokker puts it in his book, ‘The Music of Dimitri Shostakovich – The Symphonies’, (shelved at 789 SHO), “In 1937 they did not want tragedy in art, yet the Fifth is tragic…..The Soviet leaders wanted folk music and nationalistic ideas; the Fifth contains none. The second movement is a grotesque dance based upon themes from the still unperformed Fourth Symphony that had parodied the very critics who had ostracised the composer in 1936. Yet the score was such a massive tour de force that it melted away all the opposition”

“The première of the Fifth Symphony on 21 November 1937 was the scene of extraordinary public acclamation. There was open weeping in the slow movement and a half-hour ovation at the end”. Grove Music Online.

It was clear that the audience at the premiere had identified the ‘tragic struggle’ in the music and how this paralleled their own daily struggles at the time.

november-item-of-the-month-2016-shostakovich-cabinet-photo

Library display cabinet showing – ‘David’s choice’ –  Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

For students and staff who want to find out more, why not start with Quicksearch, for articles, recordings, reviews and much more. Why not have a read of ‘Testimony: the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov’ which you can find at 789 SHO or check out the DVD of ‘Testimony : the story of Dmitri Shostakovich’ shelved at DVD / FILM : TES

 

Roy Blokker with Robert Dearing, The Music of Dimitri Shostakovich, The Symphonies London : Tantivy Press, (Rutherford : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1979)

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (minature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

David Fanning and Laurel Fay. “Shostakovich, Dmitry.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, (accessed November 9, 2016) http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/52560pg3.

 

 

Claire’s Choice: on an autumnal theme!

conkers

As the mornings grow colder and squirrels are to be seen hoarding conkers for the winter, what better for “Claire’s Choice” than to highlight two songs in the Jerwood Library collection celebrating the venerable chestnut tree.

village-blacksmith

 

Written in 1840 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poem The Village Blacksmith was set to music in 1854 by the English composer and celebrated bass singer Willoughby Weiss. It starts “Under a spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands…” and continues to describe the blacksmith’s daily life. Weiss offered the copyright of the work to a firm of publishers for the sum of 5 pounds, but when his offer was turned down, he decided to publish it on his own account. As luck would have it, it went on to become a hugely popular Victorian parlour song, earning him and his family a considerable income!

 

Moving forward into the 20th century, the second song The Chestnut Tree, with words and music by Jimmy Kennedy, Tommie Connor and Hamilton Kennedy, was composed in 1938. This popular novelty song was also inspired by Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith. However rather than focussing on the virtuous, hard-working, church-going, qualities of the blacksmith, it centres on the blacksmith’s daughter and “the spreading chestnut tree”, the goings-on under which certainly didn’t appear in Longfellow’s poem!

But this was only one aspect of the song. In fact, the writers had been specifically commissioned to come up with something that was going to take dance halls by storm. Indeed the inspiration behind selecting The Village Blacksmith as inspiration came from a photograph of King George VI at a boy scout jamboree in which his, and all the scouts’, hands were held to their heads. Further research unearthed that this was part of a performance in which the scouts recited The Village Blacksmith. With assistance from Adele England (who had choreographed The Lambeth Walk) they devised some steps to go with their song, which are illustrated in the printed edition. It became a huge hit, selling over 10,000 copies per day.

This edition comes from the Jerwood Library’s Rita Williams popular song collection. Rita Williams sang with the Billy Cotton Club, among other groups, and was an avid collector of popular songs. The overall collection comprises some 3000 individual songs dating from Victorian times to the 1970s. It is handlisted here. Do get in touch with us if you’d like to see any other hidden gems in the collection.

Items from the Jerwood library collection:

Weiss, W.H. “The Village Blacksmith”. In The Songs of England, volume 1, edited by J.L. Hatton, 245-249. London: Boosey & Co, 1910

Kennedy, Jimmy, Tommie Connor and Hamilton Kenny, The Chestnut Tree. London: Peter Maurice Music Co, 1938

Exhibition: Experimental Scores from 1950s New York

cabinet-2One of the things that strikes me about the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff and Earle Brown in the 1950s is how uneasily it might sit in the library of a conservatoire of music. It represents attitudes to sound, composition and value-judgements like skill, quality, or success and failure which seem to me to be at odds with those of the mainstream of western classical music history. And this seemed to me a good reason to drag it out and examine it under the lights of the library display cabinets.

But first things first – why does this music tend to be grouped together and described as ‘experimental’? Attempts at naming and defining a musical movement seem to me to be doomed to exceptions and over-simplifications, intended as they are to take in the work done by a range of different personalities over a vaguely-defined period of time. Yet, they have their uses. Something new really did seem to happen in the way people were creating and thinking about music in New York City, beginning in the 1950s, and calling this new music ‘experimental’ seems reasonable. At least, John Cage seemed to think so:

“The word ‘experimental’ is apt, providing it is understood not as descriptive of an act to be later judged in terms of success and failure, but simply as of an act the outcome of which is unknown.”  [written in 1955][1]

Cage is the composer most associated with the inception of this new music, but the work of all four men has a further attitude in common; they were all writing music which was at one remove from the person who made it, and thus somewhat distanced from their own tastes and prejudices in favour of a more objective approach to sound. Michael Nyman, in his book on experimental music, also adds that it is music which is somehow distinct from the ‘well-trodden but sanctified path of the post-Renaissance tradition’ of avant-garde composers such as Boulez, Xenakis, Kagel, Berio, Stockhausen, Birtwistle, Bussotti.[2] I’ll come back to that.

John Cage’s famous ‘silent’ piece 4’33’’ was composed and premiered in 1952 and is often the place to start off any discussion about experimental music. Consequently, I almost cringe talking about this piece. It seems to have been picked over again and again, endlessly. However, one of the reasons this is the case is that it’s just such a good example in the way in encapsulates many aspects of the new attitude towards music that began to emerge in the work of a number of composers around the same time in the same place.

cage

John Cage at a drinks reception at the Cage/Cunningham Residency at the Laban Centre, July 1980.  Photo by Peter Sayers (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cage’s piece grew directly out of his realisation that sounds surround us always, even in the quietest of places, and if we attend to them, and accept both intended and unintended sounds into composition, a new attitude to making and listening to music is born – ‘Happy new ears!’, as he put it.[3] His move was to simply provide a time-frame (the duration of which was generated by chance) in which an audience could attend to all the sounds that surround them. And although 4’33’’ is the idea taken to its logical extreme, the emphasis in this new attitude was not the traditional one of prescribing a defined time-object, the materials and structuring of which were calculated and specified in advance. Instead, these composers were more interested in outlining a certain situation in which sounds then occur. It was an attitude of acceptance rather than craftsmanship; an effort to distance one’s self from the composition; and an attempt to bring art and life closer together:[4]

“When a composer feels a responsibility to make, rather than accept, he eliminates from the area of possibility all those events that do not suggest at that point in time vogue of profundity. For he takes himself seriously, wishes to be considered great, and he thereby diminishes his love and increases his fear and concern about what people will think.

 

There are many serious problems confronting such an individual. He must do it better, more impressively, more beautifully, etc. than anybody else. And what, precisely, does this, this beautiful profound object, this masterpiece, have to do with Life? It has this to do with Life: that it is separate from it. Now we see it and now we don’t. When we see it we feel better, and when we are away from it, we don’t feel so good. Life seems shabby and chaotic and disordered, ugly in contrast.”[5]

Describing pieces like the graph pieces of Morton Feldman, in which only the number and relative placement of pitches (high, middle, low) are specified within a time-grid, Cage said that ‘the composer resembles the maker of a camera who allows someone else to take the picture.’[6]

“What is, or seems to be, new in this music? One finds a concern for a kind of objectivity, almost anonymity – sound come into its own. The ‘music’ is resultant existing simply in the sounds we hear, given no impulse by expression of self or personality” [7]

It should already seem quite clear how this attitude is very different from that of the European-classical canon, including the work of the avant-garde at the time. In that tradition the responsibility for managing and calculating all of the musical parameters is laid squarely at the feet of the composer. The emphasis there is on integration, organisation and control as opposed to the impersonal techniques used for merely ‘setting sounds in motion’, in which any possibility of drawing events into some kind of pre-calculated image is impossible because so much is left open until the moment of performance. And indeed, it was the uniqueness of the moment, rather than the uniqueness of something preserved, that interested the experimental composers.

So this brings me to the place experimental music might occupy in a conservatoire of music. After all, it’s here that performance students come to hone an extraordinarily refined skill-set over a period of at least 4 years, with the emphasis being on replicating certain unique and preserved master-pieces. It’s hard-work, and success and failure are very real categories. So it seems understandable that the presence of this different attitude to music-making might sit a little uneasily here – who needs a degree when all you’re doing is ‘projecting sounds in time’? How do you accurately rate the performance of a piece that sounds completely different every time it’s performed?

However, my feeling, for what it’s worth, is that music is not just one thing, and students should be able, if so inclined, to take advantage of their time here to explore it in all its variety. Surely, this is one of the main things the library is here to facilitate. Whether this music seems exciting to one person or empty to another depends ultimately on their temperament, but either way, having it in the collection increases its scope. After all, let’s not forget that this music is hardly ‘new’. In fact, it’s now just about old enough to qualify for a free bus pass.

It’s refreshing that people tend to find the arch-modernist style-police amusing for the vitriol with which they denounced anyone who didn’t plow their particular furrow in the mid-twentieth-century, and this opening-up and moving away from an unhealthy obsession with style can only be a good thing. I know that when I learnt about what was happening in 1950s New York for the first time it opened my ears to new ways of thinking about and listening to music. It didn’t stop me practicing my scales, but it did give me a different take on listening to all the sounds that we normally do our best to ignore; or wondering whether we can, or why we might want to, remove our tastes and prejudices from the things we make. Being exposed to a diversity of values and approaches to music only enriches things.

However, as a final thought, I’ll leave Morton Feldman to muddy the waters. For all this talk of a diversity of approaches, perhaps this supposedly brand-new attitude wasn’t really all that separate from the mainstream avant-garde after all? It seems a good example of how parts of a culture that seem unconnected at the time, when seen in perspective can shed light on each other in interesting ways. All the more reason to welcome this kind of music into the conservatoire library, I’d say.

“What rhapsodizes in today’s ‘cool’ language is its own construction. The fact that men like Boulez and Cage represent opposite extremes of modern mythology is not what is interesting. What is interesting is their similarity. In the music of both men, things are exactly what they are  – no more, no less. In the music of both men, what is heard is indistinguishable from its process. In fact, process itself might be called the zeitgeist of our age.”[8]

 


 

[1] John Cage, Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), 13

[2] Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 1

[3] John Cage, A Year From Monday: Lectures and Writings (Marion Boyars: London, 1968), 30

[4] Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 4

[5] John Cage, Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), 130

[6] John Cage, Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), 11

[7] Christian Wolff, quoted in Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 30

[8] Morton Feldman, Give my Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman ed. B.H.Friedman (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 2000), 109

The delights of handwritten scores

I’m a real score enthusiast. I love their intricacy, diversity and the mysterious way in which they contain the coded thoughts of the person who wrote them. It’s wonderful, how they manage to combine elements of both drawing and writing, being both highly practical as well as visually appealing. This is all true for highly standardised mass-printed scores as well as their friendly handwritten relations. But, for me, it’s the handwritten ones that are the real gems as they have the added bonus of each serving as a kind of abstract self-portrait, capturing something elusive about their author. And fortunately for score enthusiasts such as myself, dotted throughout the Jerwood Library collection there are all kinds of examples of handwritten manuscripts, from early originals tucked away in special collections, to facsimiles of the scores and sketches of the European masters, to the wildly diverse offerings of the twentieth-century avant-garde.

European music notation has come a long way in the course of its development from the vagueness of mediaeval neumes to the relative precision of modern day practice. Yet despite the current level of standardisation, I never cease to find it extraordinary how individual in appearance hand-drawn scores can be. Often one can know the music of a particular composer well, but on seeing one of their manuscripts in their own hand for the first time there is this feeling of gaining some kind of extra insight. Yet, exactly what this consists in is very hard to say. Of course, one can gain all kinds of fascinating scholarly insights by going back to original sources, but what I’m talking about here has more to do with the expressiveness immanent in scores. We express ourselves in the way we take our tea, the way we sign our name, whether our desks are tidy, whether our socks match and, yes, the way in which we draw our manuscripts. All of these say something small about our ideals and our priorities; things to do with the little idiosyncrasies of approach that make up a particular personality. However, trying to put it into words would make it sound pretty hazy and trivial, yet it’s frequently quite the opposite. For example, take a look below at a sketch by Beethoven alongside one by Webern (both of which are available to look at in the Reference Facsimile collection on the back wall of the North Library).

Facsimile page of Beethoven's score of piano sonata opus 109

From Beethoven, Ludwig van. Piano Sonata op. 109 (facsimile). New York: Robert Owen Lehman Foundation, 1965. (printed L.Van Leer & Co: Netherlands). 29

Facsmile sketch of a page from Webern's String trio opus 20

From Webern, Anton von. Sketches (1926-1945), (facsimile). Commentary by Ernst Krenek. New York: Carl Fischer, 1968. Plate 5

We can say things like: Beethoven thought in broad lines, filling in spaces of a pre-conceived larger structure quickly, somewhat haphazardly, sometimes scribbling extra material not strictly intended for the piece at hand. Whereas Webern always seemed to work with the minute detail and build the structure up from there, generating material that remained strictly within the confines of the current piece (see Ernst Krenek’s commentary preceding Webern sketches in the reference facsimile collection for more detailed information). Judging by the large swathes of crossings-out, one thing they seem to have in common is that they were both pretty ruthless self-editors. Yet, while this is all interesting insight into two very different compositional methods, none of this really captures that very general sense of fascination that comes with simply seeing the expressiveness of their musical handwriting. Like the music itself it seems to tell you much about the composer, but yet at the same time, remains thoroughly ambiguous.

For another particularly poignant example of a handwritten score serving as something of a self-portrait, below is a page of the original score of Alfred Schnittke’s last symphony. At times it’s near completely illegible due to the composer suffering the consequences of a series of crippling strokes which were to eventually kill him. There’s this real sense of effort in all those shaky barlines and spidery noteheads. The whole document is pervaded with a sense of the difficulty Schnittke had as he struggled to pursue his art despite his debilitating illness.

Sometimes composers go further and play around with the nature of the notation in much more striking ways than merely possessing a unique style of calligraphy. There have been many examples of composers throughout the centuries who have cared about the visual aspect of their scores, and the twentieth century seems to have produced them in abundance, and more often than not, due to their idiosyncrasy, the scores are hand-drawn. Augenmusik (literally, eye music) is the term that’s generally used to refer to music that has features of the notation that are not accessible to anyone who is just listening. An early example of this kind of practice can be seen in a couple of famous scores by Baude Cordier (ca.1380- ca.1440) in his chanson about love, Belle, bonne, sage (left page), as well as his Tout par compass suy composes (right page), both from the Chantilly codex.

One can find a very similar approach, much closer to our time, in many of the scores of George Crumb. Crumb’s father was a professional copyist and the composer often drew on this inherited skill to create visually striking, picturesque scores. For example, morphing four staves of a string quartet to one when playing in unison, or curving staves into circles and spirals to represent some of his extra-musical ideas. But much more down to earth than their supposed evocation of mysticism, infinity or cosmic recurrence, I simply find the skill involved in drawing something like this by hand really quite extraordinary.

Personally, I always copy my scores out by hand. I like how it slows me down and brings me a little closer to the music. I find it to be a deeply satisfying and relaxing process, often taking whole weekends and vast quantities of tea, and I know I’m not alone in this. There are plenty of composers who prefer to write out their final versions themselves, for all kinds of reasons. A personal all-time favourite is Morton Feldman. The larger-than-life personality that comes across in interviews and anecdotes seems delightfully at odds with the delicate colours and soft, ambiguous patterns of his music, as well as the meticulous detail of many of his scores. For him, the materials with which he worked were vital elements in his compositional process.  He talked about how he often composed directly in pen, using his quantity of crossings-out to gauge whether he was sufficiently concentrated on the work at hand. When it comes to the scores of his close friend, John Cage, the style is quite different. Cage’s calligraphy is extremely heavy, bold and distinctive (so much so that someone has actually produced a Cage font).

Another great composer for calligraphy enthusiasts is Michael Finnissy. A case in point being that I once heard Finnissy say during a lecture that he was the last customer of the last quill shop in London. Almost all of his scores are facsimiles of his own exquisite hand, and the level of care and attention to detail is really astonishing. His scores can sometimes be fearsome-looking in their notational intricacy, yet when I heard some of his piano works for the first time I was surprised that the level of detail in the score translates into music that is often fearsome due to its raw aggressive energy rather than any kind of notational fussiness.

Music printing and personal notation software have brought with them all kinds of advantages, and believe me, I wouldn’t want rid of them (especially when it comes to producing performers’ parts!). But we live in a complex, multifaceted world, and all too often when something new comes along with all its obvious advantages, whatever is lacking gets forgotten in the excitement. When considered using the broadest criteria, what is new is very rarely better in every way than what it replaces. Often, the older way of doing things has some combination of time, sustainability, individuality and simplicity on its side – and, emerging from these qualities, beauty tends to make an appearance too. I for one hope that composers never fully abandon the skill of drawing their music by hand, for if they did we would lose a rich source of insight into the expressive minutiae of individual creativity.

Here are just a few examples from the composers mentioned. You’ll find plenty more throughout the collection. Often it will say on the catalogue entry whether scores are a facsimile of the composer’s hand.

I would also recommend taking a trip to the oversize section at the far end of the South Library, as this is where some of the most extravagant examples are to be found.

Cage examples:

782.99 CAG (OVERSIZE) Water Music

781.4 CAG Music of Changes: solo piano

782.99 CAG String Quartet in four parts

782.99 CAG Music Walk

 

Finnissy examples:

782.02 FIN Dilok: Oboe Percussion

781.4 FIN Reels: piano solo

782 FIN Molly House: unspecified instrumentation

782.69 FIN Terekkeme: harpsichord

 

Feldman examples:

782.99 FEL Coptic Light : for orchestra (1986)

782.99 FEL For Philip Guston : for flute, percussion and piano (1984)

782.7213 FEL Clarinet and string quartet (1983)

782.99 FEL Flute and orchestra, (1977/1978)

 

A small selection of some other composers with handwritten scores in the collection:

Stephen Montague, Gyogy Ligeti, Salvatore Sciarrino, Kevin Volans, Peter Garland, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Luciano Berio… and many more.

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]

Books

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3127916

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/765308

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3370416

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3127568

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

Scores:

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.