Composers vs Engravers: Contraindications

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John Ruggero
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Composers vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by John Ruggero » 18 Dec 2017, 23:26

Some unusual stem direction in manuscripts is not meaningful and should not be preserved in engraved editions. An example from the Chopin's Etude op. 25 no. 6:

The shift to up stems in the second measure is purely the result of crowding:
Chopin op 25 no 6.jpg
Chopin op 25 no 6.jpg (81 KiB) Viewed 1881 times
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Re: Composer vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by John Ruggero » 18 Dec 2017, 23:50

In this example from the same work, the unusual up stem on the third left hand eighth note in measure two would suggest the start of a new group on the second downbeat. Yet the second eighth note surely starts the new group because

1. notationally, Chopin would have beamed the first two eighth notes together as in the previous measure if he wanted the next group to start on the third eighth note

2. musically, a series of upbeat pairs is far more flowing and beautiful than downbeat pairs and leads most naturally into the next measure

3. pianistically, the passage is most easily fingered and played 1 4 1 4 1 4 1 which leads to upbeat groups. Chopin usually writes what is most natural for the hand and keyboard.

For these reasons, all editions that i know have disregarded the up stem as an error, and justifiably so in my opinion.
Chopin op 25 no 6 ex 2.jpg
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Re: Composer vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by OCTO » 20 Dec 2017, 10:56

John Ruggero wrote:
18 Dec 2017, 23:26
Some unusual stem direction in manuscripts is not meaningful and should not be preserved in engraved editions. An example from the Chopin's Etude op. 25 no. 6:
The shift to up stems in the second measure is purely the result of crowding:
Maybe, but I still find it appealing. Have you tried engraving it that way? And do make crowded in order to justify the intention.
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Re: Composer vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by John Ruggero » 20 Dec 2017, 17:18

Thanks for your comment, OCTO, which advances the discussion.

As you say, the MS is visually appealing because it has visual logic given the crowding. However, the crowding is the unfortunate result of pre-lined music paper and there is no apparent musical logic to the notation.

As far as I am concerned, the only reason for preserving original notation is to provide additional information for the performer. I am not trying to present a facsimile of the MS, but attempting to present the text as Chopin would have engraved it if he had had complete control over all aspects of the notation, which was not the case during his lifetime.

When one looks through the rest of the manuscript (presumably slavishly prepared as usual by Chopin's student Fontana) there are three situations that arise:

Category 1. places where stem direction is maintained throughout a phrase in contradiction to standard engraving rules.
op 25 no 6 ex 1.jpeg
op 25 no 6 ex 1.jpeg (18.11 KiB) Viewed 1848 times
Category 2, places where stem direction cannot be maintained and therefore changes in the most logical way:
op 25 no 6 ex 2.jpeg
op 25 no 6 ex 2.jpeg (50.33 KiB) Viewed 1848 times
The stem direction changes at the beginning of the second octave of the chromatic scale, pointing out the hemiola effect of the scale in three beat groups against the meter: RH 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = LH 4 + 4 + 4.

Category 3: the original measure under discussion (post 1) is the only place where there is a change in stem direction which contradicts both musical logic and standard engraving rules.

In the case of Category 3, extra-musical factors such as crowding or error (as in my second post above) would seem to be the cause. For this reason, I feel that Chopin would have expected the engraver to correct this as a matter of course. The engravers did in fact correct it in all three first editions:
op 25 no 6 ex 3.jpeg
op 25 no 6 ex 3.jpeg (119.4 KiB) Viewed 1848 times
Unfortunately, they also changed notation that falls under Category 1:
op 25 no 6 ex 4.jpg
op 25 no 6 ex 4.jpg (49.9 KiB) Viewed 1848 times
and Category 2:
op 25 no 6 ex 5.jpeg
op 25 no 6 ex 5.jpeg (27.58 KiB) Viewed 1848 times
In short, I am endeavoring to preserve notation of all kinds that falls into Categories 1 and 2 and attempting to correct cases that fall into Category 3.
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Re: Composer vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by Schonbergian » 20 Dec 2017, 22:19

With other composers than Chopin, how are we to know when an example falls into 1 or 2 rather than 3?

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Re: Composer vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by John Ruggero » 21 Dec 2017, 00:27

Schonbergian wrote:
20 Dec 2017, 22:19
With other composers than Chopin, how are we to know when an example falls into 1 or 2 rather than 3?
This is an excellent question, and I plan to give examples by other composers. Chopin is actually an exceptionally difficult case, because of the number of conflicting original sources, his constant after-the-fact tinkering, and his impatience with the mundane matters of proofreading. Other composers are generally much easier to deal with and much less error-prone. Some, like Mozart and Haydn, are dazzling in this regard; but they too were human.

In any case, it works the same with all composers, but first one has to accept as a basic premise my motto:

"The better, the composer, the better, the notation."

The best composers were and are as good at notating their music as they are composing it. That doesn't mean that they don't make mistakes; just that their intention is always superior to any other, because they carefully (consciously or intuitively) consider all the options and make the best notational choices, just as they make the best compositional choices. One has to give up the notion that such composers are naive savants who sleepwalk while composing. All evidence suggests that the best composers "know" (again either consciously or intuitively) exactly what they are doing and "know" it better than anyone else.

So faced with a non-traditional choice in any composer's work, one must first evaluate the composer. If we are dealing with a master like Bach, Mozart or one those guys, we can be assured that the notation will be of a very high order and that we should take it very seriously.

1. So in music written by a master composer, the first question is why did the composer write it like that, given more traditional possibilities that the composer knew as well or better than anyone. This is generally not difficult to answer, because the composer is alerting us to something special by using a special notation. In the case of stem direction, he might be telling us that a passage must not be broken up in any way; that no note should stand out except the structurally significant ones etc. Every usage will have a different meaning and the player will have to think deeply about each spot to see that reason. But this is nothing more than musical interpretation, where we desire to understand everything about the music we are playing, whether traditionally notated or not.

If we cannot find any rational reason for a choice, and an obvious explanation such as crowding—which can play havoc with the notation— carelessness, or actual error seems highly likely, we can engrave the passage as it stands, or correct it, in each case adding an explanation. In my case, since I am preparing a performance edition, not a facsimile exhibiting all the warts of the MS, I will correct the notation by trying to put myself in the composer's place: what would I do if faced with a crowded situation like that in the first example in this thread. I would be forced to use up stems, but hope that the engravers would understand from all the other instances throughout the piece what I really want. Chopin, for example, had the unfortunate habit of improving the notation of a passage (slurs and other articulations) in successive repeats, but not changing the earlier ones and then assuming that the engraver would "get it" and use the final form for all the previous repetitions. That often did not happen. It is then the editor's job to understand this situation and correct it.

2. If one is dealing with a composer of lesser rank, all bets are off.
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Re: Composer vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by David Ward » 21 Dec 2017, 07:57

John Ruggero wrote:
21 Dec 2017, 00:27
"The better, the composer, the better, the notation."
While this is broadly true for manuscript notation (I think I may be a little less exacting than John: not just about this), does it also apply to a composer's computer notation?

There can be some dreadful frustrations when trying to do on the computer what one once did with instinctive fluency in manuscript, and this can lead to uncomfortable compromise.

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Re: Composers vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by Schonbergian » 21 Dec 2017, 15:09

I agree with David's point. Can a "notational Urtext" such as you describe exist in the modern computer world?

And what about "obsolete" notational practice, such as Bach flagging individual notes in some of his fugues? Is that merely a product of his time or is it something meaningful that should be preserved today?

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Re: Composers vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by John Ruggero » 21 Dec 2017, 18:05

David Ward wrote:
21 Dec 2017, 07:57
does it also apply to a composer's computer notation?
I hope that I am not missing the point, but as far as computer "manuscripts", it would seem to me to be far simpler to ascertain the composer's intentions than with handwritten manuscripts being engraving by other parties, since the composer now has potentially complete control over the engraving process. And if computer engraving becomes more and more flexible and responsive, as we all hope, this will be even more true in the future.

Of course, computer engraving is much less expressive of subtle shades of meaning than handwritten manuscript by a composer like David who writes down music as fluently as words, so that the brain and hand work as one. But that is the nature of engraving. And of course, editors rarely deal with such subtle matters, but only very tangible composer decisions regarding stem direction, the length of slurs, disposition of the notes between the staves etc.
Schonbergian wrote:
21 Dec 2017, 15:09
And what about "obsolete" notational practice, such as Bach flagging individual notes in some of his fugues? Is that merely a product of his time or is it something meaningful that should be preserved today?
Schonbergian, could you post a Bach example? I can't think of anything like what you describe in the non-organ keyboard works. In any case, I try to maintain Bach's notation, as with every composer, since I consider it "different" but not obsolete and perfectly readable to current musicians. I think I once mentioned that I have used my edition of the Inventions and Sinfonias with many students and not one has ever complained about or displayed reading issues. In fact, most students have seemed oblivious or indifferent to the differences with modern practice. The only changes I introduce in Bach's music are the reduction in the number of accidentals, using the modern rules, and very occasional reduction in the number of stems when it aids understanding the voice leading, rather than detracting from it, and sometimes the beaming presents severe engraving problems so that a compromise must be found.
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: Contraindications

Post by Schonbergian » 22 Dec 2017, 20:35

John Ruggero wrote:
21 Dec 2017, 18:05
Schonbergian, could you post a Bach example? I can't think of anything like what you describe in the non-organ keyboard works. In any case, I try to maintain Bach's notation, as with every composer, since I consider it "different" but not obsolete and perfectly readable to current musicians. I think I once mentioned that I have used my edition of the Inventions and Sinfonias with many students and not one has ever complained about or displayed reading issues. In fact, most students have seemed oblivious or indifferent to the differences with modern practice. The only changes I introduce in Bach's music are the reduction in the number of accidentals, using the modern rules, and very occasional reduction in the number of stems when it aids understanding the voice leading, rather than detracting from it, and sometimes the beaming presents severe engraving problems so that a compromise must be found.
I believe it is only in the organ fugues, and I don't have a copy on me (I looked at a friend's copy), but the editor stated that Bach would flag individual notes in the subjects of the fugues and that this had been modernized in that edition. A similar enigma occurs with the flags vs. beams for syllables in vocal music, where some editions of these older works will beam them and some will flag them, and aside from my personal preference for flags I've found no specific notational issue that either wholly clarifies.

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