Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

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John Ruggero
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Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by John Ruggero » 17 Jan 2016, 00:21

More examples of interesting stemming from Beethoven's Violin Sonata op. 24 ("Spring"):

Ex. 1 Beethoven doesn't want to break the unity of this sweeping passage by changing stem direction:
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 1.jpg
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 1.jpg (151.95 KiB) Viewed 5924 times
Ex. 2 When the passage recurs, he has a problem because he wants to write the final notes on the lower staff (possibly because of the greater number of ledger lines, an interesting subject in itself), so he does the best he can by unifying the last two beats with upward stems:
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 2.jpg
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 2.jpg (190.56 KiB) Viewed 5924 times
Ex. 3 Sweeping scale passages with unified stems in both directions:
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 3.jpg
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 3.jpg (261.58 KiB) Viewed 5924 times
Ex. 4 The scale motive in the violin starting in the third measure retains upward stems throughout:
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 4.jpg
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 ex 4.jpg (925.51 KiB) Viewed 5924 times
There are many other examples of "composer stemming" in this quite clean and legible autograph.

http://imslp.nl/imglnks/usimg/e/eb/IMSL ... _Op.24.pdf
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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by David Ward » 17 Jan 2016, 15:47

While querying neither John's musical nor his pianistic analysis, I'm potentially doubtful of his analysis of Beethoven's writing motivation regarding stem directions, S-shaped slurs and one or two other things; although none of us can be certain of what was going on in his mind or indeed in the reflexes of his pen-holding hand.

Unfortunately my own relevant early manuscripts are almost certainly irretrievably lost, but I'm tolerably sure that in my 20s and early 30s, when even my musical sketches were always in flowing black ink rather than in pencil, I often did much the same as it seems was done by Beethoven. Put very simply, if I was writing a line of notes in an an impatient rush to get them down, changing the stem direction in the middle of a continuously developing line would interrupt the flow and cause the pen hand to falter. Something similar might apply to other notational details.

I might add that using pencil plus an ERASER can be slower than writing in ink and crossing out any errors, whether with a single line over the mistake, or an impatient crossing out squiggle (which might occasionally be so forceful as to make a hole in the paper). Indeed when writing, as I do nowadays, with 3B pencil, if I'm anxious to get something down asap, I'll cross out rather than use an eraser - sometimes crossing out with such energy that I break not just the pencil lead, but snap the wooden pencil itself in half.

Returning to Beethoven, what this MAY suggest is that some at least of his notation may be more to do with the way he was physically writing than with how it might best be presented to the reading performer: not that the two need to be mutually exclusive.
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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by OCTO » 17 Jan 2016, 16:36

+1 for David.

I am one of the few younger composers who still compose on paper. I can confirm David's explanation: with an extreme quick writing of an idea I don't change position of my hand and it results in engraving (notational!) oddities. I think these oddities are beautiful but definitely not correct.

I haven't tried to notate them as they are - maybe I should.
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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by MJCube » 18 Jan 2016, 22:19

To call your own stem directions “not correct” is to admit that their breaking the rules doesn’t carry any meaning. I’m on the fence about whether to agree with John’s conjectures about Beethoven or not. The question this prompts for me is: Do engravings which ignore Beethoven’s stem directions in favor of rules tend to make these passages convey any different impression of line? If we can determine any real difference in how one would play it, then maybe there’s a case to be made for reproducing some or all of the non-standard stem directions as written.

But I suspect that we can’t gather enough such information, and we’re just left to wonder.

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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by Knut » 18 Jan 2016, 22:57

As I've said in previous 'Engravers vs. Composers' threads, I think there should be a good reason to alter the composer's notation in an urtext edition. The same can be said for keeping anything that breaks with the rules of notation or conventions of engraving, though. Bottom line is that any such decision has to be made based on thorough knowledge of musical style and notation.

In this case, however, I agree with David and OCTO, and I don't see any good reason to keep the original stemming. This is particularly evident in the way Beethoven suddenly switches stem direction in preparation for the lowest register at the end.

As an engraver, I've come across many deviations from notational conventions in manuscripts. The cases where the composer has been adamant are very few. My impression is that many composers are focusing more on getting their Ideas down on paper than on legibility, especially if they're used to collaborating with an engraver.

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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by OCTO » 19 Jan 2016, 07:14

MJCube wrote:To call your own stem directions “not correct” is to admit that their breaking the rules doesn’t carry any meaning.
Yes, breaking of the rules when composing is not that something we composers think about or not. Of course, it concerns composers who have written all their opus by hand, as it is with me - so far.
I would even stress David's thought about the ink. Imagine this situation: you play with one hand a phrase, another hand has to: write by ink on paper, hold paper firm when hand is moving, and occasionally refill the pen. So if you have a phrase like John has shown, I would think that B wanted to write that phrase as quick as possible. Changing the stem direction would probably affect his speed and working flow.
MJCube wrote: But I suspect that we can’t gather enough such information, and we’re just left to wonder.
I don't believe that there is a mystery, by using a comparative method (compose by ink as quick as possible with one hand) you can guess what his intention was.

But I am here most interested in the original question of John: how should we deal with this oddities?
John, possible to provide an engraved example with B original, to compare it?
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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by Knut » 19 Jan 2016, 14:32

OCTO wrote: Yes, breaking of the rules when composing is not that something we composers think about or not. Of course, it concerns composers who have written all their opus by hand, as it is with me - so far.
I would even stress David's thought about the ink. Imagine this situation: you play with one hand a phrase, another hand has to: write by ink on paper, hold paper firm when hand is moving, and occasionally refill the pen. So if you have a phrase like John has shown, I would think that B wanted to write that phrase as quick as possible. Changing the stem direction would probably affect his speed and working flow.

But I am here most interested in the original question of John: how should we deal with this oddities?
John, possible to provide an engraved example with B original, to compare it?
Agreed.

The fundamental question is whether the stem direction in an of itself carries any significance or not. In a polyphonic context, with two voices sharing a staff, it would, but in this situation, I don't see how it matters which way the stem goes. In the absence of semantics, one is left with a choice based on ease of reading, which would certainly point towards adherence to the rules.

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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by DatOrganistTho » 19 Jan 2016, 17:51

I wouldn't have thought twice about what Beethoven was doing, but this is interesting and I'm willing to revisit it again.

When it comes to manuscripts, it is far more important to composers to get the idea on the paper FIRST before observing any rules of notation. I can't find a single composer who doesn't do this.

Second, composers never intend to write what they want people to see, but rather what they want to hear. Therefore, often, notational conventions are sacrificed in order to maintain clarity of musical thought which will eventually be notated more professionally for someone else to read.

Third, notational conventions/practices have been developed over many years and, like book-typesetting, people usually can agree on the REASONS for their conventions - clarity. You switch stem direction in the middle of the staff to keep the page from bunching up and thus making it less clear to understand. Visually it is clearer and thus easier to play. This is much similar to when book typesetters choose to put a little extra white-space between paragraphs to help the reader adjust to the new line.

And then, as with a lot of published composers of his time, there is less of a desire to apply what might otherwise be consequential to the performer to preserve clarity of thought, knowing full-well that someone else is about to re-imagine it's application in a much more readable format.

Bonus thought: This is an astonishing example of Beethoven, because most of Beethoven is unreadable.
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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by John Ruggero » 19 Jan 2016, 18:32

My point in writing these posts is to show the things that several master composers did that are in opposition to our current engraving practices. Composers do many things instinctively as well as by calculation in musical notation, and these things can be beautiful. The S-shaped slur in the Moonlight Sonata is unique; it is filled with meaning; and I think that it signals that something unusual is going on that will cause a thoughtful interpreter to do some thinking.

I find it interesting that composers can now feel that what they are doing by instinct is somehow incorrect, simply because it doesn't adhere to the current engraving norms, which have changed over time. What changes is not necessarily "better", just different, and sometimes better things are lost to things that are less good.

There are many editions of the op. 24 at IMSLP. The most interesting is the first edition.

http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnk ... _Parts.pdf

In this edition one sees that Beethoven's style of stemming was not unusual for the time and that the engraver sometimes adheres to it and sometimes not depending on his own judgement.

Starting with the very first run in the piece, Beethoven, the first edition and another set of parts from the period are all in agreement in the stemming, which differs from our current style. In the first Complete Edition, the stemming is destroyed because engraving practice had evidently changed at this point. The engraver of the Complete Edition seems to have had a hard time deciding where to change the stem direction and chose badly from all points of view. The group of eight notes spanning the Bb to Bb are a unit and should not have been broken up. A melody line runs A—Bb-(Bb)—C within the run.
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 autograph.jpg
Beethoven Sonata Op.24 autograph.jpg (139.33 KiB) Viewed 5824 times
Beethoven Sonata op.. 24 1st edition2.jpg
Beethoven Sonata op.. 24 1st edition2.jpg (30.35 KiB) Viewed 5824 times
Beethoven Sonata op. 24 B & H.jpg
Beethoven Sonata op. 24 B & H.jpg (29.56 KiB) Viewed 5824 times
Beethoven Sonata op 24 Manzani & Hill Ed.jpg
Beethoven Sonata op 24 Manzani & Hill Ed.jpg (19.24 KiB) Viewed 5824 times
To me, it is clear that it is better not to change stem direction in the middle of a phrase as shown in this example. The change of direction disrupts the flow of the music visually. Beethoven, thought so and so did the engravers of his times.

However, Beethoven and the engravers did change stem direction when there were other factors at work, as in the second example in my original post. Beethoven's solution was to maintain the stem direction of the last 8 note group, if he couldn't maintain the direction to the end the passage. He could have maintained the earlier direction up until the last four notes, which might have made things "easier" for hand writing. But he doesn't do that; he changes direction at the better place.

I would like to point out that Beethoven was a master when he wrote this, one of his most famous pieces; he was not in his formative years.

And I think that anyone who looks through through the autograph of op. 24 will not come away feeling that what they are looking is the result of expediency or an attempt to make things easier notationally. The rough throwing down of the musical ideas, as fast as possible is what one sees in Beethoven's sketchbooks; I don't see that in this autograph.

Generally what one sees in this autograph looks "normal". He is certainly not flouting the rules with abandon. He is just treating musical notation creatively here and there to try to express exactly what he wants his music to sound like. And as we all know, he never let conformity stand in his way.

And he was not the only one...
Last edited by John Ruggero on 19 Jan 2016, 20:47, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Engravers vs Composers: Stem Direction 2

Post by Knut » 19 Jan 2016, 20:17

The stemming in the complete edition is indeed very bad, but flipping the last quintuplet stem down is not, in my opinion. Since this is the 'correct' stemming, it doesn't disrupt the musical flow. I guess it depends on what you're used to.

Personally, I would be much more inclined to agree with you about the disruption of musical flow in a phrase such as this (from Ravel's Sonatine):
Skjermbilde 2016-01-19 kl. 20.52.09.png
Skjermbilde 2016-01-19 kl. 20.52.09.png (93.22 KiB) Viewed 5808 times
Here, flipping the middle group of the first measure, while technically correct, would indeed be visually disruptive, especially since the first phrase is repeated several times prior to the attached measures. When looking at the second measure in isolation, flipping the stems of the last two groups would not be disruptive, but in context, it seems aesthetically preferable to keep the second measure stem-up, given the stem direction in prior measure(s). I would, however, most certainly flip the last quarter note if I were the one engraving this piece.
Last edited by Knut on 19 Jan 2016, 21:29, edited 1 time in total.

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