Definitions, differences, and importance.

When researching music, one might find interesting things, erased content or notes to self that composers (or copyists) left themselves in their manuscripts – be it autographs (handmade copies by the hand of someone), or holographs (by the hand of the composer/author themselves).

Let us be clear that we might find different sources of these hand-made pieces, as the Holograph entry read: CPE Bach did autograph some of his father’s works.

Why do we care, though?

Again, there are interesting things that don’t make it to the perfectly readable, edited, type-set version of any given piece of music. Indeed, how would we know how disgusted Beethoven was at Napoleon, if not for the enraged scratch of the dedication of his 3rd Symphony, on the cover of his holograph?

Aside from historical add-ons to the background of a piece of music, further understanding of music may be achieved by looking at the original sources of the work. If historical accuracy is sought, then we might want to avoid judgment calls made by editors and go to either early prints and manuscripts, as described by the “Source” entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Music – this is especially true for early music performance.

Another category of sources is the sketch, and I believe it makes sense to value them now more than ever: If we imagine a scenario in which most of the things there are to be said about a well-established piece like the “Moonlight” sonata, have already been said by looking at the published versions we have today, then why not go back to the sketches in order to look for new arguments to be made about the music? If not for the sake of pure knowledge, I’d say getting to see these documents would unlock new ways in which pieces could be understood and learned, or at least the performer’s relationship with a certain piece of music would be strengthened.

In comes the advent of historical musicology with the creation of Historical Editions. The Oxford entry guides us through the early beginning of these collections, how they evolved, and how they stand today.

I feel these editions are particularly good sources for musicians devoted to the study of early music, and maybe up to the end of the Romantic period. After that, the amount of documentation we have about compositions created in the turn of the Century and beyond is vast, and we are closer to the composers themselves anyway — we have, for example, recordings of Stravinsky discussing his pieces, whereas we do not have anything like that for Mozart. Perhaps this love for amassing documentation of current music started when the practice of creating Historical Editions started. Maaaybe historians started to tell themselves “hey, look at how much we’re struggling to collect these manuscripts and historically-accurate catalogs, maybe it’d be great if we made sure these pictures, manuscript, sketches, et al, were kept safe and archived, for the future, ya know?”

The Urtext edition, as explained in the Oxford, are editions of the earliest official version of any given composition. A very interesting question posed in this entry is: “But wait! What if the piece changes after this ‘earliest’ manuscript??” I believe this is particularly true for pre-18th Century music: For example, there cannot be an Urtext of continuo-based pieces because, who knows what a good composer-sanctioned continuo would be?

As noted by the blog entries of G. Henle Verlag (the major editing house behind Urtext editions of the catalogs of the great masters), these editions are thoroughly researched and agreed upon by a number of scholars, but are not 100% definitive, especially if new sources are found, as it happened with the dilemma surrounding Brahms’s Hungarian Dances.

I think Boulez shows us the same would be true for 20-21st Century music, when composers published their work, and then either reviewed pieces years after (what about them “Notations pour Piano” that later became “Notations pour Orchestre”?), or just disowned them altogether?

Books and words made by hand.

The most charming content we reviewed for this time around was in the form of these two short films, “The Art of Making a Book,” and “Upside Down, Left to Right: A Letterpress Film.” These two videos show the art form that is representing printed words, something we just don’t see every day (I would’ve added “anymore” but truth is, I was born into an already computer-driven way of producing printed words :P).

I think there’s a connection between these methods of production and music, because the same is true for new pieces: the computer took over, and made it easy (too easy) for anybody to prepare something printed. Any small error would have cost a tremendous amount of time to correct before the advent of word processors, computer-powered printing press, or binding machines.

The most important thing I see in these processes is that there is a mindfulness to each decision made by the typesetter, the printer, the cutter, or the binder. Every aspect of the creation process takes time, so the creator has to be mentally present.

Composer Augusta Read Thomas, in a video by the University of Chicago (embedded below), explains how much work she puts into creating her manuscripts: one could say that she takes great pride into her process. As the typesetter has a personal relationship with words, or a printer/binder has a personal relationship with the books they produce, people like Augusta, then, have a personal relationship with their music — as she notes that it is as if she can really “touch her sounds” as they are making it to the final score. See the video below!