Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fascinating stuff!

My music course is now getting technical...after getting away with a lot of essay writing about why composers compose, what influences them, how do performers influence composers and composition (ask Luciano Berio about the mess people made of some of his 'Sequenzas'), now we are into editing and performing music.

So there were the five recordings of the opening of the Messiah to be compared - what a difference between them! Not only the pitches, but the tempi, ranging from a bouncy skip along the sinfonia, to an extremely lush and soporific sound, from dotted crotchets to double dotted crotchets, depending on how people interpret the same written notes.....Just now I'm listening to a sixth version, by Higginbottom and the Academy of Ancient Music, which has a rather unexpected, and unwritten, rallentando in the first repeat.

Some of this is reflected in different editions, which, laid side-by-side are all incredibly different, especially if you compare 19th-century editions with modern ones - where the former are often more like arrangements than editions, sometimes transposing pieces in passing. Different times, different styles - now we try to return to the original as much as possible. Though what is 'original'? But even the relatively recent Primrose edition of the Bach cello suites (1978) is quite adventurous, showing off (his?) virtuosity to perhaps a greater degree than is absolutely necessary. And more recently Yitzhak Schotten transposed the Bach viola concerto (which in any case is a gobbledegook of a mixture of transcriptions) from E into D....so it still goes on.

One of the pieces we studied and transcribed, with sweat pouring off my brow, was ...a theme by Thomas Tallis (well-known to lovers of English music for other reasons). The tutor talked much about editorial decisions (the 'original' contains a fair number of printing errors, such as signs printed upside down, missing pauses etc) - when I found a further recording on my Ipod (thanks, Overgrown Path) I discovered quite a different reading of the piece, as in 'different notes' - one that Vaughan Williams certainly did not use. And you think printed notes are gospel? No, they ain't!

Now bear with me while I edit a few bars of a four-part Dowland song, complete with lute tablature, and probably printing errors.... (which, I am almost convinced, turns out to be the piece Britten used for his 'Lachrymae' for viola. That gladdens this violist's heart!)