Nineteenth-Century Guitar Music: the type of edition we should play from
Published: 1994 Author: Robert Spencer
THE ISSUES I wish to discuss are more relevant to advanced players than beginners, but I think all of us, whatever our level, should be concerned for the accuracy of the notes we play, and for their articulation: the stylishness of our playing.
My central point is quite simple. If we are going to play music written by someone other than ourselves – and that is what most of us do – then in fairness to the composer we should at least try to find the original edition he produced, as that will be the closest we can get to his musical intentions. Because the guitar developed only two hundred years ago into the six-string instrument we all know (a late development compared to many other instruments), I am talking about editions no older than the nineteenth century, by which time printing techniques – engraving and lithography – were such that we should have few problems in actually reading the original notation.
Perhaps the ideal would be to study and play nineteenth-century guitar music from both a facsimile reprint of the original edition together with a modern critical edition. Carlo Barone has developed this style for his series of Italian guitar music – La Chitarra nel ’800 – published by Zanibon from 1988. By 1991, when Zanibon was acquired by Ricordi, five works had been issued in this dual form: Molino op. 17 and L. Moretti op. 7 & 11 for guitar solo, L. Moretti op. 17 for flute and guitar, and Bevilacqua op. 48 for guitar duet. From 1994 publication of the series will be continued by Rugginenti of Milan, and will include compositions by Molino and Gabriello Meglia. The facsimile reprint plus critical edition style of publication is particularly suited to the short pieces published by Carlo Barone – perhaps not so suitable for more substantial collections such as the Chanterelle Regondi or Coste complete works.
At this point I should define those terms ‘facsimile reprint’ and ‘critical edition’. By facsimile reprint I mean a copy of the original printed (or manuscript) music, which can be reproduced by photography, photocopy (xerox), photo-lithography or electronic scanning, depending on the detail required and how much we are prepared to pay. The producers of these facsimiles should state the location of the copy used and take infinite pains to select a complete and clear original. If the reprint has been retouched in any way there must be a full confession. Too many of those printed in the past have been touched up without confession, been difficult to read, or even incomplete.
By critical edition, I mean that the original page has been reset or re-engraved, but remains a faithful copy in which nothing has been changed. During this century the word urtext (German for ‘original text’) has been used strictly for this type of transcription. If critical comment is added to help the player, the urtext becomes a critical edition. The vital point is that any editorial addition must be clearly distinguishable from the original music. Modern editions which do not show this distinction should not be used – they should be burnt!
The danger of using a modern edition of nineteenth-century music which does not show this distinction is that an editor and another printer – no doubt with the best of intentions – have come between us and the composer. Normally we do not know what they have done to the original.
Why should we need an editor anyway? Perhaps because the notation sometimes appears strange, or because something taken for granted 150 years ago needs explanation today. It is assumed that today’s player needs at his elbow a knowledgeable guide to historical performance practice. Fair enough, but I suggest that by now, 1994, each guitarist should be his own editor. This suggestion would encourage a properly thoughtful and responsible approach to playing. And if we do not have the requisite knowledge, we should acquire it. Here the editor can still be of assistance. But, in order not to lose touch with the composer, the guitarist should always play directly from the composer’s notation.
For the past twenty years I have worked in collaboration with editors and publishers who have aimed to supply facsimile reprints and critical editions. The collaboration came about for two reasons. First, I had a large library of early editions of guitar music and was keen to make available good unknown music. And second, the publishers needed access to original copies. Libraries normally only provide copies made by themselves (over which the publisher has no control) and which are expensive because camera photography and bromide printing are used. However, I offered to lend the originals to the publishers so that they could make copies themselves to the standard they required – often by cheap photocopy (which no library would allow), by which discoloured old paper can be rendered white on the copy by judicious use of the density adjustment. Libraries ban photocopying in order to preserve the originals, but I would argue that the minimum physical wear caused by one careful handling on a xerox machine is offset by the production of a first-class reprint. If the reproduction is of the highest possible standard, we will hardly need to consult the original again.
Brian Jeffery of Tecla Editions was the first to request help and I lent him fifty original editions for his 1977 edition of Fernando Sor’s complete works, and thirty-nine for his complete Giuliani (both photographic reprints). Since 1981 I have been able to suggest to Michael Macmeeken many composers whose works are worth reprinting, and his Chanterelle Editions has used my originals for photographic reprints of Aguado, Regondi, Coste, Parga, Sagreras, Mertz (reprint and critical edition), Manjon, Ferrer, and Zani de Ferranti (all three being critical editions). His latest project is a four-volume photographic reprint of the complete works of Aguado, all due summer ’94.
You have only to compare photographic reprints made from copies supplied by libraries with those made from copies from my collection to see what I mean by quality controlled by the publisher. Of course, not all early editions had the blessing of the composer, nor are most early editions free from error. Sor’s music in particular has many mistakes for which the player needs help, whereas Coste’s is remarkably accurate. The original accuracy probably depended on what opportunity was given for proof-reading by the composer.
I would like to illustrate what I mean by the dangers of a modern edition. Here is the beginning of the guitar song by Berlioz from his Eight Scenes from Faust, opus 1, as it is in the original edition of 1829, in Example la, and as it appears in the new complete works of Berlioz of 1970, in Example 1b.
The second vocal note in bar 3 has an accent in the original. This has been misread by the modern transcriber and printed as a decrescendo, as elsewhere in the whole song. And for good measure, the unimportant French word de under that same note has acquired an unexplained capital letter. This clearly illustrates the hazards of even a prestigious modern critical edition: human error can creep in. Now let us look at the original to see what problems it poses for the modern performer. The tenor would have to read from tenor clef, looking one note higher than if he were reading treble clef. Perhaps a new experience, but if the 1829 tenor could cope, why not the tenor of 1994? The guitar part is a little more cramped and some of the stems are rather faint, but it is legible: it is what Berlioz printed and no other ‘expert’ has confused the issue by unwittingly misleading the user today.
My second example will be more familiar; one of Sor’s Studies, op.35 no.22. But is it a study? That is what its 1945 editor called it. In fact, Sor called it an Exercice and marked it Allegretto. This may be considered a pedantic point, but why change it? The 1945 editor changed the marking to Moderato, and introduced a couple of rests into bar 2. And so it goes on. The 1960 editor copied the Moderato marking, the bar 2 and most other changes from the 1945 editor, although he proudly (and dishonestly) claimed on the title page that he had fingered the music himself. He had probably never even seen the piece as printed by Sor in 1828. Now perhaps you see why I think we should cultivate some respect for the composer, and why modern editions which do not distinguish editorial addition from the original should be scrapped.
Example 3 speaks for itself: part of the third variation of Giuliani’s opus 107 – Variations on Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith. First, the Hofmeister edition of 1827, Example 3a, followed by a modern edition of 1978, Example 3b, in which you will see Giuliani’s forte has been changed to piano!
However, a photographic reprint of the original edition is no substitute for musicianship. It is only the most reliable starting point for study. Look at Example 4: first what Sor wrote in op. 35 no.3, Example 4a and second what I play, Example 4b.
I think the melody is more musical starting in the higher position: no chance of the e at the beginning of the first full bar ringing on as you play the d. it is not what Sor fingered but I prefer to play it that way. However, I did start from Sor’s text, and I did think about the musical effect. But it would mislead others to print what I play.
Which leads us to my fourth point: we should discuss the pros and cons of a player changing what the composer wrote. My principal conclusion will be that if you change an original composition, by all means play it, but do not print it. Do not influence the personal interpretation of others. And by interpretation I mean playing it as you think the composer intended. (It is paradoxical that the strongest fingerprints of the modern player’s interpretation will come from him trying to imagine the interpretation of the composer. The nearer you get to the composer, the more individual your interpretation will become.)
Here is a specific example of changing what the composer wrote. In the 1970s Julian Bream worked at the Rossiniana no. 1, op. 119 of Giuliani. When he published his version in 1979 he wrote:
In preparing [it] for performance, I could not help feeling that the central sections…were somewhat over-generous in length. To substitute the fine allegro maestoso March from the fourth Rossiniana (op. 122) seemed in keeping with the pot-pourri style in which the work was conceived. It is therefore this modified version that is printed here, following many requests for its publication. Those wishing to consult the original score are referred to the facsimile edition…
All very right and proper, with a full confession. For Bream it was a practical and musical solution to the problem of making a pot-pourri written for the public of the 1820s palatable to the public of the 1970s. My only reservation is that it was printed, particularly as the publisher stated boldly on the title-page that it was ‘Op. 119 edited and revised by Julian Bream’. It was not op. 119, as Julian clearly stated. Many players (who possibly do not bother to read prefaces carefully) have been, are, and will be misled into thinking that this is op. 119 as composed by Giuliani. I hope that by 1994 any player with the technical ability to play the piece will have the confidence and musical ability to make such editorial adjustments for himself – but not print them.
Talking of adjusting music to the taste of the public leads us to a consideration of our own artistic judgement – on what do we base our style of playing music of the past? I used to think that I was searching for a fixed and immutable truth – the period style of playing the music of Sor or Dowland the way they themselves played. And then a few years ago I was stopped dead in my tracks by hearing a string quartet recording made in the 1930s. I thought the constant use of one style, with lashings of portamento for music of all periods, tasteless in the extreme – so sentimental! But in the 1930s it was the height of good taste – the best players, the virtuosi, all used it. So, who had good taste, them or me? Oh dear! Making music was not as simple and straight-forward as I had thought; truth was not absolute, but variable! To my relief I eventually realised, of course, that we could all be stylish – in our own day. I am sure that all of you have been aware of that since primary school, but for me the discovery was shattering. It meant that if by means of some time machine I had been able to hear a recording of Sor or Dowland playing, I might actually have disliked their style! What was I to do? Abandon the search for period practice and just play the way I liked?
No, if the music was written by a composer who had worked within the limitations of certain instruments and playing technique and with a particular sound in mind, I had to continue the quest for the holy grail of historical performance practice. But today we are influenced very strongly by other players around us: it is difficult to step too far outside the accepted norm for style. Particularly in these days of the over-availability of music compared with previous ages (how often could you hear a symphony, let alone an opera, in Cambridge in 1830?). The present pervasiveness of an accepted style for playing any period music is influential in a massive way that we can hardly perceive, let alone acknowledge. Today’s world-wide convergence of style (perhaps encouraged by the availability of recordings) must be in stark contrast to the variety heard in Cambridge, say, in 1830 – depending on whether the musician came from London, Vienna or Paris – which must have been remarkable and very stimulating.
So I shall continue to review the period evidence and the composer’s printed notes for pointers to period style, but, and here comes the next paradox, I may not recreate the style that I am led to. One reason is that the size of venue for recitals has changed beyond recognition. While in London, Sor played in private houses and in the old Argyll Rooms, Regent Street, probably seating under five hundred (but I cannot establish the exact capacity). Certainly The Harmonicon reported in 1824, ‘even [Sor] cannot give [the guitar] strength enough of tone to render it useful any where but in a small room’. But today a concert agent would probably encourage him to play in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, designed to seat twelve hundred.
Is it any wonder that players have to some extent sacrificed beauty of sound to projection? In fact, is not that the route all instrumental development has taken over the last three hundred years? As private patronage has been replaced by gate-financed concerts and the venues therefore enlarged, so has the musician sought instruments and techniques that would fill these larger halls with sound. As guitarists most of us take it for granted that we will play the largest, heaviest guitar with nail technique, even if we learn only to play to auntie at home, or to record through a microphone four yards away.
Another reason we may possibly ignore the evidence we find of historical performance practice is that even composers change their minds. For example, when Stravinsky recorded in 1967 the 1945 Suite from The Firebird of 1910, I find it nowhere recorded that he commented on the undoubted change in orchestral sound or playing style over those fifty-seven years. The assumption must be that his ears’ expectation changed as did the sound and style – that he belonged to his era in 1967 as he had in 1945 and in 1910. I have digressed at such length only to illustrate how we accept so much around us without question, and how much we and our audience are part of our time and cannot escape that overwhelming influence.
Another area we might investigate, while we are discussing why we should play from the composer’s notation, is where and when did the present interest in historically aware performance originate? Many musicians now think it is a phenomenon of only the last twenty to thirty years. Not at all: it has been building up slowly over at least one hundred years. In the 1890s Arnold Dolmetsch was unearthing and playing much sixteenth- to eighteenth-century music and even making his first lute. Perceptive critics of the time noticed what was happening. Bernard Shaw wrote in 1894:
…for some time past Mr Arnold Dolmetsch has been bringing the old instrumental music to actual performance under conditions as closely as possible resembling those contemplated by the composers. Here [at Mr. Dolmetsch’s house in Dulwich] the music, completely free from all operatic…aims, ought, one might have supposed, to have sounded quaintly archaic. But not a bit of it. It made operatic music sound positively wizened in comparison. Its richness of detail, especially in the beauty and interest of the harmony, made one think of modern ‘English’ music of ‘The Bohemian-Girl’ school as one thinks of a jerry-built suburban square after walking through a medieval quadrangle at Oxford…If I had a good orchestra and choir at my disposal…I would give a concert of Purcell’s Yorkshire Feast and the last act of Die Meistersinger. Then the public could judge whether Purcell was a really great composer or not, as some people, including myself, assert he was. Mr. Dolmetsch has taken up an altogether un-English position in this matter. He says, ‘Purcell was a great composer: let us perform some of his works.’ The English musicians say, ‘Purcell was a great composer: let us go and do Mendelssohn’s Elijah over again and make the Lord Lieutenant of the county chairman of the committee.’
Yes, that was written 100 years ago, in 1894. I believe that Dolmetsch’s approach to early music has slowly become the accepted approach to all music. Performance must be modified by a knowledge of the musical context in which the composer wrote and of the means at his disposal. The only thing that still worries me is the excessive portamento of the thirties!
Coming back to the source of many of these reprints – my library of guitar music, which must amount to some ten thousand publications – I have not been selective while acquiring it over the last thirty-five years. I have added almost everything that has presented itself. One spin-off of this policy is that the collection is probably representative of what was actually published, and it can be instructive to have such a collection gathered together in one room. In big libraries like the British Library you have to know at least the composer’s name in order to see a piece of music. Only in a one-room collection like mine can you stumble across a little-known guitarist such as Zaniboni – one of the many Italians who popularised the guitar in London in the late 1790s. And it was only the fact of seeing all their music together on the shelf that showed me how influential (contrary to accepted wisdom) the Italians were in bringing the guitar to England – Bortolazzi, Sperati, Bertioli and Francalanza, with their compatriots Monzani and Cimador actually printing the earliest six-string guitar music in London. To do that sort of research would be far more difficult in the major libraries.
Finally, you may want to ask why I have accumulated so much guitar music when I hardly play the guitar at all professionally, and then mainly to accompany myself singing. I am probably not the best person to explain why – perhaps you need to ask a psychologist! – but it must have something to do with the fact that I qualified and worked as a librarian for six years before taking to music professionally, and that my grandfather’s brother had a bookshop in Oxford Street. I can blame it to some extent on inherited genes!
Copyright © 1995 Robert Spencer