Notation and Nature 2

A little more about our discussion on notation last night over drinks...

We were also talking about one of my favourite notation topics which is the question of how important the printed score is.

In the past the notated score was considered the "definitive object'. That is, it is the final authoritative source of what exactly the piece is and how it is to be played,. This comes from the period when publishing scores was the preeminent form of commercialisation. Once the score had been finished, edited, and literally type set with physical lead type this published version inevitably took on an authority that was probably well deserved. Certainly changing anything in the music after this point was a big deal, so there is a great deal of inertia at this point in the creative process. In fact the only artefact that might be more authoritative would be a composer's hand written sketches.

However times have changed, It can be argued that a recording or film, that is say, directed by the composer themselves would now be a better definitive object.

But here is the kicker... in rehearsals for new pieces we still treat the score like it has the final say... even when the composer is in the room.

Obviously this is appropriate to a large extent. After all with an ensemble of 10 players the score becomes the central point of agreement that let's them decide how to play something. The problem comes if the composer or players or a conductor stick too exactly to the score even when through the process of creative discovery in the rehearsal a better musical solution is arrived at.

Another interesting problem with a printed score is that the type on the page tends to have an atmosphere of 'fixedness'. It is possible to compose music that is to be interpreted loosely, so that it will sound slightly different every time. However a printed score makes everything look like it needs to line up in a specific way every time. Whenever I have written this kind of notation I always end up telling the players that it okay to play it loose, and that this is the plan. Then they can relax and play their part expressively without worrying that they are not strictly locked in with another player in ensemble.

Finally on this subject, it is a regular discussion amongst composers that we wish that the score was not so fixed and that we could make even more changes in rehearsal without this being seen as a mistake, but rather just a natural part of the creative process. Again the printed score is not helpful with this. But if a composer tries to change too much then the players can rightly say... why didn't you write that in the first place.

I guess a composer in a rehearsal making wholesale changes causes a bit of cognitive dissonance in the mind of the player... to them the score IS the voice of the composer. If the composer then begins to say out loud in rehearsal something contradictory than what is on the page then they are in effect contradicting themselves. And who wants to play the music of a non-committal, dithering nut?


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