Karen Schnackenberg  

The Parts We Play

Karen Schnackenberg
November 13, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The future technology that will affect orchestral scores and parts is a topic that encourages lots of speculation for all of us in the orchestral world. In order to begin an examination of the possibilities, Karen Schnackenberg presents a concise yet detailed account of the current world of printed music and describes the five categories most often used: public domain, copyrighted, Pops charts, commissions, and self-published works.

- Ann Drinan

There has been a great deal of interest in, and speculation about, the future presentation of orchestral scores and parts. Will players still read from paper, a PDF-like file on a screen, or some other medium as yet unimagined? Publishers and librarians have long engaged in lively discussion about how we will get there – to this “future” – whatever it may be. One thing is certain: we are already well into a period of transition unprecedented in musical history. Technological advances have revolutionized how music is written, published and distributed. What used to be a standardized process is now anything but, and the resulting chaos, while offering new opportunities and possibilities for creativity, can cause composers, publishers, orchestra librarians, conductors and players real headaches.

To envision where we may need to go with “printed” music, it’s important to understand where we are today. Although it’s impossible to categorize exactly, for the purposes of simplicity in this discussion we can generally group the printed music from which orchestras currently play into five categories: Public Domain Repertoire, Copyrighted Repertoire, Pops Charts, Commissions, and Self-Published Works. There are, of course, all kinds of exceptions to and overlapping of these categories, but this breakdown can be useful for a basic overview.

Public Domain Repertoire

Public domain (PD) repertoire, what we think of as the “standard” orchestral literature, is largely readily available for purchase or rent. While much of this music may only be published by a reprint house such as Kalmus (Edwin F. Kalmus, Inc.) or Luck’s (Luck’s Music Library), many standard works in the public domain have numerous editions, such as the symphonies and concerti of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn. Some are considered “critical” editions, due to their source being original manuscripts or early fair copies of the composition. Leading publishing houses such as Breitkopf & Härtel, Bärenreiter, and G. Henle sometimes even vie for the bragging rights on certain works as the most scholarly edition. For example, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 has been edited by each of those respected publishers within recent years.

Music in the public domain – that which is no longer protected by copyright – is usually the easiest for the librarian to control in terms of quality, accuracy and legibility. This is due to a number of factors: the scores and parts can be obtained quickly (for the most part); are generally published utilizing traditional standards of engraving; can be purchased well in advance of a performance and thoroughly prepared; lists of errata are available for most standard orchestral works so that sets can be corrected, saving rehearsal time and frustration; players required to learn this repertoire for auditions can purchase individual parts; full scores are available for purchase; and, since much of the music is out of copyright and, therefore, older, the issues are more well known. The practical result is that players often know what to expect with a certain piece (right down to where specific passages lie on the page or where traditional errors appear), can get their music earlier to practice and, these days, may even be able to download a copy of their part from the internet. For conductors, rehearsal time doesn’t have to be wasted in correcting errors, and for managers, costs can be reasonably contained. Also, once a set is purchased, corrected, and marked by an orchestra, that preparation doesn’t have to be repeated wholesale each time the music is performed.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that public domain repertoire is always without major problems. The Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 parts and score, for example, have thousands of errors from the original plates that are still reprinted. Correcting the set easily can take weeks or months, but must be done. A librarian putting this set out uncorrected does so at his/her peril!

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Comments (Click to Hide)

Interesting that you should hone in on the chaos created by technology. I study this fragmentation in several contexts and my only advice is for the time being try and stick with what is proven, while keeping an eye on the future.

Every aspect of actually everything is being tested and exercised, from copyright to medium of presentation and not only in the music world. These innovations can be seen as either negatively or positively according to one's viewpoint.

From too much info.(tmi) to incompatibility between mediums, for musicians it makes sense to simply stick with what works, and like the musician letting the music lead the way, for technology fans, just let the technology lead the way--seeing each as distinctive until reliability proves itself.

This is not to say that one should bury their head in the sand, only that one should also not be overwhelemed by the fast paces of changes in technology.

I'm an engineering/CS major, and oddly, I simplify my applications of tech., rather than run the treadmill. Simplicity however, need not mean isolation.

zeagle79 on December 10, 2019 at 2:40 AM

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