Orchestral Masterpieces under the Microscope

Why would you want to put a microscope to a score of, say, a Tchaikovsky symphony? Surely you buy the score – that is the musical work, no problem – and just start studying it. But the ghastly truth is revealed in this ground-breaking book: two scores of that symphony, issued by different publishers, will almost always have different notes. So which is correct, and where are the howlers? This book – Orchestral Masterpieces under the Microscope – is the essential vade mecum, the survival guide for conductors, students and orchestral librarians, showing which editions are most reliable but which misprints survive even in these, and which editions (even some modern “Urtext” editions) have more serious problems. Then there are the parts (which the individual musicians actually play from), which have more differences again, frequently not agreeing with the score. Surprisingly, the part is often correct, and the score is wrong!

After a life-time of collecting discrepancies between different editions of scores and parts, then also studying composers’ autograph manuscripts and early authentic editions, I have assembled about 100 frequently-played works, and tabulated the obvious misprints as concisely as possible, then also discussed the more controversial points in a fuller, more informative style. Such a book, in which tens of thousands of errors are documented, has never been published before. Perhaps simply no publisher has been brave enough before, to bring out a book that deals with such small details; I am absolutely thrilled that Boydell & Brewer have taken up the challenge with such alacrity and enthusiasm, and hope that readers will respond to the book’s generously laid-out format and user-friendly appearance.

Dotted through the book are also some even more entertaining scandals, such as the notorious tale of the disastrous first performance of Tippett’s second symphony at the Proms in the Albert Hall in London, and what really went wrong so that the orchestra had to stop and start again; the story of Strauss’s oboe concerto, and why we do possess the (almost) correct version of that, but only a bowdlerised version of another well-loved piece for oboe and orchestra, whose autograph manuscript has been kept from the public eye to this day so that no one should ever know what the composer really wrote (but a few known tidbits are revealed in the book).

Hardly less scandalous is the story of the ever-popular Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1, beefed up in front of the composer’s nose by an acolyte, then published only in that form so that reconstructing Tchaikovsky’s own final intentions is now a task of mind-boggling complexity. Indeed this has never yet been attempted – but our book is a DIY manual towards doing exactly that. And by the way: the controversial flute note at the beginning of the slow movement is of course discussed in full.

So what the book is really about, is the documenting of textual problems. Indeed the book might have borne the subtitle A Compendium of Textual Problems through the Orchestral Repertoire. What instrument(s?) did Walton mean by ‘Tamburo militare’, then (later on in the same piece) both ‘Side Drum’ and ‘Caisse Claire’? What did Sibelius mean by ‘Glocken’? How do the double basses play those mystifying harmonics in Le Tombeau de Couperin? And talking of Ravel, did he mean to change the text of Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition, or was it merely the fault of the corrupt edition of the work that Ravel was using? All, and much, much more, is revealed and discussed in this book.

If you mount a performance of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony in all innocence, using a set of parts that has not been corrected using this book, the poor violas will fall into a most appalling and embarrassing trap in the very last bars.

In short, this book supplements, replaces or approaches an Urtext edition for each of the 100 works it discusses. The hope is that all those frustrating occasions when a player sticks up their hand and asks: “Excuse me, Maestro, should I have an F#, or a G like I did last time?”, upon which the hapless conductor scratches their head and makes a random decision, will be avoided, saving a colossal amount of expensive rehearsal time. Likewise, the more hilarious occasion on which a flautist asked the conductor: “Excuse me, Maestro, should I play Urtext, or should I play the correct note?” This book will be your saviour.

This guest post was written by JONATHAN DEL MAR, a conductor and musicologist. His Beethoven editions are published by Bärenreiter and performed by orchestras and ensembles worldwide.

Orchestral Masterpieces under the Microscope
By Jonathan Del Mar
ISBN: 9781783277322, Hardback
List price: £65 / $95
Offer price*: £39 / $57
*Special offer with promo code BB093

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