University of Virginia Library

2. Music

The points that can be made about the nature of verbal works are
directly applicable to thinking about music, even though the medium of
music, sound, is less enigmatic than the ontology of language. What is
immediately comparable about the two is that in each case the notation
present on paper provides instruction for some kind of performance and is
not in itself—except in unusual instances—part of the work of art. Com-
posers do sometimes create scores that are meant to have visual appeal,
but the result is not necessarily a mixed-media work, unless the composer
intended that anyone listening to a performance of the music should also
be looking at the score. Nevertheless, such scores limit the freedom of edi-
tors to alter the design of the notation, in much the same way that shaped
verbal texts do. Another similarity between musical scores and verbal
texts on paper is that each can be the basis for a silent performance as
well as a rendition out loud. Many people are adept at "hearing" music
by reading scores, though when they do so, they are not experiencing the
work in the medium in which its creator intended it to be experienced
(unlike the silent readers of verbal texts). No two performances, silent or
aloud, can ever be precisely identical, for the most that a score (like a


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tangible verbal text) can do is to provide a framework that encompasses,
and delimits, a variety of performances.

The composer Richard Wernick once said, "Conductors and compos-
ers are privileged in that our training has given us the capacity to hear a
piece of music as we see it on the written page. But, unfortunately, there
is an intermediary between the music and the public." This comment was
criticized as "silly" by a writer for the New York Times (John Rockwell,
on 17 December 1989), but one understands what Wernick was getting at:
every performance may depart from what the composer intended. To me,
the problem with Wernick's statement is not the word "unfortunately"
(which bothered Rockwell) but the idea that the musical work is present
on paper and that those trained to read scores can experience "the mu-
sic" directly. Will every trained reader of a score of Wernick's "hear" the
music exactly as Wernick does? Will even Wernick "hear" it the same way
every time he looks at it? In other words, the reader of a score is an "in-
termediary" just as much as a person performing aloud. It is in the nature
of works in intangible media that, however determinate the instructions
for their recreation may be, the texts of the works themselves are always
indeterminate. Textual critics of music have available to them not only
written and printed texts but also evidence of specific performances, both
in anecdotal accounts and in sound recordings. All this material is essen-
tial for following the textual history of a piece of music over time, but only
a part of it is relevant to the study of authorial intention. Editors of music
have to realize, along with editors of verbal works, that no single text can
accommodate all aspects of textual history simultaneously.

And many of those who use or discuss editions of music need (like
readers of verbal editions) to learn more fully what the function of a
scholarly edition is. When Donal Henahan commented (20 March 1983)
on the first volume ( Rigoletto ) of the University of Chicago critical edition
of Verdi, he noted that not every "discovery or interpretation" in the edi-
tion will be "honored" by every performer. "Interpreters," he said, "will
always want to slip the bonds. The eternal struggle between purity and
practicality is not merely inevitable but one of the dynamic forces that
keep the musical world going around." This is a peculiar way to talk about
a scholarly critical edition, especially since Henahan recognizes that the
text is a product of critical judgment throughout and that the editorial
annotation calls attention to many unresolved cruxes. To speak of "slip-
ping the bonds" when one does not "honor" the text, which suggests that
one is being a renegade, fails to acknowledge a primary aim of a scholarly
edition: to give readers evidence for reconsidering the text. The poles of
"purity" and "practicality" (if they are poles) have no meaning in relation
to texts of music, or other works in intangible media. Accepting any text


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(scholarly or not) unquestioningly is not being "pure" but is simply being
negligent; and departing from any text as a result of critical evaluation
is not being "practical" but is simply being responsible—it shows an ac-
ceptance, that is, of the responsibility that follows from understanding the
status of texts as fallible instructions for the recreation of works. Whether
one's goal is a stage of authorial intention (as in the Verdi edition) or a
stage of a work's later development, the makeup of the tangible text is a
matter of judgment, as is the range of performance that seems justified
by it.

Distinguishing between authorial intention and authorial expectation,
which I have often found useful in discussing textual questions relating to
verbal works, can also help to clarify textual dilemmas posed by music.
Thus the amount of interpretive variation and outright embellishment
engaged in by performers is a matter of convention that has differed from
one period to another. Composers of the past naturally expected their
work to be performed in whatever manner was conventional at the time,
but their own textual intentions may have been different. (There is, for
example, reason to believe that Verdi came to disapprove of some of the
embellishments regularly added by singers in his time.) To the extent that
evidence is available, textual criticism and scholarly editions should delin-
eate intended texts as well as those that were actually heard by listeners.

Furthermore, the concept of expectation helps to approach the issues
argued about in the "early-music" debates of recent decades. Composers
clearly expected their works to be performed on the instruments available
in their own time, and they probably thought of the sounds produced by
those instruments when they read music silently. But does it follow, as
"early-music" adherents claim, that one is not being faithful to authorial
intention if one listens to music played on instruments developed later
than the composers' lifetimes? Not necessarily, if one regards composers'
expectations about instruments as a separate matter from their intentions
to have certain notes and interpretive instructions in their scores. The
differing sounds of instruments made at different times are (like varia-
tions in tempo and volume) just one of the variable aspects of individual
performances. As the pianist Malcolm Bilson has pointed out (14 June
1998), instruments have always "played a role in determining interpreta-
tion," and performing a work on instruments of different periods is one
"avenue" for exploring what the music has to offer.

The use of modern instruments for earlier music is not analogous to
the modernizing of verbal texts, an issue that has generated equally ve-
hement debate. Such modernizing normally refers to spelling and punc-
tuation, and the equivalent in music would be the modernizing of the
notation in scores; neither practice is defensible in scholarly editing since


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it deprives readers of textual elements that may be (and often are) relevant
to interpretation. For verbal works, the equivalent of modern instruments
would be modern pronunciation, which also is a feature of performance
encompassed within the framework that is provided by the set of printed
or handwritten instructions (a point not contradicted by the occasional
presence of rhymes or puns that require earlier pronunciation). The aural
texts of performances (including the nature of the sounds produced by
varieties of the "same" instrument) are thus, for the most part, materials
for social textual criticism (dealing with public texts and their reception),
whereas the study of authorial intention is primarily focused on visible
(notated) texts—at least when there is a written tradition that can be con-
nected with the creator(s).

But of course some music, like some verbal work, does not have a
written tradition. Folk music of the past may have been transmitted by
imitation over a long period of time before being written down, and at
present there is music that has not yet been written down (as there was at
any given moment of the past). Performances of pieces that originated in
the past but that are not yet reported in written form or in sound record-
ings (or for which there is an independent living tradition) have a different
status for textual criticism from performances in the present by the person
or persons who are creating or improvising the music as they perform it.
Performances of the first kind provide evidence for recreating intended
texts, whereas those of the second kind constitute the intended works
themselves. Thus jazz, often created in performances of this second type,
is analogous to such verbal (or partially verbal) works as those produced
by performance artists and story-tellers.

The comparison between works of music and those of verbal language
brings to mind another connection: verbal texts are often combined with
musical ones (as in songs and opera) to form mixed-media works. The fact
that in vocal music some sounds are produced by human voices is not
what makes such works mixed, for the voices are simply musical instru-
ments; rather, the mixed-media status of these works is produced by the
presence of words that have meaning apart from the music. (Opera is of
course mixed in a further way because of its use of the physical art of stage
sets and costumes.) Textual criticism of these verbal texts can be pursued
as one would any other verbal text; and, in the case of those written as
separate works (with no thought of their being set to music), variants from
the original texts cannot be considered errors if they were the intended
readings of the creators of the musical-verbal works. The many similari-
ties between literature and music underlie the fact that in musicology as
in literary scholarship there is a tradition of textual study; and many of
the scholars currently engaged in editing music are well versed in the
theoretical writings that editors of literature have produced.