Thursday, March 01, 2012

Scribbles, In G Major

This is an actual manuscript page, in Beethoven’s hand, from his Violin and Piano Sonata, op. 96 in G major.


From what I have seen, this is not un-typical of a lot of music manuscripts.

The J.P. Morgan Library and Museum has a large collection of music manuscripts as written by well-known composers. It is pretty interesting to just look at the pages. I can’t imagine trying to perform from one. Of course, manuscripts aren’t really meant for performance, they’re intended I think to go to typesetters.

Thank heavens for typesetters, and, now, composition programs like Sibelius.

But looking at these handwritten pages is a remarkable experience.

As modern composers move to programs like Sibelius, students of music in the future won’t have many handwritten manuscripts to review. Future students still will get the music. But they won’t get something, whatever it is that these pages capture.


I have read that Chopin was most relaxed
sitting at a keyboard improvising
and the experience for listeners
was always reported as beautiful.

However, colleagues and friends of Chopin
who watched him craft an improvisation
into a form, structured and notated,
a finished piece, described the opposite—
He appeared practically tortured, choosing
between phrases constantly played, replayed,
started, stopped, changed and always played again.

The process at the start was beautiful
and would finish as beautiful music,
but the craft between improvisation
and the finished piece typeset on paper
was never described by the word ‘beauty.’

Music manuscripts capture the music
and something else, too—the scribbles themselves
are a kind of notation of structure,
structure that is not beautiful, not art,
but real, and getting down reality
into a visible form on paper
is something equal to beauty and art.

Computers clean up compositions now.

The pretty pages all computerized
push away scribbles. Whatever they are.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

‘Sibelius’ from AVID


Tricky Times

Chopin: Keyboards And Butterflies

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