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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000282.txt from 2001/04

From: Daniel Leeson <>
Subj: [kl] On the matter of editing and other things
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2001 12:06:33 -0400

Roger Garrett makes a splendid argument about the editing of music for
publication. I just don't think that he has gone far enough. It's a
terrible problem, one that has, in my opinion, a negative effect on the
performance of music, but it is so common and ordinary an activity
(i.e., the act of editing far beyond what is supposed to be the role of
an editor), that the end product takes on a musical and historical life
of its own.

If one wipes away the many things that occur when producing an edition,
and concentrates on only one thing, the question that arises is this:
what is the essence of what an editor does? In my opinion, that essence
is summed up very simply. It is this: "In producing an edition, I, as
the editor, am going to describe how this work should be played. And
how it should be played is synonymous with how I play it and how I like
to hear it played."

When I was about 14, I was told to buy a copy of Mozart's clarinet
concerto so that I could study the piece. So, knowing absolutely
nothing, I went to a music story, asked for it, and was given the
Bellison edition, published, I think, by Carl Fisher. It cost $1.50.

Certainly, Bellison holds a central position in the clarinet playing of
this century. He was alive and performing at the time I bought his
edition. Once a year he gave a recital in New York. I heard and valued
his playing. Who was I to question his edition or, for that matter, to
even think about questioning it? I didn't know anything. My function
was to learn how to play it. And the closer I got to what he put on the
page, the more noble I thought I was becoming.

But now, in my twilight, I have come to realize that Bellison's edition
of K. 622 was one of the worst things that happened to that work in this
century. Everything about it is wrongheaded, from the clarinet pitch in
the published version (B-flat, of course) to the phrasing, the changing
of notes, of dynamics, of articulation, to the addition of music not
known to be present in the manuscript, yada, yada, yada. (For example,
Bellison adds an entire measure to the beginning of the second movement
in order to establish the tempo before the clarinet enters. That's
heavy stuff!)

But if I had ever asked Bellison about this (which I never had an
opportunity to do), he would have said something like, "That is the way
the piece is supposed to go." And he would have said that without a
scintilla of disingenuousness. He really believed it, just as every
other editor of that same work would say if you asked them. Bellison
was simply an example of a man who presumed that how he liked to hear a
work played was synonymous with how he prepared his editions.

Now the purpose of these comments is not to beat up on Bellison. Far
from it. But it is to point out how an editor generally approaches the
task in front of him/her. "I know this work. I have played it many
times. Even with the limitations of music notation, I am going to
describe how this work is supposed to be played. If the composer were
alive s/he would agree with me. I have good taste, long experience, and
I'm familiar with the piece. Now get out of my way before I kill you."

I suggest that the role of an editor has become excessively exaggerated
starting from the first day that someone became a music editor. And I
admit, shamefacedly, this was the very approach that I had when I did my
first important edition. "I've played this piece a lot of times. I
know the tunes. Now get the hell out of my way. Only I have a pipeline
to the infinite when it comes to playing this work. The views of
everyone else are flawed."

It was about this time that I started to get my head shaped right, for I
received a style sheet from the chief editor, and it spoke of the duties
that an editor must bring to his/her work. I'll summarize it in one
sentence: "An editor is there to state what the composer has written,
not to state what s/he thinks the composer means."

I should say up front that, despite this stricture, the editor needs to
state what s/he believes to be the composer's meaning, but the best
editors do that by citing evidence, not personal taste as is most often
the case; i.e., "that passage must go this way instead of that because
of the following 25 citations of how that composer did it elsewhere
though under similar/identical circumstances."

One can always find reasons and excuses for what one wishes; i.e., there
is no original, the composer was careless (or didn't really know very
much), this is a modern age, we know more now, yada, yada, yada. But
these excuses are simply self-justification for doing what we like.

Now this entire discussion began when a nice young man said that he
intended to produce an edition of some Harmoniemusik, the clarinet parts
were in C, what should he do? I don't suggest that he was being
disingenuous, but his mind was already made up when he asked the
question, so the variety of responses to how he might do the edition
were parried by what it was he was going to do, coupled with what his
publisher told him to do. He is not a bad person. He just doesn't
understand what the role of an editor is, and, in the absence of better
guidance, has fallen into the trap of 99.99% of the world's music
editors; i.e., "I will produce this edition the way I think it needs to
be produced and, in the final analysis, I will make the critical
decisions, not the composer."

More and more we see performing musicians making the presumption that
their experience gives them the authority to do almost anything they
wish. At the smallest level, that is the same brand of ego that says,
"I don't care if it says C clarinet. I'm a performer, not a truck
horse. I shall play it on whatever clarinet I chose." And with that
decision, made 1000 times a day worldwide by respected players, the
orchestral palette of sound undergoes a fundamental alteration. It is
nothing more or less than the production of music driven by economic and
physical considerations instead of musical ones.
** Dan Leeson **
** **

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