Friday, June 17, 2011

Keeping Score(s)

Do you like to keep musical scores about? I don't have a huge library of sheet music, largely because I can't afford to have everything I'd like, but I make of point of collecting scores of the music that I value most and that's still several hundred items and continuously growing, in spite of transcontinental and transatlantic moves and a habit of giving things away.

My impression — and I may well be wrong about this — is that a score collecting habit has become something of an antiquated pastime. Certainly, more people are satisfied with just having recordings, but for me, (excluding, of course, those pieces made especially for recorded media) a score can still have a potential multiplicity of interpretations — readings, imaginings, hearings — that a recording can all too often cancel out. (Which is okay in a few cases; I don't need the score for Beethoven's Seventh, because I honestly don't think that there's more to it than in my favorite Kleiber recording...) Also, I think that collecting scores — whether bought, gifted, copied, or lifted, and whether an orchestral or chamber score to study or an album of piano pieces to play for my own pleasure — is one important way of being a good citizen in the community of musicians.

One very good thing about my blogging experience has been that it has led to some intense exchange of scores with colleagues, many of whom I only know online. Those scores, whether delivered by post or as email attachments, are among the most substantial pieces of mail I've ever received, damn close to love letters, I'd say.


Charles Shere said...

"damn close to love letters, I'd say": indeed. To set down imagined (or even sought) sounds as marks on paper, whether with pencil, pen, or ink, is certainly an act of love. I think much is lost when composers move away from this aspect of the art — the repetitive, accumulating weight of those marks, whether slow and carefully placed, or quickly dashed off; whether clumsy or graceful or, as in Cage and Satie, calligaphic for the sake of pleasure that is retinal as well as auricular. I haven't that many scores any more, and don't consult them as often as perhaps I should, but they're among the treasured books.

Justin Friello said...

Thank you for this post. It is a terribly expensive hobby, but at the very least, being able to sit down with a score and listen to a piece of music has taught me to appreciate the music that I love even more. Finding out things about a piece that aren't graspable by only listening (like the shapes of staves and epigraphs in a Crumb score) brings musicians closer to the music.

Anonymous said...

I think it's an excellent point you're making, and although I only have the Well-Tempered Clavier at home, I'm not a professional composer yet. I plan to accumulate some important scores as I try to study theory and composition in a more systematic way.

Currently, however, I am intimidated by, and scared of, the complexity of any non-piano score, let alone a complicated symphonic score.

I am less puzzled by slower-moving choral works, such as, say, a Cherubic Hymn by Arkhangelsky or Kastalsky, partly because I've had some experience singing these bass parts in Church choir.

Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, I have to say that a "flight routemap", as it were, of important classical works can be a good model for properly locating our own interests, for developing what feels right to us.

This intellectual journey, this honest assessment of our own "flight routemap", is something I felt really disturbed by when working on my "Airports", op. 3:

The sound material is a bit of a moving target, but hopefully, not a "target" at all, in the sense that it is about "alarming anticipation" of a peaceful take off, rather than an unpleasant expectation of being hit by a missile.

I think there's a lot to be worried about these days, but as long as we can somehow transform our worries, into some algorithmic patters for contemplating silence, stillness and "spatiousness", we can lead happier and more balanced lives.

To be sure, no method of work provides a warranty and/or covenant, express of implied, that this happiness or balance can be achieved immediately. This is done solely on a "best efforts" basis.