Commentary to exhibition „The Secret of Music-writing“ Czech Museum of music (National Museum) in Prague
Let me give you some information’s about the exhibition I prepared for Czech Museum of Music, started at 23rd of May this year in Czech Museum of Music in Prague. This information will be appended by short essay and questions as for aspects of evolution of music culture in context of European history.
During my professional activities in Music-Historical division of Czech Museum of Music in Prague I get acquainted with many of uncommon archival music documents. As the best and the most attractive I interpreted authentic manuscripts of many composers compositions. Usually we treat it as important sources for preparing voices and printed scores necessary for music interpretation or for music education.
The aim of this exhibition is to look at this material from another point of view.
1) Graphological view on authentic manuscripts
Our music composers are known primary from their music. We know also their portraits (drawing or photo). But their music calligraphy is not so well known. What interesting and relevant can be on it for us? In which relationship can it be to our up to now knowledge about them?
The most important part of my exhibition consists from 15 exhibitory panels with documentation to about 39 Czech distinguished composers together with examples of their authentic manuscripts. The oldest one is Jan Lohelius – (born 1724), the youngest is Jan Hanuš (born 1915). In this collection you can meet not only our the most important individualities as Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů, but also composers well known in their time, but not so much now, in our time as Blodek, Nešvera, Weis and many others.
This gallery presents three centuries long history of composers, from baroque to the present time. It is supplied by their short biographical data and characteristics. On separate panel (Grafika notačních elementů) you can be informed also about various forms how some of composers write the elementary music graphic symbols (keys).
2) Partial Themes
Our authentic manuscripts research has not only its graphological level because it can interest us also from another point of view. Such subject matters are presented on another panels. The names of them are this:
The creative process - interpret us, that composing means working in stages. Writing down the fair copy of the work is preceded by several stages of creative ideas. First drafts are always fragmentary, only the fair copy is fully complete. First drafts can have the character of a written or graphic project. The definitive handwritten version is followed by publication, which helps the work to become known.
Notation variants - of the completed work can have various forms. All parts are gathered in a score. Individual musicians use single parts as performing material. The study versions of extensive works are piano scores. There are also scores, which are intended only for studying and reading the work while listening to it.
Calligraphy - not every music manuscript is equally readable. In general, composers pay great attention to graphic perfection and completeness of the notation. In this way, they help the better understanding and dissemination of their works.
Unfinished items – certain types of compositions are never fully finished. In film music, where the composer not only invents the music, but also takes part in its sound realization, the notation is, in many cases, abridged, limited only to the essentials. Once the recorded music is included in the film, its written form is no longer needed.
Another branch, where the sound is most important, is electro-acoustic music.
Overlapping into the sphere of interpretation - the composer’s clean copy is still far from the end of a struggle for the definitive shape of the work. Many graphic and „cosmetic“ changes and interventions into its notation might some during its interpretation.
A number of interested interpreters, deeply immersed in the studied and often performed composition, might change its shape unintentionally.
Where the notation is not enough - in some cases, traditional notation, which served so well the Classical and Romantic composers, is not compatible with the special demands of the pioneers of new forms of music. It does not fit the micro intervals between the tones, it does not express the approximate and incidental process, and the natural, non-pulsating course of time, and it fails to link the traditional music categories with the world of sound.
3) The end of traditional way of music writing
In this time we are at the turn of two ages. Modern one, based on computers and on their notation programs, substitutes the old, traditional on drawings based way of notography.
Preparation of sheets of music for its printing is very sophisticated specialization, it depends on drawer skills. It is not so long ago when this was job only for a small group of experts. They worked using drawer’s methods.
But in this time computers comes into this area.
4) Let us recapitulate some the most important facto about music writing now:
For more than one thousand years, thinking about music has developed in Europe in close connection with music writing. In this way it has gained the ability of continuity of development that does not exist anywhere else in the world. Gregorian chant became at first the base of polyphonic music, and later, starting in the early Baroque, of the style marked by polarity between the melodic line and the bass, serving as a root for building chords.
In the 14th century, written music gained another form, because apart from music writing also music printing appeared, which helped the, until that time, unknown spreading (of music. Music notation, however, lost its unique handwritten feature, its graphic substance.
At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, the development of music writing became so progressive, that the sphere of composing became separated from the realm of interpretation. From that time, music was considered not only the unique, sounding tone structure, but also its graphic record, a mediator aiming at the interpreters, to be able to perform the music.
The linking of the compositional process with the aimed for sounding work, was renewed within the European music tradition environment of the 20th century, due to the invention of sound recording. The composer of electro-acoustic music became again his own interpreter.
This 20th century technological development enabled the composers to work with the printing, reprographic and publication processes themselves, without depending on printers and large publishing houses. Their creative independence was so great that, unintentionally, they turned back to the lost aspect of graphology.
At the present time, at the turn of the second and third millennium, we are witnessing the appearance of another important milestone: the new computer technologies extend the possibilities of working with sound, and give unexpectedly effective impulses to written music. The notation programs (the achievements about which even the previous generation had no idea) open new horizons for the composer’s work. They lead to more easy dealings with the demanding music structures; they simplify music writing, and can fully replace music engravers. The demanding engraving work, until recently covered by a small group of specialists, is directly approaching the proximity of artistic creativity, literally between keyboard and manuscript paper. Here, the handwritten phase of compositional creativity again disappears, together with its graphic aspects.
Looking at the way in which way the above described development trends reflect in a collection of autographs of Czech composers from the last three centuries, put together from items surviving in the unique collections in the depositories of the Department of Music History of the Czech Museum of Music, it is seen that there is not only a relation between the appearance of the scores and their music, but also the physiognomy of its composers.
5) What the 20th century and the present time offer and which are the consequences for the 21st century.
The difference between writing and not writing music still exit. The written music has still its extraordinary meaning. The begin of 20th century brought technology for recording of sound. Thanks to it also not written music, (heredity music as jazz, folk, ethnic and so on) obtained now its historical dimension and thanks to it its meaning in contexts of history of music is growing up.
The turn of 20th and 21st century brought another innovation, special computer programs. Therefore my information about the new exhibition in Czech Museum of Music in Prague will finish not by certain conclusions but by provocative questions:
is recording of sound (or recording of music) sufficient compensation for absence of writing dimension of music?
- from part yes
Will easy way of writing (using computer programs) help to not writing music categories (as pop, folk, jazz) on their way to be written?
- from part yes
is the traditional way of composing (as for using hand writing methods) at the end of its evolution or not (thanks to computer programs)?
- from part yes
what is the direction of further evolution and relation as for written and not written music?
- in some aspects convergence
PhD Vojtěch Mojžíš
composer, music scientist / Czech Museum of Music in Prague, CZ /