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Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation Hardcover – Jan 1 2003
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"I pray that [this book] becomes a kind of Holy Writ for notation in this coming century. Certainly nobody could have done it better, and it will be a reference for musicians for decades to come." Not my words, but those of Simon Rattle (one of only two conductors to escape censure from Peter Maxwell Davies earlier this week; only Rattle and Pierre Boulez emerged unscathed as "masters of their art" in his recent pop at the profession) on Elaine Gould's new book, Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation. This "wonderful monster volume" - Rattle again - is indeed more than the sum of its parts. Gould's book is the result of decades of experience as senior new music editor at Faber Music, where she has worked closely with composers like Jonathan Harvey, Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews, and Thomas Ades, and what she has to say in Behind Bars transcends the book's first appearance as a manual of notational best practice. Under the surface of its guide to producing the best and clearest scores - the arcana of making sure you're not asking your harpist for too many pedal changes, that you change clefs in the right place in your orchestral parts, and how best to indicate the plethora of extended instrumental techniques in so much contemporary music - this book expounds an alchemical formula for musical communication. Gould's book shows composers how to ensure that the magical transfer of musical ideas from their imaginations to their scores, from their performers to their audiences, is as seamless as possible. Behind Bars is a practical revelation of the poetics of musical communication. It's especially necessary in the early 21st century. You might think that after centuries of evermore sophisticated copying, printing, and digitising of music notation that all the problems had been solved. Not a bit of it. The rash of computer scores produced with programmes like Sibelius in the last couple of decades are a mixed blessing. Software like Sibelius allows composers to create full scores and individual parts for the musicians at the click of a button, yet it's too easy to overlook the kind of problems that Gould talks about - where a badly placed page-turn in your string parts can mean the difference between a good performance and a catastrophic one. Gould quotes Mahler's frustration with the copyist who mauled the material of his Eighth Symphony before its first performance in Munich in 1910; looking at his exemplary manuscript of the Fifth Symphony that the Morgan Library has just made available for free online, you can see that Mahler abided by Gould's principles of clarity and consistency. But I wonder what Gould would say to Beethoven, if she were faced with pages like this, from the manuscript of the Ninth Symphony, whose facsimile was recently published by Barenreiter? It's not just a contemporary phenomenon: composers have always pushed at the limits of musical and notational comprehensibility. The Guardian (Tom Service), 12 January 2011 'Say "musical composition" and you identify a process: but "a musical composition" is very much a product, a commodity: and never more so than when it takes the form of materials from which performers sing or play, and academics build their theories about music history and aesthetics. Philosophers might continue to agonise about the extent to which a printed score represents the composition. Performers are much more likely to agonise about whether the materials put before them make sense and, if you ask professional musicians where they would like to see composers whose materials create tough challenges for them, "behind bars" would be one of the politer suggestions forthcoming. Composers best able to avoid the lash of performers' hostility are those lucky enough to work with a well-established publishing operation, and that means an editor like Faber Music's Elaine Gould. After more than 20 years in the business, Gould has seen (and heard) it all and Behind Bars is an encyclopedic distillation of practical professional wisdom, fully justifying its bold subtitle, "The Definitive Guide to Music Notation". Not even Gould can teach you how to compose a good work, of course: but her book is a matchless source of practical advice, all geared to the wryly understated observation that "players will tend to be well disposed towards a work whose instrumental parts are carefully prepared". The book has three main parts: "General Conventions" discusses the notational basics of pitch and rhythm, "Idiomatic Notation" has a section for each of the instrumental families, with harp and classical guitar treated separately, and one for voices: finally "Layout and Presentation" deals not only with the creation of a conventional score, but with issues in electro-acoustic and computer music that bring the story bang up to date. The copious illustration in music type (Richard Emsley was the indefatigable typesetter) show how not to do things as well as how best to do them, and although Gould makes occasional use of extracts from such composers as Elliott Cater and Jonathan Harvey, the bulk of the illustrations - which it has to be said, vary considerably in their relation to "real" music - are (presumably) of her own "composition", with help from those members of the Faber Music family mentioned in her Acknowledgements. Gould's text inevitably reflects the piecemeal manner in which music notation has evolved, with its (for outsiders) crazy mixture of instruction in French, Italian, and other languages, but offering a salutary demonstration of cultural pluralism in action, and all in the service of what is still sometimes hailed as the "universal language" of music. Perhaps that should be Western music, since other music's seem not to need guides such as this. Notation can never be so rigidly "definitive" that it leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination of interpreters: but Gould's guide is as good a source as you can get for how to ensure that your score and parts are approached in a positive spirit by those contracted to realize them as living sound.' Gramophone Magazine (Arnold Whittall), February 2011"
About the Author
Elaine Gould has been Senior New Music Editor at Faber Music since 1987, in which capacity she has edited the complex and varied scores of such composers as Oliver Knussen, Jonathan Harvey, George Benjamin, Colin Matthews and Thomas Ades. Before this she was a free-lance copyist, specialising in copying contemporary music for several leading British music publishers. She is among the most highly respected music editors currently working in the field.
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If you are not a music professional, do NOT spend 100 dollars on this book. There are plenty of simple volumes that will give you the basics of notation for most purposes. But as an editor for a music publisher, I consider it well worth the money and will keep it close to my desk along with my dictionary and orchestration manuals!
As one reviewer wrote do not spend the money if you do not write orchestral or large band music. If your medium of composition is piano, chamber works, writing lead sheets, or straightforward choral works, Sibelius notation software offers INDIRECTLY through its instruction manual good thorough basics on notation. If you want a direct manual Dover has issued a Norton Guide to notation.
But if you are a composer who write or intends to write for large forces or works with a great deal of chromaticism, meter changes, use of more complex rhythms, and some extended techniques, PLEASE get this book. A tidy, well-laid out score will significantly increase your chances performers will review your arrangements and/or compositions. I guarantee that they will play it better than if you present a carelessly prepared score.
A major update of Kurt Stone's "Music Notation in the Twentieth Century" would be preferred to Gould's overly paginated tome.
But, all in all it is useful and informative as is.