Any spare moments these past few weeks, I have been dipping into an advance copy of Behind Bars, a new book by a desk editor at Faber Music demonstrating the principles of correct notation.
Unfashionable, I know. Most composers nowadays leave their orchestration to computer programs like Sibelius 7 and by the time they’re back from making a cuppa tea all the oboe parts and flugelhorns have been filled in.
That, says Elaine Gould, is just not good enough. Unless a composer (or copyist) follows her simple rules and puts the markings where they ought to go, the symphony will wind up a total mess and give infinite employment to musicologists to determine which note goes where.
She is very strict with lazy composers. Behind Bars takes no prisoners. Ms Gould quotes Gustav Mahler as her guiding angel:
What this copyist has done to me… is simply too dreadful. In every part, wherever an instrument has a longer passage of rests, instead of writing them out in full, the lazy pig has merely written tacet. So now, not only are the players unable to find their bearings but when I, poor devil, want to change the orchestration, instead of merely writing in the necessary bars at the appropriate place, I also have to write out the entire tacet passage…. This is wasting hours and hours of my time.
If you are a composer or a copyist, you cannot live without this book. If you are a conductor, it is equally enlightening and indispensable. Simon Rattle thinks it ought to be Holy Writ for every baton wielder. It’s out this week and costs £65.