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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Reflections of a Music Publisher


This unexpected resurrection demonstrated the true task of the publisher: to put a work, even a controversial work, before the world and render discussion and appreciation possible. It is for others, both experts and laymen, to form their own opinions and for the anonymous public to deliver the verdict. After more than forty years in publishing, years which have seen the greatest upheaval in music as an art and as a commodity, I do not believe that the publisher and his publicity have any other power or function but that of starting the debate. The course it takes, the result it produces, are outside the publisher's domain. He is powerful only if his publications are successful, which means only if they are good in the sense of being a valid expression of their time. It is my unshakable belief that the sham and the bogus, however cleverly and insistently publicized, will be discovered and discarded sooner rather than later. But it is equally true that in this world, flooded with music and publicity as it is, a good work may also find it difficult to rise to the surface without the help of publicity, though he would be a sad pessimist who thought that it might remain for ever unknown.

The regular activity of the publisher starts with the production of the work assigned to him by the composer. Quite a few publishers of serious contemporary works produce only a few copies; this is an expression not so much of lack of confidence in the quality of the works concerned as of a rather heartless realism in assessing their possibilities. They are justly reproached with not properly fulfilling their task, although the alternative- rejection-is no less painful for the composer. At a time of transition like ours the boundary between professional decorum and reason is not easily defined. In principle the publisher is still expected to print the works and to offer them to the general public.

As far as printing goes, the music-publisher is at a great disadvantage compared with his colleagues in the field of literature. The book-publisher is concerned with the presentation of his publications; he chooses the fount, the size, the printing-area, the title-page, the binding-things which the public accepts without noticing them if they are well done and recognizes at a glance if they are not. In this way the book-publisher makes a creative contribution which plays no small part in the fate of a book.

Nothing similar happens to the music-publisher. Everything he does is dictated by hard necessity and inviolable convention. The format is dictated by practical experience: music is to be not only read but played, so the size must be so chosen that the player need not turn the pages too often; where he does have to turn them there must be a suitable rest or sustained note, which often disturbs the even distribution of the engraving. Moreover there is only one musical fount or typeface, the size again being chosen from the practical viewpoint of quick legibility and not on aesthetic grounds. But the most serious, indeed unsolved, problem is that of the graphic presentation of music itself, which in every respect is only a poor relation of ordinary script.

There are, of course, various means of written communication. The old Chinese symbols for words and sentences were independent of any particular spoken language. Born out of wit and intelligence, they were meant to appeal to the imagination and so could be 'read' in any language. A particularly well-conceived and well designed symbol might be hung on the wall, like a picture. At its highest level writing was for the Chinese a spiritual and artistic exercise, and it is said that up to the communist revolution the well-educated Chinese traditionalists refused to read the standardized letters of printed books and newspapers, just as Guido da Montefeltro would not tolerate printed books in his library.

Scripts formed from an alphabet of letters, on the other hand, are to a considerable extent phonetic. They not only combine letters to form words which communicate unmistakably a special meaning but also indicate the pronunciation, the sound of the written word. This is the real problem of spelling; with different peoples this leads to different solutions which the foreigner, assuming that his own language possesses the only correct and logical spelling, will always find somewhat unnatural. The sound sh, for instance, is spelt in French ch, in Italian sc before e and I, in German sch, in Swedish sj and so on.

After the conversion of the Czech people to Christianity their language, like Russian, was written in Cyrillic script, which derived from the Greek alphabet but added a number of extra letters in order to better reproduce the actual sound of the spoken word. In the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, under pressure from the surrounding Germans and persecuted for religious reforms, they adopted instead the Latin alphabet, a form which in no way indicates the sound. As a consequence a multitude of accents had to be added to the letters, to mark not only long and short syllables but also the hard, medium and soft vowels characteristic of all Slav languages.

In the case of English pronunciation differs so widely from spelling that quite often only natural instinct can guess at either, though efforts are being made to simplify spelling, thus facilitating written communication at the expense of etymology. The very small inflexion that distinguishes 'wring' from 'ring', 'write' from 'right', is important not only phonetically but as an aid to the understanding of the meaning. But in spite of phonetic spelling many of the acoustic properties of a language remain unconsidered, not only open and closed vowels and accents but even essentials such as speed, melody and cadence. However, the unmistakable identity of letters, words and sentences can dispense with all this. Tongue and the temperament of the people know it and the foreigner will learn it only from years of constant use.

In music on the other hand the entire meaning comes from the acoustic phenomenon. It is not therefore sufficient merely to suggest or paraphrase it, as spelling does; musical signs or graphs should be as precise as letters, words or sentences. This has never quite been achieved, music having always demanded more than could be graphically expressed. Once letters seemed sufficient; then a kind of shorthand had to be introduced to give better information about the music; then it became necessary to indicate pitch; no sooner was this done than the duration of every note had to be fixed; and so on. The music of the last century has to all intents and purposes outgrown our means of writing it down. What would old Guido of Arezzo say if he saw the score of, say, Richard Strauss's Elektra? Our musical texts not only consist of notes in intricate rhythmic arrangement but are filled with all sorts of additional markings and directions without which the pure musical text would not be intelligible. J. S. Bach and Handel were still able to rely on the self-evidence of notes in their context; Mozart could do with few additional markings; but for Beethoven the mere musical graphs were no longer sufficient, and from his time onwards composers grew increasingly mistrustful. The scores of Gustav Mahler are full of exhortations, explanations, warnings and commands inserted to make the meaning of the music clear. This is a perfect analogy with the application of Latin characters to the Czech language: cumbersome and inadequate.

That letters should be clearly and immediately recognizable was one prerequisite of the calligraphic art. The- scribe, and after him the type-founder, could invent characters without impairing their legibility. A special aesthetic developed, which was handed down from the earliest scribes to the printers. From Gutenberg to Eric Gill much industry and imagination has gone into the design of the letters from which the modern publisher and printer can choose. Only where the need for quick legibility is the first concern of the graphic artist is there little choice. In old musical manuscripts the words and initials are often beautiful; the heavy, black, square notes and staff lines are not.

Nor can the first music prints compare with early letterpress prints. For a short time the spirit of baroque art tried to reform the shape of music script. A canzona by Frescobaldi, engraved freehand on to the copperplate, with ledger lines drawn across its whole width, the stems and tails embellished with flourishes, is a true ornamental pattern. But the danger of illegibility was apparently too great. The musician has not the leisure of the reader; he must read at a glance where the reader of a book can enjoy the graphic quality. Frescobaldi's engraver had no successor, and no Bodoni arose among engravers and writers of music. There is little consolation to be found in the pompous title-pages of the seventeenth century and the daintier ones of the eighteenth. The script demanded standardization; ambiguity had to be avoided. Prints of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries still have that certain distinction which so often transfigures everything antique, but it needed only Senefelder's discovery of lithography and the comparative mass production of the later nineteenth century to eradicate the last remnants of graphic ambition. A comparison of J. S. Bach's handwriting with a modern print of any of his works shows how astonishingly mechanical and lacking in individuality music engraving has become, how Bach's vivid and picturesque writing has been turned into a 'dead letter'.

The impossibility of applying any artistic imagination to music script may have been what freed the music-publisher from any sense of aesthetic obligation. With the silhouettes on the title-page of Schumann's 'Kreisleriana' of 1837 we have reached the limit of what is acceptable. What follows goes far beyond that limit. No book-publisher would have dared to present to the reader a cover-drawing like that on the first edition of the vocal score of Gounod's Faust: a red devil on an emerald green background juggling with two hearts. Until quite recently the most precious and sophisticated music was disfigured by incredibly tasteless and cheap lithographs, bad lettering and bad spacing. Even the most demanding buyer seemed to accept it as necessary and did not object, in spite of the high price of all printed music. Indeed, all printed music always was and still is expensive in comparison with books. A thirty-two-page volume of music costs more than a book of a hundred and twenty pages.

This is due not to the rapacity of the publisher but, in the first instance, to the high price of engraving, a tiresome, slow process which requires much experience and knowledge and resists mechanization and simplification as strongly as music-writing itself. Every head, stem and tail, every dot and line, must be hammered into the hard zinc plate, every tie and slur drawn with a sharp stylo. The engraver also has to know more about music than the compositor does about literature. Not only are composers generally less conversant with the correct spelling of music than writers with the spelling of words, but a difficult handwriting sets greater problems in music than in any literary manuscript-particularly today, when guesses are hazardous. No typewriter comes to the engraver's assistance. Many attempts to design one have been made over the years, but only the simplest music submits to regular spacing. A good engraver needs four working hours for a quarto page of piano music of medium difficulty, and the best engraver cannot complete more than three pages of a difficult orchestral score in a working week. No wonder that publishers are always on the look-out for cheaper methods and a further deterioration of the graphic qualities of printed music. Pessimists are convinced that music-engravers are a doomed race.

Today the tasteless lithographic covers have disappeared-only the title-pages of pop-songs still look more like posters than titles but even the greatest musical masterpieces must be content with a modest presentation, while their relations in literature and art enjoy great luxury. Particularly now that the windows of music shops are resplendent with the highly coloured sleeves of long-playing records, it needs a careful and patient search to discover a copy of printed music in its drab and uninviting dress.

Poor appearance is not the worst consequence of the inadequacy of music script. Mistakes are the true scourge of music-of composers, copyists, engravers and publishers alike. In books, and even in the hastily set-up newspapers, printing mistakes are comparatively rare. Anyone who finds such a mistake is rightly angry or amused. Only exceptionally are such mistakes of any consequence, and in most cases the reader can easily guess the correct meaning. But there are very few if any music copies or prints without a host of mistakes, and this has always been so. Even in the old days, when music was so simple that the script seemed to be entirely adequate, mistakes were the rule. First editions of Handel's works published by Walsh in London are full of grotesque examples. In Breitkopf & Hartel's 'Oeuvres complettes' of Haydn, probably published in 1804, there is hardly one correct bar. Nobody seemed to mind, no ungracious word from Haydn or Mozart has been recorded. Beethoven, with his dreadful handwriting, fought manfully for correct editions, but it was Brahms who, seventy years after the first publication, discovered a whole series of mistakes in the violin sonata Op. 12, No. 2, which to this day appear in some editions in all their old glory. Fifty years after its publication Clemens Krauss found a completely wrong clarinet passage in the full score of Strauss's Salome.

On the occasion of a new revision of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1952 about seven hundred mistakes were found and corrected. Among other errors the horn parts on one page had slipped into the trombone parts, where there should have been rests-but in thousands of performances no conductor had ever noticed it. The Rite is in fact one of those works which seemed to have been cursed in the cradle. From Stravinsky's own manuscript onward through half a century it had not been possible to establish a correct text. When, after the revision in 1952, another errata list of about four hundred mistakes had accumulated I decided to break the spell with the strongest and most dangerous formula and ordered a complete re-engraving.

It is easy to drag those responsible before the tribunal of outraged conscience; particularly the composers, with whom the evil invariably starts because they make mistake after mistake in the first place without checking their manuscripts before handing them over to the publisher. I have come across only two composers who wrote their manuscripts with great care and read proofs with untiring punctiliousness: Bartok and Webern. But I would not be so bold as to say that even their works are entirely free from errors.

Thus the devil who slips misprints into books and journals is a trivial malefactor compared with the fiend who disfigures music and not only blinds composers, engravers and proof-readers but also sends a host of voluntary hunters in search of mistakes. They are usually the sort of people who triumphantly bring in every misprint as if it were a long-wanted bank-robber. One of them caused quite a stir by claiming that he had found tens of thousands of misprints in Verdi and Puccini scores, and some people said that this was due to some diabolical, though admittedly inexplicable, intention on the part of the publisher. These voluntary helpers seldom realize that they are reading texts which have already been cleansed of numerous mistakes.

Quite often their inconsiderate puritanism leads them astray. Once I was sent a list of more than a hundred alleged misprints in Bartok's Mikrokosmos which had been found by a comparison of the printed edition with the manuscript. The usual unfriendly letter accused the publisher of unpardonable negligence. A check against the manuscript used by the engravers a photocopy of the original showed that all the 'mistakes' were actual changes made by Bartok in the proofs and marked meticulously in the photocopy in red ink. At the time, in 1939, he had already sent the original manuscript with others to the United States prior to his own emigration, and with all the worries and troubles that awaited him in the New World he apparently never thought of correcting the manuscript. I do not know whether a note has been made in the New York archives. If not, the same discovery may one day be made again, and if by then the publisher's files have been lost or destroyed a 'revised' version of Mikrokosmos will be brought out which Bartok himself would condemn.

The same may happen to Brahms. The former librarian of the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna, Eusebius Mandyczewski, a friend of Brahms, used to show me printed copies of Brahms's works from his library which contain many corrections in pencil. Brahms never passed them on to his publisher, and Mandyczewski was quite sure that he eventually preferred the printed versions to these afterthoughts. But Mandyczewski has long been dead, and the archives of Simrocks in Leipzig no longer exist. Perhaps one day a sensational discovery will be made!

The insistence on unadulterated texts is a sign of the new dignity music has assumed in our time. The apparent carelessness of former days is now regarded as scandalous, not to say criminal. I have never heard of new editions of old literary works causing such heated controversies as have been raging around musical texts, with demands that the sanctity of the original should be guaranteed by law, and a body like UNESCO pressing for legislation which would oblige every owner of a musical manuscript to make it freely available for research.

This is where the comparatively new scientific pursuit of musicology comes into its own. While the theory and philosophy of music have been the subject of profound study and innumerable treatises since the days of Pythagoras and even earlier, the historical aspect only came to prominence in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This is rather strange.

When the historian first entered the musical scene there was still a general passion for new music, with nothing to indicate an impending change in public taste and preference unless it was a premonition that 'old' music was to rise to an importance it had never had before. The other arts-literature, painting, sculpture, architecture-have always had a lasting message, an unalterable validity, and have therefore acquired historians to recognize and explain both message and validity, however unfashionable the appearance of the old masterpieces might have become. It was this indestructible meaning of the 'old' arts which justified and, indeed, demanded such study and research. But similar endeavours in music seemed rather pointless.

Music is-or was for thousands of years essentially different from the other arts. As I have said before, it had no staying power, it did not last, but this cannot have been due to the absence of historians and historical research. In fact, 'old' music never had a message for either the composers or the audience of the new music. Every generation created the music that suited it and regularly took it to its grave, as the pharaohs did their retinue, and the next generation saw it disappear without regret. There was no inducement to historical research. It had no place in the whole realm of music, and if a man undertook a review of the music of the past, as Padre Martini did in the middle of the eighteenth century, his contemporaries were duly impressed but made no use of his achievements. It took another century for musicology in its present-day sense to establish itself, and I myself owe much to one of its most outstanding pioneers, Guido Adler. A great change had to come about before a legitimate place in musical life could be assigned to historiography. Against the background of the past this seems a bizarre contradiction, but, as we shall see, it is both the condition and the consequence of an era which threatens to lose contact with its own and clings to 'old' or 'historic' music.

The immediate application of historically orientated musicology is the editing of old music and unadulterated texts: the new musical philology. The editors of the nineteenth century were musicians to a man, and very often eminent ones, such as Liszt, Bulow, Tausig, Wilhelmj and even Brahms. The new editors, in contrast, are men of letters. The musician-editor transplanted the music he edited into his own time. The piano for which Mozart wrote was not suitable for legato playing, but Moscheles's piano was and he eliminated Mozart's 'non legato' and drew long slurs above whole staves which not only look strange to us but make the music sound different. When, in I802., Breitkopf & Hartel published Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah they could proclaim in their announcement that, with due respect to Handel's genius and the grandeur of his work, the original lacked the more agreeable charm of new music. Carl Czerny inserted one bar in the first prelude of Bach's 'Wohltemperiertes Clavier' because the original did not conform to his 'classical' sense of balance. Hans von Bulow could add in a footnote to his edition of Chopin's Impromptu, Op. 36: 'These few bars [94-7] incline a little towards the commonplace. Anyone who concurs in this opinion may skip them without interfering with the flow of the piece.' All this seems quite absurd to us. But it was not done out of ignorance. There was a sincere attempt to prevent music from getting 'old', historical, a knowledge-perhaps unconscious-that music must live in order to exist, that a new generation must either appropriate or abandon it.

The modern men of letters who carefully copy old manuscripts and first editions must have the idea that music possesses the same objectivity, the same invariable validity, as the other arts. They require the performer of an Urtext to be as much a historian as they are themselves. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the art, every performance will deviate individually from the text and will be in some peculiar way 'modern', the first and original performance having been lost for ever. Quite a few works by J. S. Bach have lost a good deal of that former self-explanatory quality which enabled Bach to omit all indications of tempo, phrasing and expression. It is still an open question whether Bach's music is to be treated as black or white, loud or soft, without any crescendi and decrescendi and, of course, without any variation in tempo except for the ritardando at the end. Artur Schnabel was renowned for the absolute fidelity of his rendering of Beethoven's piano sonatas, but when he sat down to edit them in print an incredible number of markings slipped in which are not to be found either in Beethoven's manuscripts or in the first editions. On the other hand, when I once asked Pablo Casals to edit for me the unaccompanied cello suites of Bach he replied with a surprised smile, 'Hasn't Bach done that himself?'

How have the other arts withstood the passage of time, the change of purpose and taste ? Not much could be done to literature. Editors of older literary texts (for example, Shakespeare or Milton) do not generally go as far as editors of older musical texts by reproducing the old orthography, but this slight modernization remains on the very surface of the works. Beautiful thoughts are like beautiful women and every fashion suits them. In architecture, however, it has often happened that Renaissance facades have been added to Gothic buildings, and Baroque facades to Renaissance, without invalidating the older structure. Was this not precisely what the high-handed editors of older music did in the nineteenth century? Or what such a truly modern mind as Stravinsky's did with Pergolesi, Tchaikovsky, Gesualdo and Bach?

Insistence on fidelity to the original has undoubtedly done much good to musical practice, particularly in the opera-house, where unwarranted editing used to be rampant. It is strange that Rossini should have agreed to the substitution of an aria by some utterly insignificant Maestro Pietro Romani for his own in the Barber of Seville. I remember from my own early days performances of Mozart's Figaro with spoken dialogue instead of the recitativo secco; Don Giovanni ending on the D-minor chord of the first part of the second finale because the second part was not considered to be in keeping with high drama; the alla turca from the A-major piano sonata, K. 33I@ orchestrated by Johann Andre, and played as an introduction to the third act of Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail; unpardonable cuts (it was only after the First World War that I heard Don Giovanni's 'Meta di voi qua vadano' for the first time); and other things of a similar kind which would no longer be tolerated-although the 'Leonora No. 3' Overture is still played before the last scene of Fidelio, and one wonders whether Beethoven would have approved of that.

Nor does faithfulness to the original stop here. In the last twenty years it has become not only the fashion but almost a point of honour to perform songs and operas in their original language.

As far as songs are concerned, the case for the original language is strong enough. The poems are often-though not always of a high literary standard, and the double requirement that the translation should be of equally high quality and fit the music, which means not only right stresses in the right place but also the choice of the right vowels, is rarely attainable. But the amateur singer had to disappear before the argument in favour of the original text could acquire its full force, for the amateur singer insisted on singing in his own language and successful songs were regularly published in three or four languages. The professional singer, on the other hand, is expected to sing in any of the principal languages of the world, which is all very laudable. Whether he or she and the listeners do not miss the finer points of contact between words and music is another question; better understanding may often be sacrificed for the sake of the Urtext.

On the operatic stage insistence on the original language can easily lead to absurdity. To begin with, the critics (certainly) and the public (probably) are nowadays much concerned with clear enunciation by the singers. How clear can the enunciation be if the singers sing in a foreign language which they cannot speak? When, a few years ago, Boris Godunov was sung in Russian at the Royal Opera House, not even Russians in the audience could identify it; which did not prevent the artists and the administrators from being very proud of their achievement.

Arias in older operas do not really matter. The listener can guess with some accuracy whether their subject is love or hate, drink or revenge, or just a moonlit night. But these old operas have recitatives both 'secco' and 'accompagnato' which are essential for the action and therefore ought to be understood by both singers and audience. Later operas, unfortunately, do not even have arias in the proper sense, and one can never tell exactly when the listener will be lost. Would every non-German listener listening to a performance of Gotterdammerung in German know precisely what Brunnhilde and Hagen are talking about in the second act? Yet the events of the third act remain largely unintelligible if one misses that discussion in the second. It is sad that Ernest Newman should have wasted years of his life on a translation of the Ring into English which in places is preferable to Wagner's original. Of course, in the opera-house we have reached the point where most of the operas performed are supposed to be so well known that the words are of no importance. But the uninhibited pleasure of former days seems to be lost. I remember glorious performances at the State Opera in Vienna in the twenties when the famous tenor Koloman Pataky and the even more famous soprano Maria Nemeth sang in Hungarian while the rest of the cast sang in German. For anyone who knows an Italian opera very well, it is certainly fascinating to hear it sung by a native cast in its native surroundings, for the reaction of a native audience is just as interesting as the performance itself. But there is little to recommend Italian performances by non-Italians. True enough, English or, for that matter, any Germanic language would slow down the tempo of a work such as The Barber of Seville. But unless he is a linguist no English singer could sing in Italian at the same speed as his Italian colleague. When it comes to Mozart, whose operas are now almost invariably sung in Italian, even in Germany, his Italian was no more than a fashion. In his manuscript score of Figaro he himself translated into German the one sentence in the last finale which raised his music to the highest and most un-Italian level: 'O Engel, verzeih' mir!'-O angel, forgive me! for da Ponte's platitudinous 'Contessa, perdono!'.

The late Sir Thomas Beecham used to say that opera could not be sung in English because the two most important words of the operatic vocabulary, 'love' and 'death', were unsingable. If there were any serious doubts about the singability of the English language, Benjamin Britten must have dispelled them.

Moreover, singing in the original language must of necessity be confined to languages of which a smattering can be expected from a few singers and listeners. But very popular operas have been written in other languages, too. Could it seriously be suggested that one should forego The Bartered Bride altogether rather than hear it in a translation?

It is one of many contradictions in our musical life that the apparently laudable desire for the Urtext coincides with the ascendancy of the producer, once a humble servant but now as important as the conductor and the prima donna. It is this mighty man who offends most frequently and most unscrupulously against the clear directions and intentions of composer and librettist. The late Wieland Wagner's productions, not only of his grandfather's works but also of Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande and Richard Strauss's Salome, were as remote from the Urtext as anything perpetrated by the editors of the nineteenth century. While many older critics and members of the audience were duly scandalized, many others found in these productions the additional sensation of 'modernization', which aroused their waning interest in the works themselves.

Worse things happened in the olden days, which cast their long shadow as far as our own time.

When Fritz Kreisler, the violinist, once published a little piece of his own in the style and under the name of Gaetano Pugnani it may have been a practical joke to test the wisdom of musicologists. To his surprise the law and its administrators showed little sense of humour, and when he later claimed both authorship and royalties he was refused. The forgery, once accepted in good faith, was irrevocable and unalterable.

But the case of Anton Bruckner became a cause celebre. I was one of the onlookers: I knew the prosecutors, who had kept their discoveries secret until Bruckner's works entered the public domain, though one would have thought that truth can brook no delay; and I knew the surviving greybeards in the dock who seemed strangely paralysed and would neither admit nor deny the charges. The ring-leaders, however, had long since thrown themselves upon the mercy of the Eternal Judge. The allegations were fantastic: under Bruckner's eyes his symphonies had been altered, rearranged, reorchestrated by well-meaning friends and pupils who remained anonymous. For thirty years after his death these adulterated versions were in circulation under Bruckner's name, while his manuscript scores were lying in the National Library in Vienna, until a sentence in Bruckner's last will was re-read and seemed to hint at his disapproval of what had been believed to be the final versions. It was well known that Bruckner kept changing his symphonies after he had finished them-there are two 'original' versions of the First and Eighth symphonies and three of the Third. But who could have suspected that the printed versions were massive forgeries ? Or that Bruckner was so frightened by his friends that even in his last will he dared not say in as many words that the published scores were forced upon him? Now the malefactors have been unmasked and the Urtexts established, and the files are closed.

There remains, however, another major secret to be unravelled. Several years ago a musical called Kismet was performed on Broadway, which used almost exclusively-and openly-music from Alexander Borodin's opera Prince Igor. Kismet did not become an international success, but some songs, particularly one, 'Stranger in Paradise', based on a tune from one of the Polovtsian dances, made their way round the globe. This roused the displeasure of the guardians of the original, but Borodin, as a Russian, never enjoyed copyright protection in the United States and effective steps could only be taken when Kismet appeared on a London stage. The Belaiev Foundation, owners of Borodin's opera, represented by a committee of dignified old gentlemen who belonged to the first generation of refugees from the Revolution, at once instituted proceedings. They were not concerned with money. Kismet, being an act of sacrilege, was to be unconditionally prohibited and utterly destroyed. This action provoked a closer examination, probably for the first time since 1889, of the circumstances in which Borodin's opera was first published and performed.

The facts are notorious: inspired by Wagner's Ring, Vladimir Stassov conceived the idea that the Russians ought to have a national opera which could stand up to or even surpass Wagner's work. Stassov, literary and music critic and historian, was a formidable figure. One only has to look at Rjepin's portrait of this large, long-bearded man in order to appreciate the terror he inspired in the musical and literary circles of his time. He chose the subject from a 'mediaeval' Russian heroic poem, which was a forgery, as was another Slav poem 'discovered' in Bohemia at about the same time. And Stassov also chose the composer, Alexander Borodin, illegitimate son of a Russian prince, councillor of state, chemist, genius, involved equally in music, science and society. Borodin agreed and undertook to write the libretto himself. But years went by and to Stassov's despair the opera made little progress. Once a 'Polovtsian Dance'-allegedly from the opera-was performed at a concert.

In his memoirs Rimsky-Korsakov describes how, in the early morning of 28 February 1887, Stassov came in great distress to his house: during the night, at a party, Borodin had suddenly died, aged only fifty-two. Rimsky goes on to tell how he and Stassov went to Borodin's house and took away all the sketches for the opera which he, Rimsky, and his young pupil Alexander Glazunov completed in two years.

Rimsky was a punctilious and self-satisfied diarist. He left very detailed accounts of his salvage operation on the works of Mussorgsky, whom he considered a great genius but a hopeless amateur. At the end of his account he says, more from conceit than modesty, that he had deposited Mussorgsky's manuscripts at the Public Library in St Petersburg, where everyone could compare the originals with his versions and decide for himself. This was in fact done after the First World War and the Revolution, and posterity proved ungrateful to Rimsky. It preferred Mussorgsky's uncouth roughness to Rimsky's smooth routine, and a complete edition of Mussorgsky's works in their original form was published by the Russian State Publishing House. As regards Borodin and his opera, however, Rimsky is much more reticent. He left no word about the state of the sketches and the nature of his and Glazunov's work, no mention of the fate of the sketches themselves.

Late in 1889, Mitrofan Belaiev published both the full and the vocal scores. (Belaiev was an enormously rich timber merchant who had started a music-publishing business out of sheer enthusiasm for the new Russian national music. When he died in 1904, he left three million roubles to a foundation for the furtherance of Russian music, which still exists today.) One might have expected some circumstantial explanation from Rimsky, but he had nothing to say. Only Borodin's name figured in large letters on the cover and title-page of both orchestral and vocal scores, and a short preface by the publisher informed the reader that the opera was left unfinished by Borodin and that Rimsky and Glazunov completed it 'from the available material'. For many years this cryptic notice seemed to satisfy public curiosity. For a long time Stassov had prepared the public for the great event. Now that it had happened, nearly three years after Borodin's death, nobody was inclined to raise awkward questions.

Musicologists did not overlook it altogether. In the early 1920s the Russian writer Assafiev cross-examined Glazunov, who hesitatingly admitted that the publisher's foreword was neither quite right nor quite wrong; nothing existed of the fourth act, neither music nor libretto; the overture contained the tunes which Borodin had played to Glazunov without writing them down and was really Glazunov's work; there was not one bar in the whole opera which had not had to be revised and rewritten. Assafiev could not push him any further and shortly afterwards Glazunov escaped from Russia. Those were the ascertainable facts.

The American authors of Kismet pointed out in their defence that they had used the tunes only, not Rimsky's or Glazunov's harmonization and orchestration. The tunes must undoubtedly have been Borodin's and Borodin was no longer protected in Britain either. But how did Borodin's tunes look originally ? Only Borodin's sketches could prove or disprove the Americans' case. An expert suggested that Rimsky would have deposited them at the Leningrad Library, as he had done with Mussorgsky's manuscripts. Through an influential intermediary an inquiry was sent to the Library, but it drew a blank: the sketches were not there. Not even the score or the parts of the one 'Polovtsian Dance' which had been performed under Borodin's own direction could be found. Indeed, no attempt has ever been made in Russia to publish the sketches, although a comparison with the completed work should be one of the most rewarding tasks still left to musicology.

The parties in the Kismet affair agreed on a settlement, as is usual if neither can prove its point, but the matter remains mysterious. There was no material motive such as prompted Mozart's widow to have the Requiem Mass completed without disclosing the circumstances; to this day this has the musicologists guessing as to what is Mozart's own and what is Sussmayr's addition. Rimsky's credit was high enough to justify a clear account of his interference with Borodin's own contribution. Belaiev could have had no sinister intentions; he was too rich and too enthusiastic. But Stassov, Vladimir Vassilievitch Stassov, director of the Department of Fine Arts of the Public Library in St Petersburg, promoter of Borodin's national opera, instigator of the libretto, in possession of the sketches at some time at least ? One wonders . . .

Musicology has disturbed many a grave that should have been left untouched. It is true that the classical and romantic repertoire which dominates our musical life is wearing thinner and now tends to be restricted to the most perfect masterpieces. Whole categories of once popular works have disappeared in the last fifty years. Not only does Schumann's piano music seem to have fallen from grace, but today his oratorios are never heard. Liszt has practically vanished from the programmes; even Mozart and Beethoven are reduced to their most accomplished and most intimately known works. In the operatic field the massacre has been even more widespread. Out of about two hundred and fifty immensely successful operas of the last two hundred years, hardly fifty have survived to this day. This is no peculiarity of our time but the natural process of withering and vanishing which distinguishes music from the other arts, always beginning with the weaker plants and gradually spreading to the stronger ones.

There is a new field here for the historian of music: reviving and reconstructing old works which should not have been lost. Thus Monteverdi has been rediscovered. Yet, while there are more than half a dozen new editions of his Vespers on the market, and the Combattimento has been performed again, little of this has achieve d lasting success. Heinrich Schutz has perhaps fared somewhat better, though he too has remained an exotic and rare figure in the repertoire. Yet both, in their own time, were great masters. Nor should the Handel renaissance after the First World War be forgotten. This seemed to give a new lease of life to his operas with all their pompous splendour and much magnificent music, but within a few years they had lapsed again into obscurity.

The tendency to turn to forgotten music becomes more doubtful if works are resurrected which were considered even in their own time to be of second rank. When the fiftieth anniversary of Verdi's death was celebrated in Italy a leading critic said to me, 'You know how this is done? None of his masterpieces is being played. In Turin they do I due Foscari, which makes the Milanese wonder whether they could not find something worse and so they do I Masnadieri which, in turn, makes the Romans very cross because they know an opera which is worse still and they do Il finto Stanislao. And so we are reminded, on this festive occasion, that Verdi could be a very bad composer too.'

Nor is it only the lesser works of great composers which have been revived; lesser composers too, such as Albinoni, Johann Christian Bach, Stamitz and so forth have been re-edited, and in the last forty years publishers have been flooded with offers, many of which have been accepted. Only the French seem to have withstood the onslaught. Among all the discoveries only one, Bizet's C-major symphony, has come to stay; and that was discovered by a practical musician, not by a historian.

Musical life today is full of contradictions, and the historical approach is one of the most characteristic. We are searching and fighting with ever-increasing desperation for an adequate musical expression of ourselves in our new world. So can it help to hark back to a time which, despite every effort, remains irretrievably lost ? There is no wisdom, no lasting perception in music, only the mood of a single period, a single generation, which cannot be recaptured by a different generation in different circumstances. Musicology, whether devoted to the re-establishment of the pure texts of old music or to the exhumation of music long forgotten, achieves the opposite of what it intends by carefully exposing every wrinkle and every grey hair. It has been the most endearing charm of music that it is young and remains young; it is a melancholy undertaking to prove that this goddess, too, can age.

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