We are incredibly excited to announce the publication on Thursday 20th January of 'Behind Bars' by Faber's own Senior New Music Editor, Elaine Gould. One of the most painstakingly researched books on notation ever written, it has been a momentous project, 15 years in the making and is anticipated to become an indispensably authoritative guide to musical notation.
"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 Adès, 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 ever-more 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 Bärenreiter? 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
'Behind Bars' is the ultimate reference book for composers, arrangers, teachers and students of composition, editors, and music processors. The author's understanding of, and passion for, her subject has resulted in a book that is not only practical but also compellingly readable. View Sample Pages
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"Elaine Gould, in this wonderful monster volume, has written the equivalent of the Grove Dictionary for Notation. It is an extraordinary achievement, and if used by the next generation of composers and copyists will be a blessing for hard-working and long-suffering performers everywhere! Every chapter presents solutions and rules that will make our life easier, save rehearsal time and frustration, and will ultimately lead to better performances. What is important for a musician is to be able to spend rehearsal time on the music itself. I not only welcome her book unreservedly, but I would also pray that it 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." Sir Simon Rattle, 2010
"Elaine Gould is widely respected in the music world for her exceptionally diligent and imaginative skills in editing. She has a composer’s eye for details, and a depth of understanding of the minutiae of musical notation that is beyond compare."
George Benjamin, 2010
"With the explosion of music publishing software in recent years, the need for authoritative guides on music notation has never been more pressing... Elaine Gould’s book is bound to be a hallmark of best notation practice. I fully imagine it will become the bible of music creators everywhere."
Matthew Hindson, 2010
"For many years we composers at Faber Music have had the good fortune to have the support and assistance of Elaine Gould and her supreme knowledge of musical notation... When her outstanding experience and knowledge becomes generally available, the book will undoubtedly be a very significant technical resource for all involved in the world of music."
Nicholas Maw, 2009
"...from my reading of Elaine’s book I can say with complete confidence that she has produced a masterpiece in the field. She has been my editor for more than 20 years and there is no one in whom I would place greater faith. This will be an indispensible book!"
Colin Matthews, 2010
"We have all been eagerly awaiting Elaine’s monumental study. Those who have had as many years of her editorial guidance as I have will concur that she is clearly the one person with the requisite breadth and length of experience to render a balanced and penetrating view of the chaotic world of notation as it currently exists."
Jonathan Harvey, 2010
"...an invaluable resource book on musical notation."