Editor's Workbench

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  1. April 05, 2023

    From Mi contra Fa to Fa super La and Beyond: A Brief Guide to Musica Ficta

    By Esther Criscuola de Laix

    The phrase musica ficta (literally, “fictitious music,” “false music”) comes up in almost every critical edition of medieval or renaissance music ever published. Originally, the term referred to notes that did not fit within the hexachordal system devised by Guido d’Arezzo in the eleventh century and used as the standard music-theoretical system in Western Europe for almost six centuries following. However, when editors of medieval and early modern music use this term, it is specifically to refer to the means and practices of translating into notation the altered pitches that were not expressly notated in written music—the ones early performers would have applied on their own initiative, but which might not automatically occur to modern performers. This article provides a summary of A-R’s house style and recommended practices for notating musica ficta.

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  2. March 15, 2023

    A Guide to Cautionary Accidentals

    By Alex Widstrand

    In previous UnderScore posts we have dealt with the broad topic of accidentals, both in terms of tailoring the policy governing accidental usage to the needs of a particular source and more generally how to balance form and function in accidental application. This third installment focuses on cautionary (or “courtesy”) accidentals: those pitch inflections not strictly necessary by standard notation conventions, but that are nonetheless useful in dispelling ambiguity. Since the question of what is or is not musically ambiguous is quite subjective, this post, while by no means exhaustive, offers broad guidance on best practices for deploying cautionary accidentals in a critical edition.

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  3. August 10, 2022

    Layout-Specific Notation in Modern Editions of Music

    By Alexander Dean

    A “critical” edition is concerned with faithfulness to a source, and its authenticity, along with the probity of the editors involved, is bound to an understanding that the source material has been adequately and conscientiously accounted for. But any source will present elements that fall into a gray area, not at once sliding into their place in even the most carefully constructed pre-transcription editorial methodology. Prime among these are layout-specific elements: those numbers, directives, and graphical notations that serve in manuscripts and early music prints to guide readers and performers safely from one page to the next. Since, in the translation to a modern edition, the layout will necessarily change, one might be tempted to dismiss any such marking out of hand, along with the source page numbers and other obvious candidates for tacit removal. While this is not a bad rule of thumb, at least to start out, each type of notation will need to be evaluated on its own.

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  4. August 19, 2020

    In Praise of Performance Parts

    By David C. Birchler

    Performance parts are often overlooked or placed last in a list of sources. It is understandable that an extant autograph score is considered to be the primary source for a symphony, concerto, mass, or opera; or that a copyist’s score or published score, particularly one prepared under the composer’s supervision, would be chosen as primary source if the autograph is lost or presents an earlier or indeed superseded version of the work. But parts have a strength of their own in that they are specifically tailored to meeting the needs of individual players for the realization of the work in performance. Taking careful account of available source parts as you are preparing your edition will often provide details of notation that are only implied in the source score and make your job that much easier.

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  5. June 29, 2020

    Critical Notes 101: Some Dos and Don’ts

    By Esther Criscuola de Laix

    What are critical notes? Well, many of our editions say that “critical notes describe rejected source readings” or “differences between the source and the edition” that are not otherwise covered by the editorial methods. It sounds straightforward enough. Yet many volume editors find this to be one of the most fiddly and confusing parts of the editing process. So, here are some dos and don’ts to help dispel the confusion.

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  6. September 12, 2019

    Word Processing Tips for A-R Authors

    By Esther Criscuola de Laix

    Congratulations, you’ve got your A-R contract in hand! This means you are probably working busily away at one or more portions of your text apparatus as outlined in our guidelines for Manuscript and Disk Preparation: table of contents, acknowledgments, introduction, critical report, and, if applicable, tables, captions, and a “Texts and Translations” section. Here are a few simple tips for using your word processor to prepare a clean, readable text apparatus that will be a joy to work with for both editor and typesetter.

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  7. February 27, 2019

    Accidentals, Form, and Function—More from the Copyeditor's Desk

    By Alexander Dean

    A further investigation into accidentals in modern editions of early music, this post deals with the challenges presented by various sources, and how the editor might go about choosing from the available options.

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  8. January 24, 2019

    Purposeful Accidentals

    By Pamela Whitcomb

    Developing an editorial policy for accidentals can be tricky business, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Converting from archaic conventions to modern ones often means prioritizing either form or function: form-based approaches favor editorial transparency, while function-based approaches prioritize clarity of content. 

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  9. September 13, 2018

    Who was Joe Schubert? Layers upon Layers in a Viola Concerto from the Turn of the Nineteenth Century

    By Alexander Dean

    Dr. Andrew Levin’s edition of a viola concerto by a certain Joseph Schubert presented a unique editorial challenge: how to identify and account for the various versions of the piece evident in the surviving performance parts, and how and whether to incorporate the overlapping manuscript markings, especially in the solo viola part. In this case, the additions to the solo part were probably made by the performer, and the performer may have been Schubert himself.

    Resolving these questions meant delving into the heart of what makes a critical edition worthwhile. What are the responsibilities of the editor, and what are the opportunities afforded by a source situation such as this? How much can be notated in the score, and what should be relegated to the critical commentary? And for what is in the score, is there a clear way to set off different layers of notation without sacrificing clarity and readability?

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  10. July 27, 2018

    My Many Colored Pencils (Well, Not Really That Many)

    By Esther Criscuola de Laix

    Pencils and eraser

    I’d like to talk a bit about pencils, those intriguing sticks of wood, metal, rubber, and a “pigment core” of graphite or something else. In this digital age, not much is done with pencils anymore, because not much is done with paper anymore. But when I sit down to copyedit the music portion of an author’s manuscript, the first thing I do is pull out my pencil pouch. The colored pencils it contains are among the most essential tools of my editorial trade, and each color is used for a specific purpose. Each editor’s individual markup practices vary, but there are three colors that we on the editorial staff at A-R Editions all use pretty much the same way: red, green, and blue.

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