Music Heritage in Manuscripts and Printed Music

By Holth, Berit; Baumann, Jorid Nordal | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2011 | Go to article overview

Music Heritage in Manuscripts and Printed Music


Holth, Berit, Baumann, Jorid Nordal, Fontes Artis Musicae


A long time ago, in Moscow, the Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull performed in front of an audience of nearly 5,000 people. The year was 1838. He visited Russia four times. He played for Tsar Nicholas I and his family, for the public, and for poor students, and he was rewarded with precious gifts and jewels. Ole Bull was born in 1810. He was the first Norwegian musician to take his place on the international stage and, in his wake, all the others would follow. He inspired and helped his countrymen, such as the composer Edvard Grieg and the playwright Henrik Ibsen, develop their artistic talents and gave them the rare gift of self-confidence. Ole Bull also shed light upon the quality of folk music.

With music heritage from a Norwegian perspective, we think about music from the past and of composers who are no longer with us. The Norwegian Music Heritage project started in 2008. The aim of this project is to conserve and publish important parts of classical Norwegian music heritage. Thus the Norwegian Music Heritage Project starts with composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

If music compositions will be remembered, the works have to be performed. Music notation is the traditional way of preserving music. It is crucial that the manuscripts and printed scores from the past are available and of good physical quality. However, the contrary is more often the case. The music material often happens to be in poor condition and difficult to find.

Music scores are susceptible to many dangers which may lead to their destruction, such as fire and pollution. The main publishing house in Norway, Norsk musikforlag, was hit by fire some decades ago and many unpublished works were lost.

Pollution can have an effect over a much longer span of time. The quality of paper undergoes decay over time. Many scores are written or printed on poor-quality paper that crumbles or is eroded by the ink, when pollution turns ink into acid.

Time itself can be a danger. The way notation is interpreted changes over time and modern people may no longer possess the social awareness and contextual knowledge of composers and musicians from times past. Interpretation of errors in a score, even of errors caused by the composer himself can be a danger. If an orchestra rehearsal is delayed because of discussions about interpretations of the score, this fact can be a hindrance for the work to be performed. One example of this occurred when the conductor Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra performed Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder. Jansons borrowed the score from the conductor Claudio Abbado who had done many of his own corrections in his own score and it no longer matched any other score of the work.

The Music Heritage Project aims to attract and build national expertise to meet various needs in connection with conservation, indexing, accessibility, and dissemination in an effort to collect more and better musical documents. An edition group, with representatives from music institutions in Norway, was established, and this group published a report with many proposals.

This report formed the basis for a dialogue between the National Library and the University of Oslo that resulted in a joint model of organization. The result is that The National Library shall coordinate the project from a conservation point of view, whereas the University of Oslo shall coordinate the national research effort. The Norwegian Society of Composers and The Music Information Centre Norway are key partners; today's contemporary music is tomorrow's music heritage.

The report suggests several measures regarding the publishing of works by composers from the period in question. This includes plans for

* publishing collected works by five of the most prominent Norwegian composers

* revision of the existing collected works in 20 volumes by Norway's most famous composer, Edvard Grieg

* publishing selected works of three other important Norwegian composers

* publishing selected single works of a number of other Norwegian composers

In the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, young Norwegians had to go abroad to get the best music education, and find more inspiring conditions. …

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