About my scores

This page is for anyone who looks at my scores, finds the notation unusual, and concludes that I don't know how to write scores.

Long ago, when a cello was to play in the treble clef, the notes were written an octave higher than intended. This bad idea has since been dropped.

Long ago, when a horn was to play in the bass clef, the notes were written an octave lower than intended. This bad idea has since been dropped.

For a long time, players of the valved horn were expected to transpose every note at sight because they were being given scores for the horn in C or in E flat or in some other key. Horn players are still coping with this bad idea in old scores, and they are surprisingly good at it. But it is a bad idea, and any composer writing today will write for the standard horn, and not create such needless difficulty.

So there are precedents for changing how we notate music. Please let me explain some notational novelties in my scores that, I hope, will some day become standard.

My scores are generally written "in C". This is a convention widely adopted in the 20th century, making it easier for a conductor or other score-reader to see which pitches are to be played. (The alternative would force the reader to mentally transpose several instruments on-the-fly. This can be even worse if the piece sometimes uses a clarinet in B flat and at other times a clarinet in A.)

One effect of writing an orchestral score "in C" is that the horn parts are often jumping back and forth between treble and bass clefs. But if we think about it, the natural range of the horn is right in the middle, straddling these clefs. From this I conclude that the most sensible clef for horn parts is the alto clef. Since conductors are used to reading viola parts in that clef, there is nothing new for them to learn. And at every moment they'll know what clef the horn part is using, without having to look back to the start of the page.

Another convention that deserves to die, in my opinion, is the placement of a concerto soloist within the standard orchestral layout. So for example in a cello concerto, the soloist's part is two or three lines from the bottom; in a clarinet concerto, the soloist's part is somewhere below any flutes, oboes, or related instruments.

I dispense with this silliness by writing the soloist's part at the top of every page.

The Italian words forte and fortissimo are abbreviated f and ff. But some composers, in striving for ever greater volume, have indicated fff or ffff or even fffff.

This debases the currency, as it were. Fortissimo comes to mean "sort of loud, but not nearly as loud as you could do". And this doesn't become clear until the player has encountered the maximum number of fs later in the piece.

Similar debasement occurs at the quiet end of the spectrum. ppppp has been seen.

My solution is to state up front that ff and pp are the extremes that the player will encounter.

Listen to a good jazz musician play ten notes and you're likely to hear at least five articulations and as many dynamic shadings. In "classical" notation we have few means to denote such shadings. I have borrowed one from the poets, because I think we need a way to indicate that a note should be de-emphasized. The poets call it a "breve" and it's the opposite of a stress. Here's an example from my Trumpet Concerto:

The accent marked on the third note means, of course, that it should receive greater stress than normal. The breve marked on the fourth note means that it should receive less stress than normal.

Postscript: Since writing the above, I learned that Arnold Schoenberg used the same poetic symbol to mean the same thing in his scores. I wish that I could claim to be as smart as Schoenberg, but he beat me to this idea by many decades.