by Peter Horton
Working in the Royal College of Music Library has brought many unexpected rewards, not least the invitation to prepare a new edition (in 2008) of RVW's 5th Symphony, which in turn led to the newly-released recording of the symphony by Dutton.
How did it all come about? The story began in the mid 1990s when I was involved with the setting up of a new research initiative at the RCM; the Prince Consort Initiative, whose aim was to programme works whose manuscripts were held in the College Library. The one chosen for the inaugural concert was Vaughan Williams' 5th Symphony and, out of curiosity, I began comparing the manuscript with the published score, little knowing what I would discover. It quickly became obvious that there were dozens of discrepancies, mostly concerning articulation and phrasing, but with a few wrong notes as well.
How had this come about? The answer, I later discovered, was that the professional copyist commissioned to prepare a copy of the composer's full score was not the most careful of workers. As anyone who has seen the composer's manuscripts will know, they are not neatly written. It can be difficult to decide whether a note is meant to be on a line or in a space and he was, moreover, inconsistent in his use of staccato dots, accents and tenuto markings. Small wonder that the copyist did not always reproduce accurately what was in front of him! But there were also many differences in the phrasing, and one notorious place in the Romanza where the timpani entry had been placed one bar too late! Such things would have mattered less had this score not been the one from which the OUP edition was engraved and the orchestral parts prepared.
Having drawn up a list of the most significant discrepancies between the RCM manuscript and the published score and annotated a miniature score, I sent both to OUP who were concerned to learn that there were doubts about the accuracy of one of their editions. Around this time I also spoke to Roy Douglas who, unaware of the work's convoluted textual history, initially found it hard to comprehend how a score which he had helped the composer to 'tidy up' in 1951 (though a revised edition was not published until 1961) could apparently contain so many errors. There the matter rested until in, I think, 2006 I was asked by Hugh Cobbe if I would be interested in preparing a new edition of the score for issue in the anniversary year of 2008.
Although my previous editorial experience had been with 19th-century music (and I cannot claim to be a Vaughan Williams expert), it was an invitation I could not refuse. Working in consultation with David Matthews, David Blackwell and Hugh Cobbe, I prepared a score which aimed to reproduce the composer's original intentions (i.e. before the copyist's inadvertent interventions), but incorporating his later revisions. In only one place – the opening of the first movement – did we decide to disregard a revision, on the grounds that his addition of an accent to the symphony's first note had been prompted principally by his deafness and inability to hear in a broadcast or recorded performance when the work had actually begun.
How significant for the listener are the 'changes' introduced in the new edition? I haven't had enough time to find out yet, but I'd be very interested to know what the conductor or orchestral players thought!
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