A Letter to the Editor

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

by Matanya Ophee

Note: This letter was sent to the editors of Guitar International magazine in response to an article in the August 1985 issue of that magazine by Erik Stenstadvold titled “Giuliani’s Sixth Finger…” The article took some strongly worded exceptions to a couple of our editions. One of these, the Recollection of Ireland by Leonhard Schulz is now out of print. We are thinking of posting this edition on line, hopefully, in time for St. Patrick’s day. The second item under discussion is our edition of the Trio Op. 18 No. 1 by François de Fossa, which is still in print. The magazine itself is long defunct now, and it’s editor and publisher, the late George Clinton, is not in position to respond. So, why are we beating a dead horse? Because in our view the issues raised in this exchange are of paramount importance to our discipline. What is at stake is the very fabric of truth of which we hope to promote the idea of music for the classical guitar as a viable human endeavor.

I can’t believe I just wrote that last sentence! I agree with you: as much as I believe in the essence of the idea, it does sound like propaganda. The real bone of contention is that I and my editors strongly believe in what we do. We make mistakes and we do appreciate when people point them out to us. But we do not have much patience for nit-pickings based on some arcane philosophical musings or on plain ignorance. You can call it “setting the record straight” or you can call it “getting even.” Either way, we need to defend our editions when viciously attacked. We simply wish to present you, the reader, with both sides of the argument, so that you can form your own intelligent opinion. So here goes:


In a recent article in which he takes issue with my point of view about facsimiles, Mr. Erik Stenstadvold has chosen to buttress his arguments in favor of the Tecla brand of reprints, with an attack on my integrity and insinuates that myself, and others who are associated with Editions Orphée, are not well versed in music history in general, and guitar history in particular. It seems to me that it is not enough to brandish about noisy epithets about deception – one needs to make a reasonably tight case, and to be extremely careful not to take so much liberty with the facts as Stenstadvold did:

1. Stenstadvold uses an example from my edition of the Recollection of Ireland by Leonhard Schulz to show that I have “mixed editorial and original fingering without any warning”.

This is a serious charge indeed. Short of asking you to buy my edition and judge for yourself, let me say that this is an unwarranted and false accusation. In my introduction to the edition in question, I said the following:

“2. The manuscript [on which the edition is based] carried quite a bit of fingering. Most of it is incorporated into the present edition, though converted to modern symbology. Certain fingering patterns such as hinge barr‚ with the 2nd finger,are not used today in general, and they were replaced by more logical finger- ing”[1]Boston, Editions Orphée, 1984, No. PWYS-7.

If this is not a clear description of the editorial process in regard to fingering which I used in the edition, one which should have given Mr. Stenstadvold ample warning, I wonder what else he requires, flashing red lights?

2. Mr. Stenstadvold considers himself to be “fortunate” of having acquired a copy of the source manuscript which I used in this edition, a fact which enabled him to compare my edition to its source and to evaluate my work. This is a veiled insinuation that information about the source is not provided in the edition and it implies that if not for Mr. Stenstadvold’s special fortunes, he would not have been able to make this comparison. This is not so.

Precise information about the source used is given in my Introduction to the edition, as well as an acknowledgement to the Royal Library of Copenhagen for having supplied me with copies of the source, and for their permission to publish it in a modern edition.

3. I would allow that Stenstadvold is entitled to his critical opinions about some of my editorial decisions. But before he attempts to show that the non-autograph manuscript used, indeed represents the intentions of the late Leonhard Schulz Jr., perhaps he would care to share with us any information to which he may be privy and which enabled him to establish the originality of the music and/or the fingering. I have tried to do that in preparing the edition, but did not possess sufficient information which would have warranted such conclusions. As I stated in my Introduction, the source is a non-autograph copy made by J.G. Holm. I do not know what was the source he copied, and I suspect, neither does Mr. Stenstadvold. Until we find the original source, any arguments in favor of originality and “preserving the author’s intentions”, are at best a vacuous attempt to change the subject of our debate.

4. Mr. Stenstadvold accuses me of having committed a grave error in reading the source manuscript and he insinuates that the error was generated by my unscholarly resentment of the left-hand thumb technique. I, whoops it seems, ignored a fingering indication for the left-hand thumb. The resulting harmony, we are told, is “rather odd”, “illogical” and “wrong”.

According to Stenstadvold, the symbol for the left-hand thumb, implies that the chord in question should be played in the 6th position and that the fingering pattern given in the source, suggests that the top note should be an F natural. In my edition, I assumed the chord to be played in the 2nd position and that the top note is an F#. Mr. Stenstadvold seems to be certain that the symbol in question indeed represents the left-hand thumb, but he fails to tell us how he knows that.

In preparing the edition, I noticed that the source Ms. usually used the roman numeral indication for the upper positions, an indication which is missing here.

In a further location, page 20 of the Ms., line 5, we see this:

The same symbol, which Stenstadvold thinks to be an indication for the left-hand thumb, is used here as a symbol for the right-hand thumb! Obviously, even the most dexterous left-hand thumb user, would not attempt to use it to execute the C natural on the third string, which is clearly fingered with the 2nd, and the A on the 4th string which is clearly fingered with the 4th. Notice that a barr‚ in the 4th position is clearly indicated here. Whether the indication originated with the composer or the copyist, one had to assume a certain consistency in the use of fingering symbology and therefore, I had to conclude that the symbol in question, as used in bar 10, does not represent the left-hand thumb. As is well known, the symbol is used to indicate the right-hand thumb in the guitar method of Mertz, and so used in many late 19th century guitar editions by many composers.[2]As a matter of fact, this is precisely the system of notation for the right hand which is used in the edition of Giuliani’s op. 1, the one reproduced by Tecla as their volume 1 of the Complete … Continue reading To have concluded, on the basis of insufficient evidence that by use of the left-hand thumb a more “logical” harmony can be executed in the 6th position, is to entirely ignore the simple fact that the resulting stretch between the 2nd and 3rd fingers is not only unusual, as Stenstadvold observed himself, but it is also downright painful, particularly if you try to use the left-hand thumb at the same time. Try it if you don’t believe me! All of which is to say, as Stenstadvold observed himself, that these fingering indications cannot be taken at face value. Inorder to reach any reasonable conclusions about the music, one has to consider the music itself. Mr. Stenstadvold’s analysis of the music, yields the conclusion that by the application of whatever rules of traditional harmony which are acceptable to him, the resulting harmony, when the chord is played in the 2nd position, is wrong. When taken out of context, this is an easy conclusion to make, and whether you would care to believe me or not, it is one which I seriously considered when I prepared my edition. On the other hand, I had to take into account that if the music is indeed by Schulz, there would be good reason to believe that even in the introduction, he would have tried to adhere to the spirit of the music. After all, this is not an original composition but a skillful arrangement of Irish melodies, some of which have been associated with the name of Thomas Moore. This is what Moore had to say about the subject of “logical” harmony:

“…It has always been a subject of some mortification to me, that my songs, as they are set, give such a very imperfect notion of the manner in which I wish them to be performed: and that most of that peculiarity of character, which I believe they possess as I sing them myself, is lost in the process they must undergo for publication; but the truth is, that not being sufficiently practiced in the rules of composition to rely on the accuracy of my own harmonic arrangements, I am obliged to submit my rude sketches to the eye of a professor before they can encounter the criticisms of the musical world: and, as it but too often happens that they are indebted for their originality to the violation of some established law, the hand that corrects their error is almost sure to destroy their character,* and the few little flowers they may boast of are generally culled away with the weeds……”

The footnote says:

” * I know I shall be told by the learned musician, that whatever infringes on the rules of composition must be disagreeable to the ear, but that, according to the pure ethics of the art, nothing can possibly be pleasant that is wrong; but I am sorry to say that I am lawless enough to disagree with him, and have sometime been even lost to all sense of musical rectitude, as to take pleasure in a profane succession of fifths![3]Thomas Moore, Melodies, Songs, Sacred Songs and National Airs, Containing Several Never Before Published in America. New York, 1828. Preface. page IV. I have not verified if this text corresponds … Continue reading

Now I am not about to stick my neck out and claim that Schulz was aware of these comments by Moore. I am also not about to rule it out. What matters here is the practical issue of deciding which part of one’s understanding of the music is based on the context in which it was created, and which part is based on a projection of one’s own prejudices backwards in time. One cannot apply to a composer who died a 125 years ago the bias with which one is viewing that same music today. Stenstadvold’s solution of eliminating the # certainly seems less discordant. Personally, I have chosen to accept the notion that in the context of Irish music as it was propagandized in England and other English speaking countries by Thomas Moore, a progression in which the diminished chord is not resolved directly, but rather through the means of an anticipatory suspension, would have been perfectly in style. In other words: before one tries to determine if one solution is more or less “logical” than another, one has to consider, besides the application of traditional rules of harmony, also the societal and cultural environment under which the music was created. All of this aside, we will never know for sure which is the correct solution until we find the original on which the J.G. Holm copy was based and until we learn bit more about Leonhard Schulz and his music.

I did not publish this music because I thought that it was an “important” addition to the repertoire. I thought that it was a good piece of music, fun to play, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day, and at least as attractive on a concert programme as Catalan Folk Songs, Spanish flapdoodle, Venezuelan Walses or Paraguayan salon music by Barrios. As an honorary Irishman (the name is really O’Phee, ya’know…) I always had a marked predilection for things Irish – John Field, James Joyce, Padraic Collum, George Warren, The Last Rose of Summer, John McCormack, freckled-faced colleens, and Jameson’s whiskey. And that’s no Blarney….

Further on, Mr. Stenstadvold takes special pains to criticize Editions Orphée’s publication of the Trio op. 18 no. 1 by François de Fossa, obviously, with the aim of showing that we are guilty of deception. He begins by assuming that there was a close collaboration between myself and the editor, Dr. Margarita Mazo, and therefore, had chosen to address his remarks to the Editors. Of course there was a close collaboration. Such a working relationship between editor and publisher is not such a bad thing, is it?[4]Dr. Margarita Mazo, besides being one of the most knowledgeable musicologists I ever had the good fortune to work with, is also my wife. Of course I cooperated with her. As clearly stated in the Editor’s Preface though, this collaboration was limited to advice regarding the guitar part. I also wrote the biographical introduction to the edition. All major editorial decisions in producing this edition were made by the responsible editor, Dr. Margarita Mazo. To have ignored this clearly stated fact, is an uncalled for insult to a fine scholar. An apology to Dr. Mazo is certainly in order.

As for Mr. Stenstadvold’s specific criticisms:

1. Our edition certainly does not “resemble nothing that ever existed”. It is not meant to! What the edition attempts to do, is to present, in the words of Walter Emery, that which in the editor’s opinion the composer had meant to write. Mr. Stenstadvold’s preference for a detailed list of variants is, of course, a valid point of view to which he is entitled. I would certainly expect to see one myself in an edition, if the sources on which it was based did not immediately follow the pages of the edited music. When we present a reproduction of the autograph manuscript, as well as precise information about the printed editions and the location of available copies, a list of variants becomes a redundancy. Such a list would have required many more pages and thus, increase the cost of the edition beyond any reason. We certainly weighed the pros and cons of adding a list of variants, but in our judgement, we had to limit the choice to either a list of variants or autograph. We did not opt for the autograph in order to win merit badges, but because this was a unique document, accessible for the first time, and one which provided, besides many details about the music, also a great deal of important information about the composer’s creative process. If you are truly interested in evaluating for yourself all available variants you’d better sit down and do it yourself. We have given you all the necessary means to do so. In our judgement, the great majority of users are NOT interested in paying for pages and pages of critical remarks, when they have both the original source and the edited music in their hands. As a commercial publisher, Editions Orphée is not in the business of spoon-feeding would be nit-pickers, but in the business of providing the public with useful editions at a reasonable price.

Mr. Stenstadvold accuses the editor of engaging in deceptive practices by not commenting in detail on the precise nature of the alterations made to the text. He says:

“…but, alas!, how deceptive: every time we see a square bracket we understand that here is something done to the text, but we are never told what the alterations are as they are never commented on….”

I am glad Stenstadvold understood the significance of the square brackets. Too bad he could not also understand that the alterations are not commented on verbally, because the commentary is the autograph manuscript itself. It was assumed by the editor that the person who would care to make a detailed comparison of the sources with the edition, is also intelligent enough to understand, without being told, what are the differences between one bar of music and another. We dispatch our responsibility to scholarship by giving a full account of the sources used, with a copy of the autograph manuscript, as well as with a precise description of the method used in reproducing it. The edition is clearly intended to satisfy, before anything else, the needs of those who wish to use it for practical music making. In fact, the score is supplied with a full critical apparatus, while the separate parts, in view of enhancing their readability during actual performance, have been supplied with no such markings at all.

Mr. Stenstadvold is very unhappy that some emendations, where a dynamic sign has been added to correspond with other parts in the ensemble, are not marked as editorial changes. I do not think that in this case, an editor should clutter up the page unnecessarily with statements of the obvious.

As for changes in dynamics and bowings which present a different picture than that of the Ms. and/or the printed edition: they are not commented on for the very same reason that once we have given the sources used and pointed out the precise locations in the text were changes were made, and thus, the means to compare the edition to its sources, we play with open cards and we see no need to spell out in detail what is obvious to the eye. One of the policies of this publishing house in the production of guitar chamber music is to engage professional musicians to rehearse the piece and when possible, to perform it in public prior to submitting it to the printer. In these sessions we do precisely that which Mr. Stenstadvold says we should do: we play and listen. Occasionally, the group arrives at the conclusion that certain changes in dynamic and bowing patterns contribute to the musical coherence of the composition. If you don’t agree with these changes, which is certainly your privilege as a performer, then I suggest you take your pencil, the same one you used to insert normal fingering in the Tecla so-called “facsimile” of Giuliani’s op. 1 and reinsert the original dynamics. We told you where they are.

In general though, Mr. Stenstadvold seems to describe the same problem of the ambiguity of ornamentation in the sources which was discussed by Dr. Mazo in her preface. His discussion certainly reveals a level of expertise on the subject which is to be commended. I am sure, though, that one of the aspects of the problem of ornamentation which Stenstadvold must have discovered in his travails, is that it is a can of worms which offers no easy solutions. Take for example, the point made about the turn in bar 4 of the Largo movement, used by Stenstadvold to show that the editor misunderstood the nature of the beast. Stenstadvold uses a quote from the piano method of Hummel to make his case. In order to understand what was the thinking of the composer, Fran‡ois de Fossa, we have to find out what was said in the various methods of Aguado, partly authored and edited by de Fossa. I am certain that de Fossa was well aware of the music of Hummel, and may have even heard him in person during Hummel’s visit to Paris in 1825. However, there is no way of knowing if in 1825, Aguado, then in Madrid, knew anything about Hummel and his music. There is also no way of knowing if both Aguado and de Fossa agreed with Hummel’s approach to ornamentation. In any case, Mr. Stenstadvold pretends to be conversant with all the books of Aguado, and his discussion insinuates that in preparing our edition, we have not paid attention to Aguado’s ideas on the subject of turns. He says:

“I think it was unwise to use instead of the two original signs [mordent sign] and + …Truly, Aguado in the different editions of the Escuela does describe them both as signifying a turn, but he does not say that they are the same kind of turn. His text renders the possible interpretation that they signify two different turns, one consisting of three, the other consisting of four notes, which he had just shown examples of. Until we know more of this the question should be left open……” (My italics)

I fully sympathize with the call for leaving questions open. I seem to have made a few of them myself. But before Mr. Stenstadvold decides to pontificate on the question of Aguado’s ideas about ornamentation, I suggest he reads the relevant passage in the first edition of the Escuela, the one published in Madrid in 1825. Here it is:


335. El mordente es una especie de apoyatura compuesta de tres, cuatro ó mas notitas que se ejecutan con mucha velocidad a costa del valor de una nota anterior ó posterior, y con una pulsacion sola de la derecha.

336. El de tres notitas se llama sencillo, y principia por un sonido mas alto ó mas bajo que el de la nota (Ej.º 13.º n.º 1). El de cuatro notitas se llama doble, y por lo comun principia en el mismo sonido que el de la nota (Ej.º id. n.º 2). El signo [signo puesto encima ó debajo de una nota, indica que se ha de hacer un mordente despues de ella: otro signo en forma de + y colocado de igual manera, tiene la misma significacion (Ej.º id. n.º 3). (The last italics are mine).

(335. The turn is like an appoggiatura which is comprised of three, four or more small notes which are to be executed at great velocity at the expense of the value of the preceding or the following note, and with only one plucking action of the right hand.

336. The one with three small notes is called simple, and begins on a pitch which is higher or lower than the [main] note. (ex. 13, No.1) The one with four small notes is called double, and commonly begins on the same pitch as the [main] note (ex. 13, No. 2) The sign placed above or below a note, indicates that a turn is to be executed after it: another sign in the form of + and placed in the same manner, has the same meaning. (Ex. 13, No.3) (My italics and translation)

Quite obviously, either Stenstadvold had not read this passage or had chosen to ignore it. According to Aguado, a turn may take its value from either the preceding or the following note. More over, both signs used by de Fossa and Aguado to indicate a turn, have the same identical meaning.

Attentive reading of the full text of Aguado, certainly produces the understanding that for musicians like himself and de Fossa, the visual appearance of the notation was not the main issue. The very ambiguity in the notation, should suggest to us that the symbols used do not represent the actual performance practice of the day. An appoggiatura was not determined to be long or short by the way it was notated, but by the musical context and the performer’s own understanding of the style. In many instances in the autograph manuscript, as well as in the printed edition of his Trio op. 18 No. 1, de Fossa even elected to ignore grace notes and to write out long appoggiaturas in full. I can imagine the hue and cry which would result if an editor tried to follow his example and do the same! The real issue here, is that whether the visual appearance of the notation of appoggiaturas has been standardized, or left in its original state of confusion, it is still up to the individual performer to make sense of it. Those who understand the issues, are certainly capable of making up their own mind. Our edition is aimed at those, perhaps the greatest majority of performers (guitarists, as well as a substantial portion of practicing string players), who are much more interested in the practical business of making music than in the pursuit of hair-splitting. To have accused the editor of this edition to have produced “monstrosities” in her presentation of the ornaments, is to imply that there is only one way to skin a cat and Mr. Stenstadvold knows what it is. Current literature on the subject does not support the thesis. In any case, we are dealing with a period of history where improvisation, and in particular, the improvisation of ornaments was still an essential part of musical performance practice. Aguado’s teachings on this subject are echoed in Dr. Mazo’s Preface:

“…There is a great deal to be gained by improvisation… Ornaments may be added or deleted according to taste and knowledge…”

So if one does not agree with the proposed notation, you can either ignore it and reinsert the original, or simply improvise your own. I trust that when you set out to perform this Trio, which, I hope, will be soon, you will have, besides the knowledge of the thinking of de Fossa which you claim to have, also possess enough taste to make the evening enjoyable to your listeners.

In closing, allow me to say that some of Stenstadvold’s comments are well taken and we are, as always, grateful to anyone who points out mistakes, misprints and the like in our editions. An error-free edition, someone said, is an accident. This is where errata lists serve to eliminate the gremlins which crop up after all the proof readings have been accomplished and the edition is committed to print.[5]Since this attack on us in 1985, the edition in question has been reprinted and all misprints of which we were aware have been corrected. Mr. Stenstadvold seems to prefer the error of the early editions to newer ones, on the mistaken belief that the old misprints represent the author’s intentions more authentically. I see no inherent attributes in the age of a mistake. An old one is just as bad as new one and they both have to be corrected.

Copyright © 1996 by Editions Orphée, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


1 Boston, Editions Orphée, 1984, No. PWYS-7.
2 As a matter of fact, this is precisely the system of notation for the right hand which is used in the edition of Giuliani’s op. 1, the one reproduced by Tecla as their volume 1 of the Complete Works. As far as I can tell, this system of notation is not to be found in any other composition by Giuliani, or by any one of his generation. It seems indeed, that the very first guitar method to adopt this notation was the one by Mertz, which was published many years after the death of Giuliani. This fact raises more doubts about the authenticity of the fingering notation in what is being accepted at face value as the “first edition” of Giuliani’s work. But, once again, this is entirely another story.
3 Thomas Moore, Melodies, Songs, Sacred Songs and National Airs, Containing Several Never Before Published in America. New York, 1828. Preface. page IV. I have not verified if this text corresponds exactly to the English edition.
4 Dr. Margarita Mazo, besides being one of the most knowledgeable musicologists I ever had the good fortune to work with, is also my wife. Of course I cooperated with her.
5 Since this attack on us in 1985, the edition in question has been reprinted and all misprints of which we were aware have been corrected.


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