My Own Editions Are The Best, Of Course, And You Are Ugly And Evil

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

By Angelo Gilardino

When, 30 years ago, I was entrusted by Edizioni Musicali Bèrben with the direction of a series of twentieth century guitar music (which would have published in the following years, under its red covers, several hundreds titles) one of the most relevant questions I had to deal with, was the edition of those pieces written by musicians who were not guitarists or who had not developed an abstract knowledge of guitar technique deep enough to enable them to write for the instrument without mistakes. With the word mistakes here I refer of course to either totally unplayable or to awkward passages, and not to musical mistakes: Castelnuovo-Tedesco never made musical mistakes, but he knew he made many guitar-writing mistakes, and he was very humble in his acknowledgment of those weak points of his guitar pieces and perennially looking for help and suggestions from the guitarists who enjoyed his esteem.

At that epoque, the dominant editorial criteria in the field of editing twentieth century original guitar music was the one established by Segovia (and accepted by all the other guitarist-editors), who had filtered all the pieces written for and dedicated to him according to his aesthetic and who had subsequently published his editions–with the approval of the composers–as the unique, definite text. The same had been done by other famous performers: it was, then, a general trend.

It was not an easy task for the youngest and the last come among these editors to introduce a new approach. Breaking old traditions is always hard and painful. However, I felt that—even if I had thought that my editions were the very best—it would have been unacceptable to impose them to all readers and I decided to offer to the readers of the Bèrben series of twentieth century guitar music a new kind of text: basically, the urtext, faithfully reproduced exactly as the composer had written it, fully fingered, and, in the occurences of unplayable of awkward passages, my editorial suggestion given in an added, parallel staff (as in the cases of “ossia”, but reproduced in standard size). The first work published according to this criterion was the series of “24 Caprichos de Goya” for solo guitar by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, in four volumes. Not only I offered both the urtext and my editorial suggestions with pointing out that these latter had been approved by the composer only in part (his sudden passing away left me with an interrupted exchange of correspondence just about this work of his), but I stressed also my invitation to all those readers who may have felt entitled for such a task, to become their own editors, either because they could not feel satisfied with my editorial suggestions or because they had simply different views from mine. It was—so as to say—a situation deliberately left at such a level of free option, that it would have been hard to image some guitarists to take exception to it: from the novice who firstly apprached a difficult set of modern pieces (and who had all of the problems solved by the editor’s suggestions) to the advanced player (who could have freely operated according to his taste and musicianship), all the kinds of players could find in that publication what they wanted or needed.

This solution was then adopted for several other important modern pieces published in the Gilardino series. Something could be added about the nature of an editor’s work in such a situation. It is known by everybody, for instance, that Segovia, and other major players, had continuously evolved their editorial search upon the pieces they had in their repertoire, even after they had published it, so much as to make evident the differences existing between their printed editions and their recorded version of several pieces. Nobody felt entitled to criticize them for such a behaviour: on the contrary, seldom as in this case the proverb which says that only idiots never change their minds is appropriate. It will appear to everybody who has a minimum of competence in this area and a natural goodfaith that, if I had to edit Castelnuovo-Tedesco “Caprichos de Goya” nowadays, at the age of 56 and with the output of compositions and editions I have accumulated in the 28 years since when my first edition was published (1970), I would have quite a lot of different—not necessarily better or worse, simply different—solutions to offer, especially if I were free—as I am nowadays, thank Goodness—from any sort of deadline pressure and from any sort of Publisher’s condition (do not make it too difficult. . .).

Does all of this need to be said? I would have never dreamt of this need. But it does.

Recording the whole series of the “Caprichos de Goya” is in itself quite a remarkable entreprise for a guitarist. The work was recorded in its entirety by Kazuhito Yamashita, Philip Lolli and Lily Afshar, and in parts by many other guitarists too numerous to list here. If the quality of the performance and the production were good, there would be no need and no room for any further pressure on the listener: the music and the player would speak for themselves. Which need, then, may induce a performer (a German called Frank Bungarten) to state, in the notes accompanying his recent recording of the Caprichos de Goya: “I am very grateful that the original text has been published without changes. As in my version of Antonio José’s sonata, I was able to pass over the editor’s distortions of musical meanings and much simpler version and to present here a version corresponding as closely as possible to the original”?

To a listener who is not also a reader of the published music, such a statement hides a fundamental notion: that the person who decided to publish the original text without changes and the editor who created the “distortions of musical meanings” are THE VERY SAME PERSON.To this person, what one of the thousands of guitarists who nowadays cannot extract one note from their instrument without introducing it by claims about its authenticity, its faithfullness to the original, its purity, it makes absolutely no relevance—especially if the listening shows, behind the protection of Verbal Academic Scolarship, the usual, unpersonal, anonymous production of notes more or less skillfully produced by fingers, in the most total lack of any artistic gift of musical imagination (let alone spirituality). What is relevant here is the fact that his personal honesty as an editor is presented as a distortion (this is perhaps more a proper use of the word). In fact, it may very well result, with reading the above quoted sentences, that the editor produced a distorted text AND that somebody else, the publisher for instance, decided to publish the original text- NOT NECESSARILY IN AGREEMENT WITH THE EDITOR AND NOT NECESSARILY IN THE SAME BOOKS—in order to restrain the damages that publishing the edition could have created.

All of this is quite a heavy, unfair distortion, not only of the case in question, but of a fact of guitar history: it was this editor who was responsible for a change in the trends of publishing and editing guitar music, 30 years ago. A change that allows thousands late comers who record guitar CDs nowadays, to try to get advances of credits with claiming that their solfeggios are illuminated by an enlightened consistency with the original. Herr Bungarten’s version is a new comer into a field that is becoming rather crowded. If he hopes to validate his recording in anyway, it should better be on the strength of his actual performance, not on any holier-than-thou declarations based on an inconsiderate distortion of historical facts and bibliographical realities.

Is there some less original statements, among today’s guitarists? If there is, it would be this category of statements: those expressed according to the principle that it is not enough to praise our own work, we also have to denigrate the work of others; with the wisdom of our scolarship, this delight makes a mixture really capable of adding values and merits to our lives.

Angelo Gilardino

Vercelli, April 18th, 1998.

Copyright © 1998 by Angelo Gilardino. All Rights Reserved.


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