The Vagaries of the Looth Fairy, Liner Notes Musicology, Part II.

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

By Matanya Ophee

The late Walter Spaulding was a man of many talents. He was a classical guitarist, a flamenco specialist, a lutenist and a vihuela player. He was also a composer, arranger, teacher of the guitar in several colleges around the state and also in his house in Exeter, New Hampshire in the mid 1970s, a publisher of a most unique guitar magazine, the short lived Chelys, and an inveterate collector of guitariana. When I moved to Concord NH in 1974 where I opened a guitar studio, Walter did not take kindly to my poaching on what he considered his territory. The relationship between us was, let us say kindly, rather strained. During this period he beat me twice to the punch. The first time was when Vladimir Bobri told me about a chamber music group called The Berkshire Chamber ensemble run by a flutist named Lynne Priest Bujak. She was looking for a guitarist who specializes in chamber music. Her guitarist was the Dutch Louis Ignatius Gall. He had to leave the US so she asked Vladimir Bobri to recommend someone, and he suggested it to me. By the time I got to do something about it, the gig went to Walter Spaulding. They did some concerts around the New England area, but eventually the group dispersed when Walter moved to Arizona. The second time was when one fellow named William Farro, advertised in the local paper the sale of a large collection of antiquarian guitar music. I missed the collection by a couple of hours. Walter was there first. Later he kindly let me browse through the collection, and indeed it was an awesome assemblage of some very rare materials. I was envious, to say the least.

I moved to Boston in 1977 and lost track of Walter for many years. Once I was told that he was working in a furniture store in Flagstaff. I was trying to obtain a complete set of Chelys for my files. But that did not materialize. I could not connect. And then I noticed an advertisement in the Guitar Review some years ago in which Walter Spaulding was offering his entire collection for sale. I called. Yes, he remembered me and was happy I called, since he had no takers yet. The story was that he was involved in a very serious auto accident and completely lost use of his hands. He could still use them for daily life, but playing an instrument was no longer an option. The long and the short of that was that I went to Flagstaff, saw the collection, which included not only the several thousand items from the Farro collection, but also many books, all available lute facsimiles and many guitar scores that Walter collected over a life time, some 25,000 items. I bought it.

There were many rare items in the collection, but those that are relevant to our present concerns were the books Oscar Chilesotti published in Germany in 1890-1.[1]Oscar Chilesotti, Da un Codice del Cinquecento trascrizioni in notazione moderna. Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel. Pl. No. 18821. Also: Lautenspieler des XVI. Jahrhunderts: Ein Beitrag zur … Continue reading These were the original editions, in pristine condition, only missing the original covers. The idea of exploiting these copies in the production of a facsimile edition, naturally occurred to me quite soon. I am a commercial publisher and this is what I do. Of course I knew that these books have been published before in facsimile, but I was not sure if these were still available. The leading dealer with such books was O.M.I. of New York, one of my oldest customers, a firm that has bought from me a substantial number of copies of the facsimile editions I produced. So in February of 1997, I inquired with them if these books were still available. Their answer was that the Da Un Codice was long out of print but the Lautenspieler was still available. Of course, as dealers, they had no way of knowing when, and if, the Da Un Codice will be reprinted.

I must have mentioned the idea of publishing the Da Un Codice from my pristine copies a couple of years later on the LUTE-L mailing list. The idea was instantly poo-poohed by Arthur Ness (9/22/1999):

Pristine or not, you would be making a bad business decision once again if you were to publish a facsimile. The B&H edition of 1899 of the Codice Lautenbuch was reprinted in 1974 in the Biblioteca Musica Bononiensis, Sezione IV No. 12, by Arno Forni in Bologna. Copies may still be purchased from OMI, and other dealers, perhaps in a later reprint. I have the 1974 reprint and I think I also saw a copy at the von Huehne table at the last BEMF. (red cover)

Since I knew that copies could not be purchased from O.M.I., I retorted:

Thank you for worrying about my business decisions. The Forni reprint, as far as I know, is permanently out of print. At least that is what I was told by Steven Immel when I ordered it from OMI. There might be a few copies still around in some dealers bins, so if you find one, do grab it. OMI did have a copy of the Forni edition of Chilesotti’s anthology (Forni Sezione IV. N. 31) and I think I bought their last copy. Comparing _it_ to my copy of the original of _that_ one, I can show that the Forni was not a facsimile of the original, but rather a bad reproduction of bad xerox copies, or an out of focus microfilm. With today’s existing technology, and with pristine copies of the originals in my possession, I can do a lot better than that. But my business decisions are not based on what other people are doing, but, as I mentioned before, on a projection of what potential market might exist. Lutenists are not a potential market for these books, because either they cannot read pitch notation, or at least prefer not to. Guitarists are not a potential market either, because much of the music is not playable on the six string guitar, and the number of people who own seven string guitars who might make good use of this book is not large enough.

And that is where the matter lay until, on Dec. 27, 2001, Greg Silverman posted this query on the RMCG newsgroup.

Am wondering if any of the pieces that Ottorino Respighi used for his 3 suites of Ancient Airs and Dances have ever been transcribed for CG, and if so, if the transcribed scores are available?

The entire thread which developed there turned into a very heated discussion with many side threads developing from it. It can be found here. One of the points of contention, again between myself and Arthur Ness, was whether it is possible to buy the Forni facsimile of Da Un Codice, or whether one would be better off obtaining it through an InterLibrary Loan, if it is not available in a local library. As I recall, (And do check the RMCG archives for precise details) Arthur was of the opinion that the facsimile, even if not in print at the moment, would surely be available in print soon. Since the Forni main US dealer did not have any such assurances, I was wondering what sort of private information Arthur had that enabled him to state what he did. Be that as it may, this entire thread finally convinced me that if my friend Greg Silverman wants a copy of Da Un Codice, I can either make him a xerox copy of my 1890 edition, or simply publish the book. I chose to publish.

It soon became apparent to me that doing a facsimile of the book, 120 pages in landscape format and a non-standard size, would be prohibitively expensive. It would have been much more economical to re-engrave the entire musical text, format it in standard music size of  9″ x 12″ in portrait, and in the process correct some obvious mistakes and generally edit the book in such a way that it would be playable by lutenists, to whom it was originally directed, and also by guitarists who play the standard 6-string guitar. At about the same time, I was asked by Chris Goodwin, the director of the English Lute Society, to review a book in Italian about Chilesotti, written by Stefano Toffolo.[2]Stefano Toffolo, Oscar Chilesotti 1848-1916 Un intelletuale veneto tra cultura e musica, Negarine S. Pietro in Cariano, Il Segno dei Gabrieli editori, 1998. ISBN 88-86043-50-3. In the process of reviewing the book, I became intimately aware of Mr. Toffolo’s superb scholarship. It was only natural then, that I would ask him to write the historical background to my edition of Da Un Codicewhich he mentioned in his book and with which he must have been familiar. He agreed and we began the work. One of the difficulties in editing the musical text was the fact that the original tablature from which Chilesotti made his transcriptions was reputed to have been destroyed in a house fire.[3]See for example: “Verzeichnis der Vershollenen oder Verbrannten handschriften…” [a catalog of lost or burned manuscripts…] In: RISM, Vol. B vii, Wolfgang Boetticher (Ed.) … Continue reading

While I was working on this project, Robert Barto posted on the LUTE-L mailing list a query about Respighi’s use of pieces from Chilesotti’s publications in composing his 3 suites of Ancient Airs and Dances. The subject seems to come up with almost predictable regularity, doesn’t it? he got a rather lengthy response on the query from Arthur Ness:

That mansucript of the Codice Lauten-Buch, by the way, was NOT burned, but survives in a private library in Italy. The owner will not permit anyone to examine it, but a lutenist was hired to play a private recital in the owner’s home and he played directly from the manuscript. It was the house next door to Chilesotti’s home in Bassano del Grappa that burned. The elderly natives were mistaken when asked about it a half century later. It was apparently a spectacular blaze, so they remembered it. Chilesotti also owned an important Weiss manuscript, as you probably know, and so it must also be around someplace, too. The Chilesotti heirs probably sold the valuable stuff, because all of Chilesotti’s own working papers and original transcriptions are in a public library in Italy (I forget where). Had his home burned, they would be missing also. But they do exist and have been studied recently.

This was not the first time Arthur posted this legend on the LUTE-L list, and definitely not the last. Every time he did, I asked him to tell us this:

  1. Who is the owner of that private library in Italy?
  2. Who was the lutenist who was invited to play directly from the manuscript?
  3. When did this event take place?
  4. Where?

I have never received a response to any of these questions. Now, when I was working on publishing this book, the existence of the original source became a pressing concern. Surely, if the manuscript does in fact exist, it would be fool hardy of me to produce a newly engraved and edited edition. Why, for all I know, as soon as I published my book, the original manuscript could surface and either show my work to be a brilliant result of clever sleuthing, or embarrass me to no end. So before committing the work to print, I inquired with Stefano Toffolo, perhaps the leading Chilesotti scholar in Italy if the story has any basis. I also asked him to contact Dinko Fabris and ask him the same question. As is well known, Mr. Fabris is a well respected Italian scholar who also did a lot of work on Chilesotti. On 10/9/2002, Toffolo sent me this response:

P:S1. I called Dinko Fabris BUT IS TOLD ME THAT HE DO NOT NOT [KNOW] ANYTHING ABOUT THE CODICE. THIS IS A FAKE. (Capitalized by Toffolo!).

That settled the question for me and I went ahead and published the book. Stefano Toffolo’s Introduction to the book clearly indicates that

The so-called Codice del Cinquecento is known to us only through Chilesotti’s transcription, since the original source, which belonged to him, has not survived.

Since the publication, Arthur Ness wasted no time nor opportunity to denounce the publication on a variety of pretexts. His barrage of innuendos about the supposed survival of the original manuscript actually increased in volume and frequency, all the while, without supplying any corroboration to the story whatsoever. Eventually, he did produce something that seemed to him as a definite proof that he was right all along. On August 23rd 2005, he posted the following:

“…The “Paul’s CD” I mentioned in response to Ed’s message on the tasteggiata and spezzata is Paul O’Dette’s CD of the original versions of the Respighi suites (Hyperion CDA66228). Of course a few pieces (8 in fact) are from Chilesotti’s Codice Lauten-Buch (NB old fashioned spelling).

This reminds me that Paul is one of those who told me that the original manuscript is in a private library in northern Italy, information others confirmed when I was in Milan for the Francesco conference. I also learned that it had most likely been sold to an Italian musicologist after Chilesotti’s demise….”

That information is also given in the notes to Paul’s CD.

Now, after so many years of fidgeting and mealy-mouthing about this story, Arthur Ness finally told us where he got the stuff from. Paul O’Dette told him about that, and that is confirmed by the inclusion of the story on the liner notes of a CD by Paul O’Dette, Hyperion CDA66228.

Armed with this newly found treasure trove, I logged on to Amazon.Com and ordered a copy of the CD, still available even though it was first produced in 1987. The liner notes indeed were authored by Paul O’Dette. The CD is a compilation of the original sources which inspired Ottorino Respighi to compose his Suites of Ancient Airs and Dances. Some of the pieces Respighi used come fromthe Da Un Codice del Cinquecento, the same anthology by Chilesotti which I published in 2002. This is what O’Dette actually said:

 This recording presents the original lute versions of the works Respighi arranged, in essentially the same order in which they appear in his suites…

For his material, Respighi drew upon transcriptions made by the Italian musicologist Oscar Chilesotti (1848-1916), published over a period of thirty years in several different volumes. (As Respighi did not indicate his sources, tracking down all of the individual pieces proved to be quite a challenge.) All of the anonymous work except Campanae Parisienses were taken from Da un Codice Lauten-Buch del Cinquecento (1890), Chilesotti’s transcription of a late sixteenth-century manuscript, formerly in his private library. This manuscript disappeared after a fire destroyed the library in the late nineteenth century. (However, recent unconfirmed reports suggest it may be in another private collection in Northern Italy.) For these performances I have reintabulated Chilesotti’s guitar transcriptions for the lute…

First of all, I need to point out that O’Dette did not present the material correctly. Assuming he had seen the actual Chilesotti book, he could not have missed the title of the publication which stated that this is a 16th century lute book in modern transcription. There is nothing in the Chilesotti book that suggest that it was transcribed for guitar, and a closer examination of the contents show that many of the pieces in the anthology cannot be played on the six-string guitar at all. The book was simply a transcription of lute music in modern notation, intended to be played on a seven-course lute. It is beyond me to understand why it was necessary for a musician on the caliber of Paul O’Dette to reintabulate the music, when it would have been just as simple to read it directly on the lute from Chilesotti’s transcriptions for lute. But I digress.

Clearly, Paul O’Dette did not say on these liner notes what Arthur Ness said he said. That was a blatant mis-representation, and unless we are presented with better corroboration, the story, as told by Arthur Ness, is simply claptrap.

Few days later, one Thomas Schaal reported on the LUTE-L list that he actually met the phantom lutenist who played from the phantom original Codice at a phantom evening given by the phantom owner at some phantom evening. Immediately Arthur Ness thanked him for providing yet another “confirmation” to the story, but when Howard Posner, one of the leading lights of the American Lute Society, asked Schaal for the name of this lutenist, he received no answer. Not publicly, anyway.

What baffles me mostly about this bewitching fairy tale is that I cannot see any possible reason for anyone to promote it. If the story is in fact correct, and can be ascertained to be so, the existence of the original Codice in private hands away from public scrutiny serves no useful purpose. Not to the general public. No one can see it, study it, and determine from it anything about Chilesotti’s attributes as a transcriber of tablature, or the nature of the music. No one can tell with any degree of certainty if my editorial work on the Da Un Codice is in fact a brilliant display of clever sleuthing, or, conversely, an embarrassment. For all practical purposes, the manuscript does not exist.

If the story is false, or simply the product of a broken telephone children’s game or the figment of a very sick imagination, it is amazing how so many grown up adults who populate the lute world, are able to suspend their general commitment to historical truth and accept what is obviously an unsupported and insupportable fib, as if it was God’s given law. But such are the vagaries of the Looth Fairy in the Lute World today.

Part I.

Copyright © 2005 by Editions Orphée, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


1 Oscar Chilesotti, Da un Codice del Cinquecento trascrizioni in notazione moderna. Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel. Pl. No. 18821. Also: Lautenspieler des XVI. Jahrhunderts: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis
des Ursprungs der moderner Tonkunst
(Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel, s.d.).
2 Stefano Toffolo, Oscar Chilesotti 1848-1916 Un intelletuale veneto tra cultura e musica, Negarine S. Pietro in Cariano, Il Segno dei Gabrieli editori, 1998. ISBN 88-86043-50-3.
3 See for example: “Verzeichnis der Vershollenen oder Verbrannten handschriften…” [a catalog of lost or burned manuscripts…] In: RISM, Vol. B vii, Wolfgang Boetticher (Ed.) Handschritlich Überlieferte Lauten- und Gitarrentabulaturen des 15. bis 18 Jahrhunderts, Beschreibender katalog von Wolfgang Boetticher.


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