The Pleasures of Score Reading

Score Review

Sonata No. 6, for Clarinet and Piano: John Russo, composer

The Pleasures of Score Reading

There was a time when it was quite easy for a composer of classical (or popular) music to have a score published. Publishing houses were legion, as sheet music was the best–and sometimes only–way for most people to hear a piece of music. As sheet music was widely produced and distributed, the published scores were often quite beautiful. Having a piece recorded, on the other hand, was a much-sought after and rare event. Today of course the situation is reversed. Not only is it quite easy to have a commercial recording done on one of the vast variety of labels available, but self-published recordings are easy to produce and market. And, although scores are also easy to self-publish, landing a publishing contract with one of the few remaining houses has become quite difficult. And, because score publishing is becoming rarer, the end product often looks flimsy or even photocopied (ironically, self-published scores are usually more attractive, but harder to market).

Artists Music Publications ( publish only a small amount of music, in accordance with the low demand of the times. However, their standards of score reproduction match those of the best of the older American publishing houses. This is a fine reminder to me of times I used to spend browsing sheet music, enjoying the quality of the engraving. And in the case of Russo’s Clarinet Sonata No. 6 (the recording is reviewed elsewhere in this issue) I particularly enjoy the marked visual contrasts between the diatonic and chromatic modes. The diatonic mode of the opening of the second movement is almost devoid of the density of chromatic markings, and consists mainly of large intervals which project an open feeling, reflecting the pastoral nature of the music; whereas the chromatic parts have a denser look and feel because of the numerous notes and smaller intervals, accidentals and other markings. The clarinet part in particular has been carefully sized and formatted for ease of reading, as music stands can be difficult places to mount a score. Of course this problem is already being taken care of by computer hardware that can beautifully display (and turn the pages) of any score; but until that functionality is in widespread use, engraved plates like these will still be the visual ideal. Notation has been thoroughly and carefully optimized for clarinet fingering. The piano part (like the clarinet part) is printed on quality paper tough enough to take folding back, earmarking, etc.

As I sit writing this I am waiting to take my terminally ill cat, Persephone, to the vet for the last time. I think of those things that brought me into music, that made it a force strong enough for me to give up certain securities in its pursuit. The original Durand edition of Debussy’s piano work Images II, written on three staves and published in a large folio edition—I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a new copy in 1976, as I was finding my way towards the music that defined me as a musician. Music never sounded nor looked so expansive. It is good to see a reminder of the visual expressiveness music can have in the editions of Artists Music Publications.

Gregory Hall   

Reprinted by permission of CRS Inc.  (  Inquiries about recordings/concerts/master classes may be directed to the CRS web page.

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