Wednesday, September 28th, 2011...4:44 pm
Voice parts still speak to us
John Milton Ward, William Powell Mason Professor of Music emeritus at Harvard University, recently donated to Houghton a large collection of full opera scores, primarily of French origin. While cataloging a printed score of Rodolphe Kreutzer’s Jadis et aujourd’hui, I discovered nestled within a manuscript vocal score of the Finale, and a manuscript libretto for the role of Monsieur de Coq.
No identification is given as to the singers/former owners of these manuscripts, nor their dates.
Copies of this kind created for the convenience of the singers rarely survive, particularly with annotations of the performers. By comparing the printed score
to the manuscript vocal score,
I notice several things. The annotations on this score are to the role of François, a tenor. He’s taken a measure down the octave: for ensemble balance, or because at the end of the opera, he’s just tired? Notice the difference in clefs: the printed score of ca. 1808 uses the original clefs, while the ms. vocal score uses the modern G clef for all parts but the bass. Would this help me date the ms. vocal score? Probably not. While the G clef began to replace clefs for all voices but the bass (and baritone, who migrated down to the bass clef) around 1750, use of the soprano, mezzo, alto, tenor, and baritone clefs continued in both printed and ms. scores well into the 19th century. It’s possible that the ms. vocal score was generated at the same time as the printed score.
And what about this libretto? In examining a page which includes the text of the same ensemble from the Finale,
I note how the copyist indicated the ensemble on the lower left as separate from the spoken text. And there’s no question whose part this is! Monsieur de Coq, or D.C., is quite clearly marked. A comprimario, or supporting role, this layout reminded me of the Nurse’s line from the film of Shakespeare in Love, when asked the plot of Romeo and Juliet: “See, there’s this nurse…” The pencil annotations clarify his character’s intentions (and the use of pencil in both mss. may date the annotations themselves at least, to somewhat later than 1808). A very different layout on the page than the printed score,
which presents the dialogue in a more standard way. All around, an intriguing pair of windows onto performance practice in the 19th century opera world.