The Composer as Engraver

Engraving is a production step that went from the individual to the pros and is now creeping back to the responsibility of the composer.

Early-music composers had quite possibly the most difficult job: engrave each piece AND develop a system with which to notate. It wasn’t until around at least 800 that music began to be notated in any systematic way and it was a long time (about another 800 years) before the modern system became fairly well developed.

Around 1500, shortly after Gutenberg developed a movable type printing system, music engraving became the job of professionals. Notation was more or less becoming standardized and composers were more easily able to produce multiple copies of a piece of music by handing it over to an engraver.

We are now seeing this responsibility swing back to the composers. It often can be too complicated to work with publishers of contemporary music as the market is not that large. Many composers have turned towards self-publishing (I’ve recently learned of Mark Phillips’ Coolville Music and it’s hard to not recognize the success of Stephen Paulus’ Paulus Publications.)

This means that composers must learn to tame the engraving software programs such as Finale or Sibelius to make quality, aesthetically pleasing scores. Daniel Wolf, on Renewable Music writes:

Even more unsolicited advice to young composers: if you use a computer engraving program, don’t use the default text fonts.

What seems like a small thing of which to take notice may be a great first step toward great engravings. This makes me think of the parsley placed on each plate at Denny’s—I have heard that it is a reminder for the employees to consider the personal touch necessary for each and every guest. Similarly, composers must take into consideration each and every part or score that performers will eventually need to navigate. A clearer, more beautiful score will inevitably mean a better first reading and, perhaps, a better ultimate performance.

Composers, the ball is back in our court!

By the way, my font of choice is Georgia.

1 Reader Comment

  1. Daniel Wolf

    Thanks for the mention. Georgia is very nice; too bad that it’s only a screen font.

Leave a Comment