More on Ives – Day 2
Mr. Thompson’s next question:
Tied to the former question: do you agree with the notion of making “Critical” editions of Ives’s works, after taking into account that Ives’s continued to revise them, even after printings – can we say that one version of a piece is the correct version? Here I talk about even the many insignificant revisions, that would warrant a small footnote in an urtext score, not necessarily large revision problems, like the concord and the fourth symphony.
One of the nice things about having a blog is that you get to fantasize about your own personal utopia. And in mine, it would include having a funeral for the term “critical edition,” much in the way that “def” was buried in 1997. It is not that I think that what critical editors actually do needs to be stopped; quite the opposite. Worthy editorial projects proliferate for anyone with the time, inclination, and appropriate copyright clearances to pursue them.
Let me explain: I think that too much baggage has accumulated around our notion of critical editions in the 150 years or so that people have been applying philology and other techniques to musical texts in the pursuit of a carefully reasoned score appropriate for performance. And I think that is enough time to see that the notion of a “definitive” text is, and will remain, intensely problematic not so much because the historical documents themselves are changing, but our relationship to them is. All editions are a product of their time. Some — I’m thinking in particular of the Liber Usualis — have stayed relevant through to the present day. But new editions of Bach, Mozart, and others underscore how the needs of performers change over time. Margaret Bent, for one, has explored how changing understandings of “authenticity” in performance practice have colored approaches to early music editing.
Think of the parallel of scholarship. What if someone wrote the definitive study of something for all time? It would be kind of the end of that field of study, wouldn’t it? And, I’m probably blanking, but very few studies from, say, 100 years ago, remain completely definitive. And this has a lot to do with new sources, but it also has to do with changing interpretations of sources. So I am kind of uncomfortable with the project of attempting to establish an edition that purports to forestall all future editorial work on a piece.
I’m not arguing, of course, for any kind of relativistic relationship to sources – things shouldn’t just be re-edited for the sake of doing it, and stemma and decisions shouldn’t just be thrown out because they’re not new enough for us any more. But I don’t think that editors can know the future, and, although connotatively “definitive” means one thing, denotatively it suggests that no further work will ever be necessary on a piece.
Which brings us back to Ives. A number of pieces by Ives already have been re-edited – H. Wiley Hitchcock’s monumental work on 129 Songs is probably the best example of this. I think 129 will hold us in good stead for quite some time; I’d hazard a guess that in my lifetime no one will attempt a similarly comprehensive consideration of Ives’s songs (but there I go, trying to guess the future). Yet there have already been some complaints about the edition – for example Peter Dickinson raised some interesting questions on it at the (ever recurrent in these posts) Ives Vocal Marathon. And I think questioning and pulling at the seams of an edition is totally acceptable, and does nothing to diminish Hitchcock’s accomplishment – after all, if people don’t look under the hood what is the point of having an apparatus in the first place?
So I guess my answer would be no, I don’t think there can be a definitive edition of Ives for all time. But, at least in my view, that does not make his situation particularly unusual. Also, editions of his music are still worth doing, since they are an essential means of bringing attention to a his work.
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