Transcription of handwritten manuscript: is there a support group?

• Jun 12, 2021 - 10:45

Whilst I love romantic/classical music and studied it back in the 1970s, I was an abysmally poor student at the time, much to the despair of my music professor Dr Durham and to the consternation of my father, who finally sent me back to the "old country" so I would make something of myself. So, I became a nurse.
I'm an old "matron", now, near to retirement, but music has always been a true love, and so I've sort-of taken it all back up again, even studying theory on YouTube, as you do. And being on YouTube, have discovered some amazing music, by composers of my favourite periods, like Carl Reinecke and, more recently, this brilliant Alice Mary Smith, who wrote her Symphony in C minor at the tender age of 24!

I'm currently studying this work and transcribing from a PDF of a handwritten score. IMSLP didn't have a "printed" score of the above-mentioned symphony but only a handwritten copy, so I've undertaken to bring this into Musescore. I've encountered a few potholes: for example, due to poor attention to detail I had mistakenly assigned the alto clef to the tenor trombone part and the result was... not good, until I discovered the problem and mended my ways. And I'm still not sure what to do with the Eb trumpet (trombe).

All this rambling preamble to ask: is there a interest group or support group that focuses of this sort of endeavour? I hate contaminating this forum with this sort of question (which, while sort-of related, isn't really about the Software), and would just like to avoid reinventing the wheel...

Thank you for reading, considering this question and especially for any suggestions.

Oh, and a glimpse at the first page of the score:


Hi there, though I'm not certain whether there's a support group or not I do know of a software that can scan music manuscript and turn it into an XML file that can be loaded into Musescore and be edited. It's called PhotoScore. It's a software that comes with Sibelius but I think you can purchase photoscore by itself instead of buying the whole software of SIbelius. I used it to edit one of my chamber ensembles pieces and transposed the Viola part for Cello. This method could save a lot of time and you can use it for any future manuscripts that you wish to load into musescore.

In reply to by John6979

Thank you for replying, John, and for the suggestion!

To be honest, I'm finding the exercise of transcribing this score manually quite satisfying, and I'm learning a lot about how the traditionalists - like Alice Mary Smith - assigned instruments for that sound I'm actually after in my own writings. So, to that end, I'm actually keen to find a group who, like me, find manually transcribing handwritten scores instructive and inspiring and who, along the way, may have encountered the odd challenge that one faces transcribing works like these. I'm certain there are others who do this exercise for its own rewards.

Right, I occasionally have the same problem.

Recently, I was helped greatly in two German general music fora, both in dechiffring the handwriting (yes, “Clarini” is the word I could not read) and in what that means (no, these are not Klarinetten, these are baroque high trumpets I had never heard of).

Unfortunately for many others, these are German, but if you read and possibly write some German, I can recommend them to you.

I’m not aware of a place either here or, Goddess beware, on mu͒.com where people working on transcribing old manuscripts converge. If you find one, do tell!

In reply to by mirabilos

I will indeed, Mirabilos. I'm discovering all this wonderful music but the manuscripts are a bit obscure in terms of what the instructions are: probably perfectly comprehensible at the time, but less so today. As I studied the pdf of this score, I realised that this most likely wasn't Alice's writing, but some copyist's, as this was a thing back in the day. Scores were manually copied. Wow.
Nevertheless, to find a score and transcribe it is incredibly exciting! If you happen to find Emilie Mayer's Symphony No 7 in F minor please let me know. I looked on no luck.

In reply to by robynsveil

This might be tricky. I’m finding lots on “symphony 5 in F minor” or the German term “sinfonie 5 in f-Moll”, but apparently she only wrote one in F minor (on those results that list it as Nr 7, Nr 5 is in D Major). Apparently, you can buy a full orchestral score for 89 € but that’s it, and nobody scanned and published it yet.

In reply to by robynsveil

The Berlin State Library appears to hold the bulk of Mayer's surviving manuscripts. The library has been digitizing her scores so you can search here:

The manuscript score for Symphony No.7 is described here: The manuscript parts here: Neither has been digitized yet. Both her String Quintets and several Piano Trios were recently digitized.

Actually, lots of people ask these same questions on the forum. Many want to "stay true" to the original manuscript score. I ask why? I guess it depends on what you are trying to do. If you want to have a score based on the original, great. Copy this just as it is. If, instead, you want something modern players will be able to work with, you have some choices to make.
1. Are you going to use the OE clef signs?
2. How about all the empty measures without rests?
3. I doubt any orchestral trumpet player is going to play the trumpet part on an Eb instrument. Even if he has one. So why transcribe for it. Rotary brass valves had only been introduced some 25 years before. How widespread was their use in 1861? Was this part written for a natural trumpet?
4. Same for the horn.
5. Remember, this was written 150 years ago. Instruments and playing styles are different now. For example, for violin, chin and shoulder rests and even vibrato are 20th century innovations.
And there's more.

In reply to by bobjp

Some of this “depend”.

There’s probably value in having a faithful digital edition of the original. Others can do analysēs on it or arrange it to their liking. I tend to create two copies of the score, first a digital edition of the original (which can then be used by the OpenScore project), then one I’m handing out.

There’s some things where keeping to the original has no added value, though: clefs are one example. The pitches in the file don’t change, and it’s only a formatting thing. So if it’s just clefs, I can get by with one edition. Same for other contemporary notational practices.

Transposing, on the other hand, both manual (change the pitches) and instrument-based, though, is one thing that “alters” the music, so this is not something I consider “only a formatting thing”, even if it can be changed, once digital, with a single operation within MuseScore.

I’ve halved all durations in one piece, namely, to make it easier to read. Not exactly a formatting thing, but it doesn’t change anything either. This one sits on the fence.

In reply to by bobjp

Here is an excerpt from my notes on vibrato (from web sources):

Only the "continuous use of the vibrato in vocal technique" (chant) is a documented 20th-century invention (1910).

In the Baroque era, there is an instrument (like clavichord) where you can vibrato by shaking the key.

There is also a vibrato technique for flute players in this era, which they use by shaking the flute. But its name is different: flattement.

The other string players weren't stupid either, of course, they all somehow did something to improve the sound of notes with long duration. And none of them were too stupid to make the sound flutter with a lightly shaking of a finger. More or less they did, but it was not given the common name that was widely accepted as a technique.

For example, a technique called tremulant by (Leopold) Mozart, but which is nothing but vibrato, is included in a violin education book. His son (W.A) Mozart also called this technique "Pulsing".

Of course, at that time it was not thought of as a permanent technique, but as an ornament for sustained (long) notes. The roots of this kind of practice (documented) date back to the 16th century.

There is a known rule not to sing with vibrato only in Renaissance vocal music, but it is clear that this does not mean light, natural vibrato of the adult human voice. Of course, nobody wants an exaggerated vibrato up to half a pitch. there are schools where such a practice is not tolerated.

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

And all I have to go on is time spent working in a violin shop. There I spoke with professional players some whom where trained in Europe.
But my point is that instruments and playing styles have changed since 1861.
Not only that, but we don't know what pitch this piece was written for. Could be anywhere from A=420 to 450, or wider.
As for the above PDF, how original is it? Is it a score from a performance? Is it a copy someone made for no known reason? Was this made by some student much later? For me there are, as yet, too many unknows to make we want to copy this piece verbatim.

In reply to by bobjp

Thank you for answer. I feel I'd have to have significantly more musicology background than I do to in any way remain true to the original work... I'm approaching this as a rank amateur, eyes wide with wonderment and amazement but also probably missing nuances of what I'm seeing, which is why I thought it might be worthwhile to join a group of like-minded individuals who would necessarily have significant more experience with viewing handwritten scores and who might help my understanding thereof.
As to your questions:
1. not sure what an OE clef sign is...
2. since Musescore gives you the rests anyway on a blank sheet, I wasn't going to change any of that
3. the trumpet (trombe) has the same key signature as the horn, which led me to believe - perhaps erroneously - they're both Eb instruments... however, my lack of understanding is betraying me.
"Was this part written for a natural trumpet?" - Quite likely, although I have virtually no information on this at all, just looking at the parts, which seem to just double what the horns are playing, except the horns do have a few more melodic lines (with harmony). So, I'm going to assume the horns were able to produce a greater range of notes within a scale vs the trumpets. Mind you, I'm only on page 27 of 59 of the first movement... so far, this appears to be the case. BTW, the whole "transposing" / native key vs concert key thing is extremely puzzling to this old grey head, and always has been. Been YouTubing it just to get a little clearer on the concept.

In reply to by robynsveil

Yeah, I don’t get transposing instruments either. I played with the concept (not knowing it exists!) when I first learnt the Alto Recorder, but I found out I just cannot read a C, play a C and hear an F. I can’t understand how anyone’d not use “concert pitch”.

Musicology… is tricky. I’m also learning as I go. I’m a bit lucky as I mostly deal with vocal scores anyway, so the instruments aren’t all that relevant.

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