Engraving - lest we forget our origins

For all of us spoiled with Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Lilypond and Musescore, let us not forget where we came from!

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Thanks Andrew- I also liked this because I studied in Würzburg in the 1980s.

The ease with which he works is breathtaking. What an amazing use of a human life, to develop this skill.

Really excellent, Andrew. Thanks for sharing

I’m certainly not “spoiled with Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Lilypond and Musescore”, in fact I don’t use any of these. And I certainly admire the skill & dedication of the engraver @ But Andrew broaches, perhaps unwittingly, the question of what engraving is or might be good for in these times. I wonder whether anybody has ever made a cost comparison or a quality comparison of: - engraving - vs. Finale {or whatever program you’re fluent in} - vs. hiring a good copyist & telling him/her how you want the copy to appear, then correcting the copy as required & scanning & publishing it via IMSPL or jackrail or whatever. If I look at the JSB manuscript that the engraver was working with, I see that it’s very clear & legible - if you excuse the outlandish clefs :wink: And it looks really quite elegant. But I’m sure there are many copyists now alive who could produce something equally clear & legible & elegant. A whole lot of music has been ‘published’ this way, lots of it for a single performance of course; but then… I’m interested to read what those who have far more experience than I do, have to say.


The engraver in the video says at 21:00-21:22 (in German) that it would take him 400-500 days to engrave a 500-page work by Haydn, whereas electronic note-setting is considerably faster… he has made the switch to electronic engraving.

Beautiful as the engraving process looks, the consistent reference to lead (Bleiplatten) makes me wonder whether he was relieved not to be working with lead shavings any more.

A few things. I have tremendous respect for traditional craftsmanship (inter alia, I live in a ‎Victorian house that I have spent much time and money restoring in period-appropriate ways). ‎But in the case of publishing — whether books or music engraving — digital offers many ‎advantages.‎

‎1) It’s true that digital engraving is much faster.‎

‎2) Corrections are most easily made digitally. It’s possible to correct errors in lead plates, but ‎tricky; and of course there is white-out for copyists. But you can produce a new, perfect PDF ‎with a few clicks after you fix the (inevitable) errors.‎

‎3) Material can easily be re-used. For instance, one can create a full score and then extract ‎parts very quickly.‎

But, as with any product, much depends on the skill of the person doing the work. Engraving ‎software will usually produce something that is acceptable by using the default settings. But one ‎can achieve excellent results by getting to know the software very well and setting things up ‎carefully and then tweaking the results in small ways. For instance, in MuseScore (which I use) I ‎sometimes adjust the length of stems a little or add a tiny bit of extra space before a grace note. ‎Most people will not notice these refinements but by taking the time to implement them one can ‎produce a product that, IMO, is as good as traditional engraving.‎

As I understand it, zinc, copper and pewter were also used. I suppose, however that lead is softer and therefore easier to work. It is only very recently that lead has been avoided as being a dangerous substance. I remember livving in houses with gas pipes that were lead and also seeing lead in windows with small panes. Not to mention that the keyboards of my double are “balanced” with lead that I cut to size!


Late thoughts.
The score is engraved into a lead sheet, proofed once or twice, then offset onto a lithographic stone for printing. This technique was invented in the 1790s and was used through the 19th century. Lead plates are soft, for easy engraving, but would not hold up for many proofs. The baroque printing methods would have involved engraving or etching copper plates, which were then directly printed.

As the son of a printer, I still have a deep appreciation for real engraving for formal social and business stationery. For music, with the software we have now it’s way overkill, especially when you consider the relatively small number of copies our type of music will sell. We need to take advantage of methods that will keep costs down without compromising readability and, of course, elegant appearance (we are not savages). I envision a day when one goes to the Bärenreiter website and downloads one of their editions into one’s iPad.

go to Henle’s website and do exactly that

From familiarity with actual 19C orchestral scores and parts, I think the use of stone was abandoned during the first half of the 19th Century.

How Telemann engraved his scores I do not actually know, but maybe it is divulged in the Grove article referred to above.

Certainly, typesetting of musical notes was still in use until 1700 (Krieger’s Claviwerubung, and into the 19th century by Vincent Novello.


The problem with modern software used for printing music is that it is expected that the same software is able to play the notes back to you as if rendered by real musicians!

Henle and other publishers are already selling e-versions of some of their editions. In the case of the Bach Cello Suites, they come with different sets of fingerings to choose from! I dont know whether Bärenreiter have got that far yet.

Of course, just like e-books, the customer is still charged a large percentage of the price of a printed copy for an e-score! I prefer to make my own in Dorico and play them on the iPad – which is where we came in…


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IMO Henle is at the head of the pack. They are very innovative with cutting edge features like multiple fingerings and edits. They have actively exploited the unique potential of online music editing and distributions.

There are several others like Schott, Sheetmusicplus (for certain items) and of course IMSLP which use more generic but universal digital distribution systems.

But Jay is right about the larger point. My group always uses legal copies, but it is a waste to be dealing with the expense and time of shipping paper copies around. In any case, many of my performers are using iPads now. It is as easy for the unscrupulous to use a Xerox as it is to print multiple copies from an online source.

I have eschewed performing certain works, beautifully edited and typeset by Barenreiter and Carus, because I didn’t think I could get them in time, to first preview, then purchase. I appreciate their concerns, but I would hope they would trust in the excellence of their editing that their product would be purchased and used legally and responsibly, at least often enough to make the illegal copying a nuisance rather than a critical issue.

In audio music, somehow we moved beyond the illegal copying of Napster and now use Spotify and Apple Music, both very profitable. I hope a similar evolution is possible here. It would dramatically decrease costs and increase responsiveness and choice. Perhaps the Henle model is a guide.

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I recently read there was an engraver in Paris that Telemann really liked, which is why he spent so much time there. The Paris Quartets were engraved there.

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I was referring to Der getreue Musikmeister, which I believe Telemann engraved himself.


Le 01/02/2022 16:07, James R McCarty via The Jackrail écrit :

I envision a day when one goes to the Bärenreiter website and
downloads one of their editions into one’s iPad.

A lot of Henle’s Bach editions are already available in digital format


But for me the real question is whether we need “Urtext” editions, or whether the freely available pdfs of older editions available from IMSLP are not adequate.

There are exceptions, but by and large, although I have most of JS Bach’s keyboard works in the Henle Edition (and the organ works in the old Novello edition), I find the old Bach Gesellschaft editions to be mostly acceptable texturally, and moreover, beautifully printed. You can download them and use them in ForScore much more cheaply than the Henle Edition versions.

Admittedly, the case for other composers is not quite so clear cut: the beautifully printed Adler edition of Froberger is agreed to have many shortcomings; but then, what would one put in its place as a real solution to its problems?

Facsimile editions of original publications are also available from IMSLP. These will also read into ForScore, and one can make one’s own pdf edition from them, correcting them as necessary, by means of Finale, Sibelius, Dorico or other typesetting programs.

Even more to the point is that within ForScore and similar programs one can make changes to the score quite easily, correcting notes and adding/subtracting fingerings.

I will leave for later consideration the question of whether the production of Urtext editions is simply a money making racket that has no effect on the audience’s understanding or appreciation of the works; but, simply on the grounds above, I do see a music publishing industry that will have an increasingly hard time justifying its existence.

All praise Signor Longo and his beautiful improvements to Scarlatti’s primitive pieces. We don’t need no steenkin’ urtext.

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I’m not sure why you see this as a problem. No one expects that the playback from software will be as good as the real thing, but it can be very helpful. I sometimes catch errors, overlooked when proofing the paper source to a printout of my MuseScore version, when I hear the work played back in MuseScore. And one can’t play multiple instruments at one time by oneself.

I hadn’t known about this, but it strikes me as a real advantage of digital scores. One can use the editor’s fingering, modify it, or turn it off completely, whichever is most useful. I usually change the editor’s fingering quite a bit, so my paper scores with editorial fingering end up kind of messy.

That’s how I got into using music software. It’s great being able to control how the score looks, add one’s own fingering, etc. But doing a good job takes time and it’s not something we should expect everyone to do.