If we want to own a facsimile of one of Wagner’s handwritten, manuscript scores, we’ve got limited options, because a great many of Wagner’s manuscripts have not survived. Their disappearance has everything to do with Wagner’s relationship with King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was the subject of yesterday’s Music History Monday post. We’ll get into the particulars of the disappearance (and likely destruction) of the manuscripts in a bit. But first, let us contemplate the nature and importance of a composer’s hand-written manuscript scores.
A “holograph” is a manuscript or document written in its composer’s or author’s hand.
There was a time when a composer’s most prized possessions were their holographs: their hand-written, autograph manuscripts: complete scores notated in pencil or ink.
(We pause to rue the passing of such hand-written manuscripts. As a new generation of composers notates their music using computer programs, the art of music calligraphy is presently going the way of hand-copied illuminated manuscripts, and thus technology will soon claim another victory over a time-honored craft. But even worse, we – as students and lovers of music – will lose an irreplaceable resource: hand-written manuscripts from which we can learn a remarkable amount about composers, their music, their personalities, and their creative processes. In the same way a graphologist – a handwriting analyst – can “read” someone’s handwriting for insights into their personality, so we can “read” a music manuscript for insights into a composer and into the piece of music itself. Absent such holographs, we will be so much the poorer when it comes to understanding a composer’s compositional process, priorities, and their personality.)
Autograph manuscripts are unique in that there is only one “final, autograph manuscript” of any given piece. In the days before photocopy machines, composers guarded their unpublished manuscripts with mother-bear ferocity, storing them in safes and vaults. In the case of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), he hauled his holographs around with him wherever he went in a huge (and we would imagine very heavy!) steamer trunk. …
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