Wednesday, May 1st, 2013...1:23 pm

The birth of a score

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Researching the publication history of music scores can be a difficult venture. Materials documenting the business end of contracting, engraving or lithographing, proof-reading, and finally printing an edition are often lost to history, but occasionally, a shining gem of documentation will appear out of nowhere. Recently, I had the good fortune to dine with Michael Scott Cuthbert, Associate Professor of Music at MIT. During the course of the meal, he mentioned that he’d once noticed a proof copy of the full score of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots here at Houghton. Readers of this blog will remember my fascination with Henri IV, and as I’d also just cataloged a copy of the first edition full score of Les Huguenots in the Ward Collection, I returned to work the next day determined to find this rare creature. It didn’t take long—and was I ever surprised when I opened the cover!

Meyerbeer, Les Huguenots, *Mus.M5752H.1836 second caption

The proof score has two separate first pages of music. The page whose paper matches the body of the score (above) while bound second in the score, is clearly the first iteration of the proof. The corrections indicated in the 2nd clarinet part, and the “s” to be added to “2 Trompettes à piston…” as well as the manuscript note at the head of the page are all realized in the proof (below) which is bound first in the score.

Meyerbeer, Les Huguenots *Mus.M5752H.1836 First caption

On this iteration of the proof we see many other corrections apparently in the hand of Meyerbeer himself, which are then realized in the first edition (below). But most interestingly, we find a note from that rarest of beings, a music proof-reader! Monsieur Lard worked for the publisher Maurice Schlesinger, and in Meyerbeer’s case some documentation of their collaboration exists in the form of correspondence, as well as in Meyerbeer’s diaries. This extraordinary score provides us with the opportunity to see some of the details which go into the creation of a published score (see below). As well as copious annotations throughout the score, bound-in at the beginning of the score are also four pages of Meyerbeer’s manuscript additions, mostly concerning a table of contents.

Meyerbeer Les Huguenots M1500.M61 H8 1836 Caption

This is the first page of music in the first edition of Les Huguenots, from a score donated to Houghton by John M. Ward. The corrections raised in the image above have been made, even the change in the middle of the page from the French word “parole” to the word “mot,” which had stuck particularly in Professor Cuthbert’s mind from his discovery of the score. In comparing it to the two above, we can see the progress through the course of proof-reading, as well as a glimpse into the business world of music publishing. I’m grateful to the professor for having pointed this wonderful score out to me!

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]


  • Sharon McKinley
    May 17th, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    Great post, Andrea! Not only is the score unique (not to mention very cool!), but i love reading about the business of publishing, and the way it demonstrates the proof-reading process is enlightening.

  • So glad you enjoyed the post Sharon. We have some interesting resources available in the John M. Ward Collection concerning music publication, including the Albi Rosenthal collection of letters between composers and music publishers, 1704-1966, among others. Ward was interested in the relationship between composer and publisher, as well as the business of music publication in general, throughout his collecting career. We are currently processing a catch-all collection which includes contracts and music publishing-related correspondence. Stay tuned for more details!

  • […] I was dealing with a gem. Regular readers of this blog will remember my excitement at discovering a proof score of Les Huguenots in a different context. Music proofs provide a glimpse of printing history which is only now being […]