Sunday, June 2, 2019

Was du jetzt an Schaudern überwindest

With the completion of the formatting of all the individual instrumental parts, it's time to dive in to the final formatting of the full orchestral score. In anticipation of which, here's another little sneakypeek.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ja ja... noch eine kurze Vorschau

Just to ensure all this project's multitudes of fans that I'm still alive and that the project is actually nearing completion, and in lieu of the next bloviatory post with my thoughts on the opera, here's another sneaky peek at the progress, from Klytämnestra’s entrance with her entourage. (As always, remember these are not final formatted and remain in rough form.)

Sunday, January 21, 2018


With the completion of full score proofreading last weekend (despite the addictive distraction of Amazon Prime's free streaming of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"), work on the individual instrumental parts begins. In recognition of which, here's a sneaky peek of Klytämnestra's entrance.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Eine kurze Vorschau (3)

Another sneaky peek. If I can get someone at Google to explain to me how to make the pictures zoomable... In the meantime, here's hoping your holiday season offers you the opportunity to "jauchz, und Ihres Lebens freuen."

Sunday, November 5, 2017

He, Lichter! Lichter!

Heavy work on the proofreading of the edition gets under way... in three different countries! No, I haven't any idea how that's going to work out or coordinate, but as my original post on this project points out, this is probably an act of insanity. And it seemed appropriate - lacking actual torches or an ancient Greek palace courtyard - to do it under the influence of candlelight. And the wine is Greek! See you on the other side.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


As proofreading on the full score commences (in Australia! a multi-national effort!), I'm offering up another little morsel of the score: the middle of Elektra's entrance monologue, "Allein! Weh, ganz allein!"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

CHOICE CUTS Part One: The issue of traditional abridgements in Elektra

Typically I provide complete, unabridged editions of the works I’m asked to reduce, leaving it up to the individual performing organization to make any cuts or other alterations at their discretion. But in preparing for a first performance of this reduced-orchestra version of Elektra, and with a mountain of note entry, proofreading, corrections, and the creation of individual instrumental parts and a final score, the challenge of tackling this complex and note-heavy score unabridged raises its head.

As a composer myself, and a great admirer of Strauss and especially Elektra, the question arises whether it’s ethical to issue this edition in anything other than unabridged form. This post will therefore examine the issue of cuts in opera generally, and in particular Strauss’ stage works, and the impact on this edition.

The view of a single work of “classical” music, operatic or otherwise, to be respected as a unified whole is a relatively new ideology (mid-19th century). For centuries, concerts were patchwork affairs: movements of symphonies broken up with a potpourri of interspersed arias, sonatas, solo turns, etc.  

This same holds true for opera, which from its inception possessed an inherent malleability necessitated by individual performance situations. The earliest operas, dating from an era when musical notation and printing were still evolving, existed either in vague manuscript editions or not at all: therefore there was rarely a standardized text to work with. As the genre expanded out of the sheltered exclusivity of courtly performances, the demands of the general public affected how and in what form a work was performed.

Also the idea of a standardized, respected operatic score was an unknown: it was taken for granted that a work would be molded and altered to suit the tastes of the local audience, particularly to showcase the talents of the singers who thought nothing of interpolating arias or songs by other composers with which they'd had previous success. This practice continued well into the 19th century: there’s the old chestnut of Rossini, when asked his opinion of a performance of one of his opera that involved several interpolations, responding “Charming: who wrote it?”

Apocryphal though it may be, it's symptomatic of the almost universal ideology amongst empresarios, conductors and singers that opera scores were not to be taken literally, but as a foundation which they should alter, add to or - more frequently - abridge as their tastes dictated. And in due fairness, most composers accepted such thinking as a fait accomplit (Gluck being a rare exception due to the inherent unity of his style). Not until Berlioz do you find a prominent voice protesting such liberties and advocating for works to be performed unaltered (though it should be pointed out that Berlioz himself capitulated to this ideology more often than not, authoring “adaptations” of von Weber and Mozart as well as seeing his own works truncated).

This ideology of altering operas continued even with the development away from the prevalent number/recitative structure towards the symphonically based through-composed forms epitomized by Wagner. Wagner himself, despite his insistence that his works were statements of imperative cultural and philosophical significance, accepted - albeit grudgingly - that they would face cuts when performed under the direction of someone other than himself, which turned out to be very much the case. In the 1890’s, when Mahler at the start of his tenure as principal conductor of the Vienna Court Opera insisted that he would perform Wagner’s operas complete, outcry arose in both the public and press against what was regarded as an impractical and onerous practice.

Strauss therefore entered the arena of operatic composition with two conflicting ideologies: the increasingly prevalent (especially in Germany) view of an opera score as a text to be respected, and the centuries-long tradition of operas being tailored and abridged to suit their individual performing circumstances. Given Strauss’ evolving into the operatic genre from his history of symphonic orchestral works, and his conception of opera as a symphonic architectonic structure both defined by and influencing the text, it’s no surprise that he took exception to the idea of cuts in his operas.  "Don’t ask me to authorise a cut," he reportedly told conductor Karl Böhm.  "If I had wanted to approve it, I would never have composed it."  (I have yet to find a verifiable attribution for this quote.)

Then there's the question of whether actually Elektra works unabridged?

Ask just about any vocal coach acquainted with Elektra  - or any singer contemplating the title role - and you will likely be told that singing the title role unabridged on stage is impossible. Even with the traditional cuts, which I will explore in one of my next posts, Elektra is widely considered the most taxing role in the dramatic soprano repertoire, both in terms of length, vocal demands across a range equaling Brünnhilde, and combatting the huge orchestra discussed in previous posts. This along with questions of dramatic structural pacing is one of the reasons frequently cited for said cuts.

Certainly the opera in its early days must have been performed unabridged, and its earliest performers - most notably Annie Krull, the role’s originator - were obviously able to tackle it, though how successfully isn’t recorded.  (Reviews of the premiere of this now legendarily complex work focussed considerably more on the opera’s score than on the performers.)

Putting aside the extraordinary vocal demands, I fall into the camp of Elektra fans who view its unabridged form skeptically. In at least two instances, Strauss miscalculates the effect of text scope in this otherwise magnificently conceived and paced masterpiece.  I’ll explore these case by case in my next post.