Thursday, July 29, 2010

John Ward And The "Infinite Variability Of Performance"

John Milton Ward "prefers to have a copy of every extant score of a work when possible, and never believes that a second copy of a published work is a duplicate until it has been compared measure for measure by measure. His conviction that publishers frequently made internal changes in scores has been validated repeatedly."

Ward, the internationally acclaimed musicologist, retired as the William Powell Mason Professor of Music at Harvard University in 1985. In the twenty-five years since then he has amassed and curated, on behalf of the Harvard Libraries, what is now recognized as one of if not the most important and vast collections of original music and dance material in the world.

John Ward and His Magnificent Collection, which has just been published in an attractively produced limited edition, is a celebratory collection of appreciative essays about, and an interview with, this very special man who, now ninety-three, continues to be robustly passionate about the collection of music and related material.

Bibliophiles strive to collect every copy of a work of literature to track textural changes. John Ward insisted on the same careful attention to variation in musical scores. The difference is that, while an author may make a few minor or major changes to their text over time, a piece of music is different every time it is performed; it can be repeated note for note but can never replicate the performer's or conductor's mental state. Music changes through time, adaptation to cultural milieu, through the interpreter. Sometimes changes to a score occur simply to make it accessible to audiences. While he would surely never allow it, the operas of Wagner are routinely truncated so that an audience can enjoy them from beginning to end within their lifetimes.
John Ward at home, October 2009. Credit: Gordon Hollis.
This phenomenon is crystallized in Ward's dictum of "the infinite variability of performance." What it meant to him on a practical level was an insistence on collecting every score and piece of material associated with it for Harvard as keys to understanding music from the past. Ward was and remains one of the foremost historians of music and the history of a musical score is, to him, amongst other things, the history of the culture from which it was born.

Hence, the performer's or conductor's scribbled notes on a score offer crucial documentation to  a musical work's evolution.

The book, a warm and delightful festschrift, opens with editor Gordon Hollis' interview with Ward and then divides into three sections that encapsulate Ward's life, contributions, and accomplishments with appreciative essays by leading scholars and members of the rare book trade who have worked with Ward over the years to assist in his quest for scores and related anything that can shed light on a musical work.

1. Interview with John Ward by Gordon Hollis.
2. John Ward as Educator, Collector and Curator

Sir Curtis Price, Origins of the King’s Theatre Collection
Joseph G. Price, An Innocent Bystander.
John and Jude Lubrano, La Chasse et Le Professeur.

Carl B. Schmidt, A Personal Recollection - John Milton Ward as Educator
Christel Wallbaum, Letter to John Ward.

3. The Collections

Andrea Cawelti, Introduction to the John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collections at Harvard University
Virginia Danielson, A Passage to India. John Ward and the Whole World of Music
Lisa Cox, A French Journey.

4. The Ward Collections at Work

Philip Gossett, Il barbiere di Siviglia and the John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collection
 at the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Morris S. Levy, From Vienna to Naples to Cambridge. The Ward Collection, Robert von Gallenberg, and Furio Camillo
Hugh MacDonald, Bizet’s La Jolie Fille de Perth in Print and in Performance
Lowell Lindgren, Handel’s Significance within The King’s Theatre Collection of John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward
Richard MacNutt, The First Editions in Vocal Score of Weber’s Der Freisch├╝tz and Euryanthe
D. W. Krummel, Lutebooks on the Loose.

While this volume is a must-have for musicologists and collectors of music, its story of a particular collector in a particular field of collection should be of keen interest to book collectors no matter what their individual area of collection. Ward's philosophy of collecting can apply to all, and the fact of his philosophy highlights the importance to collectors of anything to form their own to guide and provide an overarching context to their efforts.

John Ward and His Magnificent Collection. Edited by Gordon Hollis. Beverly Hills, CA: Golden Legend, 2010. Hardbound in cloth. 168 pp. Black and white photo-illustrations. Limited to 200 copies. $75. Exclusively distributed by Golden Legend.

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