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Week 4: Understanding orchestral scores


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This week, we're going to be looking especially at full scores. And of course, the one person in a musical environment that would usually have the full scores in front of them during a performance is the conductor, of course. So I'm here with Mark, who is a conductor, and we're going to talk a little bit about conductors and how they use the score in various different ways in their work. So I think maybe a good starting point would be to talk a little bit about what a conductor does.
I suppose the conductor is there as the overall manager and arbiter of how the performance would go. And particularly, if you're working with very high quality professional musicians with a professional orchestra, they would know how to play all the right notes in the right place by themselves. So the conductor's role, very often, is just to try to draw that together to decide how Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, for example, is going to sound that particular week, compared with when they might have done it previously with a different conductor. On a practical, more basic level, perhaps if you're working with very complicated contemporary music, or perhaps with young musicians, there's a little bit more about just starting and stopping the orchestra.
So we're showing how fast to play, how loud, how soft, at which points the music should perhaps slow down, or speed up, and we do all that through body language, through our gestures.
So I think there's an awful lot of information that a conductor communicates, using the score as a basis.
The score, I suppose, provides us with the roadmap, the guidance, the user manual, if you like. But that's the basis of which we start to interpret the music.
So in your day to day work then as a conductor, and maybe also, as a teacher of conducting, what sort of things do you do with scores?
The process begins with the conductor studying the score in as much detail and depth as he or she has time to do in that particular situation. We try to assimilate all of the information that's in the score in terms of which instruments play which music. So for example, is it just the cellos that are playing the bass line? Or are the bassoons playing the bass line along with the cellos?
So really, what we have to try to do, as you would if you were allowed to play a piece on the piano, for example, is learn how it goes so that when we're standing there in front of the orchestra, we're not reading something for the first time, because then we wouldn't be very effective. So we use the score to learn the music. We can do that in many different ways. We can sit down and crash through it on the piano, trying to play all the parts at once, seeing all the different lines, and condensing that into what might be a piano part. We can just simply read it and try to aurally hear in our head how it might sound.
Of course, with today's technology, there's a fabulous resource of audio and video recordings available.
 I think there's a huge amount of preparation that often people don't realise, as you say, just working with the score and you're learning a piece maybe for the first time. What sort of things are you looking to identify maybe on those first few reads through?
It's analysis really, and looking at what instruments are playing when, because you don't see. If you looked at a score, perhaps we could just turn open a random page here of Beethoven Five, you would see that at some points, the whole orchestra is playing. At other points, only the strings and the bassoons are playing at the top of this page, whereas down here, everybody plays. So you're looking to see who's playing when, because that may mean that you would need to give a signal to different sections as to when to start playing. You're also looking at the dynamics of the music. When is it loud? When is it quiet? At what moment does that change?
And I might make a marking in the score to flag up or sign posts, give myself a landmark as to where that should be. I'll also be looking into the structure of the phrase. How long is a particular phrase? Because when I'm standing there in front of the orchestra, waving my arms at them, I'm trying to communicate with them as much as possible. If I'm at that time spending all my time reading what's in front of me, then I'm cutting myself off from them, and my ability to communicate with them in real time is quite significantly diminished. So I'm using the scores as an aid memoir to the structure of the piece.
So in my preparation, in my analysis, I might be making a marking to say, here's an eight bar phrase, and then an eight bar phase, and then a seven bar phrase, so that I can glance down, oh, yes, it's this eight bar phrase, and the clarinets come in halfway through it. And that's maybe the two pieces of information that I'll need for the next 20 seconds. I can then glance again to pick up my next little landmark that perhaps the trombones are going to play, having rested for the last 15 minutes. And therefore, it might be a good idea to give them a cue, in case they've fallen asleep while they haven't been playing, for example.
So it's a sort of never ending process. And no matter how many times you come back to a piece that you've conducted umpteen times before, you'll always find something new in the score.
Thank you. That's been really fascinating.
Thank you.
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Up to this point you have looked at a variety of music for single instruments and for small groups of instruments. This week you will be looking at large orchestral scores, drawing on the skills you have already learned.

Large orchestral scores might seem rather daunting, but in fact you have already looked at a full orchestral score at the end of Week 1, and you’ll revisit Mahler’s first symphony again this week. There are a number of techniques that you have used when you’ve been looking at scores for piano and in music for smaller ensembles that apply equally to music for large orchestras. The principles of texture are the same, but the layout on the page will look a bit different. Keeping a beat and looking for melodic and rhythmic patterns are still important. Working with these principles will help you understand larger and longer musical scores.

You’ll remember from the Schubert quintet you studied last week that most of the players only had the notation for their particular part on the music stand – it was only the pianist that had a full score. However, it was possible, through rehearsals plus eye contact and physical gestures in the performance, for this small group of players to coordinate themselves. Together, they decided how to play certain passages of music and made sure that their individual lines were blended and balanced appropriately.

For larger ensembles, such as an orchestra (which might consist of around 30–100 or more performers), this would be much more difficult to accomplish as communication, discussion and decision making among so many people simultaneously would be challenging. This is why most orchestras have a conductor who takes this coordinating role, and is usually the only person with a full score in front of them in both rehearsals and performances. This week, you will focus on the conductor’s relationship with the score.

This week, you focus on the conductor’s relationship with the score with conductor Mark Heron, who teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music and the University of Manchester.

4.1 Score order

Figure 1

The order of instruments as they appear in the score is always the same, with woodwind instruments at the top of the page in order from high to low, then the brass. The instruments are identified, usually in Italian (as in this example), German or French. You may not be familiar with all the names of the instruments, especially the more exotic ones, but don’t worry about this, so long as you get the idea of the blocks of different types of sound.

In the example in Figure 1, the woodwind are marked in yellow and the brass are marked in green. The strings, marked in red, are at the bottom in order from high to low. Sandwiched between the brass and strings are the percussion instruments and harp. You can see how this layout relates to the way an orchestra is usually seated in Figure 2.

Figure 2

4.1.1 Staves and systems

Figure 3

A line runs down the left-hand side of all the instruments that are playing together, and the bar lines run through the staves.

Both of these signs show that these instruments are sounding simultaneously, and the whole group of staves is referred to as a system. If, on one page there is a section of music that only uses a few instruments, you may find two or more systems on the page separated by this symbol:


Watch out for these ‘tramlines’ as it is easy to miss a system especially if there is a small one between two larger ones. The example in Figure 3 is from the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

4.1.2 A conductor discusses: orchestral rehearsals

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So we've already talked, in general terms, about how conductors work with scores all the time, in whatever they're doing. But it would be good to talk a little bit, actually, about what happens in rehearsal, which is the bit that the concert going audience wouldn't usually get to see, I suppose.
Well, the rehearsal is where the real work is done, really. What the public sees in the concert is, obviously, the end result of the rehearsal process. But the rehearsals are where the conductor is able, or not, as the case may be, to put their personal imprint on the performance. So, the score is there, as I said before, as our kind of user manual to how the piece is. And we'll be referring to that constantly as we go through. So, for example, in the concert, hopefully, you start at the beginning, and get to the end without stopping. Not always the way, but 99 times out of 100, that's what happens.
And in the rehearsal, one of the things that you'll do, of course, is stop and start. So on a very simple practical level, if you stop three minutes into a 12 minute movement, you need to have a way of telling them where to start again. Because if you went back to the beginning every single time, that would be incredibly tedious, and the orchestra would kill you for it. And it would also be a very, very inefficient use of, what is normally a very finite amount of time to rehearse. So scores will have certain landmarks in them to help you do that. So, we have this thing called rehearsal marks.
So every, I don't know, 30 or 40 bars, there will be a letter, letter A, and 40 bars later, letter B. So that on a very simple level, if you stop, you can say three things to the orchestra. You should never say more than three things, because nobody listens to the fourth, fifth, or sixth. And then you can say, OK, let's go from letter C. And everybody can find where that is in their music, and off you go. So it avoids the need to go back to the beginning. And really, in rehearsing our modus operandi, our way of working, is pretty simple. We can play the music. We can play it, again. We can stop, and do it slowly.
Because that can very often give-- If the music is quite technically difficult, playing it slowly, as you would if you were practising a piece of music by yourself, playing it slowly will give everyone a chance to work out the notes, and how to fit it together with everybody else. Or we can play it with less people, so we could ask only the strings to play, or only the winds to play, or only the people with a certain line. We might ask the first violins, and the flutes to play the melody that they have together. And then they can hear, in isolation, without everything else, how that all fits together. So that's our, kind of, basic way of working.
You know, play it, play it again, play it slowly, play in bits. And gradually speaking, that process will bring it all together. There are certain very basic human body languages which most people on the planet will understand. And therefore, we try to build that into our physical techniques. So that, although we're trying to show the pattern of the music, and the number of beats in the bar, we're also showing how the music should be phrased, or shaped, or how it should be balanced, whether the-- perhaps the brass should play a little bit quieter, and the violins, a little bit longer. All those kind of things, we can rehearse while we're going.
But all of that has come from our experience of the music, and how to make the orchestra sound good. But in a very specific context, from our study of the score.
Well, I suppose it's that thing, again, isn't it, about the conductor being able to have that overview about how everybody fits together. And trying to show that, in terms of the body language, as much as possible, that coordinating role, that a conductor plays in producing an interpretation, and a performance, which is coherent.
Absolutely. We're not there to play every single note. I'm not in a rehearsal, or a concert. And I'm not reading every single note that goes by, because I have-- if one looks at a Mahler score, for example, you have something like 20 staves of music there, starting with the woodwinds at the top, and then the brass, and then the percussion, then the strings. You simply couldn't read every single note of that all at once, of course. And so you're providing this kind of managerial overview, whilst the individual musicians are playing their own lines. So, it really is quite a lot like leadership, in its finest, most ideal form.
Even a little bit of eye contact, if somebody does something exactly as you want it, you glance at them and smile. If not, you just look a little bit quizzical, or frown, perhaps. You know, the very, sort of, subtle communication can take place, even between one individual, the conductor, and up to 100 musicians, perhaps. But, yes. The more you can communicate without talking, the more efficient the process of rehearsing is.
Well, thank you. I think that's been a really interesting insight into the process of rehearsals.
Thank you.
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In this video, Mark talks about what happens in rehearsals. He talks about ‘rehearsal marks’, letters placed in the score to help a conductor to identify a particular place to the players when starting and stopping to practise particular parts of a piece.

In the Mahler score you looked at in the previous section, numbers were used for this purpose; another alternative is for every bar to be numbered. Rehearsal marks are often placed at points where something important happens, so can help you to navigate complicated full orchestral scores.

4.1.3 Coordinating movement

Figure 4

In ballet music, the conductor has a particularly important job in coordinating the music with the dancing, watching the speed of the dancers’ movements and making sure the orchestra stays in time with them.

Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker, written in 1892, tells the story of a young girl, Clara, who is given a nutcracker as a Christmas gift by her mysterious godfather Dr Drosselmeyer. She falls asleep under the Christmas tree and the toys come to life. The nutcracker becomes a prince who fights a battle with the mouse-king and his army and then takes Clara on a journey to the Land of Snow and Ice and the Land of Sweets. A series of short dances in Act II celebrate the victory of the nutcracker-prince over the mouse-king. These start with a march, followed by a series of dances to represent different sweets – sugar candy, chocolate, coffee, marzipan – some of which have ‘national’ characteristics, like the flamenco-inspired Spanish dance and the Russian Trepak. The exotic Arabian dance represents coffee.

The Arabian dance is written for a large orchestra, but only a few of the instruments are playing at any one time. Look at the score, and see if you can identify ‘landmarks’ that might help you follow it. First, check the instruments that will be playing by looking at the names at the start of each stave, then use the skills you have acquired.

If you were the conductor, what would you need to pay attention to? What marks would you make in your score to help you conduct it?

4.1.4 Synthesising sight and sound

Figure 5

Hopefully, in studying the score of the Arabian dance you looked for rests, dynamic markings, layering of textures and repeating patterns. If you were conducting a ballet, you would also need to pay careful attention to rhythm patterns and speed.

Activity 1

Different elements of the music are outlined in Figure 5. Take some coloured pencils and mark these elements up as if you were a conductor, perhaps identifying the instrument groups with colours, marking instructions for dynamics with a specific colour (blue, for example, as seen in Figure 5), and marking the most important melody and any repetitions that you see with a different colour. The instrument groups are marked in the same colours as the diagram of the orchestral layout you saw earlier. You can see the first page of the score in Figure 5.

A quick analysis of the score

Rather like the Schubert example we looked at last week, there are ‘layers’ in the score. The string parts at the bottom have lots of quick notes and the score looks quite black, but the clarinets and cor anglais are all moving together but at a slower pace.

There are a number of rests in the opening of the piece – the score looks quite ‘open’ – so expect to hear only a few instruments. You may also have noticed the dynamic marking, p.

We have looked at several melody and accompaniment textures in music by Mozart and Schubert where a slow-moving melody accompanies a variation with a lot of quick notes, or the accompaniment is formed by lots of quick notes. A similar technique is being used here. There is a slow-moving melody in the first clarinet part and the strings have a faster moving accompaniment. By bar 14, there is another layer, as the violins start playing the tune that the clarinets had, and the clarinets become another layer of accompaniment playing long slow notes. A new sound is introduced in bar 33, where the bassoons take the melody, but now the violins have rests, so the sound picture is darker with mostly low register instruments. Every now and then there is a ‘splash’ of tambourine.

The final section of this piece uses another technique that you have already come across in the Mozart variations. The melody is passed between the violins, clarinets and bassoons but in bar 69, a new melody is played by the oboe while the violins carry on playing the original tune. This new melody is a countermelody – literally a melody that plays against the melody.

4.1.5 Following the score

Now you have studied the score and marked it up, listen to the music and follow your own score. We’ve also attached our own attempt at marking up the first part of the score as a PDF. On this score, red arrows have been used to show the main melody.

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First, allow your ear to find the different sounds of low strings, clarinets, violins and bassoons in turn and, to start off with, just focus your eyes on a single line – try the clarinet that is playing the melody. Now, listen a second time and focus on following just the music of the low strings with that murmuring accompaniment. Finally, listen one more time, and see if you can bring all the lines together, allowing your eye to jump from the low string accompaniment, to the clarinet melody and then the violins and bassoons playing the melody in turn.

Conductors follow the score too, but in a rather different way to what you have been doing. They have to learn the score so they can give direction to the players before they start to produce a particular sound. In performance, the score then becomes a memory aid, but marked up just as you have done to remind them about key landmarks. However, conductors will be reading, and thinking, several bars ahead of the sounds that they are hearing.

4.2 A conductor discusses: developing a performance

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So scores contain a huge amount of musical information. So I wonder how you deal with that mass of information, as a conductor, not just notes, but everything else, as well.
The amount of information written by the composer evolved very much over time. So if we look at the classical period of music, so the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and their contemporaries, there's much less information in the score than there would be for later composers. So if we take a look here at a couple of pages of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, you'll see that you have the notes and the rhythms. And you have forte and fortissimo, and piano, but very little in the way of expression marks, which might indicate crescendo or diminuendo or words which might give an idea as to the character of the music.
Whereas if we fast-forward, from 1808 to the late 19th century, the 1880s when Mahler was writing his first symphony. By this point, composers were becoming much more willing to write-- to give more specific clues as to how they want the music to sound. Mahler himself was a conductor, really. In his lifetime known as a conductor, rather than a composer. And therefore, he was a bit of a control freak. Because being a conductor, he knew the sort of shenanigans that conductors would sometimes get up to in taking liberties over how to interpret the music. So he's much, much more detailed in his verbal instructions.
And so he was one of the first composers to use German, rather than Italian, in his scores. So I have them all translated here into English. But right at the beginning of the third movement, he writes "solemn and measured, and without dragging." He then includes little notes to the conductor throughout the piece, making sure that we know. And this is music-- this is information that's only in our score, and not in the individual parts. So he would give little instructions to the conductor to make sure that they didn't go off piste without feeling the need for the players to know that.
So he says, make sure that all parts, all the pianissimo parts, don't have any crescendo in this opening section. He would then write little instructions here for the oboe. [SPEAKING GERMAN] So slightly to the four, for the oboe part. Holding back at this point, then writing very expressively. He would also write things like don't drag, or don't rush. But that, in a way, then creates its own interpretative decision, because people think, oh, well, he says don't drag. Does that mean I should speed up? So does he just mean, don't slow down here? Because he knew that there would be a danger, perhaps, of slowing down.
Or is he giving you some kind of subliminal, subtle reference to the fact that maybe he wants it actually to move forward a little bit? So even with all that incredibly specific information, it still, in many ways, creates more questions than answers.
Yeah. I know there's a lot of work in deciding how you're going to interpret, really, every sort of mark on the page, from an individual note to an instruction that's written. I mean, how on earth do you go about sort of synthesising all that information, I suppose?
Well, there's no shortcut. It takes time, and thought, and preparation, and experience of doing it. And all this nuance in the music, whether it comes from specific markings of Mahler in his text, or whether it comes from a history of performance practise, or tradition, as in the music of Mozart and Beethoven, where there's less of that information in the text. But nevertheless, there's a great kind of historical tradition of how to do this piece. And the traditions of doing a certain transition or something. The more that you become aware of that, the more that you then just, I suppose, start to come to your own opinions. And that's the thing, in the end.
The conductor has to take the choice as to how they want the piece to go this week. And that's really what makes it different or interesting for the audience and the musicians.
Thank you very much.
My pleasure.
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In this video, Mark talks about the different types of information which can be found in a score and how conductors go about interpreting this to develop a performance.

4.2.1 Mahler - what to look out for

By now you have probably realised that you don’t have to follow every note of the music to understand what is going on in a score. The trick is to know what is important, and where to locate that activity on the page. Watching out for rests, matching the instrument sound to its position on the page, following from the end of one system of music to the next where the line that you are following may shift to a different place are all things to remember while listening and following along.

Using the skills you have learned up to now, we are going to listen to and work with a section of this movement by Mahler in more detail. You are already familiar with some of the components of this music, so as you look at the full orchestral score, don’t be daunted by all the lines. Just work up from what we have done and what is familiar and try to join it all together. Download the PDF  of the annotated score of the first part of this movement.

The first eight bars have only two lines of music – the timpani (kettledrum) and double bass. The drum sets and keeps a steady pulse while the basses introduce the Frère Jacques melody. The next ten bars introduce the round or canon in the low instruments – cellos, bassoons, tuba and the clarinet playing its very lowest notes. Remember the simple round from Week 2? This works in exactly the same way, so try to allow your eye to follow one line all the way to the end of the melody and, if you can, find another line with a different part of the melody and see if you can follow them both at the same time.

You’ll remember that rehearsal marks are often placed in scores at points where something important happens. In this case, figure 3 at bar 19 coincides with the start of a new melody played by the oboe. This is another example of a countermelody. So, here we have two layers of music operating together. One is the canon in the lower instruments and the other is the countermelody in the oboe.

4.2.2 Keeping track - Mahler Symphony No.1, third movement

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In the previous section, you should have examined and marked up the score of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Watch the video of the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, listening to the orchestra while following the score on screen.

Having watched the video of the rolling score, download the PDF  of the full unannotated score. Mark up your score as you did for the Arabian dance, using blue for dynamic markings and red for those important melodies. If you want to highlight a particular instrument, choose a different colour to pick it out. Then listen to the audio and follow your marked-up score. Remember, there may be more than one system on a page. This is exactly what happens at the beginning, so try to remember what instrument is playing the part that you are following most closely and keep an eye on where that line moves to on the page. Keep thinking about the kind of landmark that we have already discussed that can help orientate your eyes – look out for double bars, areas of rests, and changes in how the music looks that might indicate ‘layers’ of sound and so on.

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4.3 Following a motif

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Our final score is one of the best known and most loved symphonies ever written – Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

As you have worked through different scores over the last four weeks, you have encountered several important techniques used by composers in writing their music down. You have had simple melodies, music written in ‘blocks’ of sound as chords, accompaniments made up of fast-moving notes, music that is fragmented with rests and broken up between hands on the piano or different instruments in the orchestra and so on. Now you are going to put it all together. The techniques haven’t changed, but the individual way Beethoven uses them may make them look different.

You will recognise the iconic start to this symphony. Looking at the score, you will see a block of string instruments all moving together. This group of instruments presents the main motif.

Figure 6

Then we have a fragmentation of this motif, passing between instruments with lots of rests in the parts that are not playing. This is followed by another section of block chordal movement then a different fragmentation of the motif, called imitation – each line follows the previous with the same idea.

Figure 7

Finally the whole orchestra plays together in layers, with all the strings playing fast-moving notes, while the wind and brass play in chords, first in short notes and then in long sustained notes. After a brief silence, the horns play the motif on their own, to introduce a new melody played by the violins.

Figure 8

This new melody is then copied by other instruments, keeping its shape as it moves between different instruments. The other layers of sound are long sustained notes that create an accompaniment to the melody, and repetitions of the motif. If you were conducting this section, you would probably want to be aware of these different layers. This section ends with another passage that moves between chordal writing and a layered texture where one section of the orchestra is moving fast and another is playing chords at the same time.

4.3.1 A conductor discusses: interpretive approaches

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OK. So we've touched before, I think, on this matter of interpretation, you know. You've got this score, and in fact, everyone that does-- everyone that conducts Beethoven 5, will have a very similar, if not identical, set of information in front of them. But yet, we know there are huge numbers of performances, and all of them have their own character. All of them sound a little bit different. How do you make something that's so established, and so well known, sort of fresh, and new, and exciting?
Exciting for sure, one hopes. And new, I don't know. I mean, new, old, old fashioned, new. I mean there's this whole thing of the performance of the music of Beethoven's time, which through the kind of beginning of the recorded age. So I guess if we started in the 1950s when Karajan, and the Berlin Philharmoniker, and orchestras like that were in the golden age of the recorded era. They were playing music of this time, you know, through the lens of the twentieth century, in a way. There was then the historically informed performance music, otherwise known as hip, which kind of tried to recreate the way that the music would've been played in Beethoven's time.
So therefore, the sort of slightly more modern approach is, in a way, the ancient approach, rather than the old fashioned approach, which is the twentieth century approach, it that makes any sense, at all. The ways in which those different performances come out, are many and varied. There are very simple, straightforward things like how fast you choose to go. And if you look using, again, Beethoven's Fifth, as an example, one of the shortest recordings, when I had a look this morning online, the shortest times for the first movement was a performance by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with his period orchestra, using original instruments, or copies of original instruments of the day. And a relatively small size of orchestra.
Now he gets through the first moment of Beethoven 5 in six minutes, and 30 seconds. On the other hand, a Romanian conductor called Sergiu Celibidache, who would have been in a different time, 30 years ago or so, would have been conducting this music with a much larger orchestra. Perhaps double the number of string players. And he takes almost 9 and 1/2 minutes for the same music. So that's a difference,-- getting on for 50 per cent difference. So those very basic choices about how fast you want to go have a tremendous effect.
And I guess that's before we even get to the sound of the orchestra. Which, obviously, if you're using instruments from Beethoven's day, it's going to sound very different than if you're using modern instruments. And the number of players is going to make a huge difference.
The factors are the number of players, the kind of instruments, the hall that you're in has a tremendous effect. If you're in a very, very resonant acoustic, you might have to take a slightly slower tempo than you would do in a drier acoustic, because the detail might just be a little bit lost. Every orchestra will have its own history of playing a certain piece. The string players would, perhaps, use different bowings than they would do. They would be changing from ups to downs at different times, from what a different orchestra might do. And that would all affect the performance.
And that's really why you can attend as many live performances of Beethoven Five as you like, and every one would be different. And every one would appeal to different people in different ways, I suppose.
And that's a little bit the same, to come back to the conductor's role in that, of our sort of overview of the whole process. And what an orchestra wants is a vision from a conductor. You have 80, 90, 100 incredibly talented, professional, opinionated people in front of you. You know, there's absolutely no way that everyone is going to agree with every decision you take. But as long as there's a decision, they'll go with you. And some of them might really like it, some of them might be a little bit ambivalent about it, and some of them might actually, actively dislike some of your decisions. But if you're there taking those decisions, then there is a unity to the performance.
And they will go with that. And the next time they do that same piece with a different conductor, two years down the line, it'll be different. And the decisions will be different, the performance will be different.
So I think it's just really, really, worth thinking about, isn't it?
That everyone has essentially worked from that same text, but the music itself-- .
It's a starting point. And if it was absolutely possible to express everything about the music on the printed page, nobody would ever need to perform it. So it's, in the same way as for a theatre show. The same way as they have the words written out on the page, and that's how they learn the words, that's only the starting point. They then go off and interpret how to do that, and how the different characters interact with each other. And who stands at the front of the stage. And who speaks a little bit louder at certain points.
Those are, then, the decisions that are taken in the preparation for the performance. And it's really very much the same approach with a rehearsal process towards any piece of orchestral, or ensemble, music.
That's great. Thank you very much, Mark.
Thank you.
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In this video, Mark talks about some of the different ways in which conductors have approached performing established classical works such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Having watched the video, download the PDF score. Look through and mark it up as before, then follow it as you listen to the audio below. This music is quick and keeping up as you follow the score is not always easy. Try to tap the beat as you go, and don’t allow your eyes to wander back to music you have already heard as this will leave you behind the pace of the music.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: beethovensymphonyno5cminor.mp3
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4.3.2 Double bar

You may have realised while watching the video footage about conducting that the score is only a representation of the music, and not the music itself. In jazz, the score is often only a starting point for performers.

However, scores of some kind are often the basis from which performers work. Looking at scores can help our understanding of the way composers of the distant past worked, and enable composers of today to transfer their musical ideas into a sounding reality. Those spine-tingling, toe-tapping musical experiences that we all have had, often start from a score.

If you want to study more musical scores, your local library may have a music section that includes scores. Some libraries may have both scores and recordings. There are also digital libraries of musical scores such as IMSLP and many archives are now putting famous composers’ handwritten scores online for everyone to study. You may particularly enjoy the Beethoven digital archive where you can see documents and manuscripts relating to the Fifth Symphony that you have studied briefly here.

4.4 Week 4 quiz

This quiz allows you to test and apply your knowledge of the course.

Complete the Week 4 quiz  now.

Open the quiz in a new window or tab then come back here when you are done.

4.5 End-of-course round-up

Figure 9

Over the last four weeks, you have learned about a variety of things that musical scores do and how musicians work with them. You have learned:

  • how single line melodies are constructed
  • how pianists read two lines of music and interpret what each hand needs to do
  • how musicians work together with scores, first as small groups of players and then with a full orchestra.

Each musician you’ve heard from throughout the course gave insights into what the musical score means to them and how it shapes their work. Of course, we have not touched on how composers use scores, or how popular musicians don’t necessarily use scores at all, but use modern technology to create and record their music. Hopefully, you have been inspired to look for more scores and to listen to music in a different way.

Now you’ve completed the course we would again appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us a bit about your experience of studying it and what you plan to do next. We will use this information to provide better online experiences for all our learners and to share our findings with others. If you’d like to help, please fill in this optional survey.


This free course was written by Catherine Tackley and Naomi Barker.

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated (see terms and conditions), this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary and used under licence (not subject to Creative Commons Licence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this free course:


Figure 4: © Education Images/Getty Images

Figure 9: © Calaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images.

Audio visual

4.1.5 Following the score audio: © Nonesuch

4.2.2 Keeping track - Mahler Symphony No. 1, third movement audio: © Warner Classics - Parlophone

4.2.2 Keeping track - Mahler Symphony No. 1, third movement video: © BBC

4.3 Following a motif video: © BBC

4.3.1 A conductor discusses: interpretive approaches audio: © Warner Classics - Parlophone

Other audio/video: © The Open University and its licensors

Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners. If any have been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

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