A few days ago, "Behind Bars", the new book by Elaine Gould, arrived in the post. Have I ever been so happy for a book to arrive? Probably not. Have I had a spring in my step ever since? Possibly. Have I taken it to bed to read most nights? Unashamedly yes! Did my heart warm when I read a few lines of the index? Indeed. Is my excitement justified? Absolutely.
"... an extraordinary achievement... I would pray that it becomes a kind of Holy Writ for notation in the coming century..." - Sir Simon Rattle
It is subtitled as the definitive guide to music notation and is already regarded as the most comprehensive authority on the subject. The brochure (see PDF link below) sets the scene well:
"Behind Bars is the indispensable reference book for composers, arrangers, teachers and students of composition, editors, and music processors. In the most thorough and painstakingly researched book to be published since the 1980s ... it has never been more important for musicians to have ready access to principles of best practice in this dynamic field, and this timely book will support the endeavours of software users and devotees of hand-copying alike ... Supported by 1,500 music examples of published scores from Bach to Xenakis, this seminal and all-encompassing guide encourages new standards of excellence and accuracy."
It has been thirty years since the last major book on music notation. Practices have changed hugely since then and so the need for such a book is well overdue. Elaine talks about the development of the book, which started in 1990, in this great interview on the Sibelius Blog.
The book is divided in to three sections 1) general conventions, 2) idiomatic notation, and 3) layout and presentation. My favourite parts are probably some of the insights in the idiomatic writing sections, such as writing for the classical guitar. Also, the sections on notating electroacoustic music and on freedom and choice - cadenzas, ad lib. passages, independent repetition and so on - as until now there has been no authority on these areas. The cross-referencing is super effective and seamlessly done, and because it is so concise I know it will be the go-to book for everything I do for many years to come.
"With the explosion of music publishing software in recent years, the need for authoritative guides on music notation has never been more pressing. ... Elaine Gould's book is bound to be a hallmark of best notation practice. I fully imagine it will become the bible of music creators everywhere." - Matthew Hindson (Australia)
When typesetting and preparing music there are hundreds, often thousands, of decisions that are made. Taking time to think about each one and not having a definitive answer from today's music prep standards can be very time consuming. The confidence that each of the 704 pages will provide is priceless.
"We have all been eagerly awaiting Elaine's monumental study. Those who have had as many years of her editorial guidance as I have will concur that she is clearly the one person with the requisite breadth and length of experience to render a balanced and penetrating view of the chaotic world of notation as it currently exists." - Jonathan Harvey (UK)