Triumph of TranscriptionGAMBIER, Ohio (June 23, 2005) In an age when anyone can dial up Mozart on an iPod, it may be hard to appreciate the creative scholarship that produces modern musical scores, and ultimately performances, from the handwritten manuscripts of a bygone era. Timothy Chenette, a music major who graduated last month from Kenyon, appreciates that labor all too well.
For his honors project, Chenette brought to life a cantata by the 18th-century composer Georg Benda, a contemporary of C.P.E. Bach and an influence on Mozart. And "brought to life" means that Chenette did it all: immersing himself in the intricacies of interpretation and editing, he produced a working score from the handwritten original, then recruited a small chorus and orchestra to give a performance.
"It was a huge task, and there were times when I was in way over my head," recalls Chenette, who credits music professors Reginald Sanders and Benjamin Locke with guiding him through the project. The idea began with Sanders, a scholar of C.P.E. Bach who had, on microfilm, unpublished manuscripts of some of Benda's cantatas, liturgical works that are like short, unstaged operas. Chenette spent the summer of 2004 transcribing two cantatas, using musical notation software.
Then, at Sanders's suggestion, he decided to arrange a full performance of one of the works. That meant he had to create a "practical" score, which required a multitude of creative decisions. For example, "Baroque music generally includes a part for basso continuo," Chenette explains, "played by both single-line bass instruments and an instrument that could play implied chords above it. Since modern organists don't improvise these chords on the fly, I wrote out some possible interpretations of the part."
The piece was performed this spring by an eight-member chorus, all students, and a chamber orchestra of ten students and two faculty members. "It was truly neat," says Chenette, "to put together the first printed edition of the music and hear the first performance in over 200 years."
The project was enormously useful to Sanders, who hopes to publish an entire annual cycle of Benda cantatas, one for each Sunday of the liturgical year. As for Chenette, the experience will stand him in good stead as he pursues graduate work in music theory at the prestigious Indiana University School of Music.