- Dirty Manuscripts and Textual Cultures: Introduction to Textual Cultures 1.1
It is in these days of March 2006 that an extraordinary donation from Bruce Kovner, of Caxton Associates and the Chairman of the Board of The Juilliard School of Music, has been highlighted in any number of sources, from National Public Radio to internet blogs and the New York Times (March 13, 2006; see also Lisa Robinson’s article “Juilliard Receives Gift of Rare Manuscripts” in Juilliard’s online Journal: www.juilliard.edu/update/journal/j_articles818.html [5 March 2006]). Mr. Kovner’s gift of a collection of rare editions and manuscripts of musical compositions and scores is extraordinary for several reasons. In addition to containing printers’ and authors’ copies, some holograph, of composers such as Brahms, Purcell, and Mozart, Kovner’s donation is equally extraordinary for the philanthropist’s attitude toward these codices both in his mission as a collector and in his decision to offer these rarities to a school devoted mostly to performance rather than to the conservation of such singular works. In fact, the Times’ article dedicates a significant amount of space to the changes Juilliard will have to make to accommodate properly these manuscripts.
Kovner’s professed mission has been to collect “dirty manuscripts”, a term that caught my attention immediately, for it falls easily into the category that material philologists lovingly call “ugly manuscripts” (the opposite of “pretty books”): that is, those codices that tell us little about wealthy and uninterested patrons who commissioned beautiful books and a great deal, for example, about a poor but textually hungry scholar who copied and even redacted works deemed rare or important to satisfy an intellectual passion, or [End Page 1] about the multiple generations, and cultures, of readers who left stratified records of changing reading habits in the margins of a Beinecke copy of Lucan’s Civil War (MS 332). But Kovner’s expression goes one step beyond the ugly manuscript to embrace codices that—as one reviewer has put it—reveal “the creative process”, those chartae and pages with all their cross-outs, deletions, erasures, marginalia, and insertions that reveal the author’s hand in the struggle of artistic creation. Kovner’s “mission” reminds us, almost in a Romantic vein, that the genesis of artistic form is not always a pretty picture. From these few descriptions it becomes evident that Kovner collected his gifts to Juilliard seeking the same passion on the scribbled page that for others of us are Antonio Pucci’s chaotic cross-outs and additionally revised drafts in the body and the margins of the Laurentian Library’s Tempi 2.
The second and already debated factor in Mr. Kovner’s gift is not just the recipient but the actual public he hopes will utilize the materials. The Times reports that Mr. Kovner expressly wants the collection “to serve performers as well as scholars” (March 13, 2006). The remark practically echoes in the chasm between what textual scholars know to be the different textual cultures of musical and literary editing. The gesture is tantamount to the Lilly Library handing over the notebooks of Kerouac’s On the Road to professional storytellers so they can recreate the interpretative spark in the process of the writer’s struggle with invention and its registration on paper. Kovner’s desire forces us to think about the links between the artist’s historical intervention in the rarely-seen original copy of a score and its trajectory through generations of editing—the work’s representation—and its performance and interpretation, each a link to a cultural mechanism that then becomes not just part of the work’s “history of performance” but of its actual restructuring and “versioning”: Toscanini’s Die Walküre, Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower. In truth, literary editions often undergo this same retextualization thanks to “editorial performance”, which has perhaps less to do with the editor’s original intentions than the work’s fate at the hands of the textual cultures in which it circulates with literary-political implications about which so many of us know but seldom discuss as part of editorial theory or practice. Vellutello’s Petrarca (1525), known...