Dorico and The Rite of Spring

Opinion

Download the Dorico files to The Rite of Spring

Part One: A Kiss of the Earth
Part Two: The Exalted Sacrifice

Why copy old scores?

I like stories of composers copying out others’ scores by hand. Bach would walk miles just so he could hand-copy scores by contemporaries such as Handel. Beethoven copied scores by his teacher Haydn; Wagner copied the score to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Now, even though copying scores by hand is becoming a lost art, I’ve learned that engraving them with the computer has some surprising benefits.

I never tried engraving old scores until I started using Dorico in late 2016, after using Finale and Sibelius for years. Dorico’s elegant interface and beautiful output inspired me to try copying Beethoven sonatas and Bach preludes. Of course, I mainly wrote my own compositions, including the short piano piece Green Trees Are Bending, one of Dorico’s example scores. These other scores provided good examples for courses I teach at the University of Illinois, and they also helped me learn Dorico a little better (also helpful were Dorico versions of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Ligeti etudes, posted to the Dorico forum).

But I was never tempted to copy a large ensemble piece. Besides the time commitment (basically, a ton of data entry), large ensemble scores sounded terrible on MIDI, as I well knew from my own work. Although I’ve composed electronic music, I’ve never used big sample libraries; my experience with score playback has always been limited to built-in sounds.

In some ways, this limitation is a good thing. Many composers, especially those of us brought up before the advent of notation software in the late 1980s, look on MIDI playback with suspicion. It can be a treacherous crutch: not only is it fake, it can also give a mistaken impression of ensemble balance and dynamics; even of what’s humanly possible to perform. If you’re a good musician, the story goes, you should be able to hear a score in your head just by looking at it.

MIDI playback also plays an important role in the question of writing by hand vs. writing at the computer. There is a sentiment that “real composers” write by hand. As Barack Obama writes in his introduction to A Promised Land, “I still like writing things out in longhand, finding that a computer gives even my roughest drafts too smooth a gloss and lends half-baked thoughts the mask of tidiness.”

I sketch with pencil and paper, either in a small notebook or on big paper from Archives. But more and more, especially with Dorico’s rhythmic flexibility and elegant, transparent user interface, I find the computer to be an intuitive composing tool.

NotePerformer for orchestra

NotePerformer, which I began using in 2018, changed my mind about large ensembles and MIDI. Right away, I was amazed by its sound: after years of listening to bad MIDI realizations, this was a real leap forward. And unlike sample libraries, it just works: no need to dig deep into expression maps and other esoteric settings. Try the demo if you haven’t already.

For composing, a tool like NotePerformer can be a double-edged sword. Like Obama’s thoughts on writing, if your musical sketch sounds too “good”, it can make you lazy, not searching hard enough for the best possible solution to the problems of composition. I use it constantly, even though I worry about it sometimes. Am I too dependent on it? Are my ears getting worse? Is my harmony, my orchestration getting less imaginative?

More serious are the limitations built into the design of any tool. I believe Morton Feldman once said that the history of Western music depends, much more than we realize, on the tools we use to create it: pen and pencil, just as much as its instruments. If NotePeformer doesn’t have a certain extended technique, will you find yourself avoiding it? If it’s particularly fiddly to create a certain glyph, or layout, or rhythm in Dorico (for instance, rhythms that require Force Duration), will you write music that avoids those? Anyone composing with the computer needs to keep questions like these at the front of their mind.

But there are huge advantages to a tool like NotePerformer, especially for orchestral works. You can start playback from anywhere, which is much more efficient than trying to find a spot in the middle of a long recording. It’s an updated version of playing through an orchestra score at the piano: it doesn’t sound as good as the real thing, but it gets the point across (and of course, playing orchestra scores at the piano requires special skills). You can even select individual groups or instruments, if you want to highlight, for instance, the oboe and viola writing. Even through MIDI, NotePerformer works surprisingly well at this. Sometimes the tradeoff in sound (real vs. MIDI) isn’t worth it; sometimes it is. I’ve found that you can use both in the classroom, even over Zoom.

As a way to kick the tires of both Dorico and NotePerformer, and also for teaching, I engraved the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, inspired by one of John Barron’s Discover Dorico videos. I was able to reproduce the published score quite closely by working with Dorico’s global settings (more on this later). More recently I’ve engraved scores as a way to study them, especially microtonal works like Ben Johnston’s String Quartet no. 7, or Nancarrow’s polyrhythmic Piano Studies. I’ve also been drawn to big works with unique formal challenges, like the first movements of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements.

The first page of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, in Dorico

 

The first page of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, from the 1885 Breitkopf and Härtel edition from imslp.org

Engraving The Rite of Spring

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has long been one of my favorite pieces. It was the very first orchestra score I owned, a 16th birthday present from my parents. At the start of the pandemic lockdown, already addicted to copying my favorite pieces, I was looking for new scores to engrave. Over Zoom beers, my composer friend Dmitri Tymoczko suggested The Rite of Spring — he could use the MusicXML to do “big data” music analysis (a new area of music theory research).

At first I thought it was too big; it would take forever. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. Copying scores is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, or knitting. It’s an absorbing hobby that lets you do other things at the same time, like listening to podcasts or audiobooks. It’s relaxing (but watch out for wrist and hand stress, which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, just like playing too many video games). Once you finish, the result can be like finishing a jigsaw puzzle: what previously obsessed you is now forgotten, and you just go on to the next thing.

But I haven’t set aside the Rite after engraving it. I keep coming back to fix mistakes, and to keep learning more about the piece. Engraving is intensive score study. I know the The Rite of Spring, and other pieces I’ve copied, much better than I did before. You can even practice conducting along with MIDI playback — for the final Sacrificial Dance, this can be really useful.

There are many small details I had never noticed before. For instance, the famous opening bassoon solo has no dynamic marking. Also, the intricate string writing (a good example is the descending viola scales at rehearsal 29 in “Augurs of Spring — Dances of the Young Girls”); the often-surprising lack of percussion (the first percussion entrance is the timpani and bass drum, one bar before rehearsal 22); or the amazing clarinet scales and arpeggios at rehearsal 46 in the Ritual of Abduction, which I never noticed because of the trumpet fanfares (doubled with flute, alto flute and piccolo). There’s lots more; for now I’ll mention a rhyme of exotic instrumentation: tenor tubas in the first part, balanced by bass trumpet in the second part.

The opening bassoon solo has no dynamic! I’ve put in some invisible tempo markings (shown here in light blue) to allow for fermata playback, which is not yet supported.
The descending viola scales at rehearsal 29 are difficult to hear in most recordings. Also, Violin 1 is foreshadowing the next section, “Spring Rounds”.
In the “Ritual of Abduction” I had never noticed this fanfare’s ingenious clarinet writing. Selecting the clarinets for playback is a new way to appreciate Stravinsky’s orchestration.

I’ve also gained even more appreciation for the engraver’s — and software designer’s — art. There are so many problems on each page of a complex score like the Rite. Dynamics need to be squeezed in, staff size has to shrink or expand to fit on the page, etc. etc. And in today’s world of instant access to anything via the internet, taking the time to laboriously copy a score, even if not by hand, instills a different, more profound kind of appreciation, both for the music and for the engraver’s art. Doing it yourself is more valuable than using a score engraved by someone else. After all, it’s more fun to put together a jigsaw puzzle than to look at one already complete.

But once a score is in the computer, it opens up possibilities: MIDI playback, making parts, arrangements, analysis, etc. I gladly use MusicXML scores engraved by others. There is a huge trove at musescore.com (at least I’m not the only one doing this! There is even a MuseScore version of The Rite of Spring).

Tips, hacks and mistakes

Here are a few things I’ve learned from this experience (and from using Dorico in general) that I hope are useful:

  • Use the documentation, video tutorials, and forums (both at Steinberg and on Facebook) to learn the software. Scoring Notes has some great articles too. In the long run, you will save tons of time.
  • Learn shortcuts (and make your own). The shortcut I use most (along with Dorico forum guru Marc Larcher) is 1 and 2, which I’ve mapped to shortening/lengthening Dorico’s rhythmic grid at the lower left corner in Write mode.

  • You can activate the contextual Edit menu by Control-clicking (right-clicking on Windows) anywhere on screen; then, type a letter to go to different (alphabetical) menu items.
  • Use Dorico’s Layout, Notation and Engraving Options to get your default input looking right — this will save a ton of work. If you’re copying a published score, try adjusting staff size, note spacing, and page margins so your score layout matches the published version with as few manual system or frame breaks as possible. Here’s a page with the famous 11/4 bar; to get this to fit, I had to adjust note spacing (in this screenshot, the grey notes are condensed).

  • Don’t be shy about using the Condensing Change command (from the Engrave menu). The first page of Part 2 has three condensing changes: the first one is for the eight horns; the second is to change the flutes, so they are all in the same voice; and the third condensing change is for oboes 1 and 2, which are now in separate voices.

  • Almost anytime you find yourself adjusting the same thing over and over, chances are that Dorico’s designers have anticipated this, and you can change a global setting. A recent example for me is Barline interaction for hairpins. Instead of dragging hairpins by hand in Engrave mode, you can control their default appearance. This global setting (Engraving Options > Dynamics > Gradual Dynamics > Advanced Options) is something I wish I had learned earlier; as with most global settings, you can also make individual adjustments in the bottom Properties panel.
  • You may have to adjust some font sizes. Metronome marks are tiny by default, as are player labels (a2, etc.). Playing techniques (pizz., arco, etc.) are a little bigger than expression text used as a prefix or suffix for dynamics (p espress., for example). 
  • I used Flows to organize the Rite, putting each section into its own flow. This makes it possible to have headings at the top of each page which show the changing sections (7 in Part One, 6 in Part Two).
  • Stravinsky sometimes uses bass clef for Bass Clarinet, and “old notation” for the horns in bass clef; I went with the more modern notation style for these instruments.
  • Some things I’ve been unable to get to look right, at least not without a lot of effort. The most significant of these is probably staff labels, which look different for each publisher, and sometimes different within a single piece. In my version of the Rite, I pretty much punted on staff labels, so as a result they don’t match the published Dover score. Of course, it’s not necessary to make your version of a score look exactly like the published version. One of the nice things about doing this is that you are, in effect, creating your own edition of the score.

Working with MusicXML

For existing MusicXML files, here are some things I’ve learned from adapting the first and last movements of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (there are also some excellent resources online, including a helpful Discover Dorico video with John Barron). Having the MusicXML is a huge time-saver (thanks to MuseScore user santinocorleone!). But there is still quite a bit of editing work necessary to adapt ensemble scores for Dorico’s unique capabilities of divisi and condensing.

Wind and brass players need to be split by hand:

  • add new staves for each instrument (Clarinet 1, 2 and 3 for instance);
  • copy the music onto each player’s staff;
  • then delete the old players (I label them “Clarinet-old” to avoid confusion, doing all this work in Galley View).
The opening of the second movement of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, imported from MusicXML in Galley view. To get this to work in Dorico, you will need to make new Clarinet staves; copy the existing music into the new staves; then delete the old clarinet staves. This will also solve the redundant instrument transpositions.

This is necessary because Dorico sees a bassoon staff, for example, as a single player with multiple staves; since instruments with multiple staves don’t condense, you won’t be able to use Dorico’s condensing features. There is a Remove staff command which I’ve tried on these MusicXML imports (e.g. Clarinet in A with three staves), but in my experience it doesn’t work. It’s better to create a new player, copy the notes from the old player to the new, then delete the old player.

Finally, bowings in MuseScore are not parsed by MusicXML into Dorico, so you will have to add all of those yourself (Mahler writes lots of bowings). But despite these hassles, the ability to export and read MusicXML from one notation program to another is a huge boon.

One of the most fun things about putting your favorite works into Dorico is the chance to mess around with tempos, dynamics, etc., ideally in Play mode (although you can of course add invisible dynamics and tempo markings in Write mode). You quickly find out where conductors tend to add unmarked tempo changes; you can either add these in, or leave your midi file as a “pure” representation of the composer’s intent.

In “The Augurs of Spring”, to get the accents in the horns and strings to really pop, I added a bunch of invisible dynamics. This is kind of a hack; it may have been better to do this in Play mode, but it gets the job done.

A “rite” of passage to becoming a power user

Doing a project like this is a great way to become a power user. My wish for notation software is that it feels as much as possible like writing with pencil and paper — or as one of my friends calls it, a “magic pencil”. For me, Dorico is by far the closest thing we have to a magic pencil. Copying scores helps me recharge between my own projects, taking some compositional down time, while still honing my notation skills.

I hope this post inspires you to try it yourself!

Listen to the podcast episode

On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman talk with Stephen Taylor all about his adventure entering Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, along with other masterworks, into Dorico, as well as his journeys with Finale and Sibelius, and how copying scores into those programs can be an effective way of learning both the music and the technology. Listen now:

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
The "rite" way to copy old scores into new software
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Comments

  1. Bernhard Eder

    Wonderful article.
    When I opened the Sacre File in Dorico, it told me that certain fonds are missing.
    Which fonts did you use while engraving this?
    Thank you in advance.

  2. Stephen Taylor

    Thanks – I just noticed this myself after I re-started my Mac yesterday; it’s telling me that I’m missing Academico Medium, but I only used standard fonts. As far as I know, that’s a standard font, and the score looks fine at least on my machine. Does it look wrong on your computer?

    1. Bernhard Eder

      It told me the same (am on PC), but when I opened the file nonetheless, it looks fine.
      Brilliant work, I love it.
      At some point, when I am better with Dorico, I might try something like Bartok’s Miracolous Mandarin or so, when I have the time ^^

      1. Stephen Taylor

        Miraculous Mandarin would be great, and I’ll bet it would sound pretty good on NotePerformer too!

    2. Ben

      There is no “Medium” in Academico – only “Regular”.

      Dorico’s Font Styles and Paragraph Styles ‘cascade’ from one style to another: so one Style might be set as the Medium weight of .

      While the warning is useful, it is perhaps a little over-scary, and doesn’t provide enough info about what styles are involved.

      1. Ben

        Sorry, that should read: the Medium weight of “whatever the default text font happens to be”.

        1. Stephen Taylor

          I wonder if I did something by changing a Font Style or Paragraph Style in Engrave mode. It’s weird that it only happens in Part One, and (to me anyway) it’s also weird that it never happened until I restarted my Mac yesterday.

          1. Stephen Taylor

            I found the font problem, it was in the rehearsal marks. I had been messing around with those, trying to make them look closer to the original. Now Part One in the Google Drive is fixed, and I also found a few spacing mistakes which I fixed as well.

  3. Henry Morris

    Thanks for some useful tips and suggestions here. Much appreciated!

  4. Jonathan Lee

    Just wondering: have you considered uploading your score and engraving files to the IMSLP page of Rite of Spring?

    Also, although you shared the engraving files here for free, I’d absolutely pay you for such a great-looking score if I had enough money. I’ve planned to try to engrave the mammoth piece myself, but looks like someone just did it for me.

    Seriously, many thanks for your effort. I almost screamed in joy when I first saw the title of this post.

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Thanks for your note! Just today I saw a beautiful engraving of the Strauss Oboe Concerto on IMSLP, by Hugo Bouma; it may have been done in Dorico, it looks incredible. For the Rite, my staff labels are really not good – I think they would have to be adjusted and/or re-typed on nearly every page. So I’ll wait to put it on IMSLP, at least for now. It’s possible that a future version of Dorico might have more options for staff spacing, and there are a few condensing issues with players holding multiple instruments (e.g. Clarinets in A and Bb) as well. There is also a MuseScore version of the Rite, which I didn’t know about until I started writing this post. It’s really impressive!

      1. Jonathan Lee

        Thanks for your reply! If you’re curious if there’re any more scores in IMSLP that are made in Dorico, check out those engraved by Nadim Jauffur and Jenny Espin from Flip the Stem:
        https://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Jauffur,_Nadim

        And here’s a Dorico blog post about that group:
        https://blog.dorico.com/2021/01/dorico-showcase-flip-the-stem-shines-a-spotlight-on-marginalised-composers/

        And yeah, no rush. take your time to refine and polish up your score if you want.

  5. Peter McAleer

    One of the best articles I’ve read in Scoring Notes. You raise some interesting and challenging issues. I was intrigued by your frank comments about how our inner ears may be affected by computerised playback. I also input the Schubert ages ago in order to take NP + Dorico for a spin. The one thing that annoyed me was the way many editions ironed out Schubert’s deliberate dissonances near the end of the exposition (still – that’s off-topic). Well done Stephen, a classic, for me.

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Thanks Peter! That is interesting about Schubert’s dissonances. Years ago one of my teachers told me a story about early Schubert editions having diminuendo hairpins all over the place; later, people realized that these were accent marks, but Schubert was writing so fast that they were really big. That has always stuck with me – I don’t know how he was able to write so much in such a short time.

  6. Bill

    I’m curious as to what mix of note input methods you used.

    And thanks for this!

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Almost all of the input was with my laptop computer keyboard. A lot of alt-clicking to copy notes, passages, dynamics, playing techniques, etc. Sometimes, if the same rhythm repeated with different pitches, I would use Lock to Duration (L) to re-pitch passages. There were almost no chords, since I was entering every instrument individually in Galley view. It’s pretty quick, once you get used to it, and now it’s become second nature to me, almost like typing.

      1. Bill

        Wow! I assumed it was either step time or real time. I’ll have to spend some time with that approach.

  7. Paolo

    I’ve always read scores, but copying them is a very different matter. Transcribing, rearranging, are not just practical things of the past, but the best way to learn.

    With Dorico this is also a very pleasant activity, a bit like typing a long text with a typewriter. Not input is so logical, that you don’t have to continuously break the flow. And being able to work on each separate instrument, knowing that Dorico will take care of blending them in a single staff, is invaluable.

    1. Stephen Taylor

      That is interesting, comparing to copying texts by typing them! I almost never do this, because it’s so easy to select a block of text and copy/paste, at least if it’s already digitized; and it’s a lot easier to digitize text. But for some quotes, like Abraham Lincoln, James Joyce, etc., I’ll either copy by hand or type.

      I’ve also been thinking about the “copying” part of copying scores – in other words, getting ideas from other composers, like sampling a recording. Inputting it yourself seems to me to be a “deeper” way of learning ideas from other composers, perhaps.

  8. Conor

    Wonderful article and engraving! I’m enjoying going through it as I get used to Dorico. I did want to bring one thing to your attention: I’m a bassoonist, and there is a famous (among bassoonists anyway…) misprint in the second solo in the introduction. Ole Igor left a ledger line off of the original score. The final note should be a tied over Ab, not an F!

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Thanks so much – I was wondering about that F! I decided to leave it because it didn’t jump out at me when I played it back. But now, listening with the Ab tied over is *much* better. I have revised the score on the Google Drive link, thanks again!

  9. Matija Krunic

    Hey this is wonderful, I am studying orchestration and this piece right now and stumbled upon this – I downloaded it of Dorico but it is muted in playback despite playing with device setup, any suggestions? Such a shame to see the score and not be able to isolate it.

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Hmm, that is strange. This is unlikely, but you could try going to Play mode, and then under the Play menu look at the Playback Template. Mine is set to NotePerformer; if you don’t have NotePerformer, you may have to change that setting. If that doesn’t work, I would recommend asking the Dorico forum or Facebook group. Good luck!

  10. Göran Arnberg

    This is totally fantastic.

  11. Derek Williams

    Fabulous job, thank you, Stephen. I did a similar thing after first hearing RoS surprisingly late in my career, soon after MIDI became a thing, because I was trying to understand how Stravinsky “did it”. Your scores are a leap forward. I agree too about getting too used to how good it sounds with NP, but time and again, after I have recorded with the real orchestra, when I go back and listen to the demo I thought was so good the producers would just go with that and fire the orchestra, the demo sounds like comb and paper by comparison with the real thing. Long may that continue! Keep music live!

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Thanks a lot! I am with you on learning how composers “did it”, it’s like learning a magic trick. And I agree about the difference between midi and live musicians, even with excellent software like NotePerformer. I just wrote a really difficult, microtonal string quartet, and the NotePerformer version was helpful for the players (the amazing Jupiter Quartet); but hearing them play it is a different world altogether.

  12. mavros

    Many thanks for this very nice Dorico version. It is a great experience to be able to not only read this master piece and listen to its interpretation by a famous orchestra and conductor but to be able to use sample libraries and tweak and mix them to get the best possible result in Dorico and also to study the many different score views from full, condensed, to single instruments, offered in a scoring program.

    I have one question. What notation is used for the many different clarinets? Do I assume correctly that none are notated in concert pitch and all need transposition in accordance with their designations if not provided direct in the instrument library used. Some are very rare and not present in most libraries but a transpostion is possible in most DAWs or even directly in the library.

  13. Stephen Taylor

    Stravinsky uses Bb and A clarinets, the most normal (although A clarinet is not as common as it used to be); the smaller D and Eb clarinets (Eb is more common); and Bb bass clarinet. All of these are transposed in the score, along with other transposing instruments (Cor Anglais in F, Horns in F, trumpet in D, etc.). You should be able to view all of these in concert pitch by selecting Edit -> Concert Pitch.

    I haven’t used sample libraries, but if you view the score in concert pitch, maybe that would help?

  14. Mavros

    That helps indeed. Although not easy to check in this piece all seems to sound as it should pitch wise. It just misses out on a few notes beyond the registered instrument range of the replacement instruments I had to use if the library did not have the real instrument like the tenor tuba. Now all plays correctly without need to transpose the samples played. It is not always easy to grasp the way the libraries work in this case where it is used backwards to usual composing workflow using a keyboard. When you press a key, the written midi “note” defines the pitch and you can use a defined convention to show that note in a score.

    Many thanks again.

  15. Peter Sparks

    Thanks so much – very interesting article which I intend to read again. I can’t open the Rite files at the top of the page at all. Im on an iPad. Wonder if that makes a difference? Any ideas?

    1. Stephen Taylor

      Hmmm – I just tried it on my 2015 iPad, and the link to me to google drive, where I was able to download the zip into Files; then I opened it in Dorico. It takes awhile to load, but it works. Maybe try again? Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

  16. Peter

    Thanks – got it to work using your method (eventually). For info, fig. 7 the clarinet parts alternate who plays the grace note each beat. 2nd clarinet starts then 1st etc. it isn’t that clear in the score but is clear in the parts.

    1. Peter

      Also, chromatic scale 7 notes before fig. 6 should start on G sharp. Don’t know if this is helpful..I know you’re working on corrections.

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