An interview with Elaine Gould, part 1: Early years at Faber


Editor’s note: We’ve covered Behind Bars — the music notation reference by Elaine Gould — on this blog several times, dating back to Daniel Spreadbury’s interview with Elaine upon the book’s publication in 2011, all the way up through the release of the book in electronic form last year. It’s a perennial recommendation in our annual holiday gift-giving guide.

Now, I’m pleased to announce our partnership with Music Engraving Tips, the worldwide community of individuals that, of this writing, boasts nearly 15,000 members. In October, Justin Tokke, founder and co-administrator of the group, interviewed Elaine, soliciting questions from the group’s members to supplement his own interview questions. Justin’s video interviews with Elaine, conducted transatlantically via the internet and meticulously edited, span several parts. He has graciously agreed to our re-publishing the interviews along with a transcript exclusive to Scoring Notes. Today’s release is the first of a series. Enjoy! — Philip Rothman

Elaine Gould speaking to Justin Tokke

This is the first in a video series of interviews of one of the most formidable figures in our field. Elaine Gould, senior new music editor at Faber Music and author of the music notation treatise Behind Bars. Elaine very generously donated her time to give us some of her insights into engraving, life in publishing, and how engravers can best go about working in a practical manner with real musicians.

A couple logistical points: since this was a transatlantic interview, the video has some frame rate issues that were unavoidable. If you prefer, you can put the video on in the background in a podcast style as these interviews are quite conducive to that format.

For this interview, members of the Music Engraving Tips group submitted questions for Elaine and the user will be cited wherever possible. I hope you enjoy this new series and learn some new things. I know I certainly did!

Who should we interview next? Let us know in the comments or join us in the Facebook group for more discussion.

A transcript follows, beginning with Elaine speaking. — Justin Tokke

Elaine Gould on the early years

I’m the daughter of a pianist. I think from a very early age I decided I was going to be a professional pianist. I was going to follow my sister, who was at the Royal Academy of Music when I was quite small. I was going to follow her, and then when I got to about the age of 16, I started to compose a little bit. I thought, “Well, being a pianist is actually quite hard work! I think I’m going to go to university and study composition, amongst other things.”

At the same time, I was having calligraphy lessons, which I was also very interested in, with a very fine calligrapher. At that time, just before I had to make that decision, I was playing in my local youth orchestra which was the Suffolk Schools’ orchestra. We were about to do the premiere of a late Benjamin Britten piece called Welcome Ode which he wrote for the orchestra to play for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976.

He [Britten] died at the end of 1976, and at the rehearsals for this concert was a young composer who came along to explain that he was was finishing off the orchestration that Britten had left unfinished, and that he had completed this. I thought to myself, “That’s a really interesting job! I’d like to do something like that. I’d like to work with composers in some some way or other.” That composer was Colin Matthews, whose works I’ve edited for the past 35 years now. Of course, I had no idea [at the time] that there would be any connection between us in the future.

After university, I came straight to London. I couldn’t wait to get started in a career in music as a music copyist. So I went round to offer myself as a freelance copyist to the publishers in London. I started working for Chester Music, the first publisher I worked for, copying the parts and score for a new edition of Monteverdi’s Orfeo for John Eliot Gardiner which was produced at English National Opera in the early ’80s.

Then I went to work for also for Novello and for Schott copying out scores and lots and lots of orchestral parts, and also working on piano reductions and vocal scores with Thea Musgrave, for instance. Novello commissioned me to recopy a very big full score of Jonathan Harvey, an early-ish piece of his called Inner Light. When I finished copying it, Jonathan said to me, “Will you take it to Faber Music because I’ll pick it up from there — they are now my publisher.” So the editors and production people at Faber Music saw my work, and they rung me up and said, “Will you come and do some work for us?”

The very first piece they asked me to recopy was a cello piece of Jonathan’s which is full of graphics — Curve With Plateaux — which I copied from scratch, in the sense that I got plain acetate, and I copied it from the hand copied manuscripts [onto] the plain transparency paper, and ruled all my own stave lines so that I could have unequal spaces. I had no idea at the time that Faber would actually publish it, but it arrived a few months later on my doorstep. I was so pleased to see this in publication, and it’s the edition that we still use and that’s been played everywhere. It has all these wonderful graphics of the four strings and putting your hand between the four strings.

I had calligraphy training before I went to university with a very fine calligrapher. I even thought about going into the [calligraphy] profession. But in the end, my first love was music, so I ended up studying music instead. Going into music copying was a fantastic way of combining my two interests: really wanting to go into the music copying and to do really fine calligraphic work. So I found a niche there.

After seven years, an editorial post came up at Faber Music. The reaction was, “Can you start on Monday?” I already knew a lot of the composers I worked with. I worked on their scores; I’d sat down and gone through their scores. In effect, I’ve already been looking at the editing of them. It was wonderful to come in already with a reputation for doing good work on their pieces as they saw it.

When I started, it was pretty much it was all hand copying. The composer delivered a new piece in pencil or in ink, and that went out to hand copyists to be copied and proof-read by someone else, and then back on my desk. I’d probably do some corrections and revisions.

People probably don’t realize I don’t actually do the typesetting myself; I’m an editor. I’m overseeing our freelancers doing the typesetting; I’m not doing that myself. I haven’t done that since the days when I used to hand copy scores. I don’t get so involved in the technological side as the other editors. The head of department, he is the one that oversees all the software, what we have, all the versions that we have, advising our composers what to use, and so on. He was very much brought in when Sibelius started, precisely to make himself an expert in that area and to oversee that side of things, while I really stood quite outside that, in terms of saying this is what I want — editing stuff so that it would look good. The programs came to muster up to what we wanted them to do.

Some of the copyists I inherited were excellent. Some of the typesetters did the score by Letraset and partly by hand at that point. We had some wonderful people; we also had some people who were not so brilliant. I did spend a lot of my life in those early days trying to raise the standards, but also that’s when I realized, actually, some of these folks really needed to know a bit more about how the notation should look, how it should be.

Elaine Gould’s book, Behind Bars, is available from Amazon and other retailers.


  1. Charles Gaskell

    Wonderful interview, but I think some of the pictures have been mislabelled. The third one should be “Inner Light (3) by Jonathan Harvey. Engraved by Elaine Gould. p. 115” and the two pages of the work by Jonathan Harvey should be pages 1 and 5, rather than pages 5 and 1…

    1. Philip Rothman

      Charles: Thanks for the eagle eye. This was due to a last-minute editing error and has now been corrected.

  2. Paolo

    Being reading Behind Bars these days, so an insight on the author’s career is really interesting. I wonder if the manuscript copying and music publishing business is still good as it was when she bagan her career, and I would like to see what she says in the forthcoming parts.

    Thank you for this precious interview.

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