Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Part score to full score?

A question came up in a high school theory/composition class that neither the instructor or I have the answer for. The question was "why do choral musicians typically work off a full/reduced score and instrumental musicians work off part scores?"
Clearly there is ample evidence that this practice was not always the case, but I don't seem to remember from my music history classes when the transition from part score to choral score fully took place, or more importantly, why this happened. I think for practical reasons it's clear why it happened in retrospect, but wondered if anyone with a fuller view of this transition might be willing to fill in some of the history here.
on January 6, 2011 10:40pm
I don't know the answer to this question from a historical standpoint, but instrumental musicians tend to have their hands occupied while they work and it would be inconvenient for them to have to turn pages frequently, so eliminating lines they're not playing is an aid to performance, especially when (as professional players tend to be nowadays) they're familiar with the full score from their practice room.  Choral singers' hands are not so occupied so there's less need to eliiminate page turns.
As to when/why the transition happened, I might conjecture that when musical styles evolved from a more contrapuntal to a more homophonic texture there came to be a greater need for precise ensemble, so it was an advantage for singers to see what their colleagues were doing.
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Principal Conductor, Baguio Cathedral International Music Festival (Philippines)
on January 7, 2011 12:01am
Hi, Mike.  I can't give you a definitive answer, but I can give some background.  But first, let me suggest that you use the more technical meaning of the word "score."  A single part for a single player (or singer) is usually simply called a "part," not a "part score."  A "score" implies something that shows all of the musical elements, and that can include a full score, a choral score, a short score, a piano-vocal score, or a piano-conductor score.  For a Broadway show, the usual music used by the rehearsal pianist is a piano-vocal score, but an orchestral part that shows only a piano (or "keyboard") part is the piano "part."  Shows traditionally do not have full scores, but are conducted from a short score--actually often a piano-vocal score with additional cues written in, sometimes by hand, and called a piano-conductor score.  And what the actors usually get is a simple, one-line "vocal part" either bound into the script or separate from it.
Similarly, in the old days, in Shakespeare's time and on up at LEAST through the 18th century, and in some cases still today, actors do NOT get a full script, but just a partial script with their own lines and some cues for each speech.  There's a word for that, but I can't remember it.
OK, let's leave that alone now.  The first actual published full score that *I* know of is the score for Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo" of 1607, which was probably published AFTER the premier by the Duke of Mantua and sent to the guests who had been there as a souvenir of the occasion.  But that was unusual (and Monteverdi's 2nd hit show, "L'Arianna," is lost), and Bach was still copying out individual vocal "parts" for his church singers over a century later as was, I think, Mozart.  So the answer has to be somewhere, sometime during the 19th century, but I'm not at all sure where or when.
When you are hand-copying music for immediate rehearsal and performance, it simply makes sense that you will copy as few parts as possible, and do it as efficiently as possible.  And that meant individual choral "parts" with single voice parts on them.
And this doesn't even get into the various other formats used for quite a long time for hand copies, and duplicated in some of the earliest printed sacred music in the early 16th century, in which a large-format book would show all 4 or 5 vocal parts on facing pages, but separated and not stacked up in score format.  But at the same time the Italian madrigal was developing, always published in separate "part books" (another format).
So there's some of the history, but I'm afraid not a cut and dried answer to your question.  And I doubt that it was ever mentioned in your music history classes, because it isn't a clearcut change that happened in only one place at only one time.
All the best,
on January 9, 2011 1:53pm
A footnote to John Howell's comments: the economics of music printing also played a part.  In the 16th and 17th centuries, and at least well into the 18th, paper was manufactured entirely from rags, and was relatively expensive.  Besides, the music printing process itself (whether by typesetting or engraving) was fairly labor-intensive, so that the production of full scores would generally have been economically unfeasible. 
There are a few examples from the 16th/17th centuries of vocal music being printed in score, but for purposes of study rather than practical performance -- as I recall, some of Arcadelt's madrigals were so published, long after their first appearance in partbook form.
Marty Morell
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.