All posts by BKhon

About BKhon

My name is Ben Khon. I'm a copyright reviewer over at the IMSLP wiki, and a site administrator on the IMSLP journal. If anyone has any questions, feel free to email me at My interests include classical music (composition, history, musicology), art, literature, and tea.

Interview with PML

One of a series of interviews with IMSLP contributors…

1). How did you first discover IMSLP?

Now that some three and a half years have passed since coming to IMSLP, I’m no longer entirely sure what brought me here in the first place. In any case, they haven’t been able to get rid of me. I’ve been a contributor to Choral Public Domain Library since 2001, when I submitted a set of full scores to Handel’s Vespers psalms there, and it was sometime early in 2007 when the IMSLP showed up on the radar as a similarly motivated, well thought-out and worthwhile project, offering quite different musical material: scans of existing scores rather than new typesets, and of a wider range than CPDL’s more antiquarian and strongly choral focus.

If I recall correctly, someone had posted a link on the CPDL forums offering the prospect of all sorts of goodies for download at the other end, which meant it was only a matter of time before curiosity killed the cat – but my memory might be at variance with what really happened. What I do know is that discovering the range and potential of the IMSLP website was hugely more exciting and memorable than the means which had gotten me there.

2). What were your immediate goals?

When I first arrived, the IMSLP collection was under 5,000 scores, but the site also had the US file server in operation, so there were some extremely interesting scores made available that hitherto, had never been quite so easy to obtain. CPDL, for example, was initially very bandwidth conscious, and endorsed small-footprint typesets; by the time IMSLP started fast internet from home was becoming widely available and larger multi-megabyte downloads were a more practical proposition. Thus scans of full scores – forbidding tasks to typeset from scratch – were now readily manageable. I know within the first week of joining I had downloaded some things I didn’t already have in my own physical library, like full scores of Verdi’s Requiem; Brahms’ First Symphony and Academic Festival Overture (my favourites of his orchestral works); and Busoni’s Fantasia contrappuntistica.

The IMSLP had a much larger range of 20th century works – the CPDL was often hamstrung by its reliance on US copyright strictures – so I also noticed that the hosting of IMSLP in Canada allowed it to concentrate on a different collection of modern composers. I could also see that the collection could possibly grow to include samples of all sorts of music from the past: manuscripts and original sources of interest to musicologists alongside practical editions, full scores and parts. My goals for the site are unchanged – the library should continue to grow in all possible directions of conceivable musical interest. Really, we have only just scratched the surface of the music written before the 20th century, which I shall endeavour to indicate in a following article. And just as obviously as the years roll on we will gradually claw back some of the stuff currently protected under absurdly long copyright terms.

3). What instruments do you play?

Bwahahaha! I play recorder… badly. The alternate name for the instrument of “misery stick” might have been invented with my playing in mind. I haven’t graduated to any of the wind instruments with similar fingerings, though I keep threatening to buy a cheap re-make of the Renaissance cornetto from a maker in the UK and commit atrocities on early music. Be warned.

I play kazoo… badly. In fact, the time I performed my arrangement of the final portion of Rossini’s William Tell Overture for kazoo quintet, we were all bodily removed from stage before we reached the stringendo. I was enraged (but so was the audience, it’s fair to say).

I play keyboards… badly. One time I was performing Carl Vine’s Choral Symphony and the organist was absent from the dress rehearsal, so they let me lose on it, sight-reading from a full score. Fortunately, no one could tell when I played wrong notes as opposed to the right ones…

Another time I was asked to take a sectional rehearsal of a chorus without a repetiteur, so there I was conducting some Rachmaninov with one hand and thrashing away at a cheap electronic keyboard with the other, and ended up snapping off the D above middle. I now advertise my keyboard-wrecking skills in advance of similar engagements.

I play percussion… but not so badly as to break instruments. I leave that to the more extrovert performers I know.

I’m generally rather more accomplished as a singer – particularly in terms of versatility, since I started singing while at University as a tenor and more often sing counter-tenor/alto these days; but when performing with amateur choirs I’m occasionally asked to fill in other voice parts to make up for the shortcomings of other singers. Sometimes in-between singing the written alto or tenor part, I’ll leap up to soprano or down to bass to fill in those parts; its not uncommon that I’ve been asked to reinforce all four parts (at different times, naturally!) in the same piece of music. I have won a soprano aria competition for tenors and basses (singing high stuff from Le nozze di Figaro and Carmen), but it wasn’t pretty – sight or sound.

I taught myself to sight read from my mother’s library of full scores, so I tend to treat sight-singing in a rather instrumental fashion. I take no prisoners. Especially where conductors are concerned. Conductors are the scum of the earth.

Oh yes, I also conduct… so on that subject – tacet.

4). What are your musical interests?

Generally I was brought up on a diet of orchestral music of the late 18th and 19th centuries, as my father was a record collector and had a great love of the Beethoven symphonies, a huge range of orchestral favourites, and a variety of popular music up to the 1960s – but no rock and roll though. (Well, with the sole exception of ABBA.) The record collection fascinated me before I could even read: in fact, reading the back covers of whatever was playing on the stereo was part of my education learning to read as a three- or four-year-old. My tastes now are wider and considerably more eclectic, but also probably a lot snobbier than Dad’s: I have a number of potent dislikes, which depending on how cheeky I’m feeling at the time may be less than well-concealed. My mother was a professional pianist and singer, and my own rebelliousness is to blame for my not learning piano from her, but I think a lot of my attitudes to music stem from hers.

I have a love of vocal and early music going back to the 1400s, though I tend to prefer the monumental, nascently-tonal, polyphonic music of the Renaissance to the thin, weedy sounds that look back towards mediæval times; it is no surprise I’ve typeset the 40-part motets by Tallis and Striggio, or colossal vocal-orchestral works from the early Baroque and later periods. While I do enjoy the intimate chamber dimensions of some vocal and instrumental music, I love the greater potential and range of orchestral and large ensemble music.

Concertante music, or similar music with little to recommend it other than the virtuosity of the soloist(s), as well as opera in general, tends to leave me cold. Oratorios often bore me stupid. I view Wagner as a dangerous viral infection and limit my exposure to the various “bleeding chunks” (as Sir Donald Tovey described them) butchered from the operas. I enjoy listening to and performing modern music of all kinds, the weirder and more mentally stimulating the better. Commercial pop music might as well not exist in my universe – not that I have a huge amount of time for the indie scene either. I often hear unrecognisable doof-doof noises emerging from people’s iPod headphones on the train or tram, enough for me not to be hugely curious at making a closer acquaintance, I have to say.

In terms of performance, I think it’s important to always be looking to be doing new music (either “new new!” or otherwise, old music that you haven’t done before) in your concerts as well as revisiting the “bums on seats” repertoire staples. For example, before the end of the year I’m really excited to be doing Bach’s B minor mass and Havergal Brian’s Gothic symphony – in addition to less exciting seasonal fare such as Handel’s Messiah. My most recent concert was one consisting almost entirely of new works receiving their premières.

I’m also interested in making the best musical resources available for the performance of the works: access to original sources, or as early as are still extant, are obviously hugely important for the interpretation of music – just as important as reliable performance materials.

5). Who are some of your favorite composers?

The three HBs loom large: Heinrich Biber, the great violin virtuoso of the High Baroque; Hector Berlioz, to me the most colourful and literate figure of the Romantic generation; and Havergal Brian, the extraordinary composer of sharp-edged, monstrously conceived orchestral music. From time to time I’ve paid reverence at the altars of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Mendelssohn. Sebastian Bach and Brahms I treat more with respect rather than adoration.

Then there’s a huge number of composers I admire from the time of Josquin and Brumel onwards to the current day, and it would be both boring of me to list them and pernicious to potentially leave some out: you can check out my userboxes (and I need dozens more in addition to those few). You would be wrong to also assume if I’ve edited a score by a composer, then there’s some liking there – I’m pretty allergic to large quantities of frequently-heard Handel and Fauré.

6). What are some of your other interests besides music?

I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who and am overjoyed at its current Renaissance on British television, though I think the pace of modern television is too forced for my liking and the show lacks the charm of its 70s-era version while having much superior production values. Keeping up with it makes following the other science fiction franchises a harder task, but my brother introduced me to the new BSG, which I greatly enjoyed in spite the militaristic, American, and Mormon overtones. I don’t tend to believe in narratives where problems are solved at weapon point. Looking at my DVD shelves I also notice Peter Jackson’s wonderful Lord of the Rings films standing out as a block, various excerpts of Monty Python and The Goodies, and the surreal technicolour 1960s cold-war paranoia of The Prisoner.

I’m an inveterate reader of science fiction (Clarke, Baxter, etc), and have also turned my hand to writing: two and a half novels are in various stages of incompletion which I might get around to finishing before too many more years elapse. I follow science and politics from the sidelines without contributing much except in the way of rebarbative commentary on blogs. The upheavals following the September 11 attacks finally convinced me of the evils of accomodationist strategies towards religion, so that I no longer shrink from concealing my atheism or treating religious delusions with undue respect and kid gloves.

Living in Melbourne it is not difficult to keep an eye on various sports in this sports-mad city; I’m currently watching Australia slaughter the old enemy England in the cricket (and listening to the radio commentary, which is the only civilised option) and will have the pleasure of watching the spectacle at closer quarters after Christmas. I enjoy dining out as often as my sometimes indifferent cooking allows, being blessed with fine cuisine and viniculture here. The Devon Rex cats named Biscuit and Cheese which share my flat in bayside Williamstown have their own interests that seem to involve much sleeping, sun worship, and random furniture destruction while simultaneously being almost irritatingly cute.

Devon Rex Cats

Image from

A3 or A4?

By Theo Wyatt

(Theo Wyatt founded Merton Music 15 years ago with aims very similar to those of iMSLP, and now in his 90th year has handed the baton to John Harding’s Ourtext orgnisation. Its 1300 string chamberworks are currently being uploaded to the Petrucci Library as part of the Merton Music Project)

I recently received an e-mail from an old customer who recognised me from the days 25 years ago when I publisheed recorder consort music. He expressed his pleasure at seeing the string chamber music of Merton Music on the IMSLP site, but wondered why it was all in double-page booklet pagination making it accessible only to those with A3 printers.

I suspect the same question will have crossed the mind of many IMSLP visitors over the last six months as Carolus and his team have uploaded most of the 1300 works in the Merton Music catalog, every one of them in this inaccessible form. They may be interested in my reply.

“Before I explain to you a little of the economics of music publishing I think you should go back to IMSLP, find a Merton item and click on the words “Merton Music Project.” That will tell you about how the Merton files come to be on the IMSLP site.

“Those files are in A3 booklet pagination because they are Merton’s working files, used to print the music it sells. They have in most cases never existed in A4 format and it would be utterly impracticable to turn them into A4 files.

“Even if we could we would not do so because Merton Music, although inspired by altruistic motives is not a charity. It is a business with nothing more than the resources of a pensioner behind it. If it does not sell enough music to make enough profit to cover all its costs it shuts up shop and the many customers without broadband who rely on it for really affordable music are the losers. So unless each order lost to people with A3 printers is offset by an order from one of the many others without such printers who see music they want and order it from Ourtext, the future of Ourtext becomes less secure and the whole chamber music community may suffer. So do not risk losing your friends by putting unmanageable heaps of A4 on their music stands but treat them to a properly printed set of parts ordered from Ourtext and help to guarantee the future availability of Merton Music at the same time.”

There was, however, a further motive, not touched on in that reply, behind the decision to make Merton’s A3 files publicly available. I wanted to demonstrate that an alternative to transmitting instrumental music in single A4 or Letter size pages did exist and perhaps even to awaken realisation that downloading and using it in that form was really rather primitive and unsatisfactory, especially if reasonably priced and properly printed alternatives were available. In a long lifetime of chamber music I have found that on a music stand the parts of a string quartet in that form are unmanageable, and that attempts to make then manageable with adhesive tape, plastic sleeves or comb binding are tedious, and the results still unsatisfactory. The only way to ensure a comfortable experience for the player is with a double spread folded to make a booklet, and the only way to procure that is with an A3 printer.

I am sure that for this reason A3 printers will one of these days be as common in musicians’ households as A4 printers are now. Until then I think the wise amateur will always consider whether the attractions of a free A4 download outweigh the comfort of a paid-for and properly printed booklet.

Recording Basics


For several reasons, hearing a performer in a concert hall and hearing them on a CD are two very different experiences. The perception differs because on stage, people are influenced by a performers movements, colors, and facial expressions. On a CD, a performer must rely on technical precision, tone color, and phrasing. But technique, perfect intonation, and perfection in phrasing will not guarantee a fine recording. Factors such as the distance from the microphone, the type of microphone being used, and acoustics of the room, will greatly effect a recording. The first in establishing recording knowledge and skill is to have a concise overview of the physical properties of sound.


The most important concept for a recorder to understand with respect to sound, is pitch. A pitch is a series of compressions and rarefactions, which produce a sound wave. This 'frequency' must complete a certain number of cycles within a certain period of time (second). This creates a certain pitch.

A=440h is the standard in the modern era of tuning. This 440 refers to the number of cycles per second. Scales are based on the ratios of cycles, and indeed one octave above 440, is 880. Likewise, one octave below 440 is 220. This concept is important to know, because string players are not bound by the limits of equal temperament tuning (where everything is in exact ratios). We are able to make leading tones slightly higher to resolve into the tonic, and enharmonic equivalents need not be synonymous.

In science class people may have learned that sound is very similar to the wrinkles in water. While this bears truth, it creates the impression that sound is 2-D. The fact is that sound is 3-D, and must be treated as such. When we hear a pitch, such as an 'A', it is the ''fundamental tone''. This is actually a composite of several other tones commonly known as the overtone series.


The production of sound on a stringed instrument, is affected by tuning, wood, the bow, humidity, rosin, and strings. Microphones have been produced in accordance to these factors. There are three kinds of basic microphones:

1). Omnidirectional

2). Bi-directional

3). uni-directional

Uni-directional microphones are unique in that they only record sound if it hits the front of it. Bi-directional microphones record sound from the front and the back. The third type of microphone, the omnidirectional, records sounds from all locations.

One important thing to keep in mind is how high or low, in terms of hertz, your instrument can go. It is important to pick a microphone that is within your range.

The best microphone to use is a professional stereo microphone, which is characterized by two omnidirectional microphones. One omnidirectional and one bidirectional microphone can also be a great blessing.

Some tips

1). Vibrato – When recording, vibrato is often too dull or narrow. For it to be successful, it must be on the wide end.

2). Volume – It is not suggested that a wide dynamic range disrupts the actual quality of sound by moving the microphone.

3). Distance – One mistake often made by earlier recording artists, especially Jascha Heifetz, was that they were too close to the microphone. When this happens, 'extra' sounds are heard, and can come across as mistakes. About 3-4 feet away from the microphone allows the tonal pallet of your instrument to be fully explored.

Good luck on the endeavors of recording!

The Death of Hugo Wolf


Hugo Wolf, a German eccentric, was most well known for his art songs. Hugo Wolf’s life was one of melancholy and despair. Although a musical prodigy in various instruments, including piano and violin, his severe depression, mood swings, and contumacious nature prevented him from completing any enrollment in music schools. As a composer, he was influenced by Richard Wagner’s music; and although Wolf did not complete any large scale works, his musical style is still reminiscent of Wagner. With a great passion for poetry, he decided to set the words to music, often times using poems already set to music by other composers, as he felt the music did not do the poem justice. At the height of his song writing career, he suffered from mental deterioration, which was a byproduct of syphilis. This eventually caused him to stop composing all together. At the height of his instability, he attempted to drown himself, before seeking refuge in an insane asylum. He died there, with his mind decayed.

Interview with Perlnerd666


One of a series of interviews with IMSLP contributors…

How did you first discover IMSLP?

I first discovered IMSLP while I was looking for the second movement of the Kreutzer Sonata. I did find it eventually, and it thus led me to this wonderful site.

What were your immediate goals?

I was very interested in the (16,000 at that time) vast number of scores. I wanted to contribute as many scores as I could, from places such as Mutopia.

What instruments do you play?

I am a professional Keyboardist (especially organ). I also play cello.

What are your other musical interests?

Much of what I look at might be described as 'musicological'. I am also a composer, and an intermediate conductor. My other main musical interests are analyzing song cycles (esp. Schwanengesang, and Les Nuits d'été). I enjoy song cycles and variations, too. I also study musicological aspects of music—especially the history of music printing (and as an ancillary, non-musical typography, including ligatures etc.) As a keyboard player mostly, especially organ, I've been looking at people like Cabezón (one of my favorites), Buxtehude (should be one of everybody's), and Fitzwilliam.

Who are some of your favorite composers?

Corelli, Schumann, Bach, Carter, Dufay, Varèse, Josquin, Haydn, Schubert, and Brahms in that order. It may seem eclectic, but I sincerely believe that all genres and time periods are equal. In terms of non-"classical" composers: Bob Dylan would displace Schubert (i.e. move him back), and Thelonious Monk would displace Josquin.

What are some other interests other than music?

Literature, Chemistry, Phonology, Etymology, and Programming (especially perl).

Prinet: Kreutzer Sonata