Killing the Message, part II

By Matanya Ophee

After publishing my extended review of Brian Jeffery: Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist (second edition) I invited the author to answer the specific charges about his work which I made in that review. I promised him that I will publish his comments in this on-line magazine, unedited, and however long they may have been. Brian Jeffery, for reasons of his own, had not responded to the invitation, and had not even acknowledged receipt thereof. A few weeks ago he published on his own web site a reply of sorts. That reply is an important indication of the author’s refusal to engage in any meaningful discourse of the historical data regarding the life of Fernando Sor and his preference for removing the discussion from the scholarly to the personal. It deserves a detailed response. The following indented text include quotations taken from the Tecla posting, as downloaded directly from that site. My commentary follows each quotation.

It is unfortunate that this attack on my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist has found a public outlet on the Net, because no one likes to see items of this type.

I am glad Dr. Jeffery thus acknowledged the fact that my review is an attack on his book, not on him personally. Critical reviews of published books, when they portray the book as inadequate and on occasion downright false, occur all the time, on the net and elsewhere. The review did not “find a public outlet” accidentally or through the complicity of other parties such as independent editors or referees. It found a public outlet on my own web site simply because I gave it one. From the author’s point of view that may have been indeed “unfortunate” and I am certain he personally did not like to see an item of this kind. No one likes to see one’s life work gone over in such detail and exposed for the sheer incompetence in historical matters it so nakedly displays. On the other hand, the number of readers who expressed gratitude for my posting is considerable. Many, I have been told, have downloaded the review, printed it and inserted it in their copy of the book for direct reference and comparison. Moreover, the review found additional public outlets in Marco Bazzotti’s translation of it into Italian, published on the Just Classical Guitar home page, and in Luis Briso de Montiano’s translation of it into Spanish, posted on his own Spanish language Cejilla homepage (sites no longer on line). Additional public outlets for this review were printed in the German language magazine Gitarre & Laute (1996/3 and 1996/4) and in Classical Guitar magazine in an abbreviated version (Sept. 1996,) and in Japanese translation by Jun Sugawara in Gendai Guitar in several installments beginning with the March, 1997 (No. 385) issue. The editors of these leading guitar journals must have agreed with me that the issues raised by my review are much more important to our discipline than any underlying personal conflicts.

It is unpleasant and is personal in tone, contrary to normal conventions for discussion of issues related to scholarship, which specify that discussion shall be ad rem (addressed to the subject) and not ad hominem (addressed to the person) which this is.

I have just gone over the review in detail, once again. I totally reject the assertion that it is contains any ad hominem insinuations. The only reference to the person of Brian Jeffery contained therein which is not directly related to his function as the author of the book, is the brief mention of the fact that back in 1980-81 he was a guest in my house in Boston. That period of my life was an important one for me. It was precisely during these long months that I started the actual operation of my publishing firm Editions Orphée. Brian’s constant support and advise then, were a major factor in the degree of excellence I was able to achieve in a fairly short time. At the same time, I was able to offer him in return some measure of support and assistance not only in providing Tecla Editions with the physical quarters for its operation, but also in direct participation in its editorial contents, so amply acknowledged by him in many of his publications. I do not regret for a second that Brian and I were able to cooperate so closely, for such an extended period of time. I only regret that somehow, for reasons I cannot possibly imagine, he had chosen to forget that. Otherwise, every single time I mention the name of Brian Jeffery in my review, it is as the author of the book under discussion. The discussion follows all the standard conventions of scholarly criticism, with full documentation of all the relevant references. The accusation of ad hominem treatment on my part is without any foundation. Lacking any direct response by the author to critical comments to his book, and faced with this accusation of a personal attack on his person, I am left with the unpalatable conclusion that perhaps the author is unable to document any refutations of my comments, thus preferring to hide behind this removal of the discussion to the personal level. That, on any level of human decency, is a cowardly attitude unbecoming a scholar and a gentleman. Now I have said it. Ad Hominem.

It also has the appearance of being at least partly commercially motivated, without however saying so.

Of course I do not say so, and for the life of me I have no idea what is being referred to here. Yes, I did publish on several occasions some material about the life of Fernando Sor and his work. All of this was published in guitar journals to which I received meagre compensation, but mostly, none at all. My most recent contribution was in providing an historical Introduction to the Chanterelle edition of studies by Sor. Let it be perfectly understood that I have no financial or commercial interest in Chanterelle verlag. I do maintain close personal and collegial relationships with its owner, the well-known Scottish guitarist and publisher Mr. Michael MacMeeken. But whether the Chanterelle edition is successful commercially or a total flop, is none of my concerns. I have been paid a lump sum for my contribution and that sum remains the same regardless of the number of copies sold by Chanterelle. I also never published anything whatsoever which duplicates material published by Tecla, and I am not planning on doing so in the near future. I am planning on publishing shortly an arrangement for two guitars by John King of the Funeral March for Czar Alexander by Fernando Sor, the autograph manuscript thereof was discovered by me in a Russian archive a couple of years ago. Let me also reveal here that I am planning a new facsimile and translation of the Sor method, including all the original plates, deriving from an original copy of the 1830 French edition which I now own. But I never did, and am not planning on ever writing a competing biography of Fernando Sor, the subject of the book under discussion. This accusation of any commercial motivation on my part remains to be substantiated by Dr. Jeffery. I challenge him to do so openly, or else, publish an immediate apology. Should he fail to do so, and soon, I may have to seek redress for this ignominious slander in other venues. Capisce?

One more thing: if the accusation of commercial motivation in this discourse has any validity at all, surely it applies, first and foremost to Brian Jeffery himself. Not only he is the author of the book under review, he is also the publisher. As the founder and sole owner of Tecla Editions, Brian Jeffery, proprietor, certainly stands to lose money from any unfavorable reviews of the work of Brian Jeffery, editor. That’s the name of the game, buddy, and we all knew it when we started on this road of what amounts to, let’s face it, vanity press operations. The reason we all became publishers, and that accounts for Tecla, Orphée, Chanterelle, Doberman, GSP and other specialized guitar publishers, is that we had something to say and we could not convince the major publishers to give us an open forum. So we created our own, each in his own way. Most of us started by publishing our own work, sheer vanity, but some of us had soon realized that to be taken seriously in the music publishing industry we must limit the publication of our own stuff and acquire the services of outside editors and composers. It is simple to establish how much removed from the vanity press business is a publisher active now. Check out the contents of his catalogue and see what is the ratio between works in which he is the nominal editor and those in which he is not. That speaks for itself. Be that as it may, I would strongly reccomend to the owners of Tecla Editions to keep a close watch over their main editor. He is not doing their bottom line any favors by publishing third rate material and by trying to obfuscate the issue by accusing reviewers of having a commercial interest in discrediting him.

I am proud to have produced, through my firm Tecla, the Complete Works of Sor and Giuliani which are the cornerstones of the classical guitar repertory, and my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist which is recognized as the standard work on Sor. People use these publications all the time.

Congratulations! You should be proud of these accomplishments, and at the beginning of my review, I so acknowledged them.

I am also proud to have produced two years ago the second edition of the book on Sor, and of course I stand by everything in the book one hundred per cent, first edition and second edition as well. Everything which is claimed for both editions of the book is wholly correct and is not misleading in any way.

That is another matter altogether. Such a blanket statement of faith in one’s own infallibility is more deserving of a television evangelist than of a serious writer on the history of the guitar. The only way people will ever stoop to consider these statements as anything but hype, is when the author of the book will finally come forward and deal with the criticism on a point by point basis. If indeed Brian Jeffery thinks that his new book is “wholly correct” and does not contain any errors whatsoever, than I have no choice but conclude that regardless of his other contributions, he is simply incapable of understanding the meaning of historical documentation. That belief, then, unsubstantiated by anything, instantly disqualifies him as a serious historian. We deserve better than that.

I am glad that the book has given information and, I hope, enjoyment to a generation. Now there is a new generation, and I am glad that the book is still available, now in updated form.

That’s the entire point of contention, isn’t it? This is what I said at the beginning of my review: “I shall demonstrate that the amount of actual revision visited upon the original text by the author was negligible, that much relevant information which was published about Sor since 1977, sometime even by Jeffery himself, was simply not included in this newer book, and that information published in 1977 and since then proven to have been false, was crudely repeated in the newer book without comment.” This is a serious accusation which cannot be avoided by splashing about generous amounts of self-serving hype. The only way to disprove this accusation is to deal with it, directly and unabashedly. There is no way Brian Jeffery can justify the exclusion in this alleged revision of material that he already published himself. If he thinks he can, let’s hear him say so.

Now, to return to Ophee’s piece. It is one in a whole series of attacks on many different people which this same writer has made over the years and whose tone has been again and again condemned as unacceptable by many others than myself.

I have no quarrel with the assertion that I have written, sometime acerbically, about various people. I have actually done so, on more than occasion, in support of Brian Jeffery. See the list of my publications for full details. One salient example was my January1986 article “Über Kompetenz und Aufrichtigkeit in der Geschichtsforschung”, in Nova Giulianiad II/8, taking Wolf Moser to task for critical remarks he made in reference to Brian Jeffery’s edition of the Aguado guitar method. I can also promise that I shall continue to express strong objections, whenever I find commercial drivel dispensed as historical fact. It is important to note though, that even in this complaint, Brian Jeffery says that the objections to my writings were not based on the substance of the discussion, but rather on it’s tone. So far, with all the various altercations I had in the guitar press with several individuals, no one was ever able to dispute my facts. You did not like the manner of the discussion or its tone? too bad. I am sorry I hurt your feelings, but guitar history is not a popularity contest. You screw up again and continue to pretend that what you write is the truth and nothing but the truth, you can rest assured that I will come down on you, whoever you might be, with full documentation to prove my charge.

Finally, the appearance of disinterested inquiry in this piece is not borne out by the position of the writer, who has in fact, without saying so in the piece, recently set himself up in commercial rivalry with my firm by editing rival editions to those which I have produced. In the light of this unstated commercial interest, his pretence to disinterestedness in this attack must fail.

Once again, this is a most outrageous distortion of fact, engaged by Brian Jeffery recently on more than one occasion. The title of the Chanterelle edition clearly states that the book contains “Historical Notes by Matanya Ophee” and “Playing Suggestions & Commentary by Richard Savino.” On reading the book itself, there is no way anyone can confuse my role as a consultant to the new Chanterelle edition of the Complete Works of Sor, with that of Richard Savino as the editor of the volume of studies so far produced. I will say this once more: I am not, and never have been, the editor of any rival edition which competes with anything published by Brian Jeffery. And I certainly have no commercial interest in the success or failure of the Chanterelle edition. But Brian is correct on one count: I am certainly not free of disinterestedness. I am acutely and most profoundly interested in the history of the guitar and in the life and work of its major exponents, Fernando Sor among them. I lent my support to an edition which happens to compete with one produced by Tecla, simply because in my judgement, that edition and the manner of editing it chosen by the editor, Richard Savino, is an important step forward to our understanding of the contributions to guitar pedagogy by Fernando Sor. I also lent my support in the past to Brian Jeffery’s second edition of the Complete Works of Sor, and so acknowledged many times within its volumes. The Tecla edition of the Sor studies, I am afraid, does not add much to our understanding of Sor’s pedagogy, and actually contains elements which misrepresent it grossly. An extended review of that edition will follow shortly. One more thing: the Chanterelle edition of the Sor studies is not the only one which directly competes with that of Tecla. There is the edition by Mel Bay, edited by GFA president and Review Editor for Soundboard David Grimes, the complete studies in five volumes produced by Les Editions d’Oz and edited by Claude Chagnon and Sylvain Lemay, not to mention the older editions by Suvini Zerboni edited by Ruggero Chiesa and a host other publications of music by Sor too numerous to mention. Sor belongs to all of us. If Brian Jeffery wishes to claim a proprietary position on the history of this composer, he would be much better served if he paid close attention to criticisms of his work, and not dismiss them offhandedly.


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Last updated: Friday, February 22, 2008 08:58:17 PM