What’s in a word? Interpreting the secret scribbles of musicians, maestros and some of the great composers.

A page of solo Bach is plastered with scrawl, accretions of thought from a lifetime of study. A cello part is covered with seemingly abstract blue squiggles, tiny dunce’s hats, incomplete rectangles. The title page of a full score is filled with a hastily-pencilled interpretation: “Haydn plus Beethoven plus Russian tipsy wit plus THE WAR IS OVER”.

All are examples of musical marginalia, the words, pictures and marks that are often inscribed in pencil between the lines of a musical score. Musical marginalia serve many functions. String players write bowing directions, wind players indicate where to breathe. Instrumentalists record the interpretative input of conductors, teachers and other players. Composers and conductors muse on the meaning of a certain passage. Orchestral musicians jot notes like those passed in the back of a dull or frustrating uni class, poking fun at composers or conductors, alleviating boredom, letting off steam.

Hidden from the audience, these private memos, notes and missives are shared by and between musicians, silently whispering deep thoughts, technical ephemera, petty frustrations and profound mysteries, across the stage, through generations and between cultures.