O.T. question about Score

Rather off-topic, but I after last nights talk about the development of Dorico and music notation software in general, I kept wondering what was or is the special thing about Score?
I never worked with it, but one always hears about the fantastic possibilities etc etc.
But it was, as far as I know, the work of one man (Leland) so was he the greatest gemius which no-one is able to surpass these day’s? I know that the interface was old-fashioned Dos (later on Windows) and the learning curve was rather devastating, but interfaces can be changed (f.i. Frescobaldi for Lilypond), and I believe you could only work on one page at a time(?), if the engine is genius one might be able to embed that in something else, or (reverse) engineer it in another way keeping the same principles, or…

So my question remains what made it so good, and why is no dedicated team able to reproduce an equally great application?
(not blaming Dorico, Sibelius, Finale and all to others, but really wonder why).

SCORE was an incredible achievement – in the context of what was considered possible at the time. It was the first computer solution that really ‘nailed’ the complexity and inconsistencies of music notation.

However, there were issues with it. It didn’t use fonts originally, but constructed everything with a sequence of vertical lines, so curves weren’t very smooth. I’m not partial to some of the shapes that it created. And it required a significant amount of effort on the part of the user, in terms of learning codes and performing multiple ‘passes’ on the data.

Most of Leland Smith’s work was done in the 1970s on mainframes, and it was only released onto PCs in the late 80s. By that time, GUI apps like Finale were easier to use and could also create results of the highest quality.

What makes you think they haven’t? Lilypond is the ‘spiritual successor’ to SCORE, and it can produce very well-laid-out scores from a code, automatically (though I do find the defaults lacking in artistry).

It’s possible to create an attractive, well engraved score in Dorico using only the Options, and with no manual adjustments to individual elements.

I’m not convinced that we’re missing anything that we need to go back to SCORE for. (I haven’t listened to what was said about it in the talk… :flushed:)

1 Like

Mainly the fact that it keeps popping up how great it was/is, so yes literally it was my question, but maybe it is because it was able to do things with the limited resources of the day, and that is was in a certain way far ahead? It feels like it has some kind of mythical status…
And no, there was in the talk no longing back to the days of Score, but again the name popped up, and that is rather special for a piece of software which does not exist anymore for 10(?) years, who ever mentions Displaywriter or Wordstar?

I think it’s mostly ‘the nostalgia of what might have been’.

If Leland Smith had bequeathed his work so that it could be continued, developed and possibly turned into a most ‘user friendly’ app for our modern age, then that prospect may be exciting to some.

Though the number of people who actually used SCORE is probably very small – well less than a thousand, I’d say.

1 Like

A combination of nostalgia, a limited group of users, and the fact that it is no more, it seems. Enough to get that status!

Coincidentally, the company that distributed SCORE – Passport Designs – also distributed Encore, created by Don Williams in 1984.

He has just bought back the company, and promised a new version of Encore – the first since 2008. However, the release date has been slipping, and slipping, and slipping; with no further news; while the forum is full of a small number of frantic users, desperate for an updated version, clinging to the tantalizing promise…

Maybe it’s time to revive WordPerfect 4.2 and Lotus 1-2-3? :grinning:


I was a SCORE user, although I never really mastered it. I worked on a team of very experienced SCORE engravers in the 90s and as the “new guy” I mostly did input and proofreading. The more knowledgeable and more experienced engravers did the score and part layout. The woman I worked for was really great and taught me a lot about engraving, how to run large projects, etc.

This was to get around the restrictive DOS memory limits. IIRC some large score pages even had to have 2 files per page! The file naming structure was important and had to be sequential, so when you went to assemble a part or score, SCORE knew where to look. My boss called this process “rippling” although I have no idea if that was the official name for it.

Because it was somewhat hackable, many users created their own subroutines, glyphs, etc. Tom Brodhead was one of these developers and we used many of his. I used his vertical justification (VJ) and beaming (BEAM) subroutines on every file. My boss created a custom percussion clef glyph we used that was asymmetrical. SCORE’s horizontal spacing algorithms were way better than Finale and Sib too. I really admired SCORE’s spacing, and would take pages we did in SCORE, then try to tweak my Finale defaults to match it as close as possible.

Every element had a parameter (P) setting so you could customize just about everything. This made it really useful for modern compositions that use non-standard notation. Cutaway scores, aleatoric notation, etc. could all be accomplished. Text fonts were limited to the original Adobe PS level 1 and level 2 fonts, although there were ways around that. (My boss sometimes used Galliard, but I never quite understood how she got that to work.)

He hasn’t updated it since 2011, but Tom Brodhead still has a site with a bunch of his SCORE engraving examples. I think they still hold up quite well!

1 Like

Certainly looks very good and certainly something I would not try to master!
The only SCORE example I know of is the Broude Brothers edition of Geoffroy, but that is keyboard music from the 17th century, looks very neat, but something much more simple than Carter or Ives!
They mention this on the titlepage:
“The music in this volume has been engraved by Marc Mellits and Christine Mortenson, using Score,® a program created by Leland Smith”

Not noticeable at scale, but zoom in on the objects. :scream:

1 Like

Yes, I can see it now, but fortunately I seldom have to read the music on my musicdesk at this kind of magnification :grinning: (I need glasses nowadays, that’s true).
A result from not using vector fonts, but creating everything from lines as you wrote earlier?
But still that is something, I think, that could be improved on by switching to other techniques for constructing the glyphs of the output, but I think I understand that the great achievement of Score was mainly the engine for the spacing of things, plus the ultimate freedom in placing everything there where you wanted it, correct?

1 Like

Yeah, not great, LOL! Not noticeable at print sizes, but definitely pretty kludgy when zoomed way in.

I think that’s right. The spacing, both horizontal and vertical, was very good, and the flexibility it provided was great. I don’t want to get too nostalgic about it though because I hated the interface. The file structure was a PITA too. It really was engraving software. Much like a plate engraver will have the plate already sketched out before punching, SCORE worked better when you already had the layout in mind. You really had to know your notation rules as it would let you do anything incorrectly.

I found it worthless as composition software, but I didn’t have anywhere near the expertise on it as some others did. There was a very limited MIDI playback feature on the built-in PC speaker. I think I occasionally used it for proofreading, but it was pretty terrible even for that. Perhaps others with more advanced MIDI setups could get more out of it, but I was broke and didn’t have anything like that LOL!

The last version I used was 3.1 or something. I never tried 4.0 or the later Windows versions. My main software back then was Finale. I had tried to customize my Finale to look as much like SCORE as possible (90s-era Finale factory defaults were absolutely terrible) so I ended up getting all the Finale work on this team when composers submitted Finale files. My boss from back then ended up moving in-house at Boosey NYC (which had moved from SCORE to Sib) and she still threw me occasional Finale work for them for years.

1 Like

Interestingly, some of the PostScript fonts that deliberately copied the SCORE ‘look’ — like Partita and MuseGraph’s Vienna – kept these ragged edges, even on the most basic geometric shapes.

I find the time sigs slightly too small and badly designed, too. The 6 and 9 numerals in traditional engraving are designed so that the loop sits entirely in one space, and doesn’t do this:

Compare with Bravura:

1 Like

Most of my SCORE files are MUS files that I can no longer open. (It used the same file extension as Finale) I did find one pdf, and the time sig is not only too small, but doesn’t even look aligned on it. Not sure if that was the default or user error though!

EDIT: I guess I forgot to run the BEAM subroutine on this one because these beam angles are atrocious! The naturals colliding with the ledger lines is an awful look too:

While SCORE was capable of really great work, it was also capable of some crummy work too, as I apparently demonstrated. :man_facepalming:

1 Like

Well, I think that goes for every app.
In the end it is the user who does it, and not the software! (not yet)
It is nice to see that there is some progress, at least in these corners af humanity…
And thanks @FredGUnn and @benwiggy for shedding some light on the myth of Score!

1 Like