Dr. Wesselin Christoph Karaatanassov: An Appreciation

Dr. Wesselin Christoph Karaatanassov

I first encountered the music engraving of Dr. Karaatanassov, or “Wess”, as he is known in music engraving circles, on the MakeMusic Finale forum several years ago. He illustrated his points with some of the most beautiful computer engraving that I have encountered. I then discovered that Dr. Karaatanassov was an extraordinary person who had thought about music engraving at a depth that was really unparalleled. He had not only exhausted the capabilities of the most advanced engraving software but gone far beyond it, devising his own fonts both for music and words, and working out meticulous techniques for achieving results that possessed both the warmth of old hand plate engraving and the precision of modern computer engraving. It was easy to see why major music publishing companies like Schott have had Dr. Karaatanassov engrave their most difficult scores. There are very few engravers in the world who can do justice to some of the extreme requirements of much contemporary music like Dr. Karaatanassov. I am reminded of my days as a hand music copyist in New York working for Arnold Arnstein, who was well-known as the best copyist in New York City. The foremost composers and publishing companies went to Arnstein because of his excellence. Were Dr. Karaatanassov working in New York today, he would be in the same position.

On further acquaintance through the various forums, and later through email, it became clear that Dr. Karaatanassov was much more than a technical engraving wizard, but a caring person who enjoyed helping his fellow musicians and sharing his knowledge. Numerous times he has answered my questions as well as the questions of many others in great depth on the public forums and helped me improve my work, even supplying me with several of his fonts. I use his Vortragbezeichnung font exclusively for the performance indications in my recent work because of its excellence and because it blends so well with the rest of my house style. I also use his superb Finale settings for piano braces both large and small, and have at times used various characters from his Vintage GHMA and Vintage ECP1 fonts. The following is his description of these fonts which will give some idea of his work in music font creation:

I have dedicated over three years to design two music fonts that combine modern and old elements. Click here to see samples.

Vintage GHMA is delicate, distinctive and Henle-like. It contains almost 200 glyphs imported from precisely traced and vectorized micro-photographs. The glyphs are easily interchanged with Maestro glyphs to give a Finale score a very different appearance. I have tested it in both classic and contemporary piano music, and it fits very well, as one can see in the samples. Vintage ECP, on the other hand, resembles the scores published by C. F. Peters. While not extra bold, it is somewhat heavy and most suitable for scores and parts. The Henle-like font looks well in combination with Bauer Bodoni text font and some other modern serifs like Baskerville. The Peters-like font, its opposite, works well with "old school” serif fonts.

Both fonts contain normal, narrow and wide quarter and half note heads. The Henle-like font also contains various shapes for naturals, sharps, flats, and quarter rests. Moreover, the imbedded glyph ligatures help Sibelius users place indications like sf, sfz, ff, mp, mf, sffz, ffff by simply typing them directly—for example, typing p p p will redirect automatically to the single character ppp. There are also dozens of kerning pairs never seen before for better-looking combinations of glyphs. They are applied not only to single characters, but also to hairpins beginning or followed with a dynamic symbol. Each font has postscript and open type versions, plus the necessary Finale Font Annotation file. There is also a library of wide, narrow and normal note heads, flag connections and so on.

Knowing Dr. Karaatanassov has been an inspiring experience and caused me to become a better engraver and thus improved the quality of my publications.

The world music engraving community at large has also profited from his advice and research. For example, a new music engraving software called Dorico is being developed which may ultimately achieve preeminence in the field. I recently learned that the font devised for this software incorporates the rounding techniques that Dr. Karaatanassov has been applying for many years.

There are many who have profited from Dr. Karaatanassov’s work and he certainly deserves the respect that he maintains within the music community. I consider his artistry and dedication unique in these times and very inspiring.

About John Ruggero