How we edit our critical performing editions

It has been widely recognised by musicologists for over 20 years that there can be no definitive edition or ‘Urtext’ of a musical work. We therefore reject the concept of the Urtext and seek instead to produce editions underpinned by the highest standards of scholarship, and which are aimed primarily for musicians to use in performance. We call these ‘critical performing’ editions. Our editions are ‘critical’ because they evaluate the work’s sources and make critically-informed decisions in order to establish a reliable text. We favour a ‘best text’ approach wherever possible, meaning that we select one source as our primary source rather than amalgamating different sources.

Our editions are also ‘performing’ editions because they are primarily intended to be used by performers. We present the musical text in modern notation, and take a practical and pragmatic approach in order to produce an edition which is useful for musicians. Whereas editors have the luxury of being able to present alternative readings, musicians must choose between variants in performance. We therefore aim to make critically-informed decisions in order to present a musical text without variants, and to discuss matters of doubt in the commentary, which we present in a clear, jargon-free format which is comprehensible by non-specialists.

The goal of our editions is, wherever possible, to present a ‘snapshot’ of the musical work at the moment of its first publication. This is a significant landmark in the history of any musical work, when the public first comes into contact with the musical text. Frequently the composer will also have had input into the production of the first edition. We therefore generally aim to use the first edition as our primary source, correcting errors, and presenting the text in modern notation. We do not assume that sources preceding the first edition such as the manuscript are necessarily more authoritative than the first edition; nor do we subscribe to the ‘Ausgabe letzter Hand’ doctrine which privileges a composer’s later revisions over earlier versions.