This article includes a
An urtext edition of a work of
The sources for an urtext edition include the autograph (that is, the manuscript produced in the composer's hand), hand copies made by the composer's students and assistants, the first published edition, and other early editions. Since first editions often include misprints, a particularly valuable source for urtext editions is a copy of the first edition that was hand-corrected by the composer.
Typically, an urtext edition will include a preface indicating what sources were consulted by the editor. In the case of manuscripts, or first editions that have become rare, the editor will indicate the scholarly library or other repository in which they are kept.
Where the sources are few, or misprint-ridden, or conflicting, the task of the urtext editor becomes difficult. Cases where the composer had bad penmanship (for example,
A fundamental problem in urtext editing is how to present variant readings. If the editor includes too few variants, this restricts the freedom of the performer to choose. Yet including unlikely variants from patently unreliable sources likewise serves the performer badly. Where the editor must go farthest out on a limb is in identifying misprints or scribal errors. The great danger—not at all hypothetical—is that an eccentric or even inspired choice on the composer's part will be obliterated by an overzealous editor.
One other source of difficulty arises from the fact that works of music usually involve passages that are repeated (either identically or similarly) in more than one location; this occurs, for instance, in the recapitulation section of a work in
One common response of editors for all of these difficulties is to provide written documentation of the decisions that were made, either in footnotes or in a separate section of commentary.