Urtext edition

An urtext edition of a work of classical music is a printed version intended to reproduce the original intention of the composer as exactly as possible, without any added or changed material. Other kinds of editions distinct from urtext are facsimile and interpretive editions, discussed below.

Preparing urtext editions

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, Beethoven[1]), or revised the work after publication, likewise create difficulties.

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 sonata form or in the main theme of a rondo. Often the dynamic markings or other marks of expression found in one location in the source material are missing in analogous locations. The strictest possible practice is to render all markings literally, but an urtext editor may also want to point out the markings found in parallel passages.[2]

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.

Other Languages
español: Edición urtext
français: Édition urtext
日本語: 原典版
português: Urtext
русский: Уртекст