When we learn a piece of music from a score, it is important to be able to distinguish those markings that are from the pen of the composer, and those that have been added by an editor. There are two main types of edition available to us – Urtext (the composer’s original intentions reproduced as exactly as possible) and interpretive editions (where a famous player or scholar offers their personal opinions on how to play the work).

There are a couple of problems with Urtext editions. One is the editorial fingerings that appear on the same level as the composer’s otherwise unadulterated text. So often I find these fingering solutions just don’t work for the particular student I am teaching. In a score of Bach these editors’ fingerings can be particularly unhelpful and misleading, since they generally don’t factor in how our choice of articulation influences the fingering we settle on. Pianist and teacher Hans-Martin Theopold at first refused Henle’s invitation to select the fingering for their publications, saying “For fingerings are and remain something individual no matter what their quality”. He later relented and produced 226 fingered editions in total. When we work from Urtext editions, and indeed from any edition, we need to feel completely free to change fingerings in the score and come up with something that works for our hand and for the phrasing and articulation we have in our imagination.

For more on this subject, follow this link to my blog post Bespoke Fingerings.

The other obstacle in Baroque and Classical period Urtext scores is the relative lack of performance directions that in the day would have been up to the individual performer to decide. 21st century musicians often feel uncomfortable and ill-equipped making such decisions, and end up playing safe by playing grey. If you’re short on inspiration, consulting an interpretive edition can be illuminating. As a teenager I learned a Handel Suite from an Urtext score. Even though my teacher had written in dynamics and other scribblings, it wasn’t until I found Harold Craxton’s edition that the music came to life. Seeing dynamics and articulations in print somehow made them seem more real, even though they were only suggestions (but good ones). Czerny’s editions of Bach should absolutely be avoided as a primary source (he altered much of Bach’s text and they are full of errors), but the fingering is often good and his interpretative suggestions are logical and work well.

Czerny's edition of Bach's English Suite in A minor

Czerny’s edition of Bach’s English Suite in A minor

I have multiple editions of the same works on my shelves, and I often refer to them to supplement an Urtext working copy. I am very fond of Artur Schnabel‘s edition of the Beethoven Sonatas. His fingerings are really interesting and you can distinguish pretty clearly between the original text and his performance directions. Claudio Arrau‘s Beethoven in the Peters Edition is particularly good for fingering.

Beethoven Op. 26 (Schnabel)

Beethoven Op. 26 (Schnabel)

Beethoven Op. 26 (Arrau)

Beethoven Op. 26 (Arrau)

For Beethoven resources, follow this link to my blog post Beethoven Masterclasses.

For Schumann, I highly recommend sourcing Harold Bauer’s editions (Schirmer). When I started collecting these, they were out of print so I had to track them down in second hand and specialist music shops. They contain practical suggestions for redistributing the hands that might not occur to us. I had already given a few performances of the Sonata in F sharp minor, op. 11 when I came across Bauer’s edition, and his fantastic idea to redistribute this section in the last movement (bars 102 – 105).

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Henle edition


Harold Bauer (Schirmer)

Harold Bauer (Schirmer)

No post on interpretive editions would be complete without paying homage to the study editions of Alfred Cortot. Again, I would not suggest them as a primary source because they do contain numerous errors, but as a supplement they are invaluable. The format is extensive footnotes with text and Cortot’s own practice suggestions. Here is a page from the coda of the 4th Ballade.

Alfred Cortot (Salabert)

Alfred Cortot (Salabert)

For my blog post The Study Editions of Alfred Cortot, follow this link.

By all means get yourself a reliable Urtext but don’t neglect other sources. You can still pick up interesting old editions in charity shops and garage sales. I found a hundred-year-old cloth bound copy of Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum in perfect condition that had lain unused on a shelf – it is among my prized possessions. Many editions are available online. I am sure you are all familiar with IMSLP, and I can also highly recommend Walter Cosand‘s online library of scores. I have begun to make study editions of my own for the Online Academy, Ravel Sonatine being the most recent. I am happy to report there are several more in the pipeline, including a series based on the new ABRSM syllabus coming soon.

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