\"\"
Piano Forum logo

How to determine if an edition is good? (Read 675 times)

Offline slurred_beat

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 53
How to determine if an edition is good?
« on: May 24, 2021, 09:56:04 PM »
Hi all. I wonder how you determine if an edition of sheet music is good. There are many different editions on IMSLP, but you can also buy books with sheet music from the modern publishers. There are many different modern publishers and editions on IMSLP and I wonder how you can determine which ones are good and which ones are bad? I heard Urtext is good but different publishers have Urtext, so whats the difference?

Online j_tour

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2552
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #1 on: May 24, 2021, 11:07:02 PM »
I heard Urtext is good but different publishers have Urtext, so whats the difference?

Well, for me, the short answer is not intended as glib, but it is true:  I look at them all.

Or as many as I can find or find samples of online.

So, let's say you have two copies of, I don't know, the Bach 2- and 3-part Inventions:  the Wiener Urtext and the G. Henle Urtext.

I'm fairly confident that editorial choices and annotations can be researched, so if I'm buying one hard copy, I decide based on which is easiest for me to read.  And, for Bach, for example, I like some resemblance in notation as to how I like to divide up parts between the hands:  yes, I do that work separately, but I'd rather have an edition that's roughly "on my page" so to speak, even if it's not exactly to my liking.

There are other considerations, though.

For example, I wanted to finally buy a real copy of some of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas.  I took a gamble on the first volume of the Kenneth Gilbert edition published by Alphonse Leduc &cie.

For the simple reason that the entire series, although far too expensive for me to buy at once, had the sonatas ordered by the K. numbers.  So, if I buy volume one, which is K. 1 -> K.52, I don't have to repeat myself, which seems how the various Henle or Alfred editions of Scarlatti seem to be ordered, namely, haphazardly.

Of course everyone has his or her favorites, but in my case they cannot be found among one or several volumes of "Selected Scarlatti Sonatas" of the type Henle and such put out.

And, no, the Gilbert edition is not difficult to make lie flat on the stand:  one has to simply apply the right technique one uses normally, and not split the spine.  It is, however, glued-in binding, and extremely poor, especially compared with the higher standards I've come to expect from FR publishing houses.

But there are other considerations:  I recently wanted an "all-in-one" of the Ars fuga, so I went with Henle.  Because I know it's legible print, sturdy, and so forth, and especially, I already had done the work of figuring out which hand does what and all that.  Just a simple edition for aiding memory.

And, also recently, I went ahead and bought one of the Dover editions of Debussy with a few things in it I didn't have in bound copies.  I knew I didn't desire anything more than clear print, and a very sturdy edition for things like the Suite berg. and Pr le piano etc.  It serves its purpose.

It's really a consumer choice, I think, more than anything else. 

There's no one "best" edition.  I like the Cortot student editions of the Chopin etudes and preludes, even though I am incapable of playing some or even many of them.  His exercises amuse me, as does the prose.  And I have digital copies of the French in case I'm puzzled by the translator or can't make out some of the fingerings.  They serve their purpose for me.

Or, really, it depends on what use you want out of the score.

For some things I wanted recently just for cheap, bound copies, like the Bach Chrom.Fant.Fug. and the Toccatas, I just got the Alfred editions.  I should have gone for the Henle of the Toccatas, since I like many of them so much, but that's more a cost-benefit analysis that is entirely on my head for having made.  (Also, my first and only edition of the Partitas was of Hans Bischoff, which has its faults, I suppose, and I forgot the publisher of my edition, so I kind of trusted his advice on the Alfred editions of these ones).

/* EDIT:  Oh, and "urtext" means less and less, generally, the older a piece of music is.  Because no one is really sure what the urtext is, usually (note:  I'm really talking about, say, pre-Beethoven composers where there are many textual confusions, but even in Beethoven or Chopin there are still some editorial choices, although it's clearer since the notation was more explicit).  It's a kind of ideal of musicology, to discover the proto-text from which all others in the composer's hand was copied.  In many cases, I think it's more of a marketing term than anything else.  Wiener Urtext, G. Henle Urtext....some others....I wouldn't worry about the term "Ur"-text.  There are still editorial decisions made in most cases.  Whether there are fingerings or phrasing marks added, that's an entirely different thing. About the latter, I personally don't really care.  Although I do like ther WTC2 with the Schiff fingerings:  but that's just more from curiosity than anything else.  I still use the Peters WTC1, just because.  And I should buy a new edition of the keyboard Partitas, because this one has gone beyond falling apart and so forth.  */
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline quantum

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 5925
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #2 on: May 25, 2021, 04:21:39 AM »
I look at them all.

Or as many as I can find or find samples of online.

A very wise course of action.


There is no real black or white way to determine ABC edition is good, XYZ is not good, not like that at all.  It is more a gradient of grey, and which shade of grey suits you better.

Edited or not.  For beginners, or an introduction to a new composer - say your first Bach Invention - edited editions can be very helpful in showing you the general stylistic considerations.  If you are studying without a teacher, this can be helpful.  For experienced pianists, an edition with minimal editing can create a clutter free work environment.  Also if you are studying with a teacher, they can guide you through an Urtext edition. 

Fingerings, or no fingerings.  For beginners, helping establish good general fingering practices is useful.  Fingerings are personal though, and there are many well respected editions with strange, twisty, head-scratching fingerings. 

Paper and ink.  Do you like bright white, yellow, opaque paper...?  Personal choice.  Yellow paper tends to be less harsh on the eyes for long periods. 

Binding. Do you like staples, comb, perfect, or signature binding.  Maybe you prefer loose sheets to arrange as a spread.


j_tour sums up Urtext pretty well.  It's nice to have, but when you take time to examine multiple editions, such time IMO is more valuable than possessing some definitive Urtext edition by a well known publisher.  When one studies from multiple editions one takes ownership of the information one gathers from the score, rather the just leaving it in the hands of the publishers and trusting they are always correct because they are some well known name. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Online lelle

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1080
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #3 on: May 28, 2021, 10:13:41 PM »


j_tour sums up Urtext pretty well.  It's nice to have, but when you take time to examine multiple editions, such time IMO is more valuable than possessing some definitive Urtext edition by a well known publisher.  When one studies from multiple editions one takes ownership of the information one gathers from the score, rather the just leaving it in the hands of the publishers and trusting they are always correct because they are some well known name.

I have to disagree a bit. I generally feel happy with and like I can trust my Urtext scores. Both Henle and Wiener Urtext tend to sometimes have terrible fingerings that I don't use, but the notes themselves feel more legit than a Hans von Bulow edition from the 1800's.

Online j_tour

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2552
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #4 on: May 29, 2021, 03:36:18 AM »
I have to disagree a bit. I generally feel happy with and like I can trust my Urtext scores. Both Henle and Wiener Urtext tend to sometimes have terrible fingerings that I don't use, but the notes themselves feel more legit than a Hans von Bulow edition from the 1800's.

I'm not disagreeing with you at all:  I find the quality of the bindings, legibility, the annotations of both the Wiener and the Henle to be superb.  CF Peters as well, although I don't think they've ever been in the "Urtext Business."  TBH I don't often pay attention to the fingerings, except for the WTC Henle ones by Schiff, just for curiosity.

And, indeed, those are names one can trust!  Not meant sarcastically at all.  But there are so many ways to compare editions, through electronic libraries, browsing at a music store, libraries, and so forth, it would be a shame to hitch one's wagon to just one pony, even if it is a good one!

It's one of the slightly obsessive traits that I suspect many musicians share, though, to examine (even by just a quick perusal) as many ways of engraving the music as possible.  And, there may well be differing opinions on such and such a note, or a helpful editorial addition (some phrasing or voice-leading mark, or something).
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline dogperson

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1484
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #5 on: May 29, 2021, 08:01:16 AM »
Urtext is still edited, and therefore still a decision made by analyzing scores, making a devision.  They do document in the annotation for the decision that was made... but they are not a definitive nor infallible reference.

In particular. For Chopin, there are often several first editions: as the work is issued  in s new country, there is a new first edition.  When are differences a printing/editorial difference? When were they a conscious decision approved by. Chopin ?  A decision must be made by the editor. 

Chopinís Nocturne in C sharp minor post:  there are two possible endings; one was the version he gave to his sister to learn, and a different one found in his personal effects.  Which one would Chopin consider final?  Hard to say.

You get the idea.  We often treat Urtext editions as biblical, when they are not.  They are scholarly



Offline Bob

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 16118
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #6 on: May 29, 2021, 05:11:59 PM »
Urtext, if that's as pure as you can get.  Also has notes about any decisions made.

Manuscript if there is one.

Performer's edition if it's "the" performer for that composer.  Might have useful info or fingerings.

I suppose other mass produced editions if you want something like fingerings from someone else.

Ask or search online. 

It's a lot of work if you really want to research it. 

Beware, esp. now with things online, of a first edition print being given away free online or if it doesn't have any info on it.  If it's a first edition, it could have been printer 100+ years ago, immediately been corrected by the composer and fixed in a second edition, but then there's still the first edition print which get mass distributed now online. 
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline slurred_beat

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 53
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #7 on: June 01, 2021, 10:42:28 AM »
Hi all. Thanks for the tips. I understand Urtext is the best? Everyone of you says so I think. I can't find Urtext on IMSLP However. Is there free Urtext?

Online lelle

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1080
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #8 on: June 03, 2021, 09:18:23 PM »
I think there are free editions on IMSLP of some baroque music that attempts to be Urtext-ish, but to my knowledge free, researched Urtext editions are not freely available. You're paying fopr the research, engraving. binding and the supplied fingering essentially.

Offline slurred_beat

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 53
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #9 on: June 05, 2021, 09:42:57 PM »
Urtext is still edited, and therefore still a decision made by analyzing scores, making a devision.  They do document in the annotation for the decision that was made... but they are not a definitive nor infallible reference.

In particular. For Chopin, there are often several first editions: as the work is issued  in s new country, there is a new first edition.  When are differences a printing/editorial difference? When were they a conscious decision approved by. Chopin ?  A decision must be made by the editor. 

Chopinís Nocturne in C sharp minor post:  there are two possible endings; one was the version he gave to his sister to learn, and a different one found in his personal effects.  Which one would Chopin consider final?  Hard to say.

You get the idea.  We often treat Urtext editions as biblical, when they are not.  They are scholarly

Then what Urtext do you get when you play Chopin? I understand you say there is problems with Urtext. What is the solutions?

Offline dogperson

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1484
Re: How to determine if an edition is good?
«Reply #10 on: June 05, 2021, 11:06:50 PM »
The editors of Urtext edition critically review the autographs, editions and notes of Chopin to make a decision of the composerís intent. .  It doesnít mean they have made a mistake, but that the choice they made may not be infallible. 

What can you do? Read the editorsí notes for the edition you buy and how they made a decision OR you can do what millions do and just play the choice they made.  I generally use Henle or Polish National Edutions.