Bärenreiter is a renowned German publisher. Founded in 1923, during an era in which there was a burgeoning interest in early music, Bärenreiter quickly developed its reputation for using musicological research to inform editorial decisions. Their editions are preferred by many musicians worldwide. So what is it about Bärenreiter publications that makes them so popular? Our interview with Bärenreiter staff, below, will answer that question and more!
Question: What is an Urtext edition? Why is it important?
Until the early 20th century, performers and music teachers were principally concerned with passing on their own performance instructions to up-and-coming generations of musicians. This led to the development of “instructive” editions, which included personal interpretations of bowing, dynamics, articulation, etc. Two of the most famous instructive editions were those by Artur Schnabel for the Beethoven sonatas and Clara Schumann for the piano works of Robert Schumann.
Because these editions contained major changes that were not originally written by the composer, there was a movement during the middle of the 20th century to return to a musical text free from any extraneous input. In a nutshell: Urtext editions are edited by specialists who take all available sources of a particular work into account and strive to put together a musical text as close as possible to the composer’s original intentions.
Many editions are still used today that are based on the “instructive” 19th century editions. They include mistakes ranging from dynamics and articulation markings to wrong notes. An Urtext edition will correct such mistakes. When Bärenreiter came out with the Urtext editions of the Beethoven Symphonies and the Beethoven Cello Sonatas, we got calls from conductors and players asking whether we were sure about certain notes, because they had learned them incorrectly!
Q: How do you find incoming manuscripts to evaluate?
On the one hand, Bärenreiter publishes great works of the classical repertoire. For this part of our catalog, we search for works that do not have a good Urtext edition available. We may also publish a particular work because it fits well into our catalog and we would like to be able to offer it to our customers.
On the other hand, Bärenreiter also publishes the works of some contemporary composers. We are being offered compositions all the time. A team of editors will decide whether or not we will accept a composition. Not only the quality of a work is evaluated, but also whether or not it will fit into our catalog and if we have the capacity for another composer.
Q: What kind of backgrounds do the editors have? Do they have areas in which they specialize?
Our editors at Bärenreiter are musicologists and musicians. They oversee a particular instrumental or vocal area. For example, we have an editor for piano music, one for chamber and orchestral works, one for solo voice, one for contemporary music, two editors for choral works, etc. – a rather large editorial team actually.
Our Bärenreiter editors work with renowned musicologists, many of whom are experts on certain composers. Jonathan Del Mar is a Beethoven and Dvorak scholar; Clive Brown specializes in Brahms and Beethoven; and Larry Todd is a Mendelssohn expert.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges editors face when embarking on editing an Urtext edition?
One of the greatest challenges is to first of all understand how a source relates to the other sources that have come down to us. Pedigree and integrity are essential. In attempting to get the “big picture”, i.e. an understanding of all the sources and their interrelationships, we sometimes find valuable sources that have been overlooked. Sometimes one unknown or overlooked source can cause a total reevaluation of all sources, thereby providing logically sound and valid readings previously unknown to performers and scholars.
Our editors have to work like detectives. For example, the editor might work from secondary sources such as letters, concert programs, reviews etc. The editor might be able to ascertain from these sources that the composer not only oversaw a particular performance but also made last minute changes in the musicians’ parts. And now the search starts. Where are these parts? Are they lost? Or have they survived, possibly uncatalogued, in the archives of some library or theater? There have been exciting finds which made editors very happy.
Q: What makes Bärenreiter stand out from other Urtext editions?
Many of our Urtext editions – especially the more recent ones – include very enlightening prefaces with a lot of fantastic information on the genesis of the work in question but also on the performance practice at the time. Good examples are our new editions of Brahms’ works for one instrument and piano edited by Clive Brown, Neal Peres Ca Costa and Kate Bennett Wadsworth. These editions include truly fascinating insight into what Brahms actually meant by his notation at the time. Musical symbols change their meaning over time. A crescendo hairpin, for example, means something different to us today than it did to Brahms and his contemporaries. To us it simply stands for a dynamic increase, to Brahms it might also have implied getting a little faster, a certain rhythmic flexibility. This kind of information is not some theoretical, ivory-tower musicological stuff. It is highly relevant to the performer!
Q: What is your most popular title?
Bärenreiter really is the Bach and Mozart publisher as we have published the “New Bach Edition” and the “New Mozart Edition”. Based on these scholarly large-format scores, which can be found in all major music libraries around the globe, we have published practical Urtext editions for performance of more or less all of these composers‘ works. So Bärenreiter has a long-standing reputation for their Bach and Mozart editions and many of these composers‘ most performed works belong to our bestselling editions.
Q: What are some new titles customers can look forward to?
We have started to publish all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, a wonderful project. The Beethoven Piano Sonatas are so central in the piano repertoire that we are very excited about adding them to our catalog. We are very grateful to have none less than the above mentioned Beethoven scholar Jonathan Del Mar to edit these. Jonathan Del Mar is an incredibly meticulous musicologist and we are confident that his editions will be truly excellent.