The Plain Truth About Urtext, Part 2

What is Urtext?

Questions to Hendrik Schulze

The term “Urtext”, what does it mean to you?

Schulze: For me, Urtext means very carefully created editions based on the latest scholarly discoveries, editions which can serve as the perfect basis for marvellous performances of works. It is the link between scholarship and practice which is always important.

Can the “Urtext” not simply be found in the composer’s manuscript?

A manuscript contains an “Urtext” only in the very rarest cases. The musical notation was subject to a great many contemporary conventions which formed the basis for a manuscript, but which can often only be deciphered with difficulty by later users. As well as this, there is often no manuscript by the composer, or any copy which is available is defective or unclear.

But there are numerous editions of great works from the history of music. Why do we constantly need new editions?

An edition is the translating of a music text into a contemporary musical language. Things which were unstated and self-evident at the time when the composition was created have fallen into oblivion and require interpretation. Over the course of time other aspects have come into focus, and editions need to be adapted to this change. And finally there are also constant new discoveries and interpretations of material which is already well-known.

What do musicians gain from Urtext editions?

In the same way that musicologists benefit from musicians’ knowledge, musicians can likewise benefit from musicologists’ knowledge. In critical editions this knowledge flows directly into the music text. Musicians therefore have a music text which is based on the most careful research, with a critical apparatus which attempts to answer possible questions about the content, and which includes a version of the work which truly incorporates all the surviving sources. The result is a performance practice which allows for a greater variety and reflection.

Hendrik Schulze is Associate Professor of Music History at the University of North Texas. In the past, he has held positions at the universities of Salzburg and Heidelberg, as well as at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of two books, Odysseus in Venedig (2004) on choice of subject and character depiction in seventeenth-century Venetian opera, and Französischer Tanz und Tanzmusik in Europa zur Zeit Ludwigs XIV. (2012) on the meanings ascribed to French baroque dance and dance music throughout Europe during the age of Louis XIV. He published numerous articles on issues of Italian baroque opera and instrumental music as well as on French baroque dance. Together with students from the University of North Texas, he has edited Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 which was published by Bärenreiter in 2013; an edition of Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea, again prepared together with students from UNT, is forthcoming from the same publisher. With his wife Sara Elisa Stangalino he edited Cavalli’s opera Artemisia for Bärenreiter (published in 2013) and is currently preparing an edition of Cavalli’s Xerse, scheduled to appear next year. He is working on a book project on Aristotelianism in Venetian Opera.