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Asked On: 07/13/2016
Urtext basically means that this music is the earliest version of this piece of music, to which later versions can be compared. It serves as a baseline; it gives musicians and scholars an idea for the composer’s original intent. The reason that one would purchase an Urtext edition of music would be so that he or she has a musical text which solely reflects the composer’s intentions; creative interpretation can then be built upon those intentions. While it’s useful to purchase an Urtext edition so that one may get a feel for a composer’s intentions, it’s no guarantee of the composer’s exact writings. When a piece of music is edited or altered, it’s common for editors to add or subtract to the music as well as to edit performance methods. In many cases, it can be useful to purchase a thoroughly edited and altered version of a piece of music, because perhaps it will contain fingerings, bowings or musical performance ideas that will be useful to the performer or student who’s using it. Editions that are edited or arranged may also contain a different cadenza for a concerto. When deciding which edition to buy, it really does come down to personal preference.
It’s also worth noting that there’s more than one publisher of the Urtext version of music. Some well-known publishers of Urtext versions include Henle, Bärenreiter and Breitkopf, among others.
This comes from the G. Henle Verlag Publisher’s website: “There is no such thing as the one valid Urtext version of a musical composition, because the Urtext edition is not the same as a composer's manuscript. (Unfortunately even today many musicians believe this to be the case, for the word "Urtext" [original text] probably also supports this idea.) In most cases the Urtext editor has to choose between different readings in the primary sources: What is "correct", what is "wrong"? Often there is no clear answer. At all events, a good Urtext edition justifies the decision made (and printed).”
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