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Your Viola News! Issue #006 - What is Viola Urtext?
June 14, 2010
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VIOLA NEWS! * * * * Issue 06 * * * * 14 June 2010

Hello, music and viola lover.

It's been a long time since I sent you the last news. Many things happened, bad and good, and as a consequence this website has been neglected a bit.

Let's start again, with something for players and of interest to music lovers as well.

Maybe you have seen this word a few times and wondered "What is an Urtext"? It is a German word, where ur means original text. It is a particular edition that aims to be as close as possible to the composer's intention.

Several editions of the same work can have many differences, due to illegible manuscripts, copyists' errors, misprints in the first edition.

In many old and modern editions, there may be a lot of marks added by the editor, additions that were not written by the composer. Such marks can be slurs, fingerings, dynamic marks (for example piano or forte etc.), trills and other embellishements, even more or less notes and chords.

While all these marks can be useful when learning a piece and as a suggestion on how to practice and perform it, (especially when the editor was a great performer such as William Primrose), as they help understand the piece, still they are not what the composer meant. Also, the editor changes are not recognizable, so you don't know what is the composer's and what is the editor's.

I myself buy such great performer's editions, it's like having a chat with the great performer about that particular composition.

On the other hand, I also like to go to the source and see what the composer really wrote. If possible, I like to buy the facsimile of the manuscript or of the first edition, although most of times these are not easy to read and are not of practical use for a performance.

Here is the usefulness of the Urtext edition. To prepare such edition the publisher has used all possible sources: the composer's autograph manuscript, copies made by assistants or students or copyists, the first printed editions (sometimes they even have the composer's corrections and annotations).

How does the publisher put all this information together? The Urtext editions usually have a preface explaning what the editor found, how they chose from the sources, more details on performance practice. Also, in the Urtext editions any slurs, notes or other indications added or changed by the editor are printed smaller than the original, to differentiate the two. And you won't find any fingerings, so you'll have to work out your own (very good practice).

This way the performer can decide how to play, let's say, Mozart's music rather than somebody else's version of Mozart's music (without even knowing it).

For example, Mozart wrote the viola part of the Sinfonia Concertante in D major for the viola tuned a semitone higher. Yet, even most players don't know this because most editions offer a version of the work transcribed in E flat major, simply because the use of the scordatura went a bit out of fashion in the last century.

Like this, there are many more examples.

If you fancy getting some Urtext editions and maybe compare them to others, you can take advantage of the Baerenreiter 20% discount they offer for a few days.

You can find Urtext editions from several other publishers, see all of the viola and string music Urtext editions.

Anyway, enjoy viola music in all versions!

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