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Editing Beethoven Jonathan Del Mar The distinguished Beethoven scholar and editor outlines some of the problems inherent in divining the composer’s true intentions. n 1995 I had the great fortune to be awarded photocopies, when this approach is open to so conductor is free to alter anything – or indeed I a contract by the publisher Bärenreiter to prepare new Urtext Editions of the nine many flaws. ‘Emotional’: I can only insist that as soon as you open the hallowed pages and everything – back to the old Breitkopf edition. Or, as in the extreme case of David Zinman, Beethoven Symphonies. Having emerged 14 view the original handwriting in all its vitality, he may embellish the text with fantasies and years later from that and from a number of immediacy and sheer animal temperament, cadenzas of his own invention while at the other Beethoven works, my sense of wonder details of the text shriek out at you, impress same time proudly proclaiming on the album remains undiminished in two respects. Firstly themselves on your consciousness, which in a cover that his is the “World Premiere Record- there is the great honour of being able to study cold, lifeless photocopy can well elude you. ing according to the New Bärenreiter Edition”. intimately and without restriction so many of We are, after all, human, and we all overlook The extent of humbug, even rank false pre- Beethoven’s original manuscripts, allowing a things. Even Urtext Editions have overlooked tences, here is breathtaking. Yet while his unique window into the way Beethoven things. Seeing the original ensures that you recording has been lambasted in the German worked. And at this point I really have to overlook the absolute minimum. It is surely press as a ‘Travestie’, no British critic, as far as stress how essential it is to look at originals, as due to the fact that I checked every single I am aware, has yet admonished Zinman for opposed to merely microfilms, photocopies or detail of the Fifth Symphony from the original his outrageous liberties with Beethoven’s text, even published facsimiles – though some manuscript in Berlin, that a note was discov- preferring instead to hail the freshness and facsimiles are so lavishly and beautifully prod- ered in the cello part (third movement, bar originality (this indisputable, perhaps) of his uced these days that they may be an adequate 268) which had appeared as a rest in all previous ‘interpretations’. substitute in the initial stages. There are two editions (including two ‘urtexts’). Mercifully, Zinman remains exceptional. reasons why original autographs are crucial for To return to the main thread: the second But the inescapable issue remains that eminent the best editorial work, one absolutely sense of wonder is that anyone should be conductors such as Abbado, Haitink and concrete, the other indefinable but (I insist) interested in the results of a task which, in so Norrington proclaim the virtues of the new real though the derogatory word ‘emotional’ many respects, is ‘anorak’ work. edition while rejecting some of its chief was hurled at me once by a zealous librarian in Whether this note or that has staccato, features. This could sound quite alarming: if Germany insistent on denying access to the whether the slur goes to this note or that: to be musicians of this stature reject a reading in an original. Concrete: it is quite shocking how honest, who cares? edition which they otherwise extol, perhaps many examples exist in so-called Urtext Yet the editions continue to sell steadily. the editor really got it wrong here! So let’s look Editions of what are presented as authentic The curious thing here is this: the Bärenreiter
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