A term for a musical text
, defined as the text as actually intended by the composer
. Urtext editions
of musical works attempt to recreate this text.
The idea of an "urtext" is, in many ways, a theoretical
one. Often the only surviving written texts of a musical work contain contradictory passages. Performance practices may have changed over time: the details of a figured bass may have been left out of an original score. Modern notations differ from, say, the Baroque
notations of Domenico Scarlatti
or Johann Sebastian Bach
. So most practical editions of music purchased today as "urtext" are really edited editions, where the editor has tried to hew as closely as possible to the original score, as he believes the score was intended by the composer.
The creation of Urtext editions was a reaction against the often heavy handed editorial techniques employed by late 19th century musicians such as Busoni
and Bulow. A quick comparison between the Busoni edition of Bach's Two Part Inventions
and the Urtext will point out the extent of this type of editorial license. Even Busoni seemed to sense this excess when he wrote in the preface to the second edition of his work:
I must warn the student against seeking to carry out my "interpretations" too literally. It is here that the moment and the individual may lay claim to rights of their own. My conception may be used as a reliable guide which those to whom some other valid path is known need not employ.
In the case of most of the Inventions there is, probably, but one road to follow; with regard to the interpretation of certain ones I myself do not now feel as I formerly did.