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A Maze of Editions

Steven L. Rosenhaus | February 2009

    Band and orchestra directors typically find themselves wading through music libraries, catalogs, and promotional materials as well as their own recording collections to find the best works for their ensembles. It is a difficult job because the music has to be rewarding for both the players and the people who attend concerts.
    The works may have to fit a particular time slot, fulfill a specific function, like fanfares or processionals, or feature a soloist or small group. The possibilities are enormous, so sometimes the choice of whether the music is original, an arrangement, or a different edition of a pre-existing work can become confusing. The question is how to select from these myriad possibilities.
    Most directors realize that music publishers and dealers confuse matters, mistakenly referring to a work as a composition when it is an arrangement or an arrangement when it is an orchestration or edition. This is not their fault because the differences among various types of musical works are not always clear.
    Compositions are original works   created en­tirely of original ideas and interpreted based on a composer’s dictates in the score. An original work gives students the opportunity to begin to understand a composer’s psyche, to experience the music, and become close to the composer without having to compose. Whether the music is a well-known work by Bartók, Beet-hoven, Brahms, or a still-wet manuscript from a currently active composer, performing an original work of music is an enlightening experience.
    Sometimes a composition will in­clude quotations of other works, such as the traditional cowboy tunes Aaron Copland used in the ballet Billy the Kid, including “I Ride an Old Paint.” Even here, Copland transformed those tunes to blend in with the context of the new work.
    Variations that use borrowed themes are also compositions. Brahms composed his famous set on a theme attributed to Haydn in 1873, creating a large-scale orchestral work, Op. 56a, of of an imaginative set of eight variations and a finale.

    Bee­thoven also borrowed from other composers, once writing 33 variations based on a waltz by Anton Diabelli that is popular among pianists.

    In variations a composer transforms original ideas that are always recognizable in some way. Jazz musicians do this sort of thing all the time, a fact made all the more amazing because they do it extemporaneously.
   From this point, there are fewer hard and fast boundaries between one type of musical work and another, such as the differences between composing and arranging. Even an experienced director might mistake a set of variations for an arrangement because, after all, arranging is composing with someone else’s ideas. A composer, however, transforms the original material, even while keeping it in the listener’s ear. Jazz improvisations on known tunes are often considered variation-ar­rangement hybrids.

An arranger, on the other hand, creates a kind of framework for a particular piece of music by adding new introductions, fills, interludes, and endings. He may reharmonize important themes, possibly develop countermelodies, and add his personal ideas to an existing work, all to present it in a new way without transforming it into a new piece of music. Think of the classic arrangements of standard tunes that Nelson Riddle did for Frank Sinatra for many years or Frank Foster’s renditions created for Count Basie and you’ll have an idea of what arrangers can do.
    Transcriptions or orchestrations are the rescoring of an existing work, usually done without making changes to the composition itself. A transcriber  changes the colors of the music while retaining the form, melodic shapes, harmonies, and rhythms of a work as much as possible. The work is consistently recognizable even though the overall sound is different.
    The terms transcription and orchestration are interchangeable, although the former implies that the rescoring includes no liberties as to the addition, deletion, or changing of octaves, as well as with other aspects of the original work.
    There is no one way to orchestrate or transcribe music, and two different orchestrations can be equally inventive and creative. For Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Maurice Ravel orchestrated the opening two bars of the first movement, “Promenade,” to feature a solo trumpet, while Carl Simpson gave the tune to four French horns in unison.
    I recast Mozart’s Divertimento, K.136, a work for strings, by adding winds and horns in pairs as well as timpani to recreate the sound of a typical Mozart-era orchestra. The project in­cluded being familiar enough with the composer’s orchestrational style to ap­proximate it in the transcription. I added only tone colors; every harmony, melody, and rhythm were Mozart’s own. In that case I considered myself a transcriber or orchestrator, not an arranger.
    Editions are prepared published versions of a composer’s work; the amount of preparation depends on the type of edition a publisher wants to create.  There are many types of editions, the most common being facsimile, ürtext, scholarly (or critical), performance, and educational. Again, no hard lines of demarcation exist among them, and many hybrids exist. Creating these editions requires a wealth of knowledge and skill, but not always that of a composer or arranger.
    Facsimile editions are photographic reproductions of the composer’s original, unchanged manuscript, although an editor may include comments and suggest corrections within the publication. Facsimile editions are useful for musicologists who want to explore a composer’s work habits, correct or discover works, or help to prepare a work for performance. They can also be fascinating to observe on their own, such as when a composer has a particularly messy or quirky handwriting, as in the case of Bee­thoven and Satie, or when the score is written in different color inks or pencils, an interesting habit of Stravinsky.

Ürtext editions, which are literally true editions, are engraved versions based on the best available forms of the music – most often the manuscript – with few or no additions or corrections unless the composer originally asked for them. It is an attempt to present the music as close to the composer’s original intentions as possible in an engraved, easy-to-read format.
    All ürtext editions are considered scholarly or critical editions, although not all scholarly or critical editions are ürtext. Engraved music is produced through any means except handcopying. Computer notation programs like Finale, music typewriters, and musical symbols punched into lead plates are all forms of music engraving.

Scholarly or critical editions correct mis­takes based on an editor’s examination of the original source, if it is available, and additional reliable sources, including a composer’s letters, reviews, or copies of scores marked up for performance by the composer or another dependable source. Editors of scholarly editions are usually well versed in a composer’s work habits, the notation and performance practices of the composer’s time, and the work of other such editors. Choices have to be carefully made to present the work in as close to definitive form as possible. These editions are used for performance but lack bowings, fingerings, and the other indications performers rely on except for what the composer originally included; it is up to the performers to add the rest.
    Performance editions always include an editor’s suggestions for fingerings, bowings, tempos, and any number of other interpretive indications based on musicological research, performance practices of the work’s time period, the idiosyncrasies of particular performers or conductors, or the needs of a particular level of technique.
    Collections of piano works, or works for any instrument for that matter, with fingerings and other technical suggestions added by well-known pedagogues are performance editions. Ed­itors of these publications can impose as much or as little of their own fingerings and extra articulations as well as commentaries as they like. A comparison of any two performance editions of Beethoven’s piano sonatas will show one to have relatively few suggestions by the editor while the other might be so full of commentary and additional markings that they appear messy and overwhelm the score.
    Performance editions are considered hybrid editions that balance respect for the composer’s intent with the needs of the performer. Educational versions of musical works are performance or hybrid editions because an editor makes adjustments to the score so that specific groups, such as high school string orchestras, can perform them. Some are transcriptions or orchestrations. Some works are heavily truncated with simplified harmonies that may even be rescored. The best educational editions present the music as close to a composer’s intent as possible, using the lightest possible touch of the editor’s (or orchestrator’s) pencil.
    Directors should know the differences between these various types of musical works. It will help them to select the best music for their ensembles to play in the most suitable form.