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Useful Bibliographic Terms: Editions and editing

What is an edition?

Edition - 1) All of the impressions of a work printed at any time or times from one setting-up of type; those printed from the first type-setting are first editions; those printed from subsequent type-settings are numbered sequentially (second edition, etc.); significant changes may be indicated by descriptive labels (revised edition, reprint edition, enlarged edition, corrected edition, etc.). 2) A presentation of an older musical composition in a version that makes it accessible to modern performers, through, for example the use of modern notation.

Types of editions

Anthology - Representative collection of selected works or excerpts.
Historical edition - An edition devoted to works of the past, either from a particular time period or from a particular country or geographical area. 
Critical edition - An edition based on scholarly evaluation of all sources and taking into account variant readings and contemporary performance practice.
Performing edition - Practical edition for modern performers.  A performing edition may be prepared from a critical edition, or it may be based on sometimes unspecified or less reliable sources.  
Urtext - An edition presenting a musical work in its presumed original state, without subsequent alterations or additions by an editor. 
Monuments - A type of historical edition focusing on the repertoire of a particular country or geographical area.  Denkmaler in German, Monumenta in Latin. 
Collected Editions - Editions presenting the complete works of a particular repertoire, usually the works of a single composer.  Collected, or complete, editions are usually critical editions.  You should be familiar with these foreign terms for collected editions:

French    Oeuvres completes
German   Gesamtausgabe, Samtliche Werke, Werke
Italian       Opere complete, Tutte le opere
Latin         Opera omnia
Spanish    Obras completas



Preparing a critical edition

In preparing a critical edition, the editor:

  • Collects all sources, that is autographs, early editions, etc.
  • Collates the sources.
  • Describes and evaluates the sources in a critical apparatus (Kritischer Bericht in German).
  • Lists the variants from source to source.
  • Transcribes the sources into modern notation.
  • Makes corrections and additions to the sources necessary to realize the composer's intentions.
  • Indicates any editorial changes to the original material.  

In making an edition, the editor follows an important principle of what is known as textual criticism.  This is the effort to create a "text" or edition of a musical work that most closely represents the original.  The process of textual criticism involves trying to identify and remove errors that often come about when a manuscript is copied or printed, and in some cases identifying and resolving inconsistencies that may appear in the composer's own copies of the work.  In doing this, the editor takes into account the history of the piece, its overall meaning and function, and the cultural environment in which it was created.