A most promising, scholarly driven achievement:

The Anton Bruckner Urtext Complete Edition


© Aart van der Wal, April 2018


There is no question about it: this source-critical Anton Bruckner Urtext Complete Edition is the most promising, scholarly driven achievement to date. The term 'Urtext' was most often used as it was understood today: as implying a musical text that has been edited on a basis of appropriately evaluated and (re)considered principal sources, with the editorial decisions presented in such a manner that they were clearly apparent to the user; and in most cases the professional user.

The project's chief-editor, the German musicologist and conductor Dr. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, sent me the latest editions: of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. The only appropriate way to disclose the extraordinary meaning of this project is by quoting from the score's preface, although incidentally and thereby only slightly amended.

A new approach
This new and source-critical edition marks a new approach. The new edition of the Seventh Symphony may serve as a prime and prestigious example. Because this work's first edition, up until the engraving phase, was supervised by the composer himself (and despite the loss of the proofs corrected by Josef Schalk and Ferdinand Löwe), it, along with the autograph score on which the first edition was based, should be regarded as the primary source, for this is the edition that was standard during Bruckner's lifetime and which he himself heard several times in piano and orchestral performance. In that case the autograph score was to be consulted in its supporting role; alternative readings given in this earlier source were incorporated into the text where appropriate, designated as alternatives. A later source, Karl Muck's score (this friend of Bruckner used it for all his performances from the first time he conducted the work in Graz in March 1886), with its retouches sanctioned by the composer, was also consulted, and these were likewise incorporated where possible, marked as <ossia>. Finally, there was the large number of small errors and contradictions in the first edition that needed to be corrected (the details of which are detailed in the editorial report).

Source material, reporting
The primary sources used for the 'Urtext' edition are the autographs, the copies with autograph entries, the first published editions edited by the composer himself, be it partly alone, be it partly in partnership with third parties, as well as handwritten performance material. But there are more sources, such as further copies, piano arrangements, preliminary drafts, sketches and rejected score bifolios, adding to this Bruckner's letters and calendar entries. More than one version of a work have been published separately, whereas variants and individual movements are also taken into account.

Editorial reporting comprises an account of the source materials and their origins, with subsequent explanations of the critical revisions and the editorial decisions taken. Specific Idiosyncrasies in the musical text are provided in footnotes. The appendices contain tables, overviews, facsimile reproductions and any further material that is called for.

In full score
The orchestral works essentially appear in full score, with the pairs of wind parts notated on a single stave. Only those instruments which are tacet throughout a particular movement are not represented, along with timpani, percussion and harp when they are not used for extended periods. To provide a better overview, the verso and recto pages visible are maintained. Clef and key signatures are omitted on the recto pages to aid in ease of reading from left to right.

Clefs usually appear in the score as is in the autograph score. However, the lower-octave treble clef used for the celli and double basses has had a small precautionary <8> added underneath it. For ease of reading, the tenor clef is used instead of in the parts.

Departing from previous convention, bar lines are broken between instrumental groups in order to improve legibility. Bruckner notated in his orchestral scores the timpani under the trumpets, as was in accordance with long-standing tradition. However, with this edition the timpani appear underneath the brass section as is customary nowadays.

Metrical numbers
Bruckner's metrical numbers are essential to understand the balance of heavier and lighter measures within metrical periods. Not only do they play an essential role in organising the musical text, but they also offer clues as to articulation and phrasing (odd-numbered measures are generally to be accorded more weight, even-numbered ones less). They have been reproduced in the lower margin, uniformly centred beneath each measure, wherever included by Bruckner himself.

The transposing notation of brass instruments follows Bruckner's practice in the autograph score. Key signatures in the transposing brass instruments are mentioned in the score as specified by the composer. In line with modern practice, Bruckner's supplementary accidentals are omitted in both score and parts. In the parts, however, the accidentals are used according to today's standard practice, so without their application being affected by their key signature. Where necessary, the performance materials include additional parts, in the tunings and transpositions as customary today, as contemporary circumstances may require.

Stemming of notes
The stemming of notes in staves with pairs of instruments corresponds with Bruckner's own notational practice in his autographs. Where the parts proceed in the same rhythm single note stems are used. Only where parts are separate from each other, or even where the articulation varies, is the upper part stemmed upwards and the lower part downwards. If only one instrument plays, the silent instrument is allotted rests. If both instruments play in unison, only one normal-stemmed part is reproduced. Additions like <à 2> and numbers (<I>, <II>, etc.), which Bruckner still occasionally used as a precautionary measure, could be largely dispensed with here, as the distribution of parts is apparent at first glance from the stemming and placement of rests. They are only included in questionable cases to facilitate orientation.

In regard to articulation, Bruckner's upbow symbol has been replaced by today's customary sign. Differentiation has been maintained between the vertical stroke indicating separation of notes and the spiccato sign. Simile signs, abbreviations, colla parte or col basso passages, and repeat signs have been written out without further mention. Dynamic indications have been adapted to match today's practice, e.g. »sempre« instead of Bruckner's »semp« or the standard »dim«, instead of »dimin«.

In his notation of timpani tremolo, Bruckner frequently wrote »tr« or »trem« with a wavy line together with the usual abbreviation for tremolo. This notational practice had to be maintained (in the score as »trem«, since it is not a trill, although Bruckner at times wrote »tr«), because at times Bruckner made it clear that a note is intended to receive a fresh attack by writing another »trem« with a newly beginning wavy line. In long stretches of string tremolo Bruckner differentiated between notation in semibreve and minims. This leads one to assume that at such points Bruckner did not want a continuous tremolo but one played with change of bow every minim, which makes an enormous difference in sound (cf. e.g. the beginning of the principal movement of the Seventh Symphony and its coda, as well as the whole of its Finale).

Coloured notation
In the Urtext Complete Edition, coloured notation has been implemented in the score. This offers numerous new possibilities for a scholarly, practical new edition. On the one hand, royal blue is used to differentiate editorial additions from the original text. The rather clumsy means of representation hitherto used (small type, dotted lines, brackets, etc.) could be largely dispensed with. Only in exceptional cases editorial annotations are given in supplementary brackets to assist the reader (e.g. the continuing use of »pizz.« after page turns, as well as <a 2> for particular wind entries). On the other hand, different colours are used to assign elements of the score to their various sources. Thereby editorial decisions, such as potentially practicable variants in the musical text, can be clearly ascribed to their origins. Variants identified by <ossia> placed above the relevant system are differentiated in the score by coloured print. As the sources are different for each work, the allocation of these colours is indicated independently for each volume, usually on the first page of the music. The coloration used in the score is intended to aid the user as a source of information, and serve the conductor in assisting with the decision-making process. On the other hand, the parts contain the entire musical text (except for the footnotes specifically intended for the conductor) as well as the ossia variants uniformly printed, without the use of coloration.

Three examples of coloured notation (Seventh Symphony)

Different paths
Needless to say that these are all quite considerable improvements compared to any previous edition. Adding to this, the earlier main editors, Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak, followed fundamentally different paths. As far as the Seventh Symphony is concerned, Haas saw it as his duty to 'recognise and eliminate foreign additions'. Nowak, in his edition, accepted verbal additions in the autograph that were not in Bruckner's hand (largely tempo modifications), because he considered them as authenticated by references found in letters. However, both these editors tacitly incorporated corrections and variants from the first edition (of the Seventh Symphony) as well as the conducting score used by Muck. In neither edition can one speak of a text based entirely on the autograph score. And neither Haas nor Nowak justified his editorial procedures, since neither editor published a critical report. This task fell to Rüdiger Bornhöft, who was finally able to publish a report in 2003. He compared the Haas and Nowak editions with the sources and added a number of corrections to the Nowak's. Admittedly, the result was merely an attempt at a critical edition, since the text has been so often corrected over a period of some 60 years that errata and omissions were unavoidable.

Tempo indications entailed in one of the appendixes (facsimile of Bruckner's handwriting)

Again as an example, the new critical edition of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies contains following main parts:
Full Score
Foreword (with extensive background information)
Editorial Report
Genesis of the sources
Table: tempo Indications
Performance practice
Table: variant readings
Table: ASc, pagination (concordance)
Table: ASc, tempo Indications (autograph, fascimile)
Facsimile (autograph, examples)
The trouble with Wagner tubas (by Joseph Kranz)

Not so simple
It seems so simple: to feel and to comprehend what Bruckner really wanted to express in his symphonies and choral works. Not at all. Yes, we notice instantly the projected forward thrust with its tremendous semantic expansion reaching even transcendental proportions, that the message reaches out to metaphysical borders, and that we do not need extensive program notes or exhaustive analysis to be in the middle of it all. This is music that has the credentials and the ability to lift us and to free our mind. However, this does not discharge us of our responsibilities in terms of textual and historical correctness towards a great composer.

Since the beginning of serious Bruckner scholarship we have been faced with a variety of editions, be it performing versions or not, carrying such a huge variety in approach and interpretation, defensible or not, that it clearly diminishes confidence in their artistic validity; and even more so when public access to the original sources is either restricted or impossible, with critical annotation fairly non-existent. Under the yoke of such wilfully created obscurity the question of who is right and who is wrong has lost its utter meaning.

Not even professional music critics and performers take serious efforts to study and interpret all underlying documentation, if available. They express their views without knowing the facts and based on personal taste, preferences or dislike just caught by the ear. This can hardly be stimulating for any editor spending much time and efforts to explore Bruckner’s manuscripts in all their detailing. There is always that basic discrepancy between scholarly craftsmanship and unprofessional critical attitude.

In my frequent contacts with Dr. Cohrs over the last twenty years it became quite clear to me that he is one of the very few scholars with only one objective in mind and heart: to dismantle what needs to be dismantled and to replenish what needs to be replenished. That what is questionable needs to be resolved and that facts and not assumption should be leading. Always.

Let me quote from my interview with Sir Simon Rattle (click here) about the four movement version of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony:

"Working with Ben Cohrs on this was an extraordinary experience. This is also what he is: an extraordinary character. A brilliant, very dear and very generous man with no social graces. Does this not remind you of a certain Austrian composer? No one can dispute his knowledge and that he spent a lifetime with this. I have learned an enormous amount from him and I am very grateful for that. An incredibly bighearted man, with his willingness to share his knowledge and his time. That is something we all need. Daniel Harding feels absolutely the same. We appreciate that Ben is as complicated as many composers are. Some are wonderful to work with, like John Adams and once Witold Lutoslawski, ‘normal’ people so to speak, as many are not."

Interview with Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs
In The Bruckner Journal, In Vol. 18 no. 2, July 2014, Benjamin Gunnar-Cohrs was interviewed about the new Urtext Complete Edition (click here for the pdf in full).

Dr. Cohrs, I believe the first idea of a new complete edition, outside the context of the Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag edition, was yours. When and why did you come to the conclusion that it was necessary?
Actually this was not my idea. In 2010 I was approached by Alexander Hermann, publisher of the highly successful Strauß Edition Wien which has, over the last 25 years, edited practically everything from J. Strauß. These editions set a new standard. Since I've been one of the MWV (Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag, Vienna) editors since 1995, of course my loyalty was with them at that time. But Dr. Hermann's request to become Editorial Director of a new Bruckner Complete Edition made me think about the whole matter. That offer alerted MWV to launch a re-edition on their own, and I have been asked to participate in that undertaking. However, they decided to run it with an editorial team instead of an editorial director, and after studying the editorial problems of the MWV Bruckner Gesamtausgabe I came to the conclusion that Dr. Hermann not only had a much better offer, but in particular an editorial know-how and an interest in new ideas that I simply could not resist accepting, and I stopped working for MWV.

There is now a chance to establish an entirely newly conceived edition, avoiding all of the fundamental problems which occurred within the MWV project, caused a) by endless corrections of volumes since 1929, publishing merely revised editions of revised versions of editions, b) by the fact that most of the critical reports have not been published together with the scores, but separately, leading to even new editions later, and c) the fact that the fundamental editorial principles and practice laid out by Haas, and more or less continued by Nowak, are simply not up to date anymore. I could go into much detail about those shortcomings, but this would make an entire paper and go far beyond the limits of this interview. It took us, in all, three years to discuss all the issues involved with the overall structure of the new edition, manifold questions of layout, of possible co-operation, and finding a team of editors as well as some helpful colleagues (musicians, conductors and scholars) who would like to form an advisory board. Finally, in December 2013 we all had an initial meeting in Vienna, and now we are in the process of preparing the first volumes to be out this and next year. We prefer to do things the right way from the very beginning rather than correcting our approach later. So it is better that we take more time now to save time later.

What will be the special qualities of the Bruckner Edition Wien which distinguish it from other editions of Bruckner's scores?
First of all, the overall structure has been carefully planned under practical aspects, and we will offer six series in 16 work groups. Take, as a bad example, the MWV Bruckner Complete Edition volume XXI Small Sacred Works: It contains 44 works for all kind of ensembles - works for choir a capella, or with choir and various instruments or small orchestra, sacred solo songs with organ or piano accompaniment, or male choir with trombones. But it is impossible to perform at all from that score. The pieces included there are only available individually from licensed Doblinger editions, but the user of the score finds no information at all about those in the study score! On the other hand what we will do is publish three series: Sacred works for mixed choir, secular works for mixed choir, and works for male choir. Each will include three work groups, as, for instance, Secular works for mixed choir a capella. And apart from the Subscription Volumes there will be practical editions from each of them.

Secondly, each volume will include an editorial report with various sections, features and tables, intended in particular for the musical practice and as a support for the conductor at work. All sources will be taken into account, since is not only to be found in the autograph, as Nowak had promoted for his own editions. Hence, we have called our project Anton Bruckner Urtext Gesamt-Ausgabe, and each volume will be a scholarly-practical new edition, thoroughly re-examined from the outset. Bruckner Edition Wien is only the label, allowing for later text publications as well. In fact, we plan the entire project as a kind of interface between musical practice and musicology. I am, for instance, in the process of writing a book on performance practice in Bruckner, which will appear within this series. The Bruckner Journal, Vol. 18 no. 2, July 2014 2 Finally, we have established an entirely new layout method. The volumes will appear in multicolour. For instance, editorial additions will not appear in small type, or in brackets, or dotted lines, they will be all given in royal blue. Things taken from different sources (autograph score, first print edition, orchestral parts etc.) will also appear in different colours. We are also thinking about offering interactive, multicoloured multimedia-versions, for instance for desktop PCs. Where the sources allow for different readings (within one version), we will offer ossia-bars to give conductors a choice of alternatives.

Obviously you will not be doing this all on your own. Who else will be involved in editing the scores?
First of all, we are extremely happy that Nikolaus Harnoncourt agreed to become the patron of our new edition, because his ideas of performance and editorial practice match to a large extent our own ideas. I have also found some co-editors, who are also all esteemed personal friends. The sacred choral works (Work Group I.3. and Series II) will be overseen by Rob van der Hilst, who is a composer, organist and music scholar from Utrecht in the Netherlands. He knows sacred music very well and has written some remarkable books on the Bach family. Joseph Kanz, editor and music director from Wiesbaden, Germany, is responsible for secular choral music and works for wind orchestra (Series III and IV). He has a long practice as arranger and editor of music and is also an experienced conductor of wind orchestras. The Lieder and piano works (Work Groups V.2. and VI.1.) will be edited by Dr. Morten Solvik, a music scholar from Vienna who has worked on Schubert songs and Mahler. I am particularly happy that the organ works (Work Group VI.2.) will be edited by Matthias Giesen, music director and organist at the monastery of St. Florian. Personally I will concentrate on the orchestral works and instrumental chamber music.

Are there likely to be any dramatic, major differences in some of your editions compared to those we are used to hearing? Or will it mainly be a case of refinement, adjustment, informed performance practice etc.?
That depends entirely on the piece. Some editions will perhaps not differ drastically from older scores, but others may, and the devil is always in the detail. I am at present working on the Seventh, and in fact I have found some bars which have so far never been performed as they stand in the autograph score. Symphony No. 7, 1st movement, bars 112-16 We will present some works, or versions of symphonies, which (at least until this day) have not been included in the MWV BrGA. Take for instance the Second Symphony: from our new editions it will be possible for the first time to perform it as Bruckner himself conducted it in 1873 and 1876. We will also bring alternative movements within the same volume of a version - for instance, No. I/1 will be based on the text as Bruckner himself premiered it in 1868, but also include the earlier version of the Adagio and the old Scherzo in a supplement, as well as the later revisions. So the conductor can decide for alternatives without hiring extra materials. And, by the way, with the exception of the parts for the symphonies (which will be on hire), all performance materials will be available for sale, including the sacred music!

For the lay enthusiasts, popular commentators and even orchestral librarians, the confusion surrounding editions of Bruckner's works is something of a nightmare. The composer himself is responsible for some of the confusion, but don't you think this increase in the number of extant editions (in parallel with a whole new complete edition from MWV) is merely going to exacerbate the problem rather than clarify it? After all, most people just want to hear, for example, Bruckner 4, and would rather not find themselves confronted by an everexpanding plethora of versions, quasi-versions, revisions and editions. How will your edition cater for such a simple, but understandable, requirement?
Actually this is merely a Brucknerians' way of seeing it. Other composers have also offered some of their works in different versions - Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Prokofiev, not to mention Bach, Händel, Mozart or Schubert. And of many composers we also have numerous editions of the same works. Just to the contrary, I find it quite amazing that, concentrating on the Bruckner symphonies, we have so far only performance materials for the old Haas et al., the Nowak et al., and the first print scores in reprint-editions (such as Kalmus). It could be much worse! The average listener may also not be capable of noticing editorial differences in Beethoven Symphonies between Del Mar, Markevich, Mahler or Wagner. Essential for the listener is the information from CD-booklets, programme notes, concert organisers or broadcast companies. But we do our Urtext-Gesamt-Ausgabe for the performers. Besides: the old editions cause so much trouble that it is actually a duty to edit this music entirely anew.

Just take the Seventh - an extremely difficult case: There is the first print, which was taken from the autograph score, even if edited by Josef Schalk and Ferdinand Löwe, but under the strict supervision of the composer. But there are many errors in the autograph and many in the first print score too. Sometimes the first print gives clear corrections or improvements, but also sometimes errors from the autograph remain, and there are even new errors in the first print. Haas claimed to have cleaned up the autograph from alien hands, Nowak to have re-established Bruckner's later intentions. But both editions in fact mix up elements from the autograph and the first print and even take some ideas from secondary sources, but without justifying their edits at all. Then came Rüdiger Bornhöft, who prepared the Critical Report in 2003, once more corrected and revised the score - and the final result is unfortunately once more just a mess.

Have orchestras, conductors and performers already expressed an interest in this project?
Nikolaus Harnoncourt is naturally interested in our new edition, but he is not the youngest anymore, and who knows if he ever will do a Bruckner symphony again. I also know some conductors who told me personally they are interested. But at the end we have to convince with the quality of our edition. And considering the success of the Neue Johann Strauß Gesamtausgabe, I am sure ours will become a standard edition within the next 25 years, if we do a good job.

I see the price will be between 250 and 320 Euros per volume. What does the purchaser get? Is this just a study score? Given the very difficult economic circumstances in which the classical music business finds itself, and Bruckner hardly the most popular composer, why are the publishers persuaded that this will be a viable project? Will you be receiving any external sponsorship or subsidy?
Oh, that is only the price for the luxury subscription volumes, bound in linen. Of course we will sell study scores and parts and vocal scores for affordable prices. But indeed we get no subsidy. We have a different way of thinking: We do not establish an from a musicological faculty or institute specializing in a composer, with some names of weight on the front cover only with the intent to raise some money. We prefer to have an advisory board of scholars and musicians who really give advice to the editors and serve as an interface with scholarship - well known Bruckner scholar Prof. Dr. Manfred Wagner, Dr. Johannes Wildner (conductor, scholar and earlier violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic), Dr. Beatrix Darmstädter and Gerhard Zechmeister (Vienna, specialists for historical woodwind and brass instruments), Markus Landerer (Domkapellmeister of St. Stephen in Vienna, a specialist for church music), and Dr. Franz Scheder (Nuremberg), who established the profound Anton Bruckner chronology. So no subsidies. It is all at the risk of the entrepreneur. This is why we have to work very hard to make it a success.

What and when is the first volume to be published? What sort of time scale do you envisage the complete edition being published over? When can we expect to hear the first performance of one of the new editions?
The first volume is Symphony No. VII, which we hope to bring out next fall, soon followed by the Missa Solemnis in B flat minor, prepared by Rob van der Hilst. The entire project will comprise ca. 46 Volumes, and we envisage two new releases every year. So we hope to finish within ca. 25 years. First performances can be expected as soon as the volumes are out. But of course we will first have to convince the conductors with the quality of our work The prospectus of the Bruckner Edition Wien can be read on-line.

See also:
Anton Bruckner's symphonies: Aspects of performance practice