The New Mozart Edition

Three yards of bright red. The New Mozart Edition is certainly impressive! When it reaches completion in time for Mozart’s anniversary celebrations in 2006, it will consist of no fewer than 130 hardbound red volumes.
But the thing that makes the NMA so outstanding in the world of music is its editorial quality, which has set new standards frequently copied elsewhere. When the International Mozarteum Foundation publicly announced its intention to launch a complete edition of Mozart’s works in 1954, there were many sceptics who predicted that the huge project would founder before it truly got underway. Yet today no one seriously questions the unique achievement of the NMA. The almost finished project represents a summation of vast amounts of editorial care, scholarly research, technical skill, and not least of all entrepreneurial fortitude. The result is a Mozart edition that beggars comparison: thanks to the NMA, Mozart’s oeuvre is now available to all in a richness and subtlety never known before. From the very outset the editorial work has been the sole responsibility of the Board of Editors and their international co-workers. No other edition of Mozart’s music has at its disposal such a pooling of expertise, such a dynamic group of scholars and editors. Only in this way was it possible to produce texts that have retained their undiminished authority in Mozart circles for over half a century.

“The New Mozart Edition, or Neue Mozart-Ausgabe (NMA), offers impeccable scholarly texts based on all available sources - primarily Mozart’s autograph scores - while taking into account the needs of performers.” Thus reads the standard preface appended to every volume in the series. It represents a dual claim combining two elements that seem, at first glance, mutually contradictory: scholarly exactitude and practical relevance. The NMA meets its scholarly claim by rigorously applying modern text-critical methods in the preparation of each volume. Yet the editorial labors are not always apparent in the clear musical texts themselves. To gain an impression of their true extent, users must take the trouble to read the usually lengthy Vorworte to each volume. Those who want an even clearer impression are invited to consult the associated Kritische Berichte, where they will find exhaustive information on the source materials and editorial decisions.

Although “impeccable scholarly texts” are the NMA’s paramount objective, the new edition has also unearthed areas of Mozart’s activity that were previously overlooked: “Mozart the Learner” in the publication of his musical notebooks, for example, or “Mozart the Teacher” as reflected in the composition studies of his pupils Attwood, Freistädtler, and Ployer. Light is also shed on Mozart’s working methods with the publication of lavish editions of all his surviving sketches and fragments. Rounding off the series are collections of documents on his life and detailed accounts of the manuscript paper he used to write down his music.

But what has all of this got to do with the much-touted “practical relevance”? To quote Karl Vötterle, the founder of the House of Bärenreiter (1956): “As always, the scholar needs the definitive text - the ‘urtext’ - for his research. This goes without saying. But now performing musicians are increasingly tending to play the works of great composers from scholarly-critical ‘urtext’ editions faithful to the sources rather than from arrangements, which are by their very nature full of subjective accretions. This is something new.” This discovery gave rise to the idea of a new species of musical edition: the scholarly performance edition, commonly known as an “urtext edition”. The relation between scholarly exactitude and practical relevance can be boiled down to a simple formula: the more fastidious the methodology, the more reliable the text.

This has far-reaching consequences, especially for publishers seriously committed to presenting each and every new edition to the world of performing artists. In the NMA, the “impeccable scholarly text” is almost invariably published in the form of printed scores that naturally find their way onto the music stands of pianists and conductors, where they can be immediately put to use. But the members of a string quartet play from sets of instrumental parts, as do the orchestral musicians in our concert halls and opera houses. Solo vocalists and choristers want piano-vocal scores in order to learn their parts. Finally, we mustn’t forget the music student who would like to own handy and inexpensive study scores in order to study Mozart’s music.

Given the sheer size and significance of the oeuvre that Mozart committed to paper during some thirty years of creative activity - roughly twenty works for the stage, more than fifty symphonies, some forty solo concertos, Mass settings and other church works, contributions to virtually every genre of chamber music, from instrumental duos to the impressive total of twenty-three string quartets, pieces for miscellaneous combinations of instruments up to large-scale wind serenades, and much else besides - the production and financing of this complex body of material poses a sizable challenge to any publishing house intent on managing it without outside assistance. Bärenreiter has viewed the recasting of its Gesamtausgabe volumes into “urtext editions” for nearly all of Mozart’s works as a primary obligation. It has thus taken to heart the words once written by Ludwig von Köchel, the creator of the well-known thematic catalogue of Mozart’s music: “No more dignified honor can be bestowed upon a great genius than to present an accurate edition of his complete works.”