The Coming of The Messiah

October 20, 2011

As Messiah Season quickly approaches, we thought it might be useful to our customers to clarify what makes each edition of Handel’s masterpiece special.  We currently stock seven different editions of The Messiah and each offers something of value to singers both professional and amateur.

Barenreiter Urtext

Based on the latest scholarly edition produced by Max Schneider and Georg Friedrich Handel-Gesellschaft, this is the closest thing to an “authentic” or “historically informed” edition of the work available.  The vocal score we keep in stock does not contain the critical commentary published separately by Barenreiter but does provide a clear and transparent text that conforms to the Urtext criteria: no editorial dynamics are shown, the continue realization is shown in small notes, and textual variances are indicated.  Barenreiter has produced a beautiful engraving of The Messiah that uses high-quality paper; this makes it the heaviest and thickest of our soft-cover vocal scores.

The Barenreiter edition is also surprisingly affordable.  The publisher offers a special price for North America that is about half what Europeans would pay.  Because the books are shipped from Europe, however, bulk orders for choirs will find the shipping expenses for these heavy books may ofset any savings.  If you are buying a single copy for yourself it is very affordable.

I recommend this edition if you like a clean and beautifully engraved score or want to mount an “authentic” performance that is up-to-date with the latest scholarship.

Novello Edition

Watkins Shaw began editing Novello’s Handel Edition in 1972, the year this publication was first released.  The release of the Revised Edition in 1992 marked his retirement from the project.  During his tenure, Shaw has made a lasting impression on the textual history of The Messiah.  The Novello vocal score has become the standard choice for choirs throughout the world.  It’s distinctive orange cover is easily recognizable and a classic.

The Novello edition is marked by a few distinct qualities that make it a very attractive edition: editorial additions are shown by square brackets or small notes; these include dynamics shown throughout the vocal parts.  This detail will be attractive to large choral societies or choirs looking to produce a crowd-pleasing performance; it may not, however, be desired by specialists of early music who want their editions void of editorial additions.

The printing of the latest incarnation of the Novello edition is clear and and precise but small.  Singers with poor eyesight might find it difficult to read the small type.  The layout is more compact than the Barenreiter edition but this also makes for a thinner book.  The soft, white paper is also a smaller weight than Barenreiter’s off-white, making it more transparent but lighter.

The Novello edition is my top choice for most singers, especially those performing in sing-along performances.  The edition is so widely used that you will be sure to benefit from page numbering and layout that matches your neighbours.  The edition is affordable but not the cheapest.  Owning this edition will help you fit into the crowd.

Schirmer Edition

This option has the distinction of being the earliest attempt at producing an “Urtext” edition of The Messiah.  First published in 1912, Max Spicker aimed to create an authentic and usable vocal score that bypassed the reception history influenced heavily by Mozart’s re-orchestration of the work.  Because it is a reprint of an old edition, the Schirmer does not qualify as a modern Urtext.  Editorial decisions are not clearly distinguished from details found in the source material.

The Schirmer Edition is most valuable to modern choirs for one reason: price.  It is the least expensive of the modern editions and easily affordable in bulk; it may not be desirable for all singers, unfortunately.  The printing is not razor-sharp like that in the Novello and Barenreiter editions due to the age of the engraving.

I recommend this edition if you want a basic edition for little money.

Novello Hardcover Edition

This is the same as the softcover edition above includes an attractive burgundy cover with gold inlay and an accompanying CD.  The hard cover makes it a more durable product that is sure to live a long life.

I recommend this edition as a great gift for your favourite singer or for those who care a great deal about the quality and appearance of their books.

Novello Large-Print Edition

You won’t want to hold this for a full three-hour performance.  This blown-up version of Watkins Shaw’s edition is very large.  It’s best for conductor’s leading performances with piano accompaniment or for table-reading by multiple singers.  Leave it on your music stand.  The huge spiral binding means it stays open on any page.

I recommend this for conductor’s mainly but keep in mind that it is not a full score.

Dover Study Score

Dover’s reprint of Alfred Mann’s serial edition dating from 1959.  Alfred Mann’s scholarly research that produced the present edition proceeded concurrently but independently with Watkins Shaw’s attempt to make a modern edition for Novello.  At the same time, Handel scholars were discovering new information about the works genesis and performance practice while the ”authentic performance practice” trend was starting to pick up steam.

The Dover reprint is the only full score that we keep in stock throughout the year.  It is useful for those who want to study the unusually sparse orchestration that Handel used in the interest of economy but is not very practical as a performing edition.

I recommend the Dover study score for students or those interested in what is happening in the orchestra.

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One Response to “The Coming of The Messiah”

  1. troy says:

    What a great post! Thanks for your informative critique, Leading Note.

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