The Coming of The Messiah

October 2, 2019

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 one offers something of value to singers both professional and amateur.

Bärenreiter Urtext

Based on the latest scholarly edition produced by Max Schneider and Georg Friedrich Handel-Gesellschaft, this is the closest edition 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 Bärenreiter but does provide a clear and transparent text that conforms to the Urtext criteria: no editorial dynamics are shown, the continuo realization is shown in small notes, and textual variances are indicated. Bärenreiter has produced a beautiful engraving of the Messiah that uses high-quality paper.

This edition is also surprisingly affordable.  The publisher offers a special price for North America that is about half what Europeans would pay.

We recommend this edition to those who are very appreciative of the latest scholarship and interested in historical performance. It is a very clean and beautifully looking score and is becoming more popular every year.

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.  Its 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 makes it attractive to most community choirs and large productions.

The printing of the latest incarnation of this edition is clear and precise. The layout is more compact than in Bärenreiter’s edition, which makes for a thinner book.  The soft, white paper is also a smaller weight than Bärenreiter’s off-white, also making it lighter.

The Novello edition is the 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. It is also quite affordable and owning it can only be helpful for fitting in different choir settings. This is the edition of choice for Ottawa’s popular Come Sing Messiah!

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. The printing quality is not like that in the Novello or Bärenreiter editions, yet still an option to consider depending on the setting.

Novello Hardcover Edition

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

This is a great holiday gift for the singers in your life and an investment for those who know will use it for many years to come.

Novello Large-Print Edition

This is a very large copy of Watkins Shaw’s famous edition for Novello (revised). Suitable for use on a table or music stand, this vocal score offers the same as other Novello editions, but in a much larger setting (25.5 x 36.5 cm). We would not advise holding this score for a complete performance of the work.

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 work’s genesis and performance practices while the ”authentic performance practice” trend was starting to pick up steam.

The Dover edition is useful for those who want to study the orchestration used by Handel, but perhaps not ideal for performance.

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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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