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Syracuse University Libraries

Music Scores and Sheet Music

Types of Score Editions

There are several different types of editions of scores available, especially for European and American Art Music before 1900. Each edition either represents an important snapshot in the documentation of that work, or it is designed for a specific type of use. Below are some of the most common edition types and terminology.

For more information on types of scholarly score editions, see the Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians in Oxford Music Online.

Primary Sources for Scores

There are often several different types of primary sources for any given musical work. In general, any edition or version of a score where the composer was closely involved can be considered a primary source. 

Modern researchers do not always have to travel to an archive to find primary sources. Instead, we can use a facsimile.  Facsimiles are photographs or scans of a primary source, and these can be reproduced and published as a physical score, a set of microfilm, or as an image in an online archive.

  • Autograph or Holograph -- The composer's own manuscript, written by them
  • Copies -- Handwritten copies of a manuscript, copied by a relative, student, colleague, or other copyist. 
  • First edition -- The first commercially published edition, often published in consultation with the composer
  • Early editions -- Commercially published editions printed during the composer's lifetime. Also, sometimes edited by a relative, student, or other person close to the composer, after the composer's death.
Scholarly & Critical Score Editions

Scholarly or critical editions are commercially published editions that are edited by an important scholar or performer who is an expert in the study or interpretation of that composer's music. The editor studies the various primary sources available for a given work (autographs, copies, first editions, and early editions), and documents differences between them. They create an edition that attempts to be as close as possible to what the composer originally intended. The edition will often have critical commentary (often called "kritischer Bericht" in German) that documents measure-by-measure their editorial decisions.

  • Urtext editions - Urtext editions are a specific type of scholarly or critical edition that is designed for easy reading for performing but also includes the "urtext," or "under-text," in key places in the score so that the performer is aware of the differences in source material. Urtext editions can often include performance parts for chamber music, and they are typically published work-by-work.
  • Collected editions --  Collected editions are a specific type of scholarly edition that contains many works in many volumes, typically themed around a specific composer. Most well-documented composers of European art music before 1900 have collected editions of their works. They can be browsed in academic libraries in call number M3, alphabetized by composer. 
  • Denkmaler -- Also called "monuments of music" in English. Denkmaler are a specific type of scholarly edition that contains many works in many volumes, typically themed around a specific location or time period. These tend to be lesser-known works and the Denkmaler may be the only one that is commercially available. These can be browsed in academic libraries in call number M2, alphabetized by the collection title.
Other Score Editions
  • Study scores - Editions that are intended for study and analysis rather than performance. The print is often smaller than performing or conducting editions. Other words you might see are "miniature score."
  • Interpretative editions -- An editor will create an edition that represents the interpretation of a specific performer in order to document their dynamics, phrasing, bowings, fingerings, articulations, ornamentation, or other performance aspects.
  • Piano Scores, Vocal Scores, Choral Scores --  An editor will take a work that is for solo voice(s) or instrument(s) plus a large ensemble and reduce or arrange the large ensemble parts for a keyboard instrument (most often piano.)  This allows the solo performers to study, rehearse, and perform the work using a piano accompanist as opposed to needing an entire orchestra.
    • Piano scores - Works for solo instrument(s) plus large ensemble, like concertos.  
    • Vocal scores -- Works for voice(s) and large ensemble, like an opera, musical, or orchestral song cycle.
    • Choral scores -- Works for choir plus large ensemble, like an oratorio or choral symphony.