Critical Editions

A new critical edition of a literary or musical text such as a novel or an opera aims to present a new ‘authentic’ version of that text, either from scratch (where no publication previously existed) or without the perceived errors or editorial impositions deemed to exist in previous published editions of the same work. It presents the new text together with scholarly ‘apparatus’ such as introductions, explanatory footnotes, and editorial comments.

Such an edition is usually based on a number of assumptions: that a ‘work’ can be defined as such; that an ‘original’ source exists; that a hand-written manuscript is more ‘authoritative’ than an early printed source; that recent new information about the text or author supercedes existing information; and so on. All of these assumptions are based on a notion of authenticity that can, and should, be interrogated.

A new complete edition aims to collect together in one volume or set of volumes all extant compositions by one author: a task usually undertaken after his/her death and employing the methods of critical scholarly editing of a single work to all works by one author. The critical apparatus is more extended than in the case of the new edition of a single work.

‘Complete’ and ‘critical’ usually go hand in hand, and are often of foundational importance to a discipline. The first example in music history is the project launched in 1851 by the Bach-Gesellschaft in Germany to publish the entire oeuvre of J.S. Bach. This edition, published by Breitkopf & Härtel took decades to complete, outlasting the lives of its originators. Editions of other European composers followed, and they became not only a benchmark for scholarly music editing but were also the foundation stones of musicology as a discipline. The first musicological projects were those of creating such editions, and the first musicological studies were those of contextualising them historically and analysing them musically.

The critical edition project of African Composers Edition a new venture designed to build the libraries of scholars and the repertoires of performers worldwide. The new online accessibility of types of African music hard to access is a key feature of ACE's mission.