Editing Handel in a modern edition

The HHA has made an important contribution to modern Handel scholarship, and continues to do so; its mission is to provide texts which enable the music to be performed in an authentic form. The leading Handel scholars of our time are all involved, whether as volume editors, members of the Editorial Board or the Editorial Office, or as advisers to the edition. In those works which require vocal scores and performing parts, we work closely with the publisher, Bärenreiter-Verlag, which produces these materials, and we assist in proof-reading them. Our approach is expressed in the statement which is printed in all our prefaces: »The Hallische Händel-Ausgabe (HHA) is a Collected Critical Edition of Handel’s works based on a comprehensive study of the surviving sources. It is intended to serve both scholarly and practical needs.«

For modern scholarly editions of classical composers, there is no generally agreed formula for the presentation of the material; each has developed its own style and philosophy. The principal question is to decide how we present for the modern user an image of a musical text originally written according to different notational principles. At one end of the spectrum of possibilities is the approach which alters as little as possible of the composer’s image, retaining for instance his layout of the staves in a full score (such as brass instruments at the top, oboes below the violins), his keysignatures and time-signatures, his use of accidentals, his spelling of the text in vocal works; in other words to give with a modern typeface something only one step away from a facsimile of the original. At the other end of the spect rum is the approach which offers a totally moderni s ed layout, with s t ave s ar ranged in the order which i s customary in modern scores (woodwind at the top, etc.), modernised key- and t ime - s ig natur e s, ac c ident a l s and word-texts. Convincing arguments have been and still are put forward in favour of one system or another, sometimes involving debates about which is the more scholarly.
The HHA adopts the modernising principle, on the grounds that the music of such a major composer will often be performed by musicians, both amateur and professional, who are not Baroque specialists, and will be more comfortable with such presentation; it follows of course that the further we move to the end of the spectrum which we now occupy, the more detailed must be our Critical Report, because it would be indeed unscholarly not to show in that document the original form of everything we have modernised. It was originally planned to publish the Critical Reports as separate booklets, as in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe, but we now include them in the music volumes.
It is inevitable that in an edition whose production is spread over many years, small changes in presentation will happen as new thinking finds them to be desirable. A good example is the way in which we indicate the instrumentation of the basso continuo: Handel often gave no indication, sometimes just B. or Bassi, since it was obvious to him, to his copyists and to his performers what instruments should play his bass-line, that is violoncellos, double basses, bassoons if they have no independent part elsewhere in the score, and chordplaying instruments such as harpsichord, organ and lute. In earlier HHA volumes, we marked the bass-line Bassi, then in parentheses an editorial suggestion about which instruments are probably meant: (Violoncello, Contrabbasso, Fagotto, Cembalo). Eventually we came to the conclusion that this was too prescriptive, since we do not know precisely what function the bassoons, for instance, had in Handel’s performances: did they play all the time, or only in the tuttis, or not in piano passages? In recent volumes, therefore, we print only Bassi, and explain in the Preface that performers must make their own judgment about the finer points of instrumentation. Similarly, in secco recitatives, and in arias accompanied by continuo only, we now give only Continuo, where as formerly it was Continuo (Violoncello, Cembalo).
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