A short history of editing Handel

Between 1858 and 1901 the Handel scholar Friedrich Chrysander, one of the giants of nineteenth-century German musicology, published a nearly complete edition of the composer’s works, with the imprint of the Deutsche Händel-Gesellschaft which he had founded for the purpose with Gottfried Gervinus in 1856. The edition was a remarkable achievement, and all later scholars and editors are heavily indebted to him for laying the foundations of modern Handel scholarship. He produced on average two volumes a year, almost single-handed, in an age when microfilms and photocopying were unknown; in order to study Handel’s autographs in the Royal Music Collection he had to make frequent journeys to England, and was allowed access to the manuscripts in uncomfortable circumstances in Buckingham Palace. He made use of earlier editions, such as those of Walsh and Cluer in Handel’s time, and the two previous attempts at a collected edition, Arnold (1787-1797), and the English Handel Society (1843-1858), but these were far from complete, and his principal resource after the autographs was the collection of Handel’s performing scores which he persuaded a consortium of Hamburg businessmen to purchase in 1868. Of the other secondary manuscript sources which we now have at our disposal - the Malmesbury, Lennard, Shaftesbury, Granville and Münster collections - he knew little or nothing, nor did he ever see the small but significant group of autograph manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. His inability to study such material inevitably affected the quality of edition: in particular he was often unsuccessful in assessing those aspects of the sources which involve Handel’s alterations, revisions and substitutions for revivals, and he sometimes printed in his main text movements which the composer rejected before performance; on the other hand the level of accuracy that he achieved in transcribing the sources that he did consult was commendably high, and in this respect he set a standard which we have to work hard to emulate.

In 1940 Karl Vötterle, the founder of the firm of Bärenreiter, mooted the idea of a new edition of selected works of Handel, amounting to just ten volumes. He had thought of a collaboration with an English publisher, but the war clearly made that impossible. The idea was pursued in Halle, and by 1941 the title »Hallische Händel- Ausgabe« had been established. There was some uncertainty about how the new edition should relate to Chrysander’s. In 1943 Vötterle wrote that the proposed volumes should have at their core works suitable for domestic use (»Hausmusik«), to be expanded to a complete edition if that were felt desirable.

In a document issued by Bärenreiter on 20 July 1943 the question of editorial principle was discussed; Vötterle wondered whether photocopies from England might be had via Switzerland, after Rudolf Steglich, who was to oversee the volumes, had considered the problems of such acquisition. It was agreed that the edition should proceed, even if source material could not be obtained because of the war. The volumes proposed were a vocal score of Deidamia and the 1720 set of keyboard suites, both edited by Steglich, and the Op. 4 organ concertos edited by Karl Matthaei; the next volume would be Serse, edited by Steglich. Deidamia appeared in 1945, but the other three were not published until the 1950s, after the foundation in 1952 of the Georg- Friedrich-Händel-Gesellschaft, and the edition had been set up officially as being issued under its direction. The Deidamia vocal score was based on Chrysander, but with much editorial addition in the stage directions, expression marks and phrasing, and rewriting of the continuo cadences of the recitatives.
There is no doubt that the idea of the HHA being a complete critical edition took some time to be established: the first volume to be published, as Series IV volume 1, was Steglich’s edition of the 1720 Suites, based on the Cluer edition, with minimal input from the autographs; volume 2 was Matthaei’s Op. 4, with copious editorial expression marks and phrasing, and additional inner voices in the organ part. Volumes 3 and 4, from 1955, are respectively the sonatas for flute and recorder, and those for violin. These early volumes were presented as practical editions based on Chrysander, and gave the impression that this was what the HHA was all about.
In 1958 came Alexander’s Feast, edited by Konrad Ameln; this was the first volume to have a full Critical Report, published separately as a 51-page booklet. Serse, edited by Steglich, appeared also in 1958, with no Critical Report, and based once again on Chrysander, with features similar to those of the Deidamia vocal score.
The volumes issued thus far were severely criticised by British, American and German scholars, and these criticisms led quite rapidly to a re-assessment of what the edition was supposed to be. The process was helped by the great expansion of Handel scholarship in the fifties, sixties and seventies, which revealed the importance of the secondary manuscript collections, and made them accessible to scholars, especially the purchase of the Newman Flower Collection by the Manchester Public Libraries in 1965, and the opening of the Malmesbury Collection to Handel specialists in 1967. British and American scholars, who had easy access to the sources, were brought in as volume editors, and real efforts were made to advance the scholarly standards of the edition. This process was facilitated by the new techniques of paper-analysis - the study of watermarks and rastra - the availability of microfilms, and the publication of the thematic catalogue (HWV) by the distinguished Halle scholar Bernd Baselt. In 1984 an Editorial Board was set up with members from Germany, Great Britain and the United States, with the function of overseeing the production of the volumes, and appointing monitors to scrutinise them.

The Halle Handel edition today

So in the last twenty years the HHA has developed into a modern critical edition, whose administration is organised to ensure the highest degree of scholarly accuracy. As well as the Editorial Board which oversees the whole process, there is an Editorial Office (Redaktion) in the Händel-Haus in Halle, staffed by three experienced musicologists, whose task is to scrutinise in great detail the work submitted by the individual volume editors, checking every note and every reference against the original sources, and correcting the publishers’ proof-sheets in collaboration with the editors.

Alongside the production of new volumes, there has been a process of issuing revisions (»Neuausgaben«) of the unsatisfactory early volumes, and so far these have been welcomed by subscribers and reviewers.