Breitkopf Urtext Schumann 4- A review

For nearly 130 years, there has been only one choice of edition of the final version of Schumann 4- the “Collected Works” edition of 1882, prepared by Clara Schumann, long available in a variety of reprint editions. The score is part of a Dover publication of all four symphonies, sold at the princely price of 18 bucks (the real problem with the Dover score is the lack of bar numbers).

Recently, however, Breitkopf and Hartel have published a new Urtext edition of the Schumann symphonies, edited by Joachim Draeheim. The 1851 version of the D minor symphony was released in 1999, but is only now beginning to become known.

My transformative experience of working through all the major orchestral works of Schumann with the SMP has convinced me that I desperately want to record the four symphonies, so in advance of our performance of the D minor, I purchased my own set of parts of the new Urtext, which I could bow and mark meticulously in advance of rehearsal, as well as the Draeheim score. The decision to go with the Urtext edition over the available reprints seemed like an easy one at the time- while more expensive than the reprint, the difference was not huge, and it seemed wise to invest in the best available materials. Since I already owned a well tested Dover, the decision to fork out 80 bucks for the Urtext score was not quite as easy, but I didn’t want to be working for a score that was inferior to the parts on the players’ stands.

The set of parts I received directly from Breitkopf came with a small and disappointing surprise- the first violin parts were printed on smaller paper stock than the rest of the set. Inserted was a note explaining that in 2005 (FIVE YEARS AGO), Breitkopf had decided on an update to their publishing practices, adopting larger stock, but that they would continue to sell parts on the old stock until they were gone. It seems a cruel irony that the first fiddles would be stuck with the smallest parts when they have the most notes. Given the fact that the purchase of a complete set is a significant investment, and that the printing costs are a tiny fraction of the publisher’s expense, this seems a bit of greediness on Breitkopf’s part. It looks sloppy and amateurish to send a beautiful set of parts where one section’s music is clearly printed to a different standard than that of the rest of the orchestra.

That gripe aside, the parts are well printed and clearly easier to read than the reprint I used last time around. My only other major complaint about the layout of the parts is the fact there is a page turn between the 2nd and 3rd movements, which are played attacca. The end of the Romaze is the most peaceful and serene moment in the symphony- Schumann meant that moment of delicate repose to be shattered by the opening of the Scherzo, not by the rustle of 30 page turns. Especially since the 2055 edition marks a second printing, this problem should have been fixed based on feedback from the first performance.

More frustrating than the parts was the full score. Again, it is beautifully engraved, and infinitely easier to read than the Dover, where the print is tiny and cramped. Draeheim’s preface is a nice introduction to the history of the piece and the publication history of the 2 versions (1841 and 51). It is only in the last sentence of the Preface that Draeheim lets us know of the inadequacy of this score “This edition is based on the first edition of the second version, which was overseen by Schumann and is virtually free of errors.”

It is not unusual or inappropriate for an Urtext to be based on a first edition when it is the best available source- the first two Beethoven symphonies must be based on published editions because the autographs are not available. However, the critical notes of the Breitkopf and Barenreiter editions of those works are extremely extensive. The Critical Notes of this edition are less than half a page in length. More than half of that length is a simple list of the 3 sources (the first edition score, the first edition parts and the autograph). There is no detailed comparison of the differences between the autograph and published score, and no context provided explaining why the published score is preferred. There are essentially no notes or editorial advisories in the body of the text. He also offers no discussion of the differences between the first edition and the Collected Works edition edited by Clara. Are there differences? Did they originate with Clara or Robert?

I have collected several of the Breitkopf Urtext scores of the Beethoven symphonies, and in many cases these represent the best available scholarship (superior even to the Del Mar/Barenreiter edition). Draeheim may have done his homework on this edition, but he seems more than grudging time comes to share his knowledge of the texts with the conductor. Given the outstanding quality of other Breikopf scores, this one must rate as a very expensive disappointment. Given that Draeheim offers us no reason (other than cosmetic ones) to prefer this score, I would recommend my colleagues continue to use the Dover score with the Urtext parts (hopefully they will be lucky enough to get the new printing of the first violin parts).

There are a couple of wrong notes in the new edition not in the old one. The 2nd flute is missing the accidental on c# in bar 203, and the clarinets are missing the natural on their bar 707. Of course, we’re all human and a new engraving will always have mistakes, but these are quite obvious and should have been corrected before the 2nd printing.

Before purchasing these parts I did ask a few friends and legendary library guru Clint Nieweg if any reviews or evaluations were available of this new edition. At the time, none were, so I thought it might be good to make available our experience. If other conductors or librarians have worked with this edition (or the other Breitkopf Urtext Schumann editions), please, please share your experience via comment.

If you have used the Urtext parts to any of the other Schumann symphonies, I would be very, very glad for your feedback before purchasing the other sets, as would my colleagues, I’m sure.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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4 comments on “Breitkopf Urtext Schumann 4- A review”

  1. Greg Austin

    Nice review, Ken, I miss working with conductors who are as careful and studied as yourself. You should come conduct in WI again (I think the GBSO needs a new conductor)–we haven’t played a Schumann symphony in this area since 1994, and I’m not familiar at all with the 4th.
    Say–do you ever get resistence/debates from string sections when their parts are already pre-marked? I can’t remember a single concert I’ve played since college where we haven’t made multiple changes in bowings ourselves, and one guest conductor (candidate) had his string part bowings pre-marked in red ink, and they were ridiculous (Scheherezade).

  2. Brian Stone

    This is excellent Ken. I have this Schumann 3 and 4 and the pocket of the 1st version of 4, but have not done them. I did do the new Schumann Cello Concerto edition and the score seemd ok. I used old parts and conformed them to my score as I feel it is a good part of the learning process for me.

    Keep up the great work buddy!

  3. Nicolás Duna

    Dear Mr. Woods,
    I’m a young undergraduate conducting student from Argentina and I’m about to start studying Schumann’s fourth. Looking for scores to buy online I came across your review, which was very interesting and useful. I generally try to get the Urtext edition when it’s available (and not too expensive), but this time I think I’m going to buy the Dover edition and save a lot of money.
    Thanks very much and cheers from Buenos Aires.

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Nicolas

    Having now done the piece several more times, and recorded it, since I wrote this blog post, I think my views have evolved. Don’t let my frustration with certain aspects of the publication put you off- the Urtext is a big improvement on the Dover in many ways. More generous critical notes would have made it that much better! Enjoy the work.

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