Corrected Editions

Corrected Editions

Béla Bartók’s Works, Corrected Editions

When Béla Bartók died at the early age of 64 years, his published compositions were in the hands of a large number of publishers, most of them unable to function effectively on account of World War II. His early works were with several smaller Hungarian publishers, those written in “mid-life” were with a worldwide publisher Universal Edition, those works written after the beginning of World War II were with the British publisher Boosey & Hawkes. Several works were in preparation or printing as of 26 September, 1945, when the composer died and one composition, Viola Concerto, was not even completed: the composer left sketches, but not an orchestra score.

He left also certain folk music collections, partially prepared for publication with corresponding analytical essays.

Preparation of the unpublished works for publication was one of many tasks awaiting the composer’s successors. The two concluding pages of the Third Piano Concerto, written as a birthday present for his wife, Ditta Pásztory, still had to be orchestrated, also the entire Viola Concerto. The Concerto for Orchestra engraver’s proof was at the composer’s bedside a few days before his death, and he gave this to his pupil George Sándor to look over, make any corrections he saw needed, and give it back to Boosey & Hawkes. The manuscript of the Solo Violin Sonata was in an envelope in the same bedroom; it needed only to be delivered to Boosey & Hawkes. Manuscripts of smaller creations, such as the cadenzas to Mozart’s Two Piano Concerto in E-flat, and a song with piano accompaniment (The Husband’s Grief), written as a joke for friends, were among his papers. Some unpublished works were not even known to exist: among them the Violin Concerto written for the violinist Stefi Geyer (now referred to as the “first” violin concerto), an early quintet for piano and strings.

It seemed imperative, once Béla Bartók left us, that his music in publishers’ catalogs in printed form be reviewed, compared with the corresponding manuscripts, and the publications up-dated with corrections. It is true that the composer had an opportunity to make corrections on engravers’ proofs before the first editions of works were printed but, it seems, as all those involved (including Béla Bartók) were human, some errors still may have and, indeed, remained. I believed that, with my father in Heaven, it was the duty of those of us left down here to attend to this task.

My earliest efforts addressed the two last compositions. I showed the Third Piano Concerto to our friend, Tibor Serly, who was willing to study the manuscript of the entire composition, examine and compare the sketches with the final score, and orchestrate the last two pages. He was also agreeable to undertake the study of the Viola Concerto sketches with the aim of creating an orchestra work from them. Tibor Serly’s task was nearly the impossible, that he accomplished with excellent results.

Then for a long time I was not allowed to do anything respecting my father’s musical works. That was all in the province of the executor–trustee of Béla Bartók’s estate until my mother’s death, in 1982, and then for three more years. Much transpired during the time 1945 to 1985, among them my father’s title to his own manuscripts was challenged; when that was decided in Béla Bartók’s favor, I had to oppose efforts to sell the manuscripts at auction.

In 1985, however, I found myself in possession of the manuscripts, as well as rights, and I soon commenced the task of comparing published editions with corresponding manuscripts. The publishers, Boosey & Hawkes and Universal Edition, were kind in letting me know what works needed reprinting soon and, with the help of editors, we prepared correction lists, starting with the Mikrokosmos series for Boosey & Hawkes, followed by some piano works for Universal Edition. The task was not always as simple as I anticipated. I thought that there would be printed copies of the existing editions among my father’s papers, with his corrections in red pencil, and I merely needed to make sure these are on the correction list and that any other error would be noticed and added. Our first effort on the Mikrokosmos was a fiasco. Our correction list was prepared form the latest printed edition of the work; when we submitted it to the publisher, they found a mint copy of the very first printing, added our corrections, and produced a “definitive edition” with some fanfare. It so happened that, in the case of this work at least, some corrections have been made over the years and, as those were not on our correction list, the corresponding errors became reintroduced in the definitive edition.

While many piano works had only an occasional error, usually not even a wrong note, some large works presented great difficulties and their correction was time consuming. We prepared a virtually new Viola Concerto. The finished product we had, thanks to Tibor Serly, was a fine musical work, and we undertook only to correct any errors, printing or otherwise, in the published score. However, interpretation of the manuscript at places yielded results slightly different from those of Tibor Serly, and we also developed ideas about orchestration, so that instead of correcting Mr. Serly’s version, Nelson Dellamaggiore and I created one of our own. It took years to produce the corrected score of The Miraculous Mandarin; there the work’s first printed edition had segments missing here and there, a total of about thirty bars. It was necessary to determine for sure that these bars were really missing and not deliberately deleted by the composer. All three stage works had so many corrections that they needed to be newly engraved; the score of The Wooden Prince is still in preparation.

Examination of a score for corrections is not a simple mechanical task of comparing manuscripts with a printed edition. In many instances Béla Bartók himself made some modifications in successive generations of a work. The manuscript may have been copied by someone, then he would have an idea and make a change before giving that copy to the publisher. “Correcting” that printed score to match the first manuscript would, Heaven forbid, unmake the composer’s last modifications. Similar changes were made by the composer in corrected proofs. This is particularly distressing, as the publishers usually discarded them after making the required changes, and we had to determine if a discrepancy between printed copy and the last extant manuscript was a mistake overlooked by the composer, or a change he made on a proof that no longer can be viewed. In such situations musical patterns must be analyzed. While, we believe, the decision is usually not difficult, I wish to be the one deciding ambiguities, rather than someone else or a coin tossed.

As of this writing a little over half of all the printed editions of Bartók compositions have been corrected. (A list of these works follows after this essay.) This took 23 years, so it is possible that in another quarter century all the Bartók works can be made available in corrected versions. The offices for this work remain with my successors, they can replace me with younger personnel. The close collaboration with publishers diminished by now, as the copyright on Bartók works expired already in 1995 in many countries and will expire in 2015 elsewhere (in the U.S.A. expiration depends on the date of first publication, so some works are already in the public domain and others are to remain copyright protected beyond their expiration in Europe and some other countries). Thus, in order to see a corrected edition in circulation, we also have to print it. The work is done now by two music editors, two engravers, two clerical workers, two printers, all of whom have acquired an inestimable experience in working with Béla Bartók’s creations.

Financing of this project is made possible by the proceeds from sales of sheet music, phonograph records, etc., and public performances of Béla Bartók’s works in specific countries pursuant to Béla Bartók’s Will. Most of this revenue is expected to terminate after the year 2015, when all copyrights outside the U.S.A. expire. Loss of these resources would result in aborting the plan to prepare corrected editions.

For the past three years the revenue from European performances has been subject to unexplained threats. In one six month period in 2005 more than half of all revenue disappeared, although later recovered after investigation. The outstanding threat now is against the royalties derived from Béla Bartók’s music in a large part of Western Europe. Evidence so far suggests a criminal organization, but those responsible for these adverse events could not yet be identified. The best legal talent of Europe, as well as the performing fee collecting societies themselves, have been unsuccessful in discovering the culprits’ identity. The public is invited to furnish any information that may lead to the discovery of those responsible for any future loss of Béla Bartók’s royalties so they can be brought to justice. An autographed copy of Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto sketches, facsimile of the manuscript, is offered as a “thank you”.

The “Complete Critical Edition”

Not to be confused with the corrected commercial editions of Béla Bartók’s compositions is a planned complete critical edition of all Bartók works. Its plan was first proposed long before any corrected edition was ever prepared; its promoters seemed determined to plough ahead without awaiting conclusion of the corrected editions project. Every Bartók work, or group of works, would be assigned to a different “volume editor” who would make corrections, if any, as he saw fit. Since most have details here and there that require editorial attention (such as in the case of ambiguities in the manuscripts), each work presented in the complete critical edition purporting to be a final version would be influenced by the corresponding editor’s whim. The demand to commence production was nearly always made when Béla Bartók’s legacy was embroiled in some difficulties. Since it has been the subject of attack by litigation or theft almost continuously since 1958 (with a hiatus between 1985 and 2005), it follows that the idea of the complete edition was always proposed when such a matter could not even be considered.

According to one well known music publisher, the time for a complete edition of works is usually a long time after the composer has passed away and the imperfections in the interpreting or printing of his works have been eliminated. As even the project of correcting the commercial editions could not begin for 40 years after Béla Bartók’s death, and the production of corrected editions is only about 2/3 accomplished as of this writing, the idea of producing a complete edition now is premature. It goes without saying that any volumes of the complete edition, or commercial editions derived from them, would be unauthorized publications.


Homosassa, August, 2008