The nine symphonies in Urtext editions by Jonathan Del Mar

The nine symphonies of Beethoven indisputably form the heart of the symphonic repertoire of classical music, not only in Germany but throughout the world, wherever western European art music has found its way into concert halls. In all their greatness, conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein have been measured above all by their interpretations of Beethoven’s symphonies; with these works they celebrated triumphant successes and founded their now legendary reputations. Since then, a generation of interpreters has grown up which was no longer satisfied with the established performance materials. The music was, so to speak, scrutinised, the conditions under which it was composed and performed acquired a greater significance than previously, and inevitably, the focus fell on the sources in which this music was preserved.

One such pioneering musician, or musical philologist, is Jonathan Del Mar. Born in Great Britain, he studied music at Christ Church, Oxford and at the Royal College of Music in London. He studied conducting with Franco Ferrara in Venice and Kirill Kondrashin in the Netherlands. Since 1985 Jonathan Del Mar has worked intensively on research into the sources for Beethoven’s major works and during this process, he has gained insights into Beethoven’s working methods. His researches confirm what people have suspected or known for a long time: that the editions of Beethoven’s symphonies used previously contain not only mistakes, but are also incorrect in many details regarding the source material as a whole. The basis for the older editions had been laid down in the 19th century, when publication of the works of the great composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert in Complete Editions began. To this day these editions remain milestones of early music philology and, in view of the short period in which most of them were created, they represent technical achievements which can still barely be imagined. The rapid frequency with which the older editions appeared was only possible because the edition was mostly based on a single source which, although it was examined critically for mistakes and inconsistencies, basically formed the basis of the edition. The extraordinarily elaborate collecting together of all the sources for a work, the assessment of the these and the examination of interconnections according to the methods of classical philology almost always did not happen.
Such an editorial process is always problematic if several sources of equal importance exist for a work. And this is the case with Beethoven’s symphonies. The more famous Beethoven became, the more frequently his works were copied and performed before they were prepared for printing, with the result that a wealth of source material exists. Over and above this, Beethoven also undertook revisions after his works were published, compiled lists of mistakes, gave instructions to his publishers in letters, so that all in all, a highly complex web resulted; for example, with the 9th Symphony, about twenty different sources are known, spread between nine different locations throughout Europe.

For over ten years, Jonathan Del Mar has sifted through the sources of Beethoven’s symphonies, examined them, compared them with each other, and on this basis, has prepared a scholarly-critical new edition of all nine symphonies. These music editions were published between 1996 and 2000 by Bärenreiter-Verlag (Kassel) and rapidly set a standard which many of the best-known conductors have found to be indispensable.