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Handel, Messiah: Editions

Here is a summary of the responses to my query about preferred editions of
Handel's Messiah.

Cliff Ganus
Harding University | Internet: GANUS(a)HARDING.EDU
900 E. Center, Box 10877 | Phone: (501) 279-4311
Searcy, AR 72149-0001 | FAX: (501) 279-4086

Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1999 13:49:59 -0700
From: James Kempster
To: GANUS(a)
Subject: Messiah
I am waiting to receive my shipment of new Oxford (Bartlett) editions. I
have the full orchestra score and like the cleaness of it as well as the
editorial comments. The choral scores are attractive and are compatible
with both Schirmer and Watkins-Shaw of Novello. The best part (I think)
they are cheaper--$6.50 vs $7.97. As soon as they get here this week I
will e-mail you again and confirm or decry my hopes.
Dr. James Kempster, Professor of Music and Associate Dean
Pacific Union College
Angwin, CA 94508

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 10:06:08 -0400
From: "Romza, Patricia"
To: "'ganus(a)'"
Subject: RE: Messiah scores
My personal preference is the Watkins Shaw edition published by Novello.
Yes, the printing is tiny but the accompaniment is a nice if spare
continuo realizations rather than the over-orchestrated/pianistic G.
Schirmer one, and there are all the alternate versions of the solos as
Pax vobiscum.
Patricia Romza, DMA
St. Michael's College. Box 131
One Winooski Park, Colchester, VT 05439
***Philippians 3:10-14***

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 10:00:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ffslade(a)
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
I've been conducting annual Messiah performances for years, and my choice
is to go with the ubiquitous OLD Schirmers, (Tertius Noble not Watkins
Shaw) and have the choir put in appropriate performance notes or
corrections at rehearsals.
Frances Slade
Music Director
Princeton Pro Musica

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 10:16:37 -0400
From: David Schildkret
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
I would encourage you to ditch the "ubiquitous Schirmers": it has many
wrong readings in it (the most glaring is assigning "But Who May Abide" to
the bass).
The two best possibilities are the Watkins Shaw edition for Novello and
Alfred Mann's edition that's been reprinted by Dover. Both of these are
scholarly editions that include the best readings. If you use Watkins
Shaw, I'd encourage you NOT to do the rhythmic alterations he suggests;
it's not a problem, though--these are easily distinguished from Handel's
original notation.
David Schildkret, Dean
Salem College School of Music
PO Box 10548
Winston-Salem, NC 27108
e-mail: schildkr(a) phone: 336-721-2637 fax: 336-721-2683

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 09:12:16 -0500
From: Greg Wheatley
To: ganus(a)
Subject: RE: Messiah scores
Hi Cliff:
Do you know the Watkins-Shaw edition of MESSIAH? I recall that it was the
edition of choice when we sang portions in grad school (Michigan State
with Charles K. Smith)
Hope you're well!
Greg Wheatley
Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 09:43:12 -0500
From: Rick Kvam
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
For what it's worth, I like the Van Camp edition very much. Many nice
stylistic details, very thoroughly marked orchestra parts, and if memory
serves, pagination identical to those ubiquitous Schirmers, which is
Good luck,
Rick Kvam
Choral Arts Ensemble/Honors Choirs
Assisi Heights, Suite 900
1001 14th St NW
Rochester, MN 55901

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 10:41:20 -0400
From: Milton Olsson
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
RE MESSIAH, I've used the Watkins Shaw edition for years. It works very
well. I'd avoid the Schirmer completely.
Milton Olsson, DMA
Chair, Dept. of Fine Arts
Michigan Tech University
Houghton, MI 49931
906-487-2207 (O)
906-482-5707 (H)

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 10:41:16 -0400
From: Joe Bentley
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
We're doing Messiah here in December with the Community Chorus and the RC
Chorus. I've made them all buy the Watkins Shaw version (Novello). It can
be had for no more than $7.50/score, and you can get it for much less. We
used this one at MSU, and it has every variable you might want (alternate
arrangements and voicings for arias and choruses). It is a clean looking
score, and my understanding is that most of the commercially available
recorded versions of Messiah use this edition. I don't think it is
incompatible with the Schirmer edition, but I do think it far superior.
Hope this helps.

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 12:25:30 -0400 (EDT)
From: GGK1000(a)
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
I prefer the Novello edition , a great edition.
Gordon King
Montclair, NJ

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 12:26:46 -0500
From: "Lon T. Dehnert"
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
Hey Cliff,
I use the Watkins Shaw edition of the Messiah. I like it substantially
better than the old G. Schirmer. There are ornamental suggestions and the
string parts are from the original Handel score.
Check it out.
Lon Dehnert

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 13:01:35 -0400 (EDT)
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
I would heartily recommend the very fine Watkins Shaw edition, from
Novello/London (and their agent Theodore Presser, here?).
Herb Tinney, Director
Western New York Chorale
22 Willowlawn
Buffalo NY 14214-2329

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 13:39:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: DanRatelle(a)
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
I recently checked out several alternatives, and decided on the Watkins
Shaw; it's a little fussy, in giving lots of optional rhythms, which means
you have to make your editorial choices known, but it is clean and
accurate, has some appended alternative movements, and the newer printing
of this edition is a good size (the first was a little small). It's a very
good edition for a price comparable to the Schirmer. The Barenreiter is
very expensive, very heavy for the singers to hold, and has some
unbelievable goofs in text underlay. The Schirmer is still adequate for
most cases.
Vis a vis compatibility, they will all have different page numbers, and
often different movement numbers, but you could make the choruses work by
sticking to titles and measure numbers (and renumbering orchestral parts'
movements if necessary). The solo sections are more troublesome. While
some are virtually the same in every edition, some (eg., "O Death Where Is
Thy Sting?") are quite different, with one edition having a couple of
pages worth not found in the others, or one edition of "Who May Abide"
being for alto and another for bass. Same problem there in combining one
vocal set with another orchestral set.
Conclusion: use all of one edition, or check very carefully. Dan Ratelle,
San Diego

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 07:45:27 -1000
From: Ken Staton
To: GANUS(a)
Subject: MESSIAH Scores
I've been using the Van Camp edition for several years now and find it
perfectly suitable and it has a sensible orch accompaniment, if you plan
to use orchestra. Many of the chorus members continue to use their
Schirmer edition with no problem. We just had to change a few notes here
and there but the pages, etc., match fine.

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 14:42:21 -0500
From: Thomas Sheets
To: ganus(a)
Subject: Re: Messiah scores
Mr. Ganus:
The score/parts offered by Novello, edited by Watkins Shaw, offer all the
materials necessary to give an authentic performance of
Messiah--occasional double dotting suggestions (as in the overture, to get
correct French overture style) as well as all the alternate versions of
several airs and choruses, which you can employ depending upon your
choral/solo resources.
Thomas Sheets
UMS Choral Union
Ann Arbor, MI

Hi again,

Thanks for all your great responses. I should offer a clarification with this compilation. My concern with the choral score was the turning pages with the soft binding without having the book constantly closing up.

If you are using just piano, I would conduct from a choral score. You
might want to go to Kinko's and have the binding cut off and have a spiral binding put on (make sure the spirals are large enough so that you can turn pages easily). You might want to enlarge your score - those notes get very small.

I paid my way through three degrees as an accompanist and I have played from any number of Messiah editions. For my money, the Watkins Shaw edition (published by Novello) is the best and cleanest reduction to play from.
The G. Schirmer uses octaves for the continuo and it is a pain to read.
The Coopersmith has lots of over-romanticized harmonies that I don't think Handel had in mind.

I did my first Messiah sing along last year. I decided to use whatever scores we had the most of, and even then, some folks brought their own that were a different edition. I did conduct from the standard piano/vocal score, as there were no extra instruments and then I had the same page numbers as the singers. I stayed out of the way of the soloists and they prepared ahead of time with the sccompanist, so I didn't conduct those movements. I'm not saying this is THE way to do it, just the way that worked last year.

Incidentally, I'll be riding my bike through Port Washington next month. I'll take 3 days to pedal from Manitowoc to Chicago. I look forward to seeing your city!

cheers, and good luck,
Brian Clissold
Battle Creek, MI

If you are using the piano only, use the piano score. I hope that your vocal scores have the piano part written in. I think that it is important for singers to see what the instrument is doing rather than merely counting measures out. The Schirmer edition is as good as any for what you are doing. However, the Coopersmith (Carl Fischer) uses the soloists differently.
Good luck.

Why do you doubt a regular (vocal score) would not work here if that is what your singers and accompanist would be using? Most versions are all the same chorus-wise. I'm using the Jerona (Dover) score and the corresponding parts for my upcoming program of Messiah along with the G. Schirmer vocal scores. There are two solos that disagree with the Dover score, so I've photocopied them for my soloists, but the differences are fairly nominal. the choruses all agree.

I've done this both with community and church choirs. If you're not using instruments and piano only, conduct from a choral score. It's just easier.
Schirmer scores seem to be most available and actually are not bad. I've also done this with community groups and will again this December. We're borrowing scores from local churches and "renting" them for a "gift" of $5. So far, knock on wood, I've only ever had 3 not come back. With the deposit, you're covered for replacements.
I purchased the Oxford edition for my 80 voice community group. It's the easiest to read, scholarly, and the piano reduction is wonderful.
Good luck. Let me know if I missed something!
Take good care.
Greg Shook
Hagerstown Choral Arts
Shepherd University
Woodbridge (VA) Church of the Brethren


If you are not using an orchestra, I would think that using the same
scores your singers use will be fine. You mention "choral" scores. ... are these scores that contain ONLY the choruses? If that's the case, you and your accompanist will want what is usually called a "piano/vocal score." That will have everything you need.

You'll probably find the near ubiquitous G. Schirmer edition which
has haunted choir rooms for a long time. If you have veteran
choristers bringing their own copies with them, you'll probably see more of these than anything else. I would prefer either the Watkins Shaw edition (published by Novello) or the Coopersmith edition (published by Carl Fischer) and own both of these. For peurposes of a
sing-along read-through, I don't think you'll need to be worried about the differences between these editions. A "mix and match" won't
cause your program to come to a screeching halt. (My preference for a
full score and orchestra parts is Alfred Mann's edition, originally available through Alexander Broude, the score is now published in a Dover edition for a fraction of the original cost.)

You don't say anything about soloists. You should probably have the soloists get together with the pianist before your event, just to run through things. That will increase everyone's comfort level. You might also spot places in some of the more challenging choruses where bit of "instant rehearsal" might help the read through. (I'm assuming this will be a relatively informal event.) You will also want to make decisions about what to cut. This will be a long program if you plan to read through every note from start to finish. You may lose some of your singers if they are frustrated by some of the tough spots and see that there is a long way to go. (Do you have any way to gauge how many of your potential participants have some experience with Messiah?)

Have fun with this.

Thanks again!
John Knetzger
Senior Choir Director
First Congregational Church
Port Washington, WI